Tuesday 1 March 2022

Retheming a Game – Part II: Why Retheme?

Retheming a Game

Why would a designer retheme an already published board game? For the purposes of this discussion, I will be ignoring fan-made, PNP rethemes of board games. Here are some possibilities:

The Game is in the Public Domain

The game already exists in the public domain, so a designer decides to retheme it and make a new game out of rules and mechanics that already exist. After all, these older games are up for grabs for anyone willing to put in the effort. The card game Rummy (which may have originated in Mexico or China in the nineteenth century) is just a copyright free set of rules that can be applied to a standard deck of playing cards. There is nothing to really monetize there unless you can add a spin to it and make it fresh and more engaging. One example is Mike Fitzgerald’s Mystery Rummy series. These customized decks combine the traditional Rummy with elements of mystery solving, allowing players to play Victims, Suspects, Scenes, and Evidence-melds. Another game using the Rummy mechanic is Rummikub, which uses tiles instead of cards. Though not exactly a retheming, it does take an existing public domain game and repackages it in a way that is more engaging then a regular deck of cards. Another example is 15th Century Chess, which has been redone as Chinese Chess, Laser Chess and 4-Player Chess.

The Game’s original IP is no longer available

In 1979 Eon released Dune, a game based on Frank Herbert’s space opera. In Dune players play one of the factions wrestling for control of the spice planet. Each organization has special powers that bends a rule of the game. On their turn players move on the map of the world, picking up spice while avoiding giant sandworms, sandstorms and the other players’ armies. After the first print run it was never rereleased due to legal issues concerning licensing of Herbert’s IP. Fantasy Flight Games bought the rights to reuse the mechanics, but could no longer set it on the sand world of Dune. Instead they transported it to the Twilight Imperium universe, republishing it in 2012 as Rex: Final Days of an Empire. Instead of avoiding sandstorms, players must seek shelter from the massive Sol warships executing a deadly bombardment of the continent-sized Mecatol City. It may be difficult for people to obtain the 40-year out-of-print Dune game, but they can still buy Rex for new on Amazon.

Retheme to Legally Bypass the Game’s original IP 

Some game publishers may bypass (some would say unethically) a game’s original IP by retheming their version to such an extent that they can successfully defend their product in court. In 2002 Emiliano Sciarra published the Spaghetti Western themed card game Bang! In the game each player randomly receives a Character card that gives them special abilities, and a secret role card that determines their goal: the Sheriff, the Deputy, the Outlaw or the Renegade. On their turn players can play action cards to harm another character (Bang!, Dynamite) or protect their character (Missed!, Beer). Then in 2007 the Chinese game designer KayaK (Huang Kai) published the card game Legends of the Three Kingdoms, based off the Chinese classical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In this game each player randomly receives a Hero card that gives them special abilities, and a secret role card that determines their goal: the Monarch, the Minister, the Rebel or the Turncoat. On their turn players can play action cards to harm another character (Strike) or protect their character (Dodge!, Peach). In 2014 the creators of Bang!—DaVinci—sued Ziko Games for these similarities. DaVinci included with its brief in support of its preliminary injunction application a chart identifying 64 similarities between the two games. But ultimately the court ruled in favour of Ziko Games and dismissed the case in 2016. In the end board game mechanics are not protected by copyright laws.

Retheme to appeal to other Demographics or lead players to other versions of the same Game

In 2012 game designer Seiji Kanai released the minimalist card game—only 16 cards!—Love Letter. The premise of the original game was to deliver a love letter to the Princess with the assistance of relatives and acquaintances. There are 8 card types, each having a different effect when played. Players start with 1 card held secret, and on their turn they draw a second card from the deck. The player must choose which card to play, and process the effect of that card. The game is played over multiple rounds, with the round ending with either the deck running out, so that the player holding the highest-value card wins, or all players are eliminated except one, who then wins. In 2014 AEG published a second version of the game named Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings. This new theme employs the fictional setting evoking East Asian cultures and was used in collectable card games and role playing games. So this rethemed version could appeal to gamers who enjoyed the Legend of the Five Rings games—who otherwise would not buy a game called Love Letter—plus people who already owned the original game might buy this copy as well. This version was quickly followed by Love Letter: Wedding Edition (made specifically for wedding receptions), Munchkin Loot Letter, Letters to Santa and Love Letter: Batman. As of this writing there have been 25 versions of Love Letter published, in addition to translations of the original game.

The Original Theme is out of date, or is in some way is no longer suited for the current time period

Sometimes when a game has gone out of print and you want to republish it, you find that the original theme is no longer relevant or may be unappealing for the times. In 2013 Victory Point Games published my first board game: a solitaire game called Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp. In the game, you are the director of the Department of Plague Control (DPC) field office in New York City. You make the decisions about what parts of the virus to study, which personnel to hire and what equipment to purchase. The game used simple mechanics in a multitude of combinations to create engaging gameplay as you try to eliminate a mutating virus. Components included event, lab personnel and equipment cards; molecules and protein tokens; and one much hated, tiny 6-side die. The game went out of print about 3 years ago, and while I tried to come up with a 2-player version of the virus game, it was difficult to capture the drama and energy of the solitaire game.

And then the pandemic hit.

At this point it seemed there was no way a publisher would want to try to republish a board game about a desperate group of scientists struggling to find a cure for a deadly virus while the death toll climbed into the tens of millions. Then Worthington Publishing reached out to me in September of last year asking if I would be interested in updating and deluxifying my solitaire game. We had a conference call regarding the idea, and in the end we all agreed that we would have to change the theme, since we felt the current one would be a hard sell for the current time period. So it was decided we should retheme the game. 

Check out my next blog post regarding all the different themes I thought of that could use the existing rules and mechanics of Infection. 

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Retheming a Game – Part I: Components, Rules and Mechanics

 Retheming a Game

 What are board games but a collection of components, rules and mechanics wrapped up in a theme. And if such a collect works for one theme, then why not for another?  There have been many board games that were initially released with one theme, only to be republished with another to reach a wider audience, or perhaps for other reasons. Werewolf is a retheming of the game Mafia, Rex: Final Days of an Empire is Dune but set in the Twilight Imperium universe, and there are currently 25 versions of Seiji Kanai's Love Letter. Controversially, Bang! from dV Giochi was re-themed as Aiko Games’ Legend of the Three Kingdoms. The components, rules and mechanics may be tweaked in the process of retheming, but generally the core of the game remains the same.

A number of years ago I designed a solitaire board game. Can you guess the theme of the game from the components, rules and mechanics below?

  • Components
    • 16 resource tokens with 5 different icons: A set of 6, a set of 4, a set of 3, a set of 2 and a set of 1
    • 28 target tokens:
      • 6 sets of 3 copies each, composed of 3 assorted resource icons
      • 4 sets of 2 copies each, composed of 4 assorted resource icons
      • 5 sets of unique tokens, composed of 5 assorted resource icons
    • 19 power cards that the player can acquire throughout the game, which grants them special abilities
    • 31 event cards that alter game variables every turn
    • 2 markers for tracking action points and game countdown tracks
    • A 6-sided die
    • A game board had the following features:
      • A 5 x 5 x 5 hex map where randomly drawn target tokens are placed
      • An action point track: 0-20
      • A game countdown track: 1-10
      • A 4-space resource collection area where randomly drawn resource tokens are placed
      • A target area displaying each of the 15 targets, showing their composition of resource icons, where resource tokens can be placed in order to eliminate target tokens on the hex map
  • Rules and Mechanics
    • Draw an event card, which may add randomly drawn target tokens to the hex map
    • Draw 4 resource tokens and place them on the resource collection area
    • The player may:
      • Spend action points to obtain a power card
      • Use a power card to gain a special ability that turn
      • Spend action points to obtain resource tokens and place them on targets in the target area with matching icons
      • When a target has all icon spots populated with resource tokens, the matching target tokens on the hex map are removed, and the player gains action points determined by the value on hex the target token occupied.
    • Player actions may be affect by the event card.
    • When the player completes their turn, they roll the 6-sided die to determine if they must advance the game countdown track, then receive bonus action points if applicable. The roll can be affected by the event card.
    • The game ends when:
      • The player eliminates all target tokens from the hex map before the countdown track reaches the 10 spot on the countdown track, and the player wins.
      • The countdown track reaches the 10 spot before the player eliminates all the target tokens from the hex map, and the player loses.
Obviously you could just look up my name and see my only currently published board game, but I think the descriptions above can be pretty generic.

Thank you for your time.

John "That Cowboy Guy" Gibson

Friday 13 February 2015

A developer's preview of the Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp App!

Here is a developer's preview of HexWar's Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp App, which is the digital conversion of my solitaire boardgame. w00t!


Tuesday 10 February 2015

A gamer translated Infection into French so their 83 year old father could play it

So as many of you know I designed a solitaire boardgame called Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp published by Victory Point Games.

So it came to my attention that one of the people who owned my game who lives in France shared the following story:

I know the game since it was published. It plays fast, it's puzzly, it's thematic, it's challenging. So many qualities... I like that game a lot. 

What I didn't notice before last month was that there is a story in it.... and it's funny.

Personal back-up story

Last Christmas, my father - who will be 83 in a week and has never played a boardgame in his life - asked me to find a solo boardgame he could play.

First idea that came to my mind while talking with him was Infection. However, he doesn't understand English: I had to translate the rules and the cards in French.

I assumed, it would not be an easy task.

Before initiating translation, I asked for advice in the 1st Player Guild Forum on BoardGameGeek. I received a lot of very interesting suggestions (I'm still working on two of them) but as I "sold" Infection to my father in the first place, he was really interested in playing that particular game.

It took me more time than I expected.

It is especially challenging to translate cards. Very often, it takes several words in French whereas English use one or two to express the same idea.

Anyway, I did finish the translation just in time to send the game to my father for his birthday (it was the initial goal).

My revelation regarding infection story

When I play, I focus on the effects (place a molecule here or there, subtract 1 or add 2 to your die roll...) and not on the ambiance text.

The translation forced me to read every single word on the cards.

That's was a mistake to ignore the ambiance text. It's really worth it.

There is a true life in this Laboratory!

Adam, who is the youngest team's member, is really a nice "kid". He fells asleep regularly which pisses of Amanda whereas Sylvia is more forgiving. He disguises Marvin - the Lab Rat - when he's got some free time and watches TV a lot! The relationship are tensed between the Lab guys and the story develops in few-well-chosen words.

On the other hand, there is also a life outside the Lab. The death section tells that story like a never-ending-scrolling information at the bottom of the TV screen while watching the TV-news.

Just don't know how I could have missed the excellent job they did with the story in this game.

It cannot be called a "story-telling" game, though, but there is a story. I will play it with new eyes now.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Meeplesburg notes from play testers at FallCon 2014. Photos included!

Meeplesburg notes from play testers at FallCon 2014
So I had a great time at FallCon this year in Calgary. I had 6 play testing sessions with Meeplesburg. I got in a couple of 2 player games, a couple of 5 player games and a couple of 4 player games. I received plenty of valuable feedback from the play testers. Mainly they found it to be fun, challenging, compelling game and it only takes an hour to play!
Here a few pictures from the event:
Here is the setup for a 2-player game

Here we are near the end of 5-player game

Hugh Polley is considering his options

A couple of turns into a 2-player game--and there's a copy of INFECTION on the table

Here is the signage I whipped up in Photoshop for the table

This is the FallCon scheduled Playtesting area

Almost at the end of a game by the looks of it

John Montague is weighing his options as he contemplates his next turn
Here is the useful feedback I got:
·         Put Construction, Purchase, Upgrade labels on both sides of the board
·         Move Apprentice area up and label it.
·         Put an arrow to move cards from Construction area to Purchase area
·         Use an arrow or some other kind of symbol in the Mason area for moving masons to the other 3 areas
·         Could use the phrase Legacy Points instead of Victory Points; less militaristic
·         Use a block or heavy boarder between the Worker area and the Purchase area
·         Use part of the Action board for Player action instructions
·         You can spend $35 to copy write your rules in the USA
·         On the building cards, move up the construction area so it is at the top and lines up with the double meeple symbol. Use the same background as the board
·         Change the row/column layout so that opposite meeples are different colours. Yellow-Blue
·         Check out Alien frontiers for the iconography they use. Keep this in mind for the “Or” symbol on the card and the Wall or Income on the action board
·         Tap card for money right away? NO!
·         Get rid of the building icon on the building tile. Put the Meeple inside a house of the same colour.
·         Put spots on tile for placing the house, tenant and monument
·         Move the money symbol to a different location on the card. I think it should overlap the construction section and the meeple section. The $3 coin will be a different color. Make it clearer. Don’t need the money symbol on the tile either.
·         Use 3 platforms instead of 5 for all number of players. Different platforms have different number of tenant spaces on them: 1, 2, 3. There will only be one space for a mason per round for getting a platform

Thursday 2 October 2014

Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp - First screenshots of the Video Game

Hunted Cow Studios have now issued a press release that they are developing my game into a video game and have shared 8 screenshots of the game; 4 from the PC version and 4 from the iOS version.

Here is some verbiage from the press release: 

We're pleased to release the first alpha screenshots of John Gibson’s Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp by developer Criss Cross Games. Scheduled for release in December for PC, Mac, iOS and Android; this is the first release from the announcement of the partnership between Hunted Cow Studios and Victory Point Games.

About the Game

Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp was named one of the Top 30 Solitaire Board Games by Box of Delights and one of the 2013 Best Thematic Solitaire Games for the Spare Time Challenged on BoardGameGeek!

In Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp, by designer John Gibson, you are the director of the Department of Plague Control (DPC) field office in New York City. You make the decisions about what parts of the virus to study, which personnel to hire, and what equipment to purchase. You’ll soon discover you are working with an eccentric group of scientists who don’t always work well together—and one very resourceful lab rat named Marvin. As the casualties increase, so does the stress and mistakes made, as you try to complete your vaccine before time runs out for all of mankind!

This strategy game uses simple mechanics in a multitude of combinations to create engaging, deep gameplay as you try to eliminate an evolving virus that could spell the end of the human race. While random events from the Status Report cards might throw a wrench in your plans (or occasionally help you out), you’ll use the Lab Personnel and Equipment cards you’ve hired to piece together randomly generated proteins into the different parts of a vaccine, all while managing dwindling funding resources as the Death Toll Track climbs. Each time that your Containment roll fails you come one step closer to losing this battle, so make sure that you push everyone to their limits before the infection reaches critical levels.


Here is the default view for the PC version of the video game

Here is the default view of the iOS version of the video game

Tuesday 23 September 2014

I walked a Mile in high heels in Calgary last week

Hi All,

So That Cowboy Guy walked a mile in high heels last Thursday in Calgary to raise money for the YWCA WALK A MILE IN HER SHOES®  fundraising event. The event raises funds to help women and their children take steps to walk away from family violence.

The YWCA of Calgary is helping women escape the cycle of abuse, helping children receive the safety, support and nurturing they deserve and helping men learn healthy ways of interacting with their families.

You can still donate by visiting my personal page:


Thank goodness I managed not to twist an ankle, but boy did my feet hurt by the time it was over! Oh, and I might have flashed the judges.