Friday, February 27, 2009


Most of the past few days have been devoted to Modern Land Battles. The game is doing okay for pre-orders but it will take one more big push to gather in the last of the orders needed for printing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the pre-order process, it works like this. I get the major portion of a design worked out and tested, along with some initial artwork, and place the game on the DVG site for pre-order. People then get to pre-order the game at a reduced price. As a game gathers pre-orders, the final bits of game development and artwork are finalized. When enough pre-orders are collected to pay the printing bill, pre-order credit cards get charged, and the game is sent to the printer.

I’ll soon be able to post new cards, a rulebook outline, and sample of play on the web site. Hopefully, this will generate player interest, and the final batch of pre-orders.

Wan also sent me a first look at the Napoleon cover, and it is looking great! I sent him some Napoleonic paintings and quotes to add to the sides of the box. We’ll hopefully have something to place on the site in a week or two.

I finished reading the Napoleon book. Talk about a busy guy! From the time he took command, rarely a year went by that he wasn’t at war with somebody.

On the topic of horse trivia, the name of Napoleon’s horse at the Battle of Waterloo was “Marengo.”

I now have 6 Napoleonic campaign maps outlined. The next step is to create playtest versions of the maps. To do this, I’ll start by dividing them into historical territories, placing important cities and battle sites, and creating the Set-Up list of forces and rules. Soon after that comes the victory conditions and the rules specific to each campaign. Once the entire campaign is in place, we work on the playtesting and balancing. This is the trickiest and most time consuming step of the process. This is the part where Holly really shines. By the time a game goes the printer, she has played it at least 100 times. The hardest part is keeping track of “today’s rules”. As she finds problems, rules, numbers, and charts change day by day.

Each campaign must be difficult to win, but not impossible. It must also present the player with different choices. Players are very smart and quickly figure out the best way to win a campaign. This means there must be changing conditions in the campaign to prevent a “best” strategy. The hard part is to install changing conditions that do not make the campaign more or less difficult to win. It is also important that any events outside the player’s control do not affect the chance of him winning. It’s no fun to play for an hour, roll a die, and realize that even though you had control over the die, you just lost. Therefore, random events must offer variety in affect while being equal in power. Very tricky to do.

Once a map has solidified, the final artwork is created.

I’m also starting to get the next wave of work done on our Frontline game. That is another game available for pre-order.

At any given time we have about 5 games that we’re working on. At this time, there are a couple more games in the works, but we need to make a bit more progress before talking about them!

Sunday, February 22, 2009



After 2 visits to new bookstores and 2 visits to used bookstores, I turned to the friendly neighborhood library. I found several books that gave a nicely detailed account of Napoleon’s exploits, including the location of battles, challenges he faced, and the types of troops he fought against. The library also had a special room to make photocopies, which was very handy since some of the books could not be checked-out.

I have dived into the books, taking notes, marking-up maps in Photoshop, and getting a feel for his campaigns.

In a side story, Napoleon was invited to the estate of a French noble for a rabbit hunt. The noble wanted to make sure Napoleon bagged as many rabbits as possible, so he had the estate stocked with domesticated rabbits several weeks before the hunt. This was all kept under the tightest of security. After all, if Napoleon found out he was hunting tame rabbits, the noble might well lose his head to pay for Napoleon’s embarrassment.

So, the big day arrives, and Napoleon pulls up in his carriage for the grand hunt. The carriage stops on the road running next to the forest, and the noble and servants fall breathless in anticipation. Napoleon’s servants open the door and Napoleon emerges. There is much bowing and pleasantry. As they prepare for the hunt, they hear a rustling sound coming from the forest. Within seconds hundreds of rabbits erupt from the trees and run straight for Napoleon. In panic, he retreats to his carriage, slams the door, and orders the driver to leave with all haste. As the carriage pulls away, Napoleon can be seen tossing rabbits out the carriage windows.

It turns out the domesticated rabbits didn’t know how to survive on their own and had to be fed daily to keep them alive. Each day, a carriage (looking much like Napoleon’s) full of rabbit food was dispatched to feed them.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Max's Rock

Let’s talk about designing a game. In fact, we’ll start with the design of Field Commander Napoleon, the third in our Field Commander series. The first game was Rommel. The second game is Alexander the Great.

Which reminds me, we just received the printer samples for Alexander and they look fabulous! People have been saying how nice our newly released Down In Flames card game looks, and Alexander lives up to this new high level of expectation. The maps are mounted and linen covered. The counters are thick and look amazing. The box is thick and weighty. You could easily smack down a few zombies with one of these game boxes. People are going to be very happy with Alexander!

Anyway, enough about zombies, let’s talk Napoleonics…

Things I knew about Napoleon as of a couple weeks ago: He was a French leader from a couple hundred years ago. He fought wars across Europe and Russia. Unlike Alexander, I wasn’t sure if Napoleon had a favorite horse, or what its name was.

The cores of our Field Commander (FC) games are the game maps. Rommel had 3 maps, Alexander has 4 maps, and Napoleon will probably have 5. All the game counters are placed on the maps and you move them around as you try and capture enemy territories and accomplish your victory condition.

So I started looking for strategic level maps of Napoleon’s campaigns. Nothing complicated. I’m just trying to see where his forces started, where the big battles took place, and where he was trying to capture to declare victory. Finding such maps has proven to be very difficult. I’m still looking. I’ve looked online and at the bookstore. Next stop will be the library.

My research has taken some interesting turns however. I received a phone call early one morning from Nick, someone I’d never met before. The first words he said were “Hey Dan! Great to talk with you. I see you’re doing a game on Napoleon. I’ve been researching him for years…” Nick and I then talked for an hour on Napoleon, which was great, because I was starting at zero. Everything he had to say was news to me.

Last week we had an exhibitor’s booth at a game convention by Los Angeles International Airport. I got to talk with the gentleman in the next booth. It turns out he is a big Napoleon fan. He’s very much into the battles and tactics, which was something Nick and I never talked about. After a few minutes, I dashed off, grabbed a notepad and started writing. I now have a notepad full of notes on infantry, cavalry, guards, leaders, cannons, tactics, and forts.

The lesson I learned here is to talk with people. You never know what people know.

I also traded a few games with the gentleman at the convention. He now has a shiny new copy of Rommel and I have a cool new naval miniatures game.

In researching Napoleon, I have so far divided his career into 5 maps:

#1 - Italy 1796, 1800
#2 - Egypt 1798
#3 - Central Europe 1805, 1806-1807, 1809
#4 - Russia 1812
#5 - Central Europe 1813, France and Belgium 1814, 1815

This may or may not change as the design advances, but it seems to work for now to cover all his campaigns and keep them on 5 maps.

I have also talked with Wan Chui and Clara Cheang, the amazing artists who created the art for Alexander. They have agreed to create the artwork for Napoleon. I’m sure it will be stunning! A funny story… The first time Wan came by to talk about an art project, our dog Max, a large German Shepard, started batting a rock around the living room floor with his front paws. The rock is the size of a softball and weighs a couple pounds. As Wan looked at Max playing with his rock, I explained that it was Max’s favorite toy and he’d been playing with it for years. Wan shook his head and said, “Wow, you guys are cheap!”

As we speak, Wan and Clara are working on the Napoleon box cover.

Holly found a great book on Napoleon and has been filling me in on details of his early life. One fact I liked was from an early age Napoleon started creating detailed plans to overthrow the French government. Now, you would think that he would have kept such plans written in a secret code, and then buried them under a rock deep in the forest. Not Napoleon. He carried the plans around in 29 notebooks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Block Dropping

Note to self: Before posting birthing stories on the Internet, consult with wife.

Here’s a little background on the research that goes into a game…

Military history is a huge subject. I know some stuff about it, but very little when compared to how much there is to know. I’ll give you a couple examples. When I started working on the Field Commander Rommel design I knew very little about Rommel. I knew: He was a WWII German general. He was respected by both Axis and Allied leaders. He was known for his legendary command of German forces in Africa. He came up with dashing battle plans. And that’s about all I knew.

I then dove into researching him online, at the library, and the local bookstores. I started by learning the big facts, like the campaigns he lead outside of Africa, the problems he had getting enough supplies for his troops, and the enormous challenge he faced by the unending stream of Allied men and material. He was always outnumbered and outgunned, and had to rely on strategy rather than brute force to accomplish his objectives. At the end of 6 months of research and game design, I had a much deeper understanding of the man.

The same cycle applies to our recently completed Field Commander Alexander. At the start I knew he was from Macedon and conquered a lot of territory. Not much to start with.

The research followed the same course of online, library, and bookstores. Holly and I even watched several Alexander documentaries. As the data came together I learned of his mother, Olympias, who stopped at nothing to see her son on the throne. I learned of his father Philip II who was assassinated, thus clearing the way for Alexander to rule Macedon. There is more than one theory by the way that links Olympias to Philip’s untimely demise.

One of the things that most impressed me was Alexander’s sense of destiny. It seemed like he never doubted that he would do great things, and that others would follow him. Of all his conquests, his siege of the island of Tyre most impressed me. But, before we talk about Tyre, let’s look at how Alexander got started…

A while before Alexander’s time, the Persians attacked Greece and Alexander felt it was up to him to give some payback. But before he could deal with the Persians, he had some trouble at home to deal with. Alexander had no sooner taken the throne when the other Greek city-states start marching troops in his direction. He quickly defeated their armies with clever tactics and solidified his power base in Greece. He then lead his army out of Greece and into Asia to attack the PERSIAN EMPIRE.

Now, you gotta remember, Macedon was an okay sized country, but the Persian Empire was, well, an Empire. It was huge. They had millions of troops, dozens of mighty fortresses, and more gold than you can imagine. On the other hand, Alexander had 40,000 men, a pointy spear, and his trusty horse, Bucephalus. To most people this would have been a problem and they would have stayed at home. Not Alexander. He attacked the Persians and defeated them in several battles. When their king Darius III offered him riches to stop and go home, he attacked all the harder. When the dust settled, Alexander was sitting on the throne of the Persian Empire.

So anyway, getting back to Tyre. As if the millions of troops weren’t enough, the Persians also had a huge navy. Macedon had a small navy. This was a problem because Alexander needed access to the seas for his supply needs, fresh troops, and communications to make sure no one back home got too uppity.

So Alexander came up with a plan. Instead of sending his navy out to meet the Persian fleet in battle, and get quickly destroyed, he started capturing the Persian ports. He knew their navy needed its ports and would have to be pulled back as each port was captured. His plan worked great. He’d capture a port, and the Persians pulled back their navy. Everything was going fine, until he got to Tyre.

Tyre was an island about a half mile off the coast. A well fortified island with high walls and lots of siege engines. With two harbors and a big fleet of warships. Nobody messed with Tyre. You can’t conquer an island with an army. The Tyrians knew it. The Persians knew it. Pretty much everyone except Alexander knew it.

Alexander set-up camp in Old Tyre, an old stone city on the coast across from the island of Tyre. Things got off to a bad start when the Tyrians killed the two ambassadors Alexander sent over to talk, and then threw their bodies into the waves for Alexander and his army to see.

Instead of focusing on what he needed, but didn’t have, to crush Tyre, Alexander looked at the resources he had. He had a city made of stone blocks and 40,000 guys sitting around doing nothing. That would quickly change.

He ordered part of his army to start tearing the city apart block by block and dumping the blocks into the sea. As time passed the city of Old Tyre got smaller and a stone walkway, called a Mole started appearing out of the waves, extending block by block toward Tyre. This wasn’t some tiny walkway. The Mole was 300 feet wide. Before long, the Tyrians started to take notice and sent out ships to attack the men building the Mole. Alexander then put the remainder of his army to work lashing ships together to form the floating bases for huge siege towers. He sent these siege ships against the island’s wall to start battering them, and take the pressure off the Mole. With siege ships battering the walls, the Tyre navy had to divide its efforts and became far less effective.

After a few months of block dropping and wall pounding, the walls were breached, and Tyre was invaded. Things get kinda bloody at that point. Alexander had a long memory and he hadn’t forgotten the two slain ambassadors. Alexander then paraded his army across the Mole in triumph.

Cool end note to the island of Tyre. It’s not an island anymore. So much silt and debris was pushed by the current against Alexander’s Mole that the island is now connected to the coast and is a peninsula.

This brings us to the game we have just started working on, Field Commander Napoleon. We’ll start on that with the next entry!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


From time to time I’m asked how we go about designing and developing games. After all, a game is like any other creative project, there isn’t an objective doneness to it. A game’s doneness is entirely feel-based. There is always something that can be added, removed, or changed.

A game starts with me putting together an initial design. Holly and I then sit down to play. Rarely does a game survive the first player turn, before huge problems are found. We talk about it and try to figure out how to keep the good while fixing the bad. Holly is great at dissecting a design.

This repeats dozens of times. An important point to mention is that a game’s design is not linear. At many points in the process, the design gets scrapped and a new design is started. I use the term scrapped intentionally, because we don’t just throw out the old design, but we carefully examine it to find the good, which gets transplanted into the new design.

Game designs evolve both evolutionarily and through random mutation. In many cases you can see how one version leads to the next, but sometimes there is a huge gap between one version and the next.

Anyway, we work on a game until it is “good”. Then we keep working on it until it is “great”. And finally, we keep working until it is “obvious”.

By “obvious,” I mean that when we show the game to a new person they look at the design and say, “Well of course that’s how the game works, it’s obvious that’s the best to have designed it.”

Although it’s completely subjective, it’s obvious when we’re done with a design.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Welcome to Our World!

My name is Dan Verssen, and my wife Holly and I co-own "Dan Verssen Games (DVG)". We have been designing and developing tabletop games since 1989. Since then, we have had about 40 games published by different companies.

A couple years ago, Holly had the idea of publishing our own games. Side note: Holly is the one who usually comes up with all the big life changing ideas in our family.

At first I thought she’d finally lost all touch with reality, but then she went on to explain that we had worked on all the steps of game publication while designing games for other companies. At one time or another, not only had we designed the games, but also created the packaging, written the rules, handling marketing, prepped the files for printing, and everything else.

So, we launched the web site and put our first game up for pre-order “Field Commander Rommel”. She was right! Soon enough people started pre-ordering the game and within a few months we had enough pre-orders to pay the printing bill and start production.

We were a game company!

In the past six months we have sent three more games to print. We now have 3 games for sale, and the fourth will be delivered from the printer in early May.

All of our success is built on the faith and support of our pre-ordering customers. Without them, we couldn’t have started our business, and we never forget them. In fact, we’ve started a new thing in the gaming world. Every person who pre-orders one of our games gets to have their name printed on all the games boxes.

So, why start a blog?

A couple reasons. First, some friends, Kevin Carter and Mike Guadagnino suggested it as a cool way to talk back and forth with the world. Second, we have a regular “News” section on our web site, but we need to keep that formal and professional. We thought a blog would be a neat means of informal conversation.

Everyday in the world of game design is an adventure. You never know what new fortune or mishap is waiting with the morning email.

Reminds me of Sgt. Apone's pep talk in the movie Aliens... "All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!"

A side note of Aliens. When Holly was in the hospital giving birth the nurses asked if we wanted to watch a movie on their mobile TV system. I guess they were thinking of peaceful woodland scenes or something, but she wanted to watch Aliens. It wasn't long before the sounds of gunfire, and chest tearing screams, led the nurses to close our door. They said the other patients were finding the sounds "disturbing".