Isaac Williams

Developer / Designer / Rad Dude

Category: Boardgame


In the Lab: Worker Placement as Risk Insurance

Here’s another thought for a worker placement mechanic. The idea is you’re trying to complete missions, let’s say space exploration. Missions have a difficulty rating – this is how many dice you’ll roll when you run the mission. In this version of the idea, the dice you’re rolling when you run the mission have custom faces. Two of the faces are blank, which is a success (Nothing went wrong!). The other four faces show failures. If one of these is rolled, you fail the mission.

Worker placement dice example

The failure symbols correspond to the various stations workers can be placed on before running the mission: you’ve got engineering, science and defense. Each worker placed on one of these stations can soak up a failure of that type. If a science failure is rolled but you’ve got a worker placed on the science station, you’re fine. The mission still succeeds. You can choose to run the mission any time you like, with any number of workers placed. They’re just you’re insurance for if things go wrong.

Worker placement workers example

The core idea here is: You can always choose to take the risk of running a mission without much protection from randomness. It might work out fine! There’s always the chance of not rolling any failures. Or, you can spend the time and resources in getting it right and be much more sure of the mission’s success.


In the Lab: Worker Track

I woke up this morning with this idea for a worker placement mechanic ticking around in my head. I haven’t seen it used before, but it might have been used somewhere before. Let me know if you’ve seen something similar; I would be interested in seeing it!

The idea is worker placement, crossed a with a little bit of the movement of Tokaido. Each resource is produced on a track, with spaces to the right producing more resources than spaces to the left. When you place a worker, you can only place it on the leftmost space on the track. So as more workers are placed on track, they benefit from the presence of previous workers. This means you can benefit from opponents placing workers before you.

Worker placement mechanic example 1

Other actions might allow you to jump a worker to the next open space. This would leave an empty space on the left of the track, allowing you to gain more resources and stop your opponent from benefiting from your hard work!

Worker placement mechanic example 1

Just the seed of an idea for a mechanic, no real game attached yet. That’ll have to come next.


Garden Patch: Perennials

Perennials take a little while to mature, but then provide Suns for the rest of the game. When you plant a perennial, place it with the Plant / 1 value along the edge facing upwards. Then, each time you enter the marked season, rotate the card clockwise 90 degrees. Once the Mature edge side is facing upwards, you may harvest and flip the card over.

Unlike regular plants though, if you spend the Suns on a perennials card, it is not discarded. When you spend the Suns on a perennial, flip it back over to the face side. You may harvest it again in the next appropriate season.

For example, this lemon tree takes three years to mature. It grows every summer. Then, when harvested, it will provide two Suns.



In the Lab: Garden Patch

In-between production work on my mining microgame, here’s a seed of an idea for another economic microgame:


Garden Patch

Garden Patch is a card-based economic game about growing a garden. In the center of the table is a rondel formed of five cards, which represents the seasons of the year. Each round, the season marker rotates, advancing to the next season. The game starts in Summer.

The players start the game with a hand of three cards which represent seeds for crops they can grow. Each crop can only be planted during specific seasons and harvested in other seasons.

Player Turns

Each round, players take turns, moving clockwise around the table. In a players turn they may perform two actions. There are three types of actions, which may be performed in any order:

  • Plant a crop
  • Harvest a crop
  • Buy seeds from the market

Players may perform additional actions on their turn, by spending Suns equal to the number of actions taken.

Plant a Crop

If it is the appropriate season for planting a crop in your hand, you can plant it by placing it face up in front of you.

Harvest a Crop

If it is the appropriate season to harvest a crop, you can harvest it by flipping it over. This reveals the Suns earned from the crop. Keep the cards Sunny-side-up in front of you. They count as victory points, or may be spent to perform extra actions and buy from the Market.

Buy Seeds

To buy seeds, take a card from the Market into your hand. If you take the rightmost card, it is free. Taking cards further towards the left requires you to spend one Sun per card skipped. Thus, the from right to left, the seeds in the market cost 0, 1, 2 or 3 Suns.

When a card is bought from the Market, move the remaining cards down to the right and draw a new card to fill the leftmost space.

Game End

Once the seed deck is empty and no more cards can be drawn to the Market the game is coming to an end. Play the game until the end end of the next Winter. The player with the most Suns wins the game.


Monster’s Ball

Monster’s Ball is a game idea I threw together a while ago (almost two years to the day, judging by the modified date on the files), but decided I didn’t really like after a bit of testing. The name is fairly literal: Each player is a Monster at a grand ball. The monsters are dancing together, but with different and contradictory goals.

Each round is a song. At the start of the round, players draw two cards – a position card, which tells them where they should be at the end of the song, and a dance partner card, which tells them who they are dancing with. If the player draws their own card as a partner, they are dancing alone. These cards are the player’s secret goals for the duration of the song.


Players then play a certain number of turns, as set by the current song. Each turn, players secretly choose a dance step card from their hand and reveal simultaneously. Chaos ensures. At the end of the song, players reveal their position and partner dance cards, and gain points as so:



  • 1 point for correct row
  • 1 point for correct column
  • 1 point for adjacent to position
  • 2 points for being in exact position

Dance Partner

If you have a partner:
2 points for being adjacent to partner

If your partner is yourself
2 points for being adjacent to no-one.

The game finishes after four or so songs.

I liked the idea for Monster’s Ball initially, but then as soon as I started playing it I realized: This is really similar to Roborally. And unlike many people I don’t really care for Roborally. I get what it’s going for, and see why other people would enjoy it, but find the chaos frustrating more than fun. And Monster’s Ball has got chaos in droves. Maybe Monster’s Ball could be developed more by someone else, but it just doesn’t match up with what I try to get out of a game. Sometimes, games just don’t click, and sometimes designing backwards from the name isn’t the best approach.


Twilight Imperium Player Aide

Twilight Imperium is a crazy huge space conquest boardgame. Whenever I want to teach someone new to play it, they get so overwhelmed they don’t have a chance to remember any of the rules. So I made this player aide, which makes things a little easier.

The player aide comes in four pages; it’s intended to have pages 1-2 printed on either side of one sheet, and 3-4 on another.

Pages 1-2 are essential information. There’s a tech tree, a list of ships, a guide to you can do each turn and victory conditions.


Pages 3-4 contain more advanced and specific rules which aren’t as necessary. The strategy cards included here are personal preference and I would avoid using the leaders with first-time players.

Download the player aide here


Understanding randomness in terms of mastery

Dan Cook on Lost Garden, dissecting the use of random elements in game design and their effect on player mastery.

One of the fundamental elements of any game is how the player learns to distinguish useful patterns from environmental noise. Without a mental model of how a system works, most games appear random or at least arbitrary.

When you use randomness as an opportunity for mastery over noise, I think you’ll find that games of luck become highly meaningful games of skill.

Yep. Moderation in all things.