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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Hero Brigade – An Interview with Designer Nicholas Yu


About a week ago, I saw a thread pop up on BGG from a user asking for feedback on his Kickstarter campaign page. After getting feedback from BGG and making some changes to his campaign page, the campaign launched on Kickstarter and it funded on the first 24 hours.

That user is Nicholas Yu, designer of Hero Brigade. I reached out to him to talk about Hero Brigade, the Kickstarter campaign, and the changes he made to the campaign page.

1) Please tell our readers a little about yourself.

I’m 35 and happily married, living in upstate New York. I decided to make a break from corporate America after spending the last 10 years there and pursue my love of games and game design.

2) Can you describe Hero Brigade in a few sentences?

It’s a fast-paced card game that alternates between phases of deck-building and positional card-battling. You win by either defeating the opponent’s party of characters or depleting their deck, which is accomplished by defeating individual opponents. You lose a card permanently each time you reshuffle as well, so there’s always a set clock running down on both players! It pits a team of Heroes against a team of Villains in an epic showdown!

3) What is your favorite mechanic in the game?

Each character card can be played in 3 different ways. The player’s party has a front row and a support row, and characters can do different things in those rows (sometimes vastly different). In addition to what they can do on the board, they can also be discarded for a one-time play effect.

4) Tell us how you came up with the theme for Hero Brigade.

The ComiXology app has allowed me to re-embrace my childhood love for comic books and heroic adventure. I guess I had heroes and villains on my mind when brainstorming ideas. One of my friends and I also half-completed an iOS tactical RPG that had a similar theme, so I ended up re-using a lot of those concepts.

5) What’s your favorite Island?

Taiwan. My Mom is from Taiwan and I actually spent a year there growing up when I was a wee tyke.

6) What are some other games that if other players liked that game, that they would like Hero Brigade?

People who are into deck-building games like Ascension or Dominion should like that aspect of the game, but one thing that frustrates me about most deck-builders is the lack of player interaction. That’s why I built a battle system into the game, so it would force direct interaction between the players. Combat draws inspiration from Magic: The Gathering and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. Play also constantly passes back-and-forth, both during the Fight Phase and Play Phase, so there’s a lot of see-sawing, which I think makes the game more exciting.

7) Hero Brigade is your first kickstarter board game project and it’s already funded. What are some of the things you’ve learned from this already successful campaign that you think other Kickstarter creaters would benefit from?

Start early: I made the Kickstarter page in early February, got approved mid-month, but didn’t launch until late April. Do your research: Make sure you get detailed quotes for all of your costs, track your expenses, and build in some fudge room in your budget for unexpected expenses. Warehousing and shipping, in particular, can be an issue for a smaller team or individual. It turns out, coming up with an awesome idea and making a really fun game is only one-third of the battle. The next two steps are marketing and fulfillment, both of which are things with which I didn’t have much experience. Fortunately, Game Salute picked up Hero Brigade, so I don’t have to worry about the warehousing or shipping part of the fulfillment phase.

8) Before the campaign went live, you posted a thread on BGG asking for feedback on your Kickstarter page. How’d that go and what changes were made to your original page?

That went extraordinarily well. The KS campaign page went through a few major steps of evolution: 1. After I originally drafted it up, I showed it to a few friends and made some changes based on their feedback. Rinse and repeat here a couple of times; 2. I showed it to some fellow game designers in The GameCrafter community and made some changes based on their feedback; 3. I posted that thread on BGG and got a killer amount of constructive feedback; and 4. I got picked up by Game Salute 4 days before the KS launch, so I scrambled and made a few more revisions before going live.

Most of the major changes came in the last two steps. From the BGG feedback, I ended up completely redoing the pledge levels and stretch goals and re-writing two sections of the campaign. I originally had stretch goals like T-shirts and pins but everyone quickly pointed out how they’d much rather have additional game content added in instead. People also widely panned the intro video. I didn’t have the time or the right equipment to re-film, so I just cut out a minute in the middle where I started to ramble a little bit; but even that one edit ending up making a huge difference.

9) What were your design inspirations for creating Hero Brigade?

Obviously, I drew a lot of inspiration from comic books and some characters in the game are a hodge-podge of homages to various characters I love or characters who have become archetypal of the hero genre. My love for Final Fantasy 6 also blossomed into the row mechanic that’s part of the battle system. I also really really love deck-building games, but I was frustrated by the lack of direct interaction as discussed earlier.

10) What type of gaming experience do you hope to create for the players of Hero Brigade?

I really did my best to balance strategy and fun. I wanted to make a deep and tactical system without making it overly complex. I also hope to win over people who may not be the biggest comic book fans, either, but I feel comic books are becoming more and more mainstream, especially given the success of several recent films like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Batman franchise.

11) Anything else you would like to mention?

I love my wife! I’m grateful for the support of my friends and family. I hope everyone checks out the KS campaign page for Hero Brigade and supports it!


Thanks Nicholas for the interview! Make sure to check out Hero Brigade on Kickstarter now.

Back It: Euphoria by Stonemaier Games

Stonemaier Games is launching a Kickstarter campaign in May for their new game Euphoria.

Designed by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, Euphoria is a fun dice worker-placement game set in a dystopian world. In the game, dice are your workers and the number on each die represents the worker’s knowledge value. This knowledge value will be compared against other player’s workers and is core to the game. It’s a really cool mechanic.

Keep an eye out for the Kickstarter campaign in May and visit the official Euphoria page for more information.

I like the idea of dice as workers in a worker-placement game. I’m also a fan of dystopian themes. If you’re a fan of either of these, I recommend you take a look at Euphoria when the campaign goes live.

Check it out and back it.

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.

Kickstarter Stats for the Games Category

I’m planning to launch a Kickstarter for Monster Zoo in the coming months and have been in research mode trying to learn as much as I can about successful Kickstarter projects.

Using the data Kickstarter provides for the Games Category (note this includes Video Games as well since Kickstarter does not break out stats by Video Games and Tabletop), I did some analysis to better understand what projects succeed and what were some of the key metrics I would need to keep track of for my future campaign.

I built these charts using Kickstarter data available on April 9th, 2013.

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A little more than 30% of all projects are successful. If you look at just the finished projects, the rate for success increases a little.

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This brings up the success rate to almost 35%. That said, there is still a huge chance for most projects to not succeed. The ones that do succeed generally have funding levels that are under $10,000.

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There are just as many projects that fund in the $10K-100K range as there are in the sub $10K range. Based on the data, I think the sweet spot is under $20K, with over 60% of all funded projects in the Games category ending in that funding range.

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For unsuccessful projects, the major hump is still getting past the 20% funded range. More than 80% of failed projects do not reach beyond 20% funding. Once a project reaches 40% funding, there’s only about 8% chance that it won’t fund.

My takeaways from the data:

  • Set a realistic funding goal – under $20K is a good goal
  • Really push for the 40% funding goal early to improve chances for success

Back it: Fox & Chicken by Michael Fox

Michael Fox from The Little Metal Dog Show and Sprocket Games has a new game on Kickstarter called Fox & Chicken. It’s a family friendly take on Werewolf and I’m in love with the art. It’s funny, witty, and perfect for a game of friendly cunning.

Fox & Chicken

The campaign is off to a great start and funded in the first 22 hours.

Fox & Chicken - Werewolf hits the henhouse! -- Kicktraq Mini

For about $18, you get the base set of cards and all the cards that come with any stretch goals. Given the pace that the campaign is trending, I expect to see a bunch of stretch goals hit, so you’re getting a great deal on a fun game with tons of extra cards.

I like light, fun card games that are great for the family. Great art with a witty theme is a plus. If you like similar games or like Werewolf based games, I recommend you take a look at Fox & Chicken.

Check it out and back it.

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.

Excel and Google Docs Spreadsheet Tips for Game Designers #2

Last month I wrote a post describing a few uses for spreadsheets in game design. Based on the feedback, I decided to write a quick follow up on how I’ve been using spreadsheets in my own game design.

I’ll be using Monster Zoo to illustrate my examples. Here’s a link to the public spreadsheet of cards @ Google docs.

Identifying Possible Balance Issues

Monster Zoo is a deck building game consisting of over 180 cards, with more than 40 unique cards. Keeping all those cards in balance is really important, because if one card is extremely overpowered or underpowered, game play fun is effected.

So how do you understand whether or not your game is balanced? My approach has been to create a cost curve for all cards (refer back to this post for more on cost curves). This allows me to easily see whether or not in general Monster Zoo is balanced.

cost curve

You can see that most of the costs and benefit numbers are packed closely together. Cards that cost 3 points have a benefit of around 2-4. Cards that cost 4 points have a benefit of around 3-6. Etc. This looks decently balanced to me.

But what about individual cards? While the game overall may look balanced, there still could be specific cards that are broken.

To take a look at individual card balance, you can chart out costs and benefits by each card.

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 3.26.03 PM

Now I can easily see that “Fifi Oogly” might be out of balance with the rest of the cards. That’s a card I need to keep an eye on in playtesting. One thing to keep in mind is that everything does not need to be perfectly balanced. It all depends on what type of game you are designing. Some games need to be much more balanced, while other games might purposefully be designed to have a swing mechanic or some unbalancing feature.

Faction / Group Design

In Monster Zoo, there are three types of Monsters: Boogly, Oogly, and Zoogly.

Each of these Monster types represent a different feel and mechanic in the game. Boogly monsters help players draw faster and perform more actions. Oogly monsters help players acquire more resources and builds up in power over time. Zoogly monsters help players move monsters around and are otherwise utility type cards.

Along with different mechanics, I wanted to give each of the Monster types it’s own unique cost “feel”. Since Boogly monsters were all about being faster and drawing more cards, I thought it would make sense for Boogly cards to cost less in general. This would help players get a sense of speed and action.

For Oogly cards, I took the opposite approach and created more higher cost Oogly monsters. So this gives the Oogly monsters a slower feel, but more impact.

Zoogly monsters are more about utility, so the cost is more evenly spread.

Here’s how it looks in the current version of Monster Zoo:

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 3.46.46 PM

Charting out the number of cards, the card cost, and the card type gives me a quick look at how well I’ve differentiated the Monster types. You can see that there are more cards with lower costs for Booglies and more cards in the higher ranger for Ooglies. Zoogly monsters are relatively mixed.

So even though the costs for each Monster type are very different, we know that each card is still balanced (from our cost vs benefit chart above.)

Modeling Gameplay

What if you want to get an idea of how the game plays over time? You can model out basic turns by calculating values for typical actions: catching monsters, food in hand, deck value, etc.

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This shows me that Monster Zoo game play is linear, throughout the game you gain Monsters at the same rate (obviously this depends on which Monsters you are catching). So decisions you make in the early game and the late game are generally just as impactful.

But what if I wanted to make the late game more swingish, with larger points and bigger rounds?

I could change a few values and end up with something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.14.28 PM

This type of gameplay has more cards at play in the later game and rounds in the late game are more important. More monsters are caught and each hand has a higher food value.

Take a look at the public spreadsheet if you want to play around with the values and see how the chart changes.