Monday, October 24, 2011

LDS Voices from Lift Games

12:00 PM by Mike · 0 comments
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LDS Voices (from Lift Games here) is an iPhone app that challenges you to listen to several topics, including hymns, prophets voices, and scripture mastery, and to recognize them. You first select your topic of choice and then the level of difficulty (easy, medium, hard). Once you have done this you are presented with a few seconds of audio. Once you think you know what you are hearing you tap the Answer button. You are then presented with a list of possible answers to choose from. How many can you get right in a row!?

This is a great way of familiarizing yourself more with the hymns and the voices of the prophets. It also gives a good opportunity to practice the scripture mastery verses. The app sells for $2.99 in the app store (there is also a Lite version if you'd like to try it out a bit before purchasing). Grab your copy and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Helam: A Stripling Warrior Quest

12:00 PM by Mike · 4 comments
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Looks like Deseret Book will soon be releasing a game from Excel Entertainment entitled Helam: A Stripling Warrior Quest (here). At least that's what I can find out on their site. Looking through the Excel Entertainment site (along with their Facebook page and their Twitter feed) I could find nothing mentioning this game. The cover looks fantastic. Even the flavor text (pasted below from Deseret Book's website) makes me want to try it out.

Game Description from Deseret Book:
Perfect for thrill-seekers of all ages, Helam: A Stripling Warrior Quest is an action- packed video game based on the Book of Mormon. Experience the excitement first-hand as you take control of Helam, who aspires to be a stripling warrior. Battle mysterious creatures, defeat wicked Lamanites, and collect clues while you journey to find the villain who burned down your village. Do you have what it takes to complete your quest, conquer evil, and become a true stripling warrior? 

I just wish there was more information available, such as a few screenshots or perhaps a short game trailer showing scenes from the game along with some gameplay examples. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Anyone know anything more about the game?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Winner!

Thanks to all of you out there who follow us on Facebook. We are currently up to 304! That means that we need to have another drawing (every 100 fans we give away a game). The winner of this drawing will receive a copy of Caractor Match (find out more about the game from Keystone Games here).

And the winner is...

Christina Bastien Cool Cat

Congratulations Christina!! If you will contact me here on the blog via the contact link above or comment on Facebook so that we can get your mailing address, then we'll get the game sent out to you.

So, spread the word and let others know about us. Once we hit 400 followers on Facebook then we'll have another drawing!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gamification & LDS Amor of God App

Gamification (lots of information here) is the idea that elements from games, that make them fun, can be applied to everyday-life situations as a way of increasing enjoyment and engagement. An example of this would include credit card rewards programs: as you make purchases with the credit card you receive points. These points build up and can then be "traded in" for merchandise or cash.

Recently, Missionary Solutions (here) released their LDS Armor of God iOS app (here). I know, jump from gamification to an iOS app, but don't worry, I'm going to tie this whole thing together. At it's core this app is about setting reminders for you to complete certain tasks, like Read the Scriptures, that, once set, pop up at the designated time on your iOS device. Once it pops up you go and select whether or not you completed the task. For example, you might want to set a reminder to go to the temple. You'd select that from the list and then set the time of day, along with how often it will remind you.

But where's the fun in that!? Say your prayers. Here's where the idea of gamification comes in. Depending on the number of reminders that you set and how well you do at completing those task, your armor is affected. For example, below you can see that the current armor is Reflective Leather (with 2 reminders set). Set yourself more reminders and your type of armor will be increased, all the way up to Steel (with 6 or more reminders set).

The image also displays your Armor Integrity. This is a reflection of how well you've done at completing the tasks when you are reminded. Don't worry, if you are struggling you can always go in and "repent." This resets your Armor Integrity. At the bottom they have included an option that lets you keep track of where you are reading in the scriptures. I'm not sure that this is very necessary, I mean, I have my iPad, so I'm reading the scriptures and my place is always marked, but I guess if you like reading from the "hard copy" then this could be helpful.

All in all, I like the idea and I think this app has a lot of potential. I would love to see the option for me to be able to type in what I want to call my reminder. Currently you can only choose from the options that are included. It would be great if there was a cancel button in some of the options, just in case you tap it and then decide against it. I could not find a way of deleting a reminder once I set it.

I think it would also be cool if there was a display of the armor (currently it shows up in the background, like in the images above) and the way it looked reflected the integrity of the armor. So, as you complete your tasks it looks shiny/impenetrable, but as you miss completing your tasks then maybe cracks or other such things show up in your armor.

Do you have any ideas that could more "gamify" this app!?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Whole Armor of God

Disclaimer: This game was designed by Mike Drysdale, me.

Whole Armor of God is a new card game for kids that will be available this Fall from Covenant Communications. For 2 to 4 players, the object of the game is to be the first to "put on" all 6 pieces of the Armor of God. Each piece of armor requires a certain number of "faith points" before it can be collected. Faith in Action cards are played until the total faith points equals the number required for that piece of armor. But watch out for the Fiery Darts, they will affect your Faith in Action!

As players collect the Armor of God cards they are able to lay them out on the table in front of them, in the end creating a completed person completed clothed in the Whole Armor of God!

This will be a great game for kids to play with their parents. It will also provide a great game/activity that can be included in a Family Home Evening! We will soon post a Family Home Evening guide that includes using the game to help kids learn more about the Armor of God and how they can arm themselves!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Feast & Famine Video Review

11:13 PM by Mike · 0 comments
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Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower did a video review of Feast & Famine. Enjoy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Funstuf from the Friend

3:56 PM by Mike · 0 comments
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This month marks the 40th year that the Church magazine the Friend has been produced. They did something a little different in the magazine for May. They printed it as normal but then you can flip it over and find 24 specially chosen Funstuf activities and games from the last 40 years! Kind of a cool way to commemorate 40 years of the Friend!

And, if you ever had any ideas for games or activities that you thought could be included in the Friend in their Funstuf section, well, you can submit that idea to the Friend (here). The whole process is fairly simple: input your basic information (name, address, ward, etc) and upload a file that includes your game or activity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why There Aren't More Good Mormon Games, Part 2

10:16 PM by Mike · 1 comments
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Here is the second part to Mark Hansen's discussion of why we don't have good LDS-themed games.
Mormon gaming suffers from some of the same ailments that plague other LDS oriented arts, like music, literature, visual arts, and even performing arts.  These are:

A Small and Mostly Unaware Audience
Most of the world is not Mormon.  Yet.  I know, I know, we're working on that.  Still, we haven't gotten there as of this writing.  

Of that small part of the world that is Mormon, the percentage that speaks english (the language that most of our stuff is currently published in) is steadily shrinking.  Of the English speaking Mormons, how many of them are aware that Mormon games even currently exist?  And, of that percentage, how many can and actually want to buy one and play it?

I'm convinced that this audience is gradually becoming more and more sophisticated in their gaming tastes, because more and more of them are buying more and more intriguing games.  Eurogames, for example (, once only for a more intense gamer crowd, are becoming more and more mainstream in America. That means that LDS games have to step up to the plate as well, and (pun intended) compete.

Relatively Few Game Publishers in the LDS World
Since the audience is inherently small, Mormon publishers are cautious in entry.  There are, however notable examples when they've kicked in:  "Feast or Famine", "Warriors of the Promised Land", "Hagoth".

Games can be more expensive to produce than books, and don't usually sell as well, so it's a bigger risk for a publisher to invest in one.  And, since fewer publishers handle games, they don't seem to be as confident marketing them as well.

Game Designing Ain't Easy
Even though there are a handful of LDS artists, writers, and musicians that are pros, I don't know of anyone who makes a full-time living designing games for the LDS market.  And the time it can take to hatch an idea and take it through multiple cycles of prototyping and playtesting can sometimes stretch into years.  All done as a labor of creative love, before the publisher even hears an intial pitch.

In spite of all this, I am ever optimistic.  I've seen good games be concieved, prototyped, tested, and published.  It can be done, and it is being done!

Mark Hansen

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why There Aren't More Good Mormon Games, Part 1

11:23 AM by Mike · 2 comments
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Sticking with the current topic of why there aren't good LDS themed games available, today we've got a guest post by Mark Hansen. You can learn a little more about Mark from his blog: Mo' Boy Blog (here) and find out about the game he is designing, Chapter & Verse (here).

Show us what you've got Mark!

What IS a Good Mormon Game?

One of the first issues that comes into my mind is simply to ask what we're really talking about.  I mean, how can we ask about good Mormon games if we're not really sure what a good Mormon Game is?

I'd like to break the definition into three main areas.  First of all, a great Mormon game would have a good theme, that's recognizably LDS.  The concept of the game would be clear.  Second, a good Mormon game would be relevant to the Gospel in some way.  Third, the game's mechanics would have to be fun, clear, and simple.  Let's look at these concepts one at a time.


This is somewhat controversial, but I think that for a game to be called a "Mormon Game", it needs to look and feel Mormon.  It should be set in a Mormon scriptural or cultural setting, have Mormon iconography in the graphics, and generally be "about" something LDS.  That doesn't mean that it has to be serious.  It can be very light and entertaining, like "Split the Ward"

I've seen a number of games designed by church members that are just good, healthy family games.  I love playing them.  But, I don't consider them to be "Mormon Games".

Gospel Relevance

To carry on with that theme, I like it when a Mormon game relates to the gospel in some way.  The essence of gaming is learning.  That doesn't mean it has to be heavy-handed preaching, but if the game play basically breaks down to a game of numbers that happens to have gospel characters printed on the cards, then the game, at its core, is not really a "Mormon game".  It's just a game, that happens to look Mormon.

So, games that remind me of Gospel concepts while I'm playing really interest me.  If a game mechanic rewards me for making a game choice that is in line with the Gospel, that's great!  I know that I often overthink things, but I wonder about Mormon games where the rules actively reward a player who "digs a pit for his neighbor".  This makes it challenging to make a competitive game.  While there are currently some exciting things being done with cooperative games, there is still a common expectation to have a "winner".  And that's not really a bad thing.  I do feel, however, that competition needs to be handled carefully.  What does it teach when the Gadianton or the Babylonian player wins the game?

Mechanics & Game Play

This is where it gets very difficult.  This is the part where all of those lofty ideals have to get translated into practical rules and game mechanics that make it easy to learn, quick to play, fun, and challening all at once.  The rules have to make it effective to pay attention to the gospel principles involved, without beating them over your head in a preachy way.  

The game must be abstract enough to be easy to grasp and play, and yet concrete enough to fit into the theme and engage the players' imaginations.

The game mechanics must be tested over and over again, and people must push extreme strategies in the testing process to make sure parts of the game aren't broken.

I would want the game to be original, not a rebranded version of an old, non-mormon game.  Let's get creative and explore some new territory.

Now, honestly, I can't think of a single Mormon game (including the ones that I've designed) that meet all of these criteria perfectly.  I don't think it exists.  I'm not sure that it can exist.  There are probably other game designers in the church that disagree with me, and think that these ideals are not what we should be shooting for and that such a game shouldn't exist.  I'm cool with that.  I do think that these are ideals that we can work toward.

In the meantime, we can still create great games that help us all to celebrate our "Mormon-ness", and have a great time doing it all together!
Mark Hansen

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Game Design Experiment, Part 1

4:00 PM by Mike · 0 comments
The recent post on the BYU Universe (here) site got me to thinking (even more than usual) about creating better LDS themed games. I also think it would be great to get a bunch of people involved in such an effort. So, to that end I propose that we try a little experiment.

It would be a lot of fun to give everyone a chance to have say and input in the process of going from an idea to an actual, finished game. Besides, in my experience, especially with game design, having different perspectives and ideas really helps produce a better end product. I'm not exactly sure how it's all going to work yet, but I am excited to at least attempt to put something together and see what happens. So, this is how we'll start the experiment: the theme or setting for the game. For example, the game could involve the Nephites fighting the Lamanites in an effort to recover the cities they lost (think the time of Captain Moroni), or trying to get all your families home taught each month could be the name of the game. Whatever you think would make an enjoyable game.

So, if you'd like to put in your 2-cents just fill in the box below with your idea. Any and all ideas will be displayed on the Game Design Experiment page (here). Alternatively, you could post a comment here and let us know what you think. After we've got several ideas submitted, then perhaps we can have a vote on what everyone thinks would be the best option.

Let's brainstorm it up!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

LDS themed games not catching on

8:36 AM by Mike · 6 comments
A recent post on the BYU Universe website (here) talks about the fact that LDS-inspired games are not catching on. Daphna (the author) talks about the Wilkinson Student Center at BYU and how students are able to check games out (for FREE!). The library at the student center does not contain a single LDS-themed game (I better get them a copy of Hagoth).

Some choice quotes, talking about LDS-themed games, from the article:

Joy Hopkins (one of the employee who works in the Wilkinson Student Center) said: “Some people here embrace corny Mormon things. Some people don’t. Not enough people think it’s cool or fun.”

Jacob Mecham (a sophomore at BYU studying music) said: “I think they’re copouts. I just think we shouldn’t buy games just because they’re Mormon-themed.”

Patrick O'Sullivan (owner of Games People Play in the University Mall) said: “Board games are competitive. You have to have a plan to win. That’s what people like best. People perceive Mormon board games as not as competitive or great strategy games, more educational about scriptures and skewed to a younger audience.”

This displays for us a clear perception, held by many people, that LDS-themed games are corny, poorly designed/conceived, non-competitive, and usually made for a younger audience. Why are there not more good, quality LDS-themed board games?

I agree with the points from the article. Most LDS-themed games have been remakes of already published games. A lot of them are rather corny or sometimes childish. I've also seen a lot of trivia based games, not that trivia games don't have their place, but it's like Patrick said, "more educational about scriptures." When I see an LDS-themed trivia game, I think to myself, "this game is just trying to teach me about the scriptures."

What, if anything, can be done to help change this state of affairs? Is there a way that this perception can be transformed into something different, even better?

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good Knight Games Guys Talk Feast & Famine

In November of 2010 Shadow Mountain and Good Knight Games released Feast & Famine: Joseph in Egypt. Recently, Ryan Braman (artist for Feast & Famine) and Jason Conforto (designer of Feast & Famine) answered some of our questions about the game, it's development, illustration, and publication. The interview is included below.

Can you give us a little background info on the two of you?

Jason: Ryan and I grew up together in San Diego, CA. We started making short films with our friends when we were in junior high and we both ended up in creative fields later on in life: I studied film while Ryan went into illustration. We have always wanted to work professionally together on a creative project, and Feast & Famine was our first real opportunity to do that. With Feast & Famine, we ended up starting a game company called Good Knight Games (here).

Ryan: I went to school at BYU Idaho, and to BYU for a year, and then transferred to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena to study Illustration. Prior to teaming up with Jason I had worked several years at Midway Home Entertainment in their Creative Services department. Our team mainly focused on print production for packaging, marketing, public relations, and trade shows. It was a great starting job.

Jason, how did you get into designing games?

Jason: I got into game design by changing the rules of the games that I played. I know a lot of people who think it is morally wrong to not follow the rules as they are written out in the rule book, but for me rules don’t matter as long as they are agreed upon and apply to everyone playing. So as I played games I would always be thinking, “How could this game be more fun?” And then I would change the rules. Eventually the rules required making additional game pieces. Sometimes I would improve the games, and other times I would just make them too complicated to play. I started making my own games based on other people’s games, which led to creating games with completely original game play.

How did the design for Feast & Famine come about?

Jason: Feast & Famine started out as a game where you had 12 months to collect a year’s supply of food, and then you had to try to survive on that food for another year. I was happy with the Feast side of that game but the Famine side just felt like undoing everything that you had done, and really who wants to play a game about powdered milk and canned goods anyway? The solution came from the Bible story of Joseph in Egypt. That theme gave Ryan the opportunity to draw upon Egyptian art, and his art is what attracts people to the game, and keeps them playing.

Can you give us a little insight into how you developed the game once you had the design in mind (throwing ideas back and forth, play-testing, how long did the entire process take, etc)?

Jason: This game was over a year in the making. I would come up with an idea and then spend hours making cheap game pieces to play the game. Then as I would play the game with my very patient wife I would discover things I needed to change. From there I would spend more time making the changes and we would play again. We did that for weeks on end. Once the game started to get good we started playing it with friends to test it out. It took a long time to find the right balance for this game. The most important balance is always strategy and luck, but with this game I had to balance education and entertainment, and since it was religious education I also wanted to make sure it was accurate without being preachy. I hoped to make a game that was easy enough for kids to play and challenging enough for adults to want to keep playing.

Ryan, how much were you involved in the development of Feast & Famine (did you participate much in the design of the gameplay)? 

Ryan: I didn’t really have much involvement in the initial design of the Feast & Famine gameplay. Jason basically approached me with a finished paper prototype he had created using Excel and some playing cards he had placed different kinds of heart-shaped stickers on. We had a game night at his house so I could get a feel for the game and discuss the different items that would need to be designed. The nice thing about the paper prototype was that it still left a lot up to the imagination. Jason was pretty open to new ideas that would enhance the gameplay and the overall visual design of the game. Some of the game items evolved over time such as the design of the seven-sided gameboard. We went back and forth with different sketches and a few versions before we reached the final solution. So the core gameplay was already there–my job then, was to take it from the concept stage to the finished product.

Have you designed any other games?

Jason: I have designed dozens of games; board games, party games, card games . . . games about pirates, zombies, Mayan ruins, the mafia and more. Plus we are now starting to develop games for the iphone and other devices. We hope to publish a few games every year.

Why did you choose Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain as the publisher, or did you pitch the game to other companies, and how did that process go?

Jason: We actually designed this game specifically for Shadow Mountain. We had other publishers as back-ups just in case they decided to pass on the game, but our pitch went well with them and we never had to shop the game around to anyone else.

Ryan, had you done any game art before Feast & Famine

Ryan: I had. When I worked at Midway I spent most of my workdays creating game covers such as Mortal Kombat and Rampage Total Destruction, designing packaging, working on concept designs, and some 2d and 3d animation. I also worked on creating my own game designs, which were illustrated with concept screens that I had mocked up when work was slow. Midway accepted game submissions from its employees so I pitched some of these illustrated game design docs to the Review Board. One actually made it pretty far, but never made it into production. Feast & Famine is my first foray into the world of board gaming, but my background in the video game industry helped make the transition to board games pretty seamless.

Ryan, the art looks beautiful on Feast & Famine and I agree that it is a definite draw to the game. How long did it take for you to finish? How involved was Jason in that process? 

Ryan: I started work on the art for Feast & Famine early 2009, and worked on it off and on for a year. At the time I was also working a job as a surveyor and doing some illustration and design consulting on the side. Jason was heavily involved in the development of the artwork for the game. We started off designing the food tiles, passing art and emails back and forth. Once the artwork for the tiles was finished I printed off a whole sheet of tiles and mounted them on matte board and cut them out. I remember pouring them all out on Jason’s dining room table and us both just staring at how cool they looked in a pile. After seeing them finished we were super excited to move on to the game boards, etc.

Jason, can you tell us a little about pitching the game to Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain?

Jason: The smartest thing we did in pitching this game was finishing the art first. I’m not sure we would have been able to pitch the game to Shadow Mountain had we not had our art finished. That being said, creating the art upfront also added a very real element of risk once you consider all of our printing, time, and other costs.

As soon as we were done playing the game during the pitch we were informed that they wanted to publish the game. The following week Shadow Mountain had an additional internal approval process that we were not a part of, but we got past that as well. Our initial pitch was in February of 2010, and we were told that we were barely in time from Christmas of that year. Feast & Famine released in stores on Nov 5, 2010.

Many game designers who have hopes of getting their games published read our blog. Can you go a little more into detail on the pitch to Shadow Mountain for us (did you call/email them, send them a game summary or rules first, sounds like you went to their offices and played the game, how did that go, etc)?

Jason: Our experience was not typical since I have had a long working relationship with many of the key players at Shadow Mountain and have worked on a bunch of non-game related projects (mostly film) with them. So it was by no means a cold pitch. Shadow Mountain typically does not publish board games so I did have to call in a few favors to make this happen.

Ryan, Jason said that you had all the art done before pitching it to Shadow Mountain, sounds like a lot of work to put in before even knowing that the game would be published. Did the two of you have any plans to run the production yourselves if it was not picked up by another publisher or did you have other companies in mind that would have been approached had Shadow Mountain decided to pass?

Ryan: Yeah, the way you see the game in Deseret Book is pretty much identical to the prototype, except for the velvet-lined drawstring bag my wife sewed, and the small faux alligator skin suitcase we used to carry all of the pieces in. It was a lot of work for sure. Jason and I had talked loosely about presenting the game to other publishers in the area. We also threw around the idea of self-publishing if no one was interested. It was decided early on that it would be an easier sell to potential publishers if we produced a working prototype that looked like a finished, production quality game. Doing that really helped our cause.

Was it difficult to bring this project to fruition working together? What kinds of things did you learn working as a team? Will you be collaborating on more in the future?

Ryan: It was difficult for us both trying to get this project off the ground–not from working together because I think we work together great, but because we had been pouring all of this time and money into a project with an unforeseen end. There was a very real risk involved. On paper neither one of us had any business taking on the risk of trying to create a board game. What got us through those times of uncertainty was we both had a vision of what Feast & Famine could be, and that it could be a lot bigger than just one guy’s game idea or just an artist’s work. Working with Jason has been great; he has a lot of great game ideas and is a real go-getter. He doesn’t let anything stand in the way of his goals. We will definitely be collaborating on more Good Knight Games projects in the future.

Jason: As far as working with Ryan goes, that was great. I had very specific ideas for what I wanted with the art and no talent to make it happen. Ryan on the other hand has more talent than he knows what to do with, and he was very excited to work with me on the project. I would like to say that Ryan captured my vision for the game and that is what we have today, but the truth is he went so far beyond what I was expecting that it made my original ideas seem simplistic and lame. We have a good working relationship because we have very complimentary skill sets. We are currently working on several other projects and we plan on working on many more after that.

Should we be looking forward to more from Good Knight Games, if so, what kinds of things can we expect?

Jason: In December of 2010 we released the first half of Feast & Famine as an iPad app, the full version will be available later this year. In February of 2011 we will be releasing RETROPlay’s game Reverse Charades as an app for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. We plan on producing a few projects every year.

Thanks for taking time to talk with us and sharing your experiences.
The game can be purchased on Deseret Book (here).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Teaching LDS Children

Here's a website/blog dedicated to providing suggestions for teaching our children the Gospel: Teaching LDS Children. These suggestions come in several different forms. For example, Sabbath Day Holy #1 (here) is a game/object lesson where the family works together, or on teams, to place the creation pictures in the correct order (according to the day when it was created).

Not necessarily a "game" per say, but an activity that kids can get involved in. This is followed by discussion of the order and the day that is missing, the Sabbath day, with an appeal to the scriptures as well.

Another example is the Missionary #5 - Song (here) that helps kids learn about the song Because I Have Been Given Much. Each part of the song is printed on slips of paper. They are discussed and added to a display board. This helps kids not only learn the words of the song, but also to grasp the meaning of what they are singing.

The site is set up very nicely, making it easy to see and find what has been put up so far. Along the right hand side of the site posts are listed by category, and there are quite a few. Some categories even have multiple ideas. For example, Word of Wisdom has 5 different ideas.
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