Pencil Park - Design and Development Journal

About a week before UnPub 2017, I posted a weird little idea for a roll-and-write game. I didn't realize how much of a hit it would be until a few days later when I saw dozens of people playing it on home-printed or hand-drawn cards. It's been a fast development process since then, but where did it start?

Someone on my twitter feed once described a game mechanism where the arrangement of pips on a dice face could literally be translated to a range of movement on a grid or an arrangement of tiles on a table space. If you're that person, please @ me so I can give you proper credit. Clearly that idea stuck with me for a while, eventually becoming the seed of Pencil Park.

I've always liked drafting mechanisms that make what you don't choose as meaningful as what you do. In Seasons, the die result that no one chooses determines the pace of the game. In Small World, Belle of the Ball, and Century: Spice Road, the cards you don't draft get more valuable over time. I wanted to play around with something like the Can't Stop mechanism by Sid Sackson, where you choose two dice from a pool, but adding the more modern twist of making the remaining dice matter.

So that was the beginning: You roll three dice. Choose two and add them together. That number corresponds to a type of symbol you will write on a piece of paper. The remaining die tells you how many of that symbol you will write. Furthermore, that die also tells you the arrangement that set of symbols must be drawn in. On a standard six-sided die, that meant a "4" would be a 2x2 grid of symbols. A "5" would be an "X" shape of two intersecting diagonal lines.

Assuming the space available to draw these symbols is limited, I thought it would make for an interesting Tetris-style analog game where you have a bit more control over the pieces that may come. I made a set of nine city cards with grids of white squares and four empty inaccessible squares along with a first draft of six different types of "zones" that could be drawn. That was where Pencil Park began.

Over the week leading up to UnPub 2017, I had a lot of people tweeting their home-made final boards to me to check their scoring. This was a clear indication to me that I had stumbled on something special, which was great news. the bad news, I didn't realize how much homework I had given myself during an already busy week! Clearly the next step would be simplifying the scoring system and clarifying its presentation so I wouldn't need to answer FAQs so frequently.

That's where Adam McIver came in! Out of all the people who had been interested in Pencil Park, Adam was by far the most enthusiastic and willing to test weird new ideas. We chatted in-person during UnPub about some new ideas for new components and how the game might exist as a DriveThruCards product or a more traditional retail product. I've rarely had the chance to collaborate with someone who also shared the same history of graphic design and game design. It's been great!

He figured out the math so that we would have a more balanced set of seven zones. We added two great new modes of play for more competitive strategic players. Adam made a set of Power Cards activated by a fourth die that gets chosen by the "Mayor" of the round. It's a really cool mechanic!

Now I'm preparing for the local UnPub Mini event at Atomic Empire on April 29 where I will debut a new draft of Pencil Park and test out all three modes of play: Block Party, City Council, and Town Rivals. Once I've had a chance to evaluate the playtest results and make the necessary tweaks, we might put up a new print-and-play draft for public review. Can't promise anything just yet, but at the very least you'll hear more about Pencil Park!

'Trickster: Champions of Time' on Kickstarter

Howdy all! Long time no see. It's been a wildly busy couple of months since last year, most of which culminates in this new game from Action Phase Games and Indie Boards and Cards.

Trickster: Champions of Time is a big polished update of my old game series Trickster which long-time followers might remember from a few years ago. The art is all new, the base game contains more hero cards, and the expansions planned introduce even more. I handled art direction and Beth Sobel did the illustrations. I'm happy to have a diverse and inclusive cast of characters from across time and space so skillfully depicted in the game.

Check out the video above and help spread the word. Thank you!

Highlights from BGG.con! [Video]

Thanks for being patient with my slow posting schedule the past few weeks. I'd been preparing non-stop for BGGcon this year (and then catching up on all the other freelance work that backed up before then). I wanted to come to this con more prepared with prototypes that might be a better fit for the current market. Seemed to work out!

It was certainly my most hectic and busy con in many years. Seemed like I was always bustling from one impromptu meeting to another the whole time. I arrived with about 7 prototypes and they're all now in someone else's hands. That's no guarantee of publishing, but at least it's a nice start! Always a good sign of a healthy business trip.

The rest of my time was spent trying out fun new games and some old favorites with new friends. Check out the video above for a highlight reel of some of the games that hit the table.

Belle of the Ball Second Edition Coming in December!

Hey all! Quick update from Greater Than Games regarding Belle of the Ball Second Edition.

It's being printed right now! Barring any unforeseen shipping problems, copies of Belle of the Ball Second Edition should be available on the Greater Than Games web store and on Miniature Market in early December. They'll be rolling into stores shortly thereafter. Cutting it a bit close, but GTG is 90% sure we'll make it!

If you're a store owner and want to get Belle back on your shelves ASAP, contact for info.

If you own the first edition, here's a quick overview of some changes to the rules and a few bits of card text.

New Tuck Boxes from DriveThruCards!


Tuckboxes are now live for I Can't Even With These Monsters and Curse You, Robin Hood! When you're in the checkout page, just select the third option for the item. It's entirely optional as always, but they look great. Here's a quick tour of their features!


First off, the print quality is great as always. The print is smooth, the colors are vibrant, and the consistency is top notch.


When you take a closer look, you'll notice this seam along the edges of one of the panels. This is because these boxes use no glue in their construction. They're entirely secured with folds and flaps. This has the additional benefit of making the box very rigid and sturdy.


When you open the box, you'll see the deck of cards you ordered without the usual order # card or cellophane band that comes with no-box or plastic box decks.


The rear hinge of the top lid needs a crease here to open properly, which is why I designed the back of my box to be on this panel. I set up the info bar to be just above that crease so it looks more intentional. I also made sure not to put any important text along this crease.


Here's a close-up of the inside of the box, showing one other benefit of this construction. Unlike typical tuckboxes, there's no bottom flap sticking up, pushing against the cards. It makes returning the cards to the box an easy breeze.


This big interior flap is the key to the whole box's construction. That flap sticking into the side a bit creates a gentle pressure against the deck keeping it nice and snug.


And that's a quick overview of the new tuck boxes! I hope you dig them!

Two New Card Games on Sale!

Hello, all! These are the first two card games I'm self-publishing in over a year and I'm mighty proud of them.

Curse You, Robin Hood! is a rowdy pub-style card game where you're merchants in Sherwood Forest trying to get as rich as possible. The only problem is that if you're the richest in a particular type of good, Robin Hood will steal it all from you. Different legendary characters will also join your game, introducing the basics of bluffing and negotiation to new players without getting in the way of gameplay. I really love the art by Molly Ostertag.

» Buy it here: Curse You, Robin Hood!

» Watch the video tutorial here:

I Can't Even With These Monsters is the first game in the I Can't Even series. In these games, there's one major rule: Only the highest odd-numbered score will win the game. Even if four players have 22, 20, 18, and 3 points respectively, the player with 3 points will win. This edition introduces the basic concepts with seven fun monsters illustrated by Charles Andrew Bates.

Buy it here: I Can't Even With These Monsters

Watch the video tutorial here:

SPX 2016 Overview

Howdy folks! I just got back from SPX 2016, the convention focused on independent and small press comics creators. Back in 2014 I briefly mentioned SPX as a great source for artistic talent. Last year I described the parallels between the indie comics and the tabletop game design communities.

This year I'm just exhausted, so here's a link to the pinterest board of artists I met at the hall. Most of these artists said they were available for freelance assignments, so if you're a publisher or art director looking for new talent, check them out!

A brief overview of my exp at the show:
  • Fri: Toured the comics vault at Library of Congress. Saw a lovely Harrison Cady piece. Talked sci-fi movies with new friends. Then hauled boxes around the hall for set up.
  • Sat: Line mgmt duty. Met The Adventure Zine artists. Saw the Ignatz Awards. Danced at (and evacuated from) the SPX prom.
  • Sun: Mostly special duty. Saw @careydraws on Magical Girls panel! Then teardown, lifting, hauling. Alas, too tired to play Magic. Happy tho!
  • Mon: Silver Diner breakfast with smart folks talking about creative life and work.

And now I must sleep a week.

▶️ Highlight Key Words with Custom Tags in InDesign [Card at Work: 15]

Laying out a card game but your team members don't have indesign? Spreadsheets don't keep character formatting either, so that's no help. How can your team call out key words for you to style? Custom tags!

Using a library of customized plain text tags makes it easy to know which words need to be styled a particular way. By setting up a few simple GREP styles in InDesign, those tags will automatically highlight and style those key words like magic. All you have to do is merge the records in DataMerge as usual and InDesign does the rest of the work for you.

Hope you find this useful! Support more videos at!

Wireframe Card Designs for Patrons

New goodies for all my patrons! I had a request for some wireframe card designs for different types of games, so here's a test batch for you. These are available in EPS, JPG and an IDML file. Hope you find these useful! If you'd like to see more, please comment on the Patreon post here. Thanks!

Chess Terrain Cards?

This was a silly little product I was mulling a while back. It's too goofy for abstract players and too abstract for goofy players. So, probably just right for my sensibilities. :)

It's deck of cards with 2x3 grid of spaces. Eight cards arranged as shown above would make the middle six rows of a chess board. Each player's home row is implied by the dotted lines. You'd set up a standard chess game and play on this modular board, using the special effects on the spaces shown above.

This is obviously designed for chess, but could easily combo with the transparent card abstract game I posted as well. It's one of those little ideas that's not really marketable at anything but a niche scale, but I probably great for a POD product. It's been a long time since I've released any new product and the longer the hiatus, the more pressure I feel to make the next one really special. Perhaps instead I should just focus on these sorts of silly ideas.

What do you think?

Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.