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Behind the Bits: The Pair-of-Dice Games DVD Commentary Track
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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This is the "DVD commentary track" for the Pair-of-Dice Games catalog. To celebrate the release of our 10th game to be listed on the BGG database, here is commentary by Greg Lam, Pair-of-Dice's head honcho. Actually, at the moment he is Pair-of-Dice's sole honcho. And now, time for behind the scenes commentary on the making of each of Pair-of-Dice Games' games.
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1. Board Game: Triangle Game [Average Rating:6.33 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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This is where it started. Luke Weisman and I were college friends who played a lot of games back in Reed College in Portland, OR. We both ended up in Boston and Luke decided to try his hand at making his own game. He came up with this design, in which exactly three players had to play, and found a silkscreener in Chinatown and a crazy guy who had a sewing company specializing in oddball jobs to make the game into a neat self-contained pouch so that the game could be packaged in its board. At this point in early 2001, I was just an onlooker and occasional chauffeur for Luke, but the fact that he could do it made me think that I could possibly do this as well.
The game itself kind of hurts my head to play. I was never very good at it. It's now out of print, though I was thinking of offering it as a free PDF download, as the only pieces you'd need are colored chits. The end product was pretty attractive and the packaging clever, I must say, though we veered away from the self-contained pouch idea after that.
 
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2. Board Game: Knockabout [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:5215]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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I joined Luke and his friend Brian to start an entire line of games, in which we'd all share in the work. I had the idea of using dice as game pieces as well as random number generators, and Knockabout was the result. I can't really say much about the creation, as I don't really remember the details of the process of it's initial idea to its final form, other than making some laminated sheets that served as the prototype board. There weren't that many changes from start to finish. This line of games was printed on felt, and then stuffed into cardboard tubes.
I find the reaction of gamers to Knockabout to be very divisive. People seem to immediately either love it or dismiss out of hand. I like this game a good deal, but I fear that I'm not terribly good at it, at least compared to its major devotees. I will say that I disagree with the criticism that the game is too lucky. If you say that then you are not seeing the optimal moves which do not depend on luck to be successful. All in all, I think this is a very elegant abstract game. Those who like it really like it. It is the most highly rated game of ours in the geek database, even with some prominent bad reviews.
BGG note: The game has 27 ratings. 27! Three more and it'd start being officially ranked. Please, people, if you've played it and have an opinion on it, rate it! (Even if you don't like it that much)
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3. Board Game: Warp 6 [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:5424]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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Warp 6 came about because we were wondering out loud if we could make another game using the same components as Knockabout. So we sat together, Luke, Brian and I, and put together in one sitting the rules of Warp 6 as laid out on the Knockabout board. That busy looking spiral is actually a stand in for the Knockabout hex grid. Same size and everything. Later, we would disagree as to who had what amount of input that day. We all seemed to think we had more than the others. Truthfully, I don't even know anymore. This was the only game of ours that we all collaborated on.
I suggested a few game titles like "Down the Drain" or "Downward Spiral" that were roundly dismissed before we came up with "Warp 6". Somehow, I saw the spiral as going downward the further in you got, whereas Luke and Brian saw it as going upward.
Like Knockabout, this game uses dice as pieces but also act as number generators. This is the game that I best understand how to play of all of our games. I understand it intuitively. Perhaps that's why I like it best. The key is to identify a path to the finish for each of the pieces you need to finish. You must plan your endgame at the beginning of the midgame, or else you won't beat a good player.
Both Warp 6 and Knockabout made the GAMES 100 for 2003 because a friend of ours played the games with the GAMES Magazine reviewer. This was an unexpected bonus for us, as they were both placed very highly. Warp 6 was declared runner-up in the Abstract Games category for that year, with Knockabout right behind. (Ahead of Blokus! Yikes.)
BGG note: This game has 24 ratings. Not so far from being ranked, either! (*hint*)
 
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4. Board Game: Pagoda [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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This was the third in our series of games that used dice as pieces and number generators. Luke designed it with a reincarnation theme, so that the dice numbers represented different animals with different attributes. It's been suggested that if we had made custom dice with these animals on it, it would be a lot better. That's probably true, but we just could never justify the cost of making custom dice in those numbers, so we stuck with normal dice.
This was another name which had many names before we settled on Pagoda. I liked tormenting Luke with sillier and sillier names based on the idea of reincarnation. First was ConFusion, then ReinCarnage. For a long time the working title was "ConFusion and ReinCarnage". Finally Karmageddon. The name Luke chose, Pagoda, is nice but a little generic for my tastes. As you will see later on, my game-naming sensibilities are quite a bit more liberal than Luke's.
This is another game that's about to go out of print. I may offer this as a free download after the last few boards are gone.
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5. Board Game: Hex Nut [Average Rating:5.99 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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HexNut, shown here in its original form, was a game that we included because of its unique production. As you can see, the game in its entirety was 20 hardware store hex nuts in two shades packaged inside an Altoids tin. Now I use larger wooden pieces, which is more credible, I think, though the idea of hardware store hex nuts is still fun in a campy sort of way. It's kind of a pain to get the brass plated hex nuts, and some have told us that the brass finish wears off after a while.
The game is cool for what it is, a pure, light abstract game. I don't play it much, but I'll probably always offer this game because the production isn't difficult.
 
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6. Board Game: Rasslefest [Average Rating:5.67 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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Rounding out the original line of games are two games that I designed that were never brought to the "fully produced" status for various reasons. First is 'Rasslefest, a light card game based on pro wrestling. I can't justify the investment I would need to fully produce a deck of cards. The game you see is photocopied on stiff paper and cut. It is a lot of fun, though, and captures the feel of the over the top world of professional wrestling pretty well in its simple way.
Players have energy, and if you execute a move you can steal the energy away from your opponent. The more energy you have, the more moves you can do. However, there are a number of desperation moves that players can only attempt when they have almost no energy. Steel chairs, manager interference, and foreign object attacks are all built into the game.
This game I only offer on my web site, and that will probably be its fate unless someone wanted to buy the concept off of me.
 
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7. Board Game: Rock, Scissors, Paper [Average Rating:6.19 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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I really should have named this game something else, like Rock v. Scissors v. Paper. This is not the game you play by throwing signs with your hands. It's a pure abstract game, like Chess, that are played with rock, scissor, and paper tokens engaged in a war of capture the flag. The paper tokens stand in for chess's pawns, the scissors are like knights, and rocks are like the rooks. (Kind of. There are differences.) Each token can only capture their natural prey.
I actually love this game though I never get to play it. There are fascinating interactions between the three types of pieces, the three piece types balance each other out so that any could dominate the field of play, and the game play is deep, rich, and varied. If I could convince myself that I could sell the necessary number of them, I would print it up for real. As it stands, I'll probably just keep this as a "B" level game.
 
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8. Board Game: Marvin Marvel's Marvelous Marble Machine [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:7653]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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mb
After Warp 6 and Knockabout made the GAMES 100, we all decided whether or not we wanted to continue the company and in what form. Of the three of us, I seemed to be the only one who wanted to create and produce new games as I think I enjoyed the production process more than they did. The others, at most, wanted only to maintain our existing games. From that point on, I've offered more games on my own, carrying on the Pair-of-Dice name.
I was having some snacks at the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square with my then-girlfriend/now-wife when I sketched the idea of the Marble Game on a napkin. I just had the idea of marbles shooting across an area and being able to twist them and turn them to and fro. I used the same hexagon field and gutter system as I did for Knockabout. (What can I say? I like the size of that field.)
I had a number of ideas that didn't end up making the final cut for markers: A teleport from place to place, speed up and slow down spaces, a moving piece that would hold and pause marbles, a marble destroying space. I edited and played around with this for a bit. I always liked this game more than Luke or Brian ever did, and I'm glad I persisted in making this game. It made the GAMES 100 in 2006.
To me the game is just about the fun of getting the marbles to move in these convoluted systems. There's a great amount of joy in making a clever combination work that sort of transcends whether you win the game or not. In putting the game together, I also had a lot of fun writing a game description which used every word beginning with the letter "M" that I could think of. Brian and Luke never warmed up to the alliteration overload, but I thought it fit the feel of the game well.
As it happens, another small gaming company was working on a similar idea which hit the market around the same time. I've never played Darter (or it's re-theming, Dragons of Kir) but it uses the same idea of trying to manipulate moving, mindless particles by putting down tiles which affect the particle. Looking at the rule set, it seems different enough that there'll be an audience for both. Darter seems more strategic whereas the Marble game seems more chaotic. Of course, mine's more affordable....
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9. Board Game: Truffle Shuffle [Average Rating:6.17 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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This gameā€¦ Well, it's available on the web site though it's still might need one more tweak. This is the most heavyweight, strategic game I've made. It's a "German style" game about chocolate manufacturing, with a bidding system and a mechanical manufacturing system in which each player can try to manipulate the chocolate factory to make the good(s) he or she will profit in.
This game has a long, convoluted history. Luke Weisman had the idea for this game way back in the beginning. The working prototype version of his game involved mining an asteroid to produce different goods by manipulating clones that were somehow made out of dirt. It had fun ideas. If the clones starved, they would collapse into a unit of dirt (which was one of the goods, believe it or not). If you went broke, you had to go into slavery and work as a clone. It was also too long for what it was, and relied a little too much on event cards.
I had the idea to re-theme this game from asteroid mining to chocolate making and streamlined the game into this version, which I called Truffle Shuffle. The version I did was different enough that he let me run with it. It's now almost at the point where I'd like to release it fully, except that I don't think that I can quite give it the level of production it deserves. With the pieces and bits, it kind of wants to be in a standard game box with full production, and I can't quite commit the resources for that. If you go on the web site and order, you'll get the "beta-test" version which is packaged in a three ring binder.
As I game I find this pretty satisfying. The manufacturing mechanisms are interesting, the chocolate theming works well. I've recently tested one final tweak in the auction system which I think is the final design element that needed to be tweaked. That was the hardest part. Try putting an auction in your game without having it already been done by Reiner Knizia. The only thing about this game is that I find when I play it that everyone else plays it too slow, and it risks dragging into the 2+ hour territory. I'm not sure it's a problem that I can solve through redesigning the game, however.
Note to self: Take a picture of the pretty board artwork and post to the geek.
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10. Board Game: Chopstick Dexterity MegaChallenge 3000 [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:3405]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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The 10th and most recent game is our first dexterity game. The idea was simplicity itself: Try and grab little wooden shapes out of a bowl with chopsticks before your opponent can Once the idea came the rest was simply a matter of tracking down components in restaurant supply stores and dollar stores and figuring out how to dye hundreds of small wooden pieces. Truthfully, I'm still looking for pointers on the latter.
This was the game I took to my first Protospiel. Playing it in a crowd made it obvious that the game was just incredibly enjoyable on a primal level. People had goofy smiles just watching other people play the game. Some people started gasping for laughter caused by the game. It's infectious.
The only drawback of the game is that your hand and wrist might start to hurt if you play too much. I hope I don't get sued.
Anyway, the name is another of my "wacky" names. I couldn't really think of a simple game name that I liked. It was "Chopstacles" for a while. Then I hit upon the idea of writing a backstory on how this game was the home version of a popular Japanese game show which the government used to encourage chopstick use for their kids. That gave me thematic license to go over the top with the theme and commission Scott Starkey, whom I met at Protospiel, to do the Manga-inspired artwork.
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11. Board Game: Restaurant Row [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:6581]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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Just uploaded onto the geek information on my newest (upcoming) game, Restaurant Row, which I'll be offering in Summer, 2009. This is my most complex game so far, both in terms of gameplay and production methods. It's a full fledged Euro-style game. I started on making this game when I realized that a restaurant's plastic menu cover would be a convenient way to make a game board. And while it's not cheap, it works very well. And if I were going to go with this method of making a game, I might as well go with a restaurant theme.

Surprisingly enough, there are precious few games with serious restaurant themes. Think about it. Restaurants are discrete, competitive units that have expenses, personnel, and which can excel in various ways. (Great food, great popularity, great profit, great reputation, etc.) That realization led to the victory point condition which may be somewhat contentious. At least it has split many of the people who have playtested the game so far.

I didn't want it to be a Settlers of Catan like victory condition, in which when you get the requisite number of points you win. My idea was that players would shoot for a moving target. There are six categories in which a restaurant is judged in comparison to its competition, and the categories which are deemed important change as the game goes on. Think about your neighborhood and which is the restaurant you'd choose as the emblematic restaurant of the neighborhood. The criteria would change based on which neighborhood you're talking about. Some neighborhoods are known for great food, some are known for being popular, or luxurious, or profitable, or critical acclaim, or for great service. In Restaurant Row, there's a ladder for the six categories which will change after each round based on the types of customers who are in the most popular restaurant. It's a slowly moving target that no one controls. It brings to mind how businesses are affected by external events: Think about the price of gas with regards to SUVs vs hybrids.

Anyways, other production notes: The menu cover being plastic lets me use a dry-erase pen to keep track of things on the board itself. The game uses the mechanic of the blind bid/blind reveal a lot. If you like that, you'll like the game. If you don't, you'll be out of luck. I contracted Scott Starkey, who did the logo for CDMC3000, to do cartoons of the various characters in the game. There are 30 customers and 12 employees. He did a great job again, even letting me give him photos of friends of mine as references for some of the customers that populate the game.
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12. Board Game: R.U.M.B.L. [Average Rating:6.43 Unranked]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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My newest game will debut at BGGcon 2010. It's a two player game called R.U.M.B.L., or Robo Ultimate Mecha Battle League. It's a quick playing game in which two players manage teams of robots with different abilities in a sumo-like sport where occupying the center of the playing field gets you more points. It has three rounds of simultaneous action selection and outguessing your opponent.

As with all my games, figuring out how to do things is part of the fun of making it. The game is color printed on MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard), a building material, that is then laser cut. As a result, it's darn strong, as illustrated by this photo:



This production was made possible by Steve Jones of Blue Panther Games. I met him at Protospiel a few years ago where he introduced me to his beautiful custom game pieces made of plywood with designs burned into them by lasers. Lasers also cut his pieces into any shape imaginable. Since then I've toyed with how I could utilize his production process into my games. With R.U.M.B.L, I've made a game that would not be possible without these capabilities.

R.U.M.B.L. plays quickly and is a lot of fun. It touches upon some aspects of Robo Rally (simultaneous action selection, programming), but is much simpler and quicker. Each robot token is double sided, with a different robot on each side. So each game you'll randomly select your team at the start, making each game unique. As the game is pretty quick once you learn what the robots do, you could play a two game series of games, using the flipside of each robot in the second game to mitigate the luck of the draw in robot selection.
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13. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:1780]
Greg Lam
United States
Boston
Massachusetts
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Well that's all for the games the we've put out. There are a few things that might show up in the future. If I can iron out the last remaining issues with Truffle Shuffle, I might push that more. There's a sailboat game that I've been working on for a long time that I've actually made progress on thanks to Protospiel (which, by the way, I highly recommend if you have ambitions of designing games). Hopefully I'll be able to add onto this list on the not-too-distant future. I've talked about some games going out of print on this geeklist. The games that are definitely going to be on the catalog for a long time are Warp 6, Knockabout, the Marble Game, Hex Nut, and the Chopstick Game. I've actually made new boards for Knockabout and Warp 6 which are the same type and quality as the bandana marble game boards.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Hopefully you'll have the chance to try one of my games somewhere down the line.
 
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