Formal Ferret Games

Gil Hova designs, publishes, and plays board games

Play The Networks and Wordsy at a game store near you!


Thanks to my friends at Double Exposure’s Envoy program, you can learn to play my games Wordsy and The Networks at a game store near you this weekend and next! (Alas, this offer only applies to my friends in the US. Hopefully we can organize an event outside my country soon!)

Here’s how it works. This coming weekend, August 26-27, stores in 39 different states, from Maine to Hawaii, will be showing The Networks. You won’t need to know how to play the game, so this is a good chance to learn the game if you don’t already!

The following weekend, September 2-3, there will be a similar event, but for my game Wordsy instead. Again, it’s a great opportunity to learn the game!

These stores should have copies of both games in stock, so if you enjoy the game, please buy it from them as a thank-you for hosting the event.

Event times and other details will vary from store to store. Please reach out to each store individually to find what times they’ll be featuring The Networks and Wordsy. Some stores will only be running events for one game and not the other; you can see which is which on the table below.

Hope you enjoy it!

State City Store Games
AR Fayetteville Dragon’s Keep Gaming Room BOTH
CA Fresno Crazy Squirrel Game Store BOTH
CA Lake Forest Comic Quest
The Networks
CA Oakland It’s Your Move Games & Hobbies BOTH
CA Rancho Cucamonga 4 Color Fantasies
The Networks
CA San Diego At Ease Games
The Networks
CO Aurora Crit Castle Games BOTH
CO Aurora Shep’s Games
The Networks
CT Middletown The Board Room BOTH
CT Newington YFN Tabletop Shop BOTH
DC Washington Labyrinth Games & Puzzles
The Networks
FL Estero Dungeon Games LLC BOTH
FL Gainesville Gamesville Tabletop
The Networks
FL Hollywood Cool Stuff Games – Hollywood
The Networks
FL Orlando Cool Stuff Games – Waterford Lakes BOTH
FL Pensacola TBS Comics Inc BOTH
FL Temple Terrace Armada Games Wordsy
GA Athens Tyche’s Games BOTH
GA Flowery Branch Meeple Madness BOTH
GA Macon Dice Drop Games BOTH
GA Warner Robins Heroes and Villains BOTH
HI Honolulu The Armchair Adventurer BOTH
IA Sioux City Games King
The Networks
ID Moscow Safari Pearl Comics BOTH
ID New Plymouth Gaming Adventures BOTH
ID Twin Falls Black Dragon Games BOTH
IL Bloomington Red Raccoon Games BOTH
IL Chicago Da Sorce BOTH
IL Crystal Lake Affinity for Gaming BOTH
IL Quincy Underdark Comics
The Networks
IL Rock Falls The Gaming Goat
The Networks
IN Goshen Better World Books BOTH
IN Hobart Games Inn BOTH
IN Indianapolis Family Time Games
The Networks
IN Indianapolis Saltire Games BOTH
IN Indianapolis The Game Preserve
The Networks
KS Lawrence Boom Comic Shop
The Networks
KS Mission Mission: Board Games BOTH
KS Overland Park TableTop Game & Hobby
The Networks
KS Topeka Gatekeeper Hobbies Wordsy
KS Topeka Grog’s Games
The Networks
KY Louisville The Louisville Game Shop
The Networks
KY Richmond Legendary Games
The Networks
LA Lafayette Sword N Board BOTH
LA Metairie +1 Gaming BOTH
MA Greenfield Greenfield Games
The Networks
MA Northampton Modern Myths BOTH
MD Baltimore Canton Games BOTH
MD Gaithersburg Play More Games BOTH
MD Hagerstown Neverland Games BOTH
ME Belfast All About Games BOTH
MI Adrian Acropolis Games BOTH
MI Jackson Nostalgia, Ink BOTH
MI Traverse City TC War Room BOTH
MN South Saint Paul Level Up Games, Comics, and More
The Networks
MO Kansas City Limited Figures BOTH
MO Kansas City Pawn and Pint
The Networks
MO Republic Cards ‘n Stripes Games BOTH
MS Gautier maCnarB Gaming BOTH
MS Ridgeland Van’s Comics, Cards & Games BOTH
NC Jacksonville Hobby Chest of Jacksonville BOTH
NE Lincoln Gauntlet Games BOTH
NE Lincoln Hobbytown USA (Pioneer Woods Dr)
The Networks
NE Omaha Sparta Games
The Networks
NE Omaha The Game Shoppe BOTH
NJ Bernardsville The Bearded Dragon Games BOTH
NJ Washington Arcana Toys Games and Hobbies BOTH
NV Las Vegas Tables Board Game Spot BOTH
NV Reno Games Galore BOTH
NV Reno Games Galore BOTH
NY Hicksville Game Master Games
The Networks
NY Hyde Park Alterniverse BOTH
NY Pittsford The Game Gamut BOTH
NY Plainview Legendary Realms Games
The Networks
OH Cleveland Heights Critical Hit Games BOTH
OH Columbiana Fantastic Games
The Networks
OH Gallipolis Next Level Gaming Center BOTH
OH Mason Nostalgia Ink BOTH
OH Mentor Great Lakes Game Emporium
The Networks
OH North Olmsted Recess BOTH
OH Wooster Pegasus Game Parlor BOTH
OK Norman Loot & XP BOTH
OR Salem Wild Things Games BOTH
PA Allentown Encounter Comics & Games BOTH
PA West Chester The Games Keep BOTH
PA York Comix Connection BOTH
PA York The Comic Store West
The Networks
RI Warwick Toy Vault Games
The Networks
TN Kingsport Dewayne’s World of Comics & Games BOTH
TN Knoxville Level Up Games & Hobbies BOTH
TN Madison Comix City Too! BOTH
TN Memphis Comic Cellar
The Networks
TX Garland Brickhouse Games
The Networks
TX Houston Dragon’s Lair BOTH
TX Humble Ettin Games and Hobbies
The Networks
TX Lockhart Flash Candy and Toys BOTH
TX Mansfield Sockmonkey Junction BOTH
UT St. George Game Haven BOTH
VA Centreville The Island Games BOTH
WA Centralia Cosmic Comics and Games BOTH
WI Columbus Cardinal Comics and Collectibles
The Networks
WI Middleton I’m Board! Games and Family Fun
The Networks
WI Milwaukee The Board Game Barrister (Greenfield) BOTH
WY Laramie 8 Bytes Game Café
The Networks

Gen Con – a brief wrap-up, and a note on attendance

I am back from Gen Con 50! It was a memorable event, made even more memorable because I was able to see the total eclipse on the Monday after the show. Here’s a quick wrap-up.

  • People are really excited for The Networks: Executives! I got to show it off at the First Exposure Playtest Hall, and the odd edge cases are starting to fall.
  • The Networks sold very well, especially considering that it’s a year old.
  • Wordsy sold very well, and I’m quite thrilled that people are seeing it as a novel new word game.
  • The setup at Lucas Oil Stadium was amazing. I was thrilled to actually be on the actual field, although the grass was covered by a temporary floor. There was a museum set up that was the exact size and dimensions of Gen Con I, filled with old memorabilia like letters from Gary Gygax, early editions of D&D and games like Chainmail that led up to it, and early Magic cards.
  • While I was at the stadium, I got to meet and chat with Caelyn Sandel, an interactive fiction author I admire. I’m just starting to get into IF, and she helped give me some context about the scene that I was missing.
  • I was lucky to be next to the Exploding Kittens booth, which had the most creative setup of anyone in the vendor hall. Watching their whole presentation, plus the random mystery items they sold for $1 (everything from potatoes to toilet plungers to sunglasses; I got a laser pointer) was a delight. They had a line and a crowd for the entire show.
  • The puppetry track. Seriously folks, I gave you plenty of notice about this, and you missed some incredible performances. The puppet slam was raucous, hysterical, and definitely not for children, and the two evening shows I recommended (Uncle Nappy’s sing-a-long and Ubu Faust) were marvelous. I also got to meet Claire the Sheep and her “dingus,” puppeteer Stacey Gordon! Stacey handled Claire for Catan during the Bob & Angus Show, but she’s best-known for being behind Julia, the new autistic Muppet on Sesame Street.


(One of Claire’s jokes during the puppet slam: “What’s the difference between a park bench and a puppeteer? A park bench can support two people.” May also apply to game designers.)

  • I was part of two seminars. Geoff Engelstein and I recorded an episode of Ludology live, which we set up as a live Q&A. We worried about if we’d have enough material to take us through the full hour, but we got a great turnout and had no shortage of questions. This episode will air on Sunday, August 27!
  • The second seminar I did was The 10 Mistakes New Board Game Designers Make. About 100 new game designers came by, and I’m really happy with how the episode came out, even though I lost count and wound up giving 11 mistakes! I hope to put this on YouTube soon.
  • My booth staff. I can’t say enough about how much they came through. Between my seminars, my playtests, and a mild attack of con crud that forced me to take a nap on Saturday (though I still haven’t lost a full day to con crud since I implemented my fist-bump-instead-of-handshake policy), they ran the booth for me. Having this flexibility during a major show was incredible, and I can’t thank them enough.


Clockwise from top left, thank you to Alex, Dave, Andrew, John, Min (who was Chief Demo Weasel, which allowed me to run seminars and playtests), Kelsey, me, and Emma. Not pictured: Shaun, who had to leave before this photo was taken. 

Yes, that’s Clucky on my shoulder, and no, he was no help at all.

One last Gen Con observation. They just released their attendance statistics, and announced a turnstile attendance of 207,979 people. This translates to a TPD of 51,995, which is a new record high for the show.

(If you haven’t read my article about TPD, my new favorite way of estimating convention attendance, now would be a good time to do so!)

What I find interesting about this press release is that they are not announcing unique attendance anymore. All they’re saying is: “For the third consecutive year, Gen Con targeted an approximate attendance of 60,000 unique attendees.” But they did not announce the exact unique figure.

Unique attendance went down between 2015 and 2016, from 61, 423 to 60,819, even as total (turnstile) attendance went up. In other words, more people attended, but they tended to be the same people over the course of the event. In 2017, 4-day badges sold out weeks before the show, which was unprecedented. And in the days leading up to the show, all badges sold out, which has never happened since the show has been in Indianapolis (and I’m not sure it happened in Milwaukee either, though I could be wrong there).

My guess: the number of people who came for the whole weekend was so large, it decreased the number of unique attendees. I would speculate there were fewer than 60,000 uniques. If this is true, this would be the second straight year that unique attendance has fallen.

I would bet that Gen Con didn’t mention the number of uniques in their press release because it would give the incorrect impression that the con isn’t growing. On the contrary, it is growing enormously, and would have grown more had they not sold out of badges. Essen SPIEL does not disclose unique attendance either, and my guess is it’s for the same reason: unique attendance gives a misleading impression of attendance.

When a convention announces, say, 60,000 unique attendees, they’re not saying 60,000 people per day showed up; they’re saying that over the course of the event, 60,000 different people showed up. This is useful for vendors like me who want to know how wide an audience we can attract, but not so useful to figure out the “mass” of an event. Sometimes, you just want to know how many people are in the building each day.

If two 4-day events report 200,000 turnstile attendees, but event A reports 60,000 uniques and event B reports 50,000 uniques, that doesn’t mean that event A has 10,000 more bodies in the hall on a given day than event B. Both events attract the same number of people, but there are more attendees who attend event A for a day or two, so the individual people who will appear from day to day will be different. Whereas in event B, the faces will be the same from day to day.

Let’s modify Event A’s turnstiles to 190,000. It still has 60,000 uniques. Event B has 200,000 turnstiles, but 50,000 uniques. Which event is “bigger?” It depends on how you look at it. Event A draws more different people, but Event B will have more people in its halls on any given day. That’s what makes measuring convention attendance so tricky; the two metrics measure their own thing.

As a vendor, I like learning about uniques so I know how many different people I can sell to. But as a fan of games and the game scene, I’m interested in how many total people are around on any given day. That’s why I like to measure convention attendance in TPD; it lets me compare “bodies in the hall” con attendance as directly as I can.

So looking at this through TPD, where does this put Gen Con 2017? As far as I can tell, it’s the largest tabletop-focused convention in the world, with its new peak TPD of 51,995. Lucca Comics & Games drew a TPD of 54,242, but that has such a huge focus on comics and general nerd-dom, I don’t think it’s an apples-to-apples comparison.

The next convention in Gen Con’s league is the Festival des Jeux in Cannes, France. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good attendance metrics for it. The best I can tell is that they drew (a clearly estimated) 150,000 turnstiles across 3 days in 2014. That’s a 50,000 TPD, which Gen Con has eclipsed.

If you’re wondering about Essen SPIEL, it drew a TPD of 43,500 in 2016. Still quite large and impressive, but well behind Gen Con. In terms of the number of people in the building per day, Gen Con is larger.

My gut feeling, from anecdotal evidence, is that if both shows released unique attendance, SPIEL would have more uniques. It’s very common for people to show up at SPIEL for a single day, as they’re usually looking to buy a shortlist of games, and there are no events to keep them coming back the next day. There are plenty of people who are there for the whole show, but there are also hardcore fans who appear on Thursday to gobble up the new hotness, locals who are only there on the weekend because they didn’t want to take time off work, and families with kids on Sunday.

Again, this is a generalization based on anecdotal evidence, but I think it’s a good comparison with Gen Con, where the majority of attendees have 4-day badges and a packed schedule of events the whole way through.

What’s the future for Gen Con in general? This is an fascinating question. Interest in the con grows every year, and Indianapolis is always a gracious and friendly host city. But now that the badges are starting to join the hotels as a scarce resource, the convention is going to have to get even more creative to figure out ways to grow the event. They’ve already expanded into Lucas Oil Stadium, and they’re going to need to figure out ways to utilize every square foot of space they can next year.

Stephen Buonocore mentioned on Board Games Insider that Gen Con didn’t stop selling badges out of some conspiracy. If they could keep selling badges, they would have. Their badge supply is likely tied to fire codes and other regulations that keep the convention from getting too crowded, not that it isn’t crowded already! I’m very curious to see if and how the convention decides to grow the event for next year.

The Networks: Executives will hit Kickstarter on September 5!

I know it’s taken me a long time to formally announce this, but I wanted to get all my ducks in a row:

The Networks: Executives, the newest expansion to The Networks, will launch on Kickstarter on September 5 at noon EDT!

I’m sure you have plenty of questions, so let’s get right to answering them.


What does the expansion add to the base game?

The crux of the expansion is 12 Executives. You’ll choose one of these Executives at the start of the game, and you’ll get a special power from that Executive for the whole game. However, the Executive will also force you to play around a specific weakness or liability. Each Executive completely changes the feel of the game, adding an immense amount of replayability.

There is also a new “Season 0” draft. Instead of all players starting with 1 Star, 1 Ad, and the same 3 kinds of Shows, you will each draft your starting Shows, some of which will give you Stars, Ads, and extra money. Some of these shows have Genres and some don’t, so you’ll have to choose what Genres you’d like to start the game with. This will mean that at the start of Season 1, players have already chosen their path to play the game.

Finally, there are now Mogul Cards you can earn by scoring a 5-Show Genre Bonus or two 3-Show Genre Bonuses. These Mogul Cards act like supercharged Network Cards, giving you strong bonuses that can help you win the game.

There are a few other things here and there, but that’s the meat of it!

Show-Live_Dental _Drilling

Didn’t you say you were launching this Kickstarter in August?

I did! Alas, it took more time to prep for the campaign than I’d anticipated, and my time on the road at conventions this summer affected my available time to work. By pushing the campaign back to September, I can make sure that I have everything I need for the campaign to launch ready to go.

Will I be able to buy the base game in the campaign too?



Will I be able to buy the On the Air expansion? Will you address its printing issues?

Yes, I plan to reprint the On the Air mini-expansion from the first Kickstarter campaign, and with any luck, we will not have a repeat of the annoying printing issues we encountered the first time around.

Who is doing the art and graphic design?

We’re lucky enough to have the original illustrator, Travis Kinchy, and graphic designer, Heiko Günther, back to work on the expansion! You can see some of Travis’ art for the expansion on this page.

How much will the expansion cost?

I will have pricing information in a few weeks. But count on it being between $20 and $30 USD.



Can you remind me when the Kickstarter goes live?

Yes, if you sign up to my mailing list, you’ll get an email the moment the Kickstarter campaign goes up.

Thanks everyone for all your enthusiasm so far! I’m really happy with how the expansion has been playing lately, and I’m excited to finally get it up on Kickstarter. See you there!

Gil’s Gen Con 2017 schedule

Gen Con is in a few weeks, and I’ve been prepping madly for it! I have a TON of stuff to share with you there, so hopefully I can help make this year memorable, beyond the fact that this is Gen Con’s 50th show!


You can find Formal Ferret Games at booth 2665, a few aisles down from where we were last year. We’ll be selling The Networks and Wordsy. I have a few copies of The Networks: On the Air remaining, and I’ll also be selling laminated scoresheets for Wordsy for as long as I have them.

Gen Con 2017


I will be testing The Networks: Executives at the First Exposure Playtest Hall on Thursday and Friday, at noon and 2 pm on each day. It’s free; just show up at the FEPH about 30 minutes before the game starts. Note that I can’t guarantee you’ll get a spot; there will be limited seats for each slot, and plenty of interest in the expansion.

If you want to play the base game of The Networks, I will have staff teaching the game at ticketed Gen Con events on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 1, 4, and 8. Unfortunately, there are no tickets left for these events, but you’re welcome to watch them, or perhaps offer yourself as an alternate if we have any no-shows.

If you want to try Wordsy away from the booth, I have ticketed events for those too, and there are plenty of tickets left for all slots as of the writing of this post.


On Friday at 5 pm at the Capitol III room of the Westin, Geoff Engelstein and I will be recording a live episode of Ludology! It’ll be a Q&A episode, so bring a question, or just come and hang out with us.

On Saturday at 5 pm in the same room, I’ll be holding a seminar on the 10 Mistakes New Board Game Designers Make. This event is sold out (!), but I hope to release audio and/or video of it shortly afterwards.

Other fun stuff

Did you know that Gen Con has a puppetry track now? I have a few good friends involved with it.

One of my oldest friends (and college roommate) Brodrick Jones will be showing his work Ubu Faust on Saturday at 10 pm at the Crowne Plaza. He’s a fantastic puppeteer, so this is worth seeing.

My friend K80 Correll (whom you may have meet at the Formal Ferret booth at Dice Tower Con) will be holding a seminar on the intersection of puppetry and robotics. It’s on Friday at 2. (Despite her name, she’s not a robot herself; she just builds them for a living.)

I’ve never seen Uncle Nappy perform, but Jones tells me he’s amazing, and his show is worth seeing. I plan to be there, right before Jones’ show.

There’s the Late Night Puppet Slam on Saturday at 11. I hear these puppet slams are incredible; you don’t want to miss it. And I’m hoping some more of my puppetry-involved friends will show up!

As for performers who only occasionally use puppets, there are still a few tickets left for the They Might Be Giants show. I won’t be able to make it to see them, but I’ve seen TMBG live more than any other musical act, and they have never been disappointing. It’s a good way to spend a Thursday evening!

A study of digital Onirim’s scoring system

Photo Jul 14, 2 45 01 PM

I’m a recent convert to Onirim, a fantastic solo card game by Shadi Torbey, recently converted to a mobile app by the fine folks at Asmodee Digital (currently iOS only). I wanted to discuss something they included in a recent update, because I find it fascinating.

Disclaimer: what follows is not a review. It shouldn’t tell you whether or not to buy the game. Rather, I wanted to critically study the digital implementation’s new scoring system, which as far as I can tell, is absent from the tabletop version of the game.

(Would you like a review? Here’s a short one: Onirim’s good. Buy it.)

Also, this digital app is really, really good. I’m going to be fairly critical of its scoring system, but all other aspects of the app are extremely strong. Again, the point of this post is not to review the game or the app, but if you’re a fan of games, it’s definitely worth your time and money.

Overview of the game

In the tabletop version of the game, you have a deck of cards, from which you draw a hand of 5 cards. You are trying to extract 8 Door Cards from the deck before it runs out. If you get all 8 door cards, you win. If the deck runs out, you lose.

There are 4 suits, so there are 2 Door Cards of each suit. There are a bunch of other cards in the deck, each in one of the 4 suits. When you play three consecutive cards of the same suit, you get to dive into the deck and extract a matching Door.

Each card also has a symbol on it, mainly Stars and Moons. You may never play a card with the same symbol as the card before it, regardless of color. That constraint is vital, because it makes the game very interesting.

There are also Nightmare Cards, which you don’t want to draw, because they force you to do bad things like discard and redraw your hand, or discard the top 5 cards of the deck (both of which get you closer to the loss condition). And there are Key Cards, which do valuable things like get you to discard one of the next 5 cards on the deck and rearrange the remaining 4 in any order (a nice way to get rid of Nightmares).

My own primitive scoring system

Photo Jul 14, 2 51 34 PMThere’s a bit more to the game than that, but it’s enough to get us started. I’ve been playing the game ceaselessly for the past month, and it’s my current go-to game if I need to take a break from things. Each game presents its own set of challenges, and I enjoy the puzzle of having to work out how to avoid the Nightmares to get to my Doors. If I won, I won, and if I lost, I lost. When I first got the game, I liked the casual, easygoing feel of the game, and that I didn’t need to race against the clock to make my decisions. (In writing, we would call that last sentence foreshadowing.)

The app didn’t have a scoring system, other than recording how many cards remained in your deck at the end of a game. I toyed around with a casual scoring system: 100 points for every played Door, 1 point for every card remaining in the deck if I won. So 800 would be the minimum winning score. (For you persnickety folks, when I started playing with the Glyphs expansion, which adds 4 new doors, I subtracted 400 points from every score.)

This was a nice, simple, manageable scoring system that I could tally in my head. The game kept a record of the most cards I ever finished with in my deck, so for a long time, I knew my best score was 827. And I could rank failed games next to each other.

Back to my mantra

Let’s take a step back and take a look at my personal game design mantra: Incentivize Interesting Behavior. This is what I think all game designers do, or at least, should be doing. And it’s naturally what a scoring system will do.

My personal scoring system reinforced behaviors that the game already encouraged: try to find all the Doors. It gave a small bonus for finishing with cards in the deck, which isn’t canonically part of the card game. That technically is incentivizing a behavior that the base game doesn’t really incentivize. But since that behavior tends to emerge naturally during gameplay, it feels like a regular fit.

The new scoring system

Photo Jul 14, 2 49 26 PMSo this gets us to the new scoring system in Onirim. Let’s go through it, and then discuss the behaviors it incentivizes:

For every series of 3 like-colored cards (that extracts a door):
Stars: 10 points
Moons: 20 points
Keys: 50 points

If you play consecutive series of 3 like-colored cards, with no extra colors in between (like RRRBBB would be 2 consecutive series, whereas RRRGBBB would not because the G gets in the way):
Second series: 100 points
Third series: 200 points
Fourth series: 300 points, and so on.

If the consecutive series above are of the same color (like GGGGGG for 2 consecutive series), you get additional bonuses:
Second series: 100 points
Third series: 200 points
Fourth series: 300 points, and so on.

Other bonuses:
Unlock a Door with a Key: 100 points
Use a Key to discard a Nightmare: 200 points

Endgame points, if you win the game:
Time Bonus: for every second remaining under 20 minutes (1200 seconds), you get 1 point. So if you finish in 5 minutes (300 seconds), you will have 900 seconds remaining, which is 900 points.
Card Bonus: for every card you have left in the deck, you get a certain number of points. This point value is unpublished, but seems to be roughly 10-50 points per card. It’s unclear exactly which cards are worth extra points.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Now we get to the interesting part! There’s some stuff in this scoring system that works, some stuff that incentivizes behavior that seems odd, and some stuff that’s just plain weird.

Let’s start with the series bonuses. I’ve found the 100/200/300 point bonuses to be enormously significant. You need these for a high score. If you can play, say, RRRRRR, or even RRRRRRRRR, you can start racking up some big-time points.

This sort of behavior is not at all existent in the tabletop version of the game. It makes no difference whether you go directly from one series to another, or if you buttress multiple series with “bridge” cards in between.

Let me explain that last bit. There are Sun cards and Moon cards in the game, but Sun cards are much more plentiful than Moon cards. So an SMS combination is much easier to pull off than an MSM combination.

So let’s say I have a Green Sun, Green Moon, and Green Sun combo. I’ll abbreviate that GsGmGs. I have the cards after that to play BsBmBs. The problem is, I can’t put the Gs and Bs next to each other. So I may play, for example, GsGmGsRmBsBmBs.

The Red Moon in the middle is a “bridge” card; it lets me connect the two series together. Here’s the interesting thing: these bridge cards are excellent in the tabletop game, because they get me closer to winning the game. But they’re marginal in the digital game, in that they will cost me possibly thousands of points!

This is an excellent example of how a scoring system can incentivize or disincentivize behavior. I’m now generally disincentivized in the digital game from playing bridge cards. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s certainly more challenging to play this way, in that a good weapon in my arsenal is now neutralized. But it also removes an interesting tactic for me; I have one fewer path to victory. So I find this element of the scoring system a little blander.

The incentive pushes players along in another noticeable way. You get points for series, whether or not it gets you a door. So (assuming we’re playing the base game) if you’re at two doors of a color already, and you play a series of that color, you’ll still score points for it, possibly a lot of points, even though you’re no closer to victory.

This is an especially fascinating case. Here, the scoring system is incentivizing us to do something the tabletop game provides only a tiny reward for (a reshuffle, which in many circumstances, doesn’t really change much). So we now have a much larger incentive to do something that previously was just a bit of a time-waster. Very different than the original game.

The black box

Let’s move onto the remaining cards bonuses. This is a weird one. On one hand, it’s nice to have a bonus for remaining cards when winning. But the problem is, I don’t know any of the card values! Is it good to have Nightmares left in the deck? Or is it better to discard them using Keys? Or is it the same thing? We have no idea!

And because this is unknown, we wind up not actually changing player behavior. We still want to finish with as many cards as possible, but their values are now effectively random numbers.

This is a trap a lot of video games can fall into. In a digital game, the computer can handle scoring without the players’ involvement. This reduces fiddliness greatly, but at the cost of opacity. A scoring system that can’t give us specific feedback to tell us exactly why we scored the way we did is a scoring system that does not have any meaning to the player.

To be honest, this isn’t so much a fault with the scoring system, as much as it is with the documentation. As such, it has a simple solution: just tell us what each card is worth! That may be more overhead, but as players get the hang of this intricate scoring system, we can work to maximize our scores.

The next version will include a grabbable totem

This gets us to the last, and to me, ugliest change: the time bonus.

If we win, the computer looks at how long it took us to win, in seconds, and subtracts that from 1200 seconds (15 minutes). So the fact becomes inescapable: Onirim, which I’d previously enjoyed as a game where I could take my time and weigh my decisions in a relaxed manner, is now a real-time game where every second literally counts.

In other words, one of the things I liked Onirim is dashed against the rocks in the name of high scoring. I’m now punished for taking my time and smelling the roses.

Worse yet, the recorded time accounts for animation time. Like most digital implementations of card games, every time you draw, play, or discard a card, you see it move from the deck to your hand, and then from your hand to the play area or discard pile. In the most recent update, this animation speed was sped up, but it still takes some time.

That wouldn’t be so bad either… except players now have the option to skip the animation by clicking on the screen. And I’m not kidding here, if you click on the screen through the whole game, you could gain 100 or more points by the end of the game; you’re literally saving a minute or two of animation.

So now, we have a clear incentive to take an action that’s arguably outside the bounds of the game to gain points, in the name of scoring to play the game in a style that I don’t enjoy playing in (and I’m sure I’m not alone). This is capital-W Weird.

And here’s the worst part: The game already rewards players for playing efficiently (if not quickly) by awarding them a card bonus. There’s already a reward for efficiency, which, to me, is millions of time more interesting, relevant, and Onirim-like than raw time. So what purpose is the real-time bonus serving here, other than to attract quick-thumbed gamers and alienate those of us who wanted to relax and enjoy the game?


Of course, I don’t have to honor the scoring system. I can just ignore it and return to the scoring system inside my head. But the human brain is a weird thing; when I see those numbers, I think, “What if I’d played according to the scoring system?” It feels like a point of friction; that I’m violating the rules somehow.

Which I kind of am. By ignoring the scoring system, I’m telling the architects of the digital game that I’m not playing by their rules, but by the tabletop game’s rules.

Again, this isn’t a review, so my point isn’t to declare the digital game “bad” or “good.” Instead, I think this scoring system is a great example of how scoring systems can change the feeling of a game, or even change the game itself.

To this point, digital Onirim is a different game than the physical version of the game. It incentivizes different behavior entirely.

But why?

Photo Jul 14, 2 51 58 PMSo we’re left with the question now of: why? Why does Onirim even have a digital scoring system?

It turns out that Asmodee Digital implemented a leaderboard for Onirim. This is a cool thing to do; even for a solo game, it’s nice, in theory, to see how your performance stacked up against the rest of the world.

The issue here is how Asmodee Digital has defined your performance. Some players may have “performed” better by skipping animations, playing consecutive series whether or not they opened doors, and having better cards left in their deck (although I couldn’t tell you what a “better” card is in that context). None of these are behaviors in the original game.

It’s not that Asmodee Digital’s scoring system is uniformly uninteresting. It’s just that they’re incentivizing behavior that’s not interesting to all players. The series thing is completely artificial, and I’m sure a lot of other players agree with me in that they don’t really care how many seconds it takes us to finish the game.

The game also records your personal high score, and compares each winning score to it. So the more you play, the higher your high score will go… and the less likely you’ll approach it in each new game. So the more you play, the less relevant the high score becomes.

This already existed to an extent before the scoring system was installed, in that the game tracked how many cards were left in your deck after you won, and told you that as your highest “score.” But since the whole game was about the binary win/loss result anyway, that was just a side note. There were no leaderboards to give emphasis to a particularly high score.

And I find my in-game decisions and behavior greatly affected by the new scoring system. I’m playing fewer bridge cards, going for more color combos, and of course, skipping animations anywhere I can. So when I end up with a final score that’s only 50% of my high score, I feel like I’ve lost, even though I’ve won. This really doesn’t feel as good or as interesting as before.

If it were up to me, I’d implement a lot of these things as achievements instead. Play 9 cards of the same color in series: achievement unlocked! Finish a game in 5 minutes or less: achievement unlocked! Finish the game with 5 Nightmares still in the deck: achievement unlocked!

I think this would have been a better model to pursue here, because it takes this behavior that’s orthogonal to the tabletop game and slightly incentivizes us to accomplish it, but not as a behavior core to the game. This way, the spirit of the digital game is much closer to the spirit of the tabletop game, with a couple of paths out to some weirder behavior if you wish to explore it.

Let’s go back to my primitive scoring system: 100 for each door extracted, 1 point for each card remaining in the deck. I still prefer this scoring system. It’s simple, easily calculated, and tells the story of your game in line (mostly) with the incentives the game provided, with a dash of human nature to help. If you move most of the incentives in the current scoring system to achievements, and install this scoring system instead, I think you have a digital implementation that feels much more Onirim-like.

This is one of the reasons game design is just as much of an art as it is a science. It’s not always obvious how to best design a game, or how to best port it over to a digital platform.

And to be clear: Onirim is a fantastic game, and other than its scoring system, its digital implementation is stellar. Again, my focus here is not to review the game or the app, but I want to be clear that this is an outstanding game that belongs in most collections. I’m certainly not going to stop playing it anytime soon.

But I think this discussion is valuable, because it shows us how a scoring system can help or hinder a game. Scoring systems are some of the best ways a game can incentivize interesting behavior. Be sure you have the right scoring system for your game!