A Week in the Life: Cards in Spreadsheets

The game design work of a regular guy with a full time job and a family with 3 small kids who designs games in some of his spare time

  • April 26, 2021 7:41 AM

I want to spend time most weeks talking about my design work both as an encouraging example of how someone challenged for spare time can make progress on game designs, and to offer some incidental insights into how I view the design process that could be interesting or helpful. I intend this to show how I break down my process into digestible nuggets of work that can be done between my job, family, and other responsibilities.

So here's what I worked on this week.


I put a lot of card information into spreadsheets! As I was doing this I thought about how much time it takes to do relative to how much time it takes to say what I did. It's like an hour and a half of data entry making sure I get all the cards I want, now that I have my nanDECK code set up. That's a fraction of how much time it would take to create all of these cards manually, but all I can say about it is that now I have spreadsheets full of card information.

Since I'm prepping to order prototype materials soon, I updated a few things in Galaxy Alpha Team that have changed since the last time I printed cards. I need a new set of starter cards to go along with the new player board I made, I want some decent looking versions of some other card abilities I've been testing, and I found a mathematical imperfection that doesn't matter, but to appease the part of me that will feel better for doing it, I'm tweaking one variable on one other card, which I'll add to my order.

I don't use nanDECK for my Galaxy Alpha Team cards because I started working on the game before I heard of nanDECK. The first several iterations of cards were hand drawn, but when I wanted a version that looked more consistent I set up a template in Inkscape (a free image editing tool) with all the various icons and card parts in different layers, so whenever I want to make a card it's just a matter of hiding and unhiding layers then exporting the image. Having used both this method and nanDECK, I have a feel for what I think are benefits of each. Inkscape allows more speed, flexibility, and robustness in creating visual assets and manipulating the look of things, but suffers from taking more time to export a deck of cards, and I don't have a way to automatically create tons of permutations of cards that use the same format. Because Galaxy Alpha Team has more variety in card types, I think this has worked out fine and I don't regret having set up a system using an image editing template. I need a lot of cards for Culmination that are the same layout but with different combinations of icons on them, so nanDECK is the faster way for me there.

Pretty soon I'm going to be done with these digital file updates. Then I can get back to playing with paper and cardboard.



A Week in the Life: I Made a List

The game design work of a regular guy with a full time job and a family with 3 small kids who designs games in some of his spare time

  • April 18, 2021 10:28 PM

I want to spend time most weeks talking about my design work both as an encouraging example of how someone challenged for spare time can make progress on game designs, and to offer some incidental insights into how I view the design process that could be interesting or helpful. I intend this to show how I break down my process into digestible nuggets of work that can be done between my job, family, and other responsibilities.

So here's what I worked on this week.


I mentioned last week that I needed to put together a list of all the stuff I need to get done so I can prioritize my work and stay ahead of schedule. I did that this week. With as many ongoing projects as I currently have, this is incredibly helpful. Here are some highlights that I often forget are mandatory for getting ready for conventions later on in the year.
  • Go to the DMV. My state has a new type of ID (called the NC REAL ID) required for boarding commercial flights if you don't have a passport. I was planning on getting mine last year, but covid prevented it. I cannot fly to conventions without first going to the DMV to update my state license.
  • Move my work vacation days. I already had my PTO booked for Gen Con, but then Gen Con rescheduled so I need to adjust my work schedule.

I have several parts of the process that are dependencies of other things, and my new list helps me put tasks in order so I get the right steps done at the right time. Here's an overview.
  1. Get all the digital files updated asap.
  2. Order stuff from The Game Crafter. I like the quality of their cards and I have some special cut pieces for Galaxy Alpha Team that they do well.
  3. While that's being printed and shipped, update rulebooks and info sheets.
  4. Make a list of publishers who I think would be interested in the games I have.
  5. In parallel I am trying to do some publicity for Top Pop, which is coming out soon. When I am fully vaccinated I want to meet with some local influencers to show off the game.
  6. Once I have physical prototypes in hand, I can put together overview videos to send to publishers along with info sheets.

This gives me a structure to organize my effort. Shortly after I put together this list, I started working on some of the more urgent items from it.

The first several playable version of Culmination were hand drawn on cards. I did that until I had confidence that the system works largely like I want. Since then I've been working on making a system to maintain and update cards easily using nanDECK. I finally finished setting up my spreadsheets and nanDECK files for each of the card types. All that remains before having a digitally existent deck of cards is to finish populating the spreadsheets. I've already done maybe half of this work too, so I consider that good progress toward the most pressing item on my list.

I printed a test version of a Galaxy Alpha Team player board that I recently tweaked. I slid cards under it like players do during a game, seeing if I have the dimensions correct to avoid cards pushing each other underneath the player board. It was a smidge too short, so apparently I have some imperfections in my ability to use rulers or add numbers together. But this is why we test things. I'll make the dimensions a little larger and then it should be good to go.

With my newly created list, I can have a more clear focus each week as I continue my work. I can already see at a glance what I'll be doing next.


A Week in the Life: Poisoning my Family at Easter

The game design work of a regular guy with a full time job and a family with 3 small kids who designs games in some of his spare time

  • April 10, 2021 10:53 AM

I want to spend time most weeks talking about my design work both as an encouraging example of how someone challenged for spare time can make progress on game designs, and to offer some incidental insights into how I view the design process that could be interesting or helpful. I intend this to show how I break down my process into digestible nuggets of work that can be done between my job, family, and other responsibilities.

So here's what I worked on the past couple of weeks.


I visited my parents over an extended Easter weekend and my brother who lives far away also came down with his family since we cancelled Christmas last year. My sister and her family were there too. That's 19 people in one house. 11 of those people were children younger than 10 years old. Maybe you can imagine how much game design work I was doing there. It wasn't none!

I used this opportunity to play Poisoners' Soirée with the adults in my family. This is a good group to test family style games with because we are like a real family. I've got a brother-in-law who is a software engineer who loves playing complex strategy board games, my sister who lives with that guy and likes games but none of the same games he does, my brother who hates games but will play one if I tell him it's going to take 20 minutes or less and won't be complicated, people worn out from wrangling children constantly who don't want to burn their brains during the only calm part of the day once the kids are in bed, and my dad who is retired and likes playful things but doesn't have much experience in board games other than what I've shown him. The perfect group to playtest a game about killing your husband in the Victorian era.

Knowing that I'd be held to a tight budget of half an hour including rules, playing the game, talking about the game, and random chit chat, I had prepared in advance the version of the game I wanted to play with. Everything went well. Of course some of my ideas were flops, but as a playtest it was good. I consider it a significant success because after the first play half the people stuck around to talk about ideas and what seemed to work or not, then volunteered to play another game. Including my brother who doesn't like games. This suggests that it's getting several things right.

Outside of the family weekend, I updated the spreadsheet that I had set up to create the cards for Culmination, and in doing so realized that I only set it up for one card type. I have one type of card for objects and another type of card for events. Since the object and event cards behave differently I want to make sure they are laid out differently. I planned out what I want the event cards to be, but I haven't yet created a template in nanDECK to generate the cards from a spreadsheet.

I feel good about several designs currently. I plan to attend a few conventions later this year, and given my lack of time I'm already trying to keep this schedule in mind. I need to have games in a pitchable state within the next few months including physical prototypes in hand and convention meetings scheduled. Many things rely on prior steps being completed, so I'm making efforts to prioritize work based on dependencies. I have a process that works for me, and I think I'll spend some time doing that this week, so you'll hear about it in more detail soon.


A Week in the Life: Serious Icons and Computer Files

The game design work of a regular guy with a full time job and a family with 3 small kids who designs games in some of his spare time

  • March 28, 2021 2:59 PM

I want to spend time most weeks talking about my design work both as an encouraging example of how someone challenged for spare time can make progress on game designs, and to offer some incidental insights into how I view the design process that could be interesting or helpful. I intend this to show how I break down my process into digestible nuggets of work that can be done between my job, family, and other responsibilities.

So here's what I worked on this week.


A couple of weeks ago I made some notes for a new player board for Galaxy Alpha Team. This week I updated the player board file on my computer. Sometimes it takes while for things to move from my brain, to the paper, into the computer, through the printer, then onto the table. While I was making updates to the file, I made some usability adjustments too. The previous player boards I mocked up were too short. Because you tuck cards under both the top and bottom of your player board during the game, they were small enough that pushing a card under the top would push another card back out the bottom. I want the player boards to be as small as possible while still being functional so I took some measurements and adjusted the height as necessary. 

The rest of my design work this week was for my newest game, currently named Culmination. I spent time learning how to use nanDECK and got it configured so that all I have to do is update a spreadsheet to create a full deck of cards with icons. I haven't updated the spreadsheet yet; I'll save that for another week. Part of this setup included finding icons for the cards. I wanted 9 icons for various things in the game, and I spent a decent amount of time perusing the internet for icons and choosing the ones I want for my prototype. I don't usually spend so much design time on the computer. I prefer the hands-on physical part of design, but certain things are so much faster once automated.

This new design, Culmination, is a shift in tone from anything I've worked on previously. It's about when we reach a time in life where we look back at the things we've accomplished and what we've become, and what we gained and lost along the way. I'm aiming for a more poignant take and there aren't tons of games in that style, so I've been looking into some examples that try to evoke a solemn or serious mood. Part of my design time this week was seeking out games like this for research. I ended up finding a good deal on Holding On, so I picked it up.

So much digital design work this week. I hope to get back to the table soon.


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