Category Archives: Monster Zoo

Sneak Peak at Monster Zoo Online

About a month ago, I started working on an online version of Monster Zoo to help with playtesting.

My main reasoning behind creating an online version of the game was to get more feedback. I was finding it hard to get local playtesters and most playtesters get tired of playing every version of your game.

Here are some of the cool things you can do with an online version versus a physical version of your game:


  • Rapid Updates – I can easily change the value of a card and all playtesters will get that update next time they play. With the physical game, you would need to print new copies of the card and send the card to all your playtesters.
  • Forced Blind Playtesting – Since the game is online, most of my playtests have been blind playtests. I can’t physically assist anyone or really explain the game outside of text chat.
  • Less Local Restrictions – Last night I played a game with a player from Singapore (I’m in California). You aren’t limited to just your local area for playtesting.


  • Heavy Initial Investment – I spent a good month learning how to program. That time could have been spent working on the game. My hope is that the feedback I get from the online game will make for a better game overall.
  • Harder to Fix – It’s easy to “fix” a card in the physical world, you just take a pen and write on the card. But when code is involved, something that is broken could take a ton of effort to fix.

Here’s a sneak peak of how it looks:

online home

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online rules


Right now the game is only available to playtesters. If you’re interested in playing the game before everyone else, I’m looking for more playtesters.

The Core Mechanic – Monster Zoo

What is the “core mechanic”? And what does it have to do with game design?

The core mechanic of a game is the thing that players do over and over during a game. It’s the main action or the main task.

Sometime’s the core mechanic is a single activity:

  • Jump (Super Marios)
  • Shoot (Duck Hunt)
  • Draw a Card (Candyland)

And often, a core mechanic is a combination of activities:

  • Run, Jump and Shoot (Quake)

Without the core mechanic, you wouldn’t be able to play the game. Many games are designed around one core mechanic and as the game progresses, you learn to do more and more complicated things related to the core mechanic.

A good way to think of this is through the “core diagram” – a diagram created by Charmie @ Funstorm.



In this model, the core mechanic is the center piece of your game. Everything revolves around this mechanic. Additional mechanics add upon the core mechanic for increased complexity. As you get better with the core mechanic, the game progresses to match your skill. Everything is then wrapped together with a narrative / theme.

For example, this is the core diagram(s) for Monster Zoo.

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 4.07.20 PM


Since Monster Zoo is a deckbuilding game, one of the core mechanics is a very familiar one – playing cards. You essentially play cards to gain more cards, which then allows you to buy even stronger cards (progression). You’re doing all of this to build out your deck which will help you win the game.

At the same time, there exists a second core mechanic – moving Monsters into your Zoo. As you move Monsters into your Zoo, you earn points and possibly access more abilities/effects. These effects help you earn even more points by moving more Monsters into your Zoo. And you’re doing all of this to build your Zoo faster than your opponent to win the game.

When I’m thinking of developing new cards for Monster Zoo, I try to refer back to this diagram and make sure the card is makes sense with the core game mechanic. Is this card in some way related to the core mechanic of moving Monsters or playing cards? If not, I’d better have a good reason for introducing a brand new core mechanic.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room to expand on a core mechanic, just that it’s useful to keep the core mechanic in mind during development.

Here are a few specific examples from Monster Zoo:



Flo Boogly is a pretty straight forward card. It has no play action, but if it’s in your Zoo, you get to draw an extra card each turn. This hits on both of the core mechanics of the game: playing cards (by drawing more cards) and moving monsters in to your Zoo (because Flo Boogly provides benefits when it is in your Zoo.)



Chompo Oogly is a bit more complex. You can either play the card for 2 Food resources OR if it’s in your Zoo (and can’t be played normally) it will give you 1 Food every turn. So you have an interesting decision, that again lines up with both core mechanics of the game. Earning more food will help you buy more cards, which helps you play stronger cards later on. Moving Chompo into your Zoo will give you a reoccurring effect that provides a long-term benefit.

What are some of the core mechanics and core diagrams of your games?

Looking for Playtesters for Monster Zoo (Online Version)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been feverishly playtesting Monster Zoo with a small handful of playtesters. The game is working well and the cards feel balanced. Feedback has been very positive and I’m happy with how the game is progressing.

But it’s not quite ready for launch (on Kickstarter)! Before I release it, I need more playtesters to make sure the game is as awesome and fun as possible. As a playtester, you’ll have direct influence on how Monster Zoo develops. Input from our playtesters is critical and I spend a lot of time incorporating playtesting feedback.

In order to help out playtesting, I’ve developed an online version of Monster Zoo. The online version is limited to just our playtesters, so you’ll be one of the first few to play Monster Zoo.




Shoot me an email at with the subject “Playtesting“. I’ll contact you back and get you setup.

Sneak Peak: Monster Zoo Art

Here’s a behind the scenes look at some of the art and layout work for Monster Zoo.

screenshot_0000 screenshot_0002 screenshot_0007 screenshot_0008

Every Monster in the game has its own unique art and personality.

Since there are three types of Monsters – Oogly, Boogly, and Zoogly, we are making the Monsters from each type have certain similar traits. You’ll notice similar looking fur, markings, coloring for Monsters of the same type.

I’m really happy with the art we’re creating for Monster Zoo and I hope you are excited as I am to see this project hit Kickstarter soon.

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Recent Feedback for Monster Zoo

Over the past couple of weekends, I have been playtesting Monster Zoo with a few different groups (and participating in Grant Rodiek’s Prototype PenPal Program). Most players are enjoying the game and I’m pleased with the feedback so far.

Here are some of the findings at this stage:

  • The game is fun: The response has been good from a mix of gamers. The theme is great and a lot of people really like the art. The game is easy to learn and new players can learn how to play in a short amount of time.
  • Minor edits for clarity: While most players felt the rules were easy to understand, there were a few minor tweaks that could have helped clarify a few things. There is some wording that could be modified such as “Swap a Monster from your Zoo with another player’s Zoo”. The edited version will say “Trade a Monster from your Zoo with a Monster from another player’s Zoo.” The previous version could be interpreted to mean that you only need to swap one Monster from your zoo to take ALL the Monsters in another player’s Zoo.
  • Reduce food costs: There are too many of the top end cards with high food costs. I need to tweak the food cost distribution down slightly to speed the game up.
  • More combos: While there are some interesting combos in the game, players were eager for more.

Based on this feedback and earlier comments, I have made the following changes to the game:

  • Increased the game speed: Instead of starting the game with 3 Zookee Zoogly / 7 Dirty Socks cards, players will now start with 4 Zookee Zoogly / 6 Dirty Socks cards. This has the effect of increasing the chances that players will be able to move cards into their Zoo, speeding up the rate of point gains throughout the game.
  • Tweaked the Food cost distribution down: I reduced the food cost values for a few cards and introduced a few more food bonuses. This has helped increase the # of cards that players can typically catch during a turn and speeds up the game.
  • Reduced number of ”resets”: There is one “reset” card in the game (Ohno Oogly) that forces all players to discard all Monsters from their Zoos. Essentially this is a game reset since everyone needs to rebuild their Zoos from scratch. While this is a great strategic card that can make a huge difference in the game, playing the card too many times during one game will cause the game to drag out and become less fun. I’ve reduced the amount of cards like this in the game to keep the game progress steady and rapid.
  • Introduced new card combinations: I added a few more cards that have good synergy with other cards – which should offer some extra strategic depth along with fun combos.

Thanks everyone who has playtested Monster Zoo thus far. I think you’ll like the new revised version.

Monster Zoo Prototype Cards from PrinterStudio

After a few rounds of printing prototype cards with my inkjet printer, I decided to have a real shop print me a copy of Monster Zoo. The base game of Monster Zoo contains 185 cards, so printing different versions at home quickly used up my printer ink.

I went with Printer Studio mainly because of different size decks available for printing (up to 234 cards per deck). Their pricing is very reasonable and there is almost always some sort of coupon floating around for free shipping. I found the user interface very straightforward and easy to use.

Here is the unboxing of my order:


The PrinterStudio Package

The cards came in a basic cardboard package. Shipped by USPS with tracking code. No special markings on the outside of the package.

Opening the Package

Opening the Package

The cards were packed well inside the package. The walls of the cardboard package served as bumpers for the cards, providing some protection during the shipping process.

Cards in Shrinkwrap

Cards in Shrinkwrap

Each deck (I ordered 2) comes shrinkwrapped by default. If you order a set of 54 cards, it will come with a clear plastic case by default.



Here are the cards unwrapped. The cards are made from card stock and have a good weight to them. I opted for the standard 300gsm card stock with smooth finish. The cards have a good bend and are shuffled easily.


Yummli Oogly

The colors came out well and you can see the two-tone background clearly. You can see the various shades of blue come through on the Monster art nicely.


Zoomi Zoogly

The cards are cut well and I didn’t run into any issues with the margins. All the essential card elements were left intact and the border looked fairly uniform around all cards.


Lurti Boogly


  • Cards (2 Decks of 234), 300gsm smooth – $41.48
  • Shipping – Free
  • Tax – None
  • Total – $41.48


  • Order – March 27
  • Shipment Sent – March 29
  • Arrived – April 4th

Overall, I’m really happy with the results from Printer Studio. I may test how the linen finish looks in a future print run. If you are looking for an affordable and relatively fast printer for your card games, I highly recommend Printer Studio.

After printing the cards, I realized that the card text is a little small, so in I’m increasing the font size for the card text in future versions.

Early Designs for Monster Zoo Cards

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Here are some early designs for the cards from Monster Zoo.

At the top there’s a prominent Food cost number for all the cards. The card’s effect is located at the bottom. With the new design, Food values and Zoo Effects have different colors to make them standout in the card text.

This was the first design with concept art for each of the Monsters. Every Monster type (Boogly, Zoogly, Oogly) is considered a unique “family” or “race” of Monsters. So the art for each individual Monster from the same type will have some similar traits. Each Monster type has it’s own color theme so card from the same type can be easily identified while playing.

We picked a fun font for the Monster names to give the game a bit of theme flavor.

Here’s how these same cards looked previously:

balloons   flo-booglybossi-zoogly   fifi-oogly


Monster Zoo: Blind Playtest Jitters

A month ago, I started blind playtests for Monster Zoo.

Before this, I was present at all playtests. I could explain rules in person, answer any questions that came up, and generally guide the gameplay to a smooth experience. There were major benefits to doing these playtests in person. If the game broke down in a session, I could quickly tweak the game and everyone could play another round. Players could ask how a specific card or action could be used. The immediate feedback and prototyping cycle was great.

Based on all the playtest feedback, I continued to improve the game little by little. (The advice from this post was extremely useful during the feedback process.) After a few revisions, I decided to move onto blind playtesting.

Blind playtesting is nerve-wracking for a designer. During a blind playtest, you provide the physical game to a tester, and without any additional input they go off to play the game. You can’t help them with the rules or answer any questions. You assume that all the work you’ve put into the game has created something fun and playable. But you never really know.

So after deciding to move on to blind playtesting, I packaged up the most recent version of Monster Zoo and sent it off to my friend in San Diego. I purposefully didn’t give him any details regarding the game. His job would be to introduce Monster Zoo to his gaming group and give me feedback.

And this is when the nerves start to kick in.

I started to wonder if the game was even playable, if the gaming group would enjoy the game enough to get multiple plays in, whether or not the rules were clear enough, etc.

After a few weeks of trying to ignore these nagging thoughts, my friend came back to me with tons of feedback. It was a success!

Turns out my friend and his gaming group had been playing Monster Zoo daily for a few weeks.

Here’s the feedback I received:

  • Really enjoyed the game, played it multiple times daily.
  • Different groups enjoyed the game, introduced it to several different types of players.
  • Rules were good. Easy to read.
  • Liked the relatively short play time.
  • Good variety between plays.
  • Good variety of cards.
  • Liked the theme.
  • Liked the card names.
  • Did not run into any game breaking issues.
  • A few of the cards were overpowered, everyone wanted them.
  • One “broken” card in particular caused score spikes.

The “broken” card that came up in the feedback process was “Wild Zoo”:


This card is an Event card that affects all players when it is drawn. In a few cases, when this card was drawn, there were players with really high scoring Monster cards in their hand. This then created a situation with huge point swings that felt a little too random.

There are other Event cards that allow players to move one Monster into their Zoo, so reducing the effect of “Wild Zoo” would make it a redundant card. For now, I’m removing this card from the game as I rework the effect.

Overall the feedback was extremely positive, much better than I could have hoped for. It totally floored me that a group of gamers with no real connection to me was playing Monster Zoo daily. Most of the new players introduced to the game had no problems picking up the game and playing within a few rounds. Players seem to be enjoying the combination of a light deck building game with strategy around managing the cards in their Zoo.

Monster Zoo – Deck Building & Zoo Management


Monster Zoo is a game I have worked on for the past few months. In the game, players take on the role of new Zookeepers, trying to fill their empty Zoos with Monsters from the wild. (The same theme as Monster Zoo: Draft)

The game’s main mechanic is deck-building, similar to Ascension or Dominion, but with much more interaction and a bit of what I’m calling “zoo management”. As you acquire more cards and start to build out your deck, you’ll also move cards from your deck to your Zoo. While cards are in the Zoo, you’ll earn points, but you expose yourself to other players who can steal cards from your Zoo. So there’s a back and forth strategy between building up your Zoo or making your deck stronger.



Here’s the PNP version, so you can try it out at home:

I’ve already started to play test the game and so far the response has been very positive. I’m excited to develop this game fully and get it out to Kickstarter later this year. Keep an eye out for that!

Monster Zoo is a deck-building zoo management card game for 2-4 players that lasts about 30 minutes. I’m really looking forward to your feedback.


Using Cost Curves to Balance Card Costs

In Monster Zoo, I try to keep cards balanced according to their cost to acquire. Cards with stronger effects typically have higher costs and weaker cards have lower costs. However, after a few rounds of play testing Monster Zoo, I realized that some cards in the game were out of balance. A few cards felt really strong and could easily sway the game towards a player’s favor quickly. And a few cards seemed really weak, when played they had little effect on the game or felt too expensive to acquire.

One of the best discussions I could find on the topic of balance is a lecture from Ian Schreiber on Transitive Mechanics and Cost Curves. In the lecture, Ian talks about breaking down all the individual effects of your game into two things: costs and benefits. By doing this, you can get a sense of how balanced all the components of your game are relative to each other. If a particular item has a much higher benefit to cost ratio than other similarly costing items, then you know something is out of balance.

Here’s how I went about applying this principle for Monster Zoo.

First I broke out every single card into it’s individual effects. For example, the card Whompo Boogly has the following stats: “+2 Food. Zoo Effect: Draw an extra Card this turn.” This card has two unique effects:

  • Food Gained
  • Zoo Effect that Draws Cards

After identifying every effect, I then gave a rough benefit score to each effect in relation to other effects. Then I added up the value of every benefit per card, giving me a benefit total score.


Now I have a rough cost / benefit comparison for each card. But it’s hard to really get an idea of where some of the cards might be unbalanced.

This is where a cost curve (basically a visual representation of your cost / benefit) comes in handy. Charting out the cost / benefit of all the cards gives me this:

cost curve


With this, I can see that there are a few cards that are unbalanced in a few ways:

  • There are cards with a cost of 3 that have less benefit than some cards with cost of 2. (Underpowered)
  • There are cards with a cost of 5 that have less benefit than some cards with cost of 4. (Underpowered)
  • There are cards with a cost of 4 that have more benefit than some cards with cost of 5 or 6. (Overpowered)
  • There are cards with a cost of 6 that have much higher benefit than the natural cost curve. (Possibly Overpowered)

Let’s look at two specific examples.

One of the cards that seemed overpowered in play testing was Fifi Oogly. This card has the following stats:

  • Cost: 6
  • Benefit: 9
  • Gain +2 Food
  • Monsters cost 1 less Food to catch this turn.
  • Zoo Effect: Monsters cost 1 less Food to catch this turn.

Based on the cost curve, you can see that this card has much more benefit than it’s cost. So we have two options here, we can increase the cost or we can reduce the benefit. I happen to think it’s a fun card to play with, so I’ll likely test increasing the cost.

Here’s another card, Yummli Oogly. In play testing, this card seemed weak and no one really wanted to acquire this card. Here are the stats:

  • Cost: 6
  • Benefit: 5
  • Double all Food gained this turn.

While this card seems like a really strong card, it definitely is below the curve. If you compare it to a card like Chunky Oogly which has the following stats:

  • Cost: 3
  • Benefit: 4
  • Gain +2 Food
  • Draw an extra card this turn

You can see how Yummli Oogly is fairly weak, on the cost curve it is seriously below everything else with a cost of 6. Having 2 Chunky Ooglies would be much better for the same cost. In this case, I might add an effect to Yummli Oogly to get it back in balance.

Some guidelines for creating your own cost curve and using it to balance your game:

  • Break down all effects into individual unique effects
  • Assign a relative benefit value for each effect
  • Create one cost value for each item
  • Compare the cost / benefit to understand balance