Category: Wasteland Wednesdays

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays

Wasteland Wednesday – The one about conventions

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This is going to be a strange Wasteland Wednesday, and only tangentially related to Wasteland Express.  Except for the artwork at the end, that will be related to Wasteland Express!

I want to take a moment to talk about the importance of conventions in the industry.  I think it’s sort of easy to think of conventions in 2016 as something that made sense in the past before the internet and instant information.  We live in a world of paperless home offices for small companies (I work in one!), and because of the internet you can seamlessly work with people all over the world.

This is all true.  Heck, we have designers in the MidWest.  Molly and I have been in New York and Texas during this project.  We have an artist in Italy.  For some of our other games we have designer in Japan and artists in Europe.  We’re about to start a game that is designed primarily in America with collaboration from a Japanese designer.

All that said, conventions are super important.  I’m sitting in my house trying to figure out right now if I’m going to be able to make a flight to Madison, WI for ACD Game Days right now.  It’s looking a bit dicey, and I’ll be pretty upset if it doesn’t happen.   And that’s because face to face time with designers, artists, store owners, distributors and most importantly gamers matters.

ACD Game Day is an industry only event for store owners hosted by ACD, one of the largest game distributors (we also make it to GTS, Alliance and Southern Hobbies game days, in addition to GAMA in Las Vegas.  Face to face time with store owners, asking them what is selling for them, what isn’t working anymore and what we can do to help FLGS is critical.  We’ve changed a lot of policies based on conversations we’ve had at GAMA.  We’re working through a demo copy program now, and we’ve started putting FLGS exclusive items in first print run copies to help support local game stores.

Then there are also the designer heavy events.  These include things like UnPub, Tokyo Game Market, Gathering of Friends (for which I have never been invited.. L) and lots and lots of smaller local designer focused gatherings.  These are super important for a number of reasons.  Not least of which is finding new games to publish and building strong relationships with designers.  I met Matt, Ben and Jon at UnPub in Baltimore a little over a year ago..  Since then we’ve worked with Matt and Ben on two designs (go buy BTTF now!).  I’ve got three designs underway with Mr. Gilmour.  And they aren’t the only great designers and artists we’ve met and established really critical relationships with at these cons.  Hell, if we hadn’t booked a rental car and braved a blizzard to drive from Manhattan to Baltimore Wasteland Express wouldn’t be published by Pandasaurus, and I would be pretty bummed about that.   I also would have missed out on some amazing dinners in Japan with Simon, Tak, Suganuma, Hayashi, Senjei and would have a whole lot less friends in the industry.  Or run into Antoine Bauza at the Sumo Tournament and have him ask why I wasn’t in the ring competing (back on P90X I go :p)

Kanpai! Tokyo Gamer Market is the best

Gaming Press like Tom Vasel, Eric Martin, SUSD, Geek and Sundry, a slew of podcasts and social media movers like @gamewirewarrior are usually at all of these events, but the industry heavy events are the best way to get in a room with them and share upcoming information and ask them how we can best get them news and games.  It’s not that they aren’t at GenCon, it’s just that they are stupid busy at GenCon.

Then there are the conventions most of y’all are probably intimately aware of.  We attend Origins and GenCon in an official capacity, and I try to attend BGG Con and a bunch of smaller local cons as a gamer.  Jon was at GeekWay playing Wasteland with our artist.  My Sister-in-law was there with her future husband (congrats Andrew and Margs!) who actually got engaged in Japan because they tagged along on our trip to Tokyo Game Market (conventions it seems are far more important than even I realized).

Jon teaching a game of WEDS at Geekway. It'll look a lot prettier next time we show it at a con.
Jon teaching a game of WEDS at Geekway. It’ll look a lot prettier next time we show it at a con.

It’s actually kind of hard for me to find time during the week to play many games that aren’t our designs.  When you have 6+ games under development at a time there is a lot of playing and tweaking underway and it’s hard to carve out 4-5 hours to just play games for fun.  So, a lot of the time at these cons is when I try and sit down and just play someone else’s games and enjoy myself.  It’s also useful market research to figure out what games are popular and what people are currently playing.   The most important part of these conventions is meeting gamers like you and gamers that aren’t like you.  r/boardgames and BGG are critical places to get information.  I also hang out on way too much and get to talk to board gamers in the OT subforum (I’m nominally a moderator, and should do a better job of that).  But at a convention is a great time to meet lots of people.  Maybe people who love games but don’t love them so much that they want to spend their time online talking about them.  Or people who casually like to play games with friends once every few months.  And of course, it’s a great time to meet some of the fans that we do interact with regularly on social media.  It’s critical for us to know what you like and don’t like about what we do just the way we need to take the pulse of store owners.  First of all, because we are nice people who genuinely enjoy bringing smiles to people’s faces.  But also because we are a business and you are the customer.

So, the point of all of this is to say, I really hope I get a flight to Madison tonight, so that I can get some much needed face time with as many people out there as we can.  It’s not looking so great right now.  One flight got pushed past the connection time in Detroit, and the only other flight from Austin to Madison tonight is looking a little close on the connection.  Also, you might want to keep your eyes peeled at a couple of upcoming cons this year as I think the entire design team and us are descending upon Columbus and Indianapolis this Summer and that’s probably a very good time for us to share Wasteland Express face to face and not over the interwebs.

Without further ado.  Welcome to your game board for Wasteland Express.  The cities aren’t slotted in here just yet because we want to save some gameplay information on how cities, free cities, raider enclaves and mod shops work.  So, look for those in June.  The layout is going to be mostly randomized for your average game, but the narrative gameplay sessions will have specified board set ups for the scenarios as you work your way through them.   You can click this image for  a higher res version.

WEDS Board Array

Oh what the heck, here are two cities.  Good luck figuring out what all these symbols mean 🙂  Ignore the colored lines, those are safety area markers for printing and won’t ever actually appear on the printed game.

WEDS_City - Archivist - Glowtown WEDS_City - Raider 1 - Eyeless

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays

Wasteland Wednesday: The One About a Bar on Thanksgiving and an Artistic Genius

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Nathan Here.  Wasteland Wednesday is rising like a Phoenix and will return on a weekly basis.  Basically, we were in Japan for Tokyo Game Market (You should super go to Tokyo Game Market, it’s amazing) and I forgot that they only have two prong outlets, and my PC didn’t like the amount of power it was getting through a three prong to two prong converter.  Then we came back and got into a jet lag induced cloud of confusion which led me to sleep through last Wednesday and think that today was in fact Wednesday, when it is actually Thursday.  Which is all to say, I’m and idiot, but Wasteland Wednesday is BACK!  If you wouldn’t mind sharing these guys around the web where you think they might make sense (Forums, SubReddits, Facebook, Twitter, Whatever the kids are using that I’m not cool enough to know about) we are always appreciative.   Without further ado, the better half of Pandasaurus Games.  Also, we’re gonna share another player character this week.  So, look forward to that at the end of this amazing post.

Hey WEDS heads! Molly here for Wasteland Wednesday (read: Thursday). Sorry about the lack of Wednesday updates, we just got back from Japan. A land full of fantastical things—natural wonders, technological advances and artistically brilliant minds. Speaking of all of these things, let’s talk some about character creation in Wasteland Express Delivery Service.

After we were able to breathe again post signing such an insane, delightfully amazing game from the guys, we realized that we had a bit of a terrifying task in front of us: coming up with dozens of unique characters completely from scratch.

There are North of 15 riders, a silly amount of raiders and Drivers, Factions, Towns, Missions.
Nathan presented this fact like it was no big thing. “You’re a writer, Molly,” he deadpanned. Let the record show that I was music journalist, not exactly a skillset useful to fleshing out a massive postapocalyptic shitshow world.

Nathan knew this. I guess he was trying to calm himself down. It was Thanksgiving Day when we realized that we couldn’t put it off anymore and we would have to somehow, by some miraculous means, come up with some names and details for the artist we had on board.

Since we were already depressed and alone in the city on Thanksgiving Day, hitting our heads against a bar sounded better than doing so against a wall, so we headed down to our local place—mercifully the only place open for miles.

Fast-forward two hours of procrastination and a couple of stiff drinks, we just decided to go for it. By going for it, I mean verbalizing out the weirdest shit that rolled off of our tongues and out of our now buzzed minds. Nothing was off limits. We were desperate people, doing as desperate people do.

[Insert montage of paper flying, bourbon-soaked “AH-Has!” and back slapping.]
OK, so maybe it was more like sideways glances and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. But we had them, nonetheless! We were done-ish. We had something to give to the artist.

Which was about the time we realized, “Oh god. This is for Riccardo freaking Burchielli. All of the embarrassings.”
But the show needed to go on, and so we handed over our bizzaro, frankensteined, stream of conscious, slightly drunken ramblings. Waiting for what could possibly come of our mess was painful, to say the least.

And then… Riccardo hits us with his take on our first character, “Big John.” *Sound of jaws dropping.* Then we knew all would be okay. In that moment we learned that pure genius is taking some weird nonsensical crap two jokers hand you and turning that into something otherworldly special.

WEDS-PA-big-john copia

Our description was something along the lines of: “Big John: Disgusting, dirty, wife-beater. Drives a big rig truck.” Mmmmkay.

And, yet, here we have “Big John,” in all his freakishly detailed glory in the cartooned flesh. Disgusting? You bet! But Riccardo Burchielli doesnlt stop at just “disgusting.” Big John, as you know/can see, is a disgusting freak of epic proportions. Big John is a fetid-human with finger and toenails that curl around his engorged joints, he cuts slits in his jackets to show off his pierced nipples, he has a perpetually broken nose and his best friend is a mangled teddy bear with a human skull for a head.

Yep, that’s what Riccardo Burchielli brings to the table. Suffice to say, all of his subsequent takes on our two sentence ramblings were equally nuanced, detailed and brilliant. With Riccardo, we finally had a world. A beautiful, madcap, repulsive world. Hell to the yes.

Nathan here.  Speaking of Hell to the Yes.  Meet our latest Hero to share with the world.  Gat.  Gat was described to Riccardo as a guy with a Gattling Gun for an arm.  Molly and I are dumb.  Riccardo can make a Corpse Reviver #2 out of Lemons.  I also wanted one of the trucks to be a trailer house hooked up to a big rig.  See the earlier bad joke about Lemons.

WEDS-PA-gat-col copy
WEDS-vehicle-gat-col copiaGat Vehicle

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays

Wasteland Wednesday – the one about game development

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As you are reading this, team Pandasaurus is about ready to hike the Kumano Kodo pilgramedge for the next 4 days.   So if you don’t hear from us on social you’ll know why!   Well be staying in some small town Ryokan’s at night, so we’re not sure how great cell reception will be.

Today I’m going to take the reigns back over and talk a bit about game development.   Game development is the thing that happens after the designers hand you over a finished prototype.

Prototypes are generally some hand written or typed noted on white paper that has been glued to foam board.  With white slips of paper in card sleeves and old Magic the Gahering cards allowing you to rifle shuffle.   Or you don’t even get that much and you have to print your own out and foam core them up.

As a publisher the first few times you play a proto you’ll have a very hard time figuring out if it is in fact a fun game or not.   We all start ad gamers and then some of the crazier of us decide we want to enter the industry.   So I’m just as used to amazing artwork, clear rulebookes with examples and FAQs on BGG as anyone else when learning a game.   Seeing past the lack of all of those and feeling the theme and the fun is really, really hard work.   At this point I generally only grab games that present a fun game and have interesting player decisions that can be understood.

For Wasteland Express I immidietly had fun on my first pkaythrough and a lot of it.   But I also needed to get an idea of how many decisions exist in the game world, and how impactful they are.

We’ve all played games where player choice is extremely limited or extremely obvious to the point that the game plays itself.  We’ve also all played games that give the players too many choices with no obvious direction of head in.   This leads to AP, frustration and players making random moves because they don’t understand what they should be doing.   This is all bad game design or bad game development.

Wasteland has a lot of choices.  How do you outfit your truck?  Do you want to be aggressive with defense and weapons?  Lots of containers to haul goods?  Do you want to aggressively move across the board?  Go the long way to avoid Raiders and Radiation Zones?   What kind of missions do you want to take?  And those are just the tip of the iceberg.

But, Wasteland on top of a slew of player choice does a good job of presenting some missions and end game goals that will lead players down certain paths.  Do I want to outfit my truck for this mission?   Do I want to save up cash for that mission?   Similar to a well designer RPG that has missions that without holding a players hand guide them towards Fun with a capital F.

This is what I generally look for, especially in a gamer’s game that is geared towards a core audience.  A family friendly or gateway game can be forgiven for more limited player choice, but a big giant box aimed squarely at the SUSD, BGG or r/boardgames crowd has to have a lot of choices and a lot of repeatability to earn shelf space over the long haul (pun somewhat intended).

From there it’s down to figuring out how you get these scraps of paper put into a cohesive final product that looks like a game you would be happy to own.  And that is something I’ll save for next week’s post 🙂

For now, I think it’s time we share with the world the twins.   The idea weve gotten into a lot is that the people remaining in this world have tried to hold onto some idea of the past.  Sonehwat appropriwtly given that were in Japan right now, the twins are two brothers who have an unhealthy obsession with feudal Japan.  Weve got gask mask helmets.  Welcome mats for thigh guards.  As always, Riccardo is amazing.WEDS-raiders-twins-col copia

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays

Wasteland Wednesday – Riccardo is an art god

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Hey everyone, Nathan here.

This is very late.  I am writing this update in a very tiny hotel room in Shinjuku Tokyo getting ready for the Tokyo Game Market.  It’s one of my absolutely favorite work trips of the year and a reminder of how awesome my job is 🙂  I will be scheduling these to go up on Wednesday going forward so I don’t get stuck on an airplane over the Pacific ocean with no Wasteland Wednesday up.  

Today, we get some words from Riccardo, the man behind the insane drawings you’ve been seeing.  I’ve told this story before but when we were first kicking up dust on this project I wanted to get an artist who worked in the style of the amazing graphic novel DMZ (go buy it if you haven’t read it).  When I reached out to IDW about anyone they knew the answer I got back was “We know Riccardo”, which was just the absolute best news I could have gotten.

Without further ado, Riccardo’s first days working on Wasteland and some graphic boards for characters that you have and have no seen.  Including Zed, a brand new Raider!

WEDS-boards-04 WEDS-boards-02 WEDS-boards-03

When IDW and Pandasaurus have proposed to me to collaborate on Wasteland Express, I was really pleased. Casually, the time to start this type of work was perfect. In that period I had decided to take a small stop from comics to take a moment of rest by arcing type of work. I wanted to work on something different, a different media, which could also give me the opportunity to go a different style from my usual. Wasteland Express was the perfect opportunity. Then you have to considered that the Sci Fi Post-Apocalyptic setting is by far the one I prefer and after DMZ and Mad Max, I could compare myself  again with those scenarios. It was great.

I really enjoy what I’m doing  and it also gave me the opportunity to know the world of board game that is a new experience for me. The people I met are great professionals and they are supporting me in everything. See how this kind of projects are growing, is a beautiful experience.


I tried to clear my mind and get a new way to think the drawing process, doing a different way to build characters and make documentation. I opened to a new, full method of imagination. Create characters who live in an old and worn world, clothes and debris of all sorts of rubbish, to create monstrous vehicles and create decadent atmosphere is an absolute fun. It’s something i did also in the past but now I have to tell a story in a single image and not in some pages as in comics, and that’s a new challenge for me.

I’m so happy to said yes to the guys and be part of this great adventure.

Below a bit ‘of sketches and preparatory drawings.

Nathan again, here are some amazing sketches showing the creative process that went on to create the box art for Wasteland Express Delivery Service.

Wasty WEDS-boards-cover-detail01 WEDS-boards-cover-detail02 WEDS-boards-cover-detail03

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays

Wasteland Wednesday – The One where Jon gets to talk

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Nathan Here.  Before we turn Jon loose, I have to say Jon is one of my absolutely favorite people to work with (Ben and Matt are good too, especially because you can make fun of Detroit sports teams and see a reaction that is best described as resignation), partially because given his prototypes I think our brains work similarly (which is to say erratically), a lot of Jon’s prototype work is just scratching through things that were already written.  We’re working on another game with Jon (and another super awesome co-designer) that we will be showing off later this year (TEASER), and both of his prototypes are amazingly chicken-scratchy.  Which, if you’ve ever seen my office (which, none of you have unless I’ve picked up a stalker) its a very familiar sight.  In fact, my office probably says a lot about how my brain works, but that is a whole other journal entry probably not for the company website.  So, after Jon gets done talking about his creative process and all the amazing changes he has made to Wasteland, we will have a few more raiders for you.  I’ve decided not to show off Carrion just yet.  Mostly because Jon’s journal here is fantastic and all anyone would talk about is Carrion.  So, I’ll save her for a later SJWy post about the male gaze and why she is a totally fine mostly naked female character.

We would super happy if you guys could help spread the word about Wasteland Wednesdays to your friends and social networks.  I think this is pretty insightful stuff, not only for our little game, but for how board games get made in general.  So, anywhere you think someone might like to read this, we would love if you would share it.

I’m going to start off by saying that I’m really not good at things like this, and much like my in person talking style, my writing style tends to be rambling and disconnected. So I’ll probably cover about 4 different topics before I’m done here.

First, I want to say that, while we joke about me coming on board and “fixing” W.E.D.S., that is not something I can take credit for. When I first played the game (When it was Space Vikings), I was a bit leery about what I could bring to the project. I don’t really have great self-confidence, and to think of how I could possibly come on and make this project better, was a bit overwhelming. I took some time to digest it, think about it, and come up with some proposals for Matt and Ben.
I feel that one of my strengths is knowing what I like in a game, and trying to further enhance that, so that is what I focused on. How could I help them make the things that were already great in this game better? The biggest was really theme. Some gamers feel that theme doesn’t matter. There are great debates between designers about theme first Vs. mechanic first design. My philosophy is Experience First. I ask myself what experience do I want the players to have, and how can I best evoke those emotions? When I played Space Vikings, I tried to ask myself what other themes would fit, and what kind of experience did I feel that the game was already evoking. Then I spent some time trying to bring that experience further to life. I feel that when I came to Matt and Ben with a rework of the game, it was really only about 15% different. I cut some things, I swapped some things around, and I put a new coat of paint on it. But the heart was there, beating in this gritty post-apocalyptic shell.

Next I want to talk about Collaboration. It’s something I love to do. I really think I work best when I’m not in a vacuum. Matt and Ben are not collaborators. They are much more of a symbiosis. They operate as a single unit, and it’s amazing to be a part of it. They eat math and crap out great Euro games unlike anyone else I’ve ever seen. So when we started talking, it was very easy to form a new rhythm with them. When I first got married, my father in law told me about the concept of an “emotional bank”. In a relationship, you deposit into the emotional bank, and sometimes you withdraw. But you want to build a bigger and bigger positive balance. I feel like that is the key to good collaboration as well. I apply this concept to everything I do. So working with Matt and Ben was no different. Some days we would go back and forth on things we were passionate about. Some days I would win them over with my cries of “MOAR FUN”, and then other’s they would drop math bombs unrelentingly. In the end, we were all passionate about the game, so it helped us all stay invested in building a really good Emotional bank account and I feel like the game shows that love.

Finally, I want to talk about failure. Every game sucks at some point. If you don’t feel like your game sucks, you are not being honest with yourself. I am a huge proponent of the “Fail Faster” School of design (a good video about it is here: You should be watching Extra Credits anyway!) , and luckily Matt and Ben are fans as well. While hanging at Panera, we would mark on, tear up, and change things with abandon. You have to be willing to try new things with your designs and explore them. Your prototype doesn’t need to look pretty. Don’t be afraid to mark it up, scribble on it, and try things that don’t make you comfortable.


Crappy Prototype Example.
Crappy Prototype Example.


Slightly less crappy Prototype. Notice the misspelling of Supply (Typos: A Gilmour Hallmark).
Slightly less crappy Prototype. Notice the misspelling of Supply (Typos: A Gilmour Hallmark).

In these pictures, you can see some of the changes that were made during these times together. Usability items like changing colors, spacing, etc. Other changes were mechanical, changing abilities, faction ownership, etc. My point with all of this is, don’t be afraid to change things. Listen to other people who want to help you. Try new things. Avoid Brain Crack ( These are the biggest pieces of advice I can give to people who are new the designing games.
So, I’ve rambled enough, so I’ll wrap things up so I can get this into Nate on time.

TLDR; This is an article about why Jon doesn’t write rulebooks.

Nathan here again.  So, that was super amazing. I also don’t write rulebooks for similar reasons.  I also misspelled Jon’s name in the original press release for this game.  I also can’t spell restaurant correctly ever.  Like, ever.  

I love hearing about how games come together.  From my perspective I normally see a 99% finished product when I first see a game, and it’s super fascinating to find out some of the backstory about a game that is usually 4-5 years in the making before it turns up on my desk and I get to play it.  And Jon is super right.  Scribble all over your prototype.  If a publisher can’t see through the mess they probably aren’t a publisher you want to work with anyway.  I mean, I don’t mind a super clean prototype (Scott Almes is a golden god of amazing prototypes (TEASER!)).  But, chicken scratch works just as well as insanity.

Without further ado..   meet two new Raiders!  Flounder and LAN.  Flounder started about by Molly saying we should have a guy with one eye called Flounder.  Then we got an eye cavity, creepy clown and subdermal implants.  Riccardo is an amazing, and possibly terrifying human.  You may recognize this guys mug as staring back at you on the box cover.  

LAN is a character I wanted to make.  Part of the idea of the world of Wasteland Express is that there is a memory of the world that used to exist.  No one exactly remembers exactly how things worked, and the notion that a character would be obsessed with old non-functioning technology made a lot of sense to me.  This sort of stuff would be considered valuable because of it’s tie to the old world.  The skull in the monitor is also an amazing little detail.  We’ll get into our factions soonish, but one of them definitely shares a certain fetish for old technology and trying to get it back up and running again.

WEDS-raiders-flounder-col copy WEDS-raiders-lan-col copy

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays

Wasteland Wednesday – the one about Space Vikings and Scott Bakula

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Nathan Here again.  This week we have made the relatively poor decision to turn our website over to one Matt Riddle to talk about Space Vikings, the changing of themes in games and when to realize during the project development process when it’s time to make a change.  We’ll also have a brand new Raider to show off this week!

For those of you who remember last week, Ben spent about 30k words laying out the backbone of how we went from an idea he had to make train game with octagonal tiles and ended up with bad ass raider art and truck minis and the general awesomeness that is Wasteland Express Delivery Service.

See? Badass.
See? Badass.

It will overlap a bit with Ben, but I want to dig more into the pre-Jon backstory. As designers, Ben and I are pretty quick to proto and even quicker to cut and run on a game if it’s a fail bomb. If a proto sucks or is meh or is even just pretty good we broom it and move on to something else. We do not hack at games endlessly that aren’t working. We have plenty of ideas worth pursuing so why try and polish a turd? WEDS was the exception… not that is was a turd, but that we would shelve it but never fully quit on it. We knew that in the bones of this sprawling pick up and deliver was a GREAT game.

WEDS had so many implementations; train game, soul gathering, Vikings, then for the longest time… SPACE VIKINGS! (you have to say it with an 80s rock screech or the ol’ 80s toy commercial announcer guy voice – SPACE VIKINGS!!!!). I mean, it SEEMED like a really good idea. Two awesome things mashed together.  When we decided on Space Vikings as the official theme, I even wrote up the following opening story:

As the 9th century dawned on the Baltic Sea, the Viking Era was in full swing. Viking expansion was rampant and, in the way of the forefathers, the great Viking chieftains of the age were increasing their territories and holdings through hard work, pillaging, trading… and more pillaging! Well, most of the chieftains that is… Clan Forkbeard did not have a chieftain. It had five. Sort of. Each one was more worthless than the last. Things had been going so well for so long that the five sons Forkbeard had been born with the proverbial amber spön in their mouths. The brothers took from the great Baltic Sea with no regard, no respect, and certainly no tribute. This behavior angered Aegir, the god of the sea. After a score of years with naught a monument built nor an offering left, Aegir had enough. Watching Clan Forkbeard move from island to island in the great Scandinavian archipelago with indifference, leaving destruction and waste in their wake, Aegir decided it was time to teach them a lesson. In his righteous indignation, he would restore the glory of his magnificent Baltic Sea and banish Clan Forkbeard…TO SPACE! Space Vikings!

Clan Forkbeard must restore their honor and earn Aegir’s favor if they are ever to return to the only home they have ever known. Spread across a small but habitable system of planets deep in Ridback Galaxy, the brave and suddenly motivated Vikings have rallied their clan and are conquering the solar system the only way they know how… Space Vikings!

They were also about to meet the legal team of the world famous author of little fuzzy
They were also about to meet the legal team of the world famous author of little fuzzy

Ya, that was a thing. At one point it even had a Quantum Leap joke about trying to get home, dunno where that went.

So, all that to say we had shelved the game but never stopped thinking about it. Fast forward in time and I am tweeting away looking for anyone willing to print and test a pnp of our upcoming card game Eggs and Empires. Lo and behold, I get a DM from Jon Gilmour. Now understand this was pre DoW so he was just Jon Gilmour not JON F@#$ING GILMOUR. Hell, thanks to Fleet Ben and I were considerably more “famous” at the time. (Famous in the context of an incredibly small and obscure corner of the internet… so not famous but whatever the equivalent is for a couple of tier 3 hobby game designers.)  Jon plays E&E and likes it. He and I chat a bit find out we are pseudo local and become twitter friends.  Then awhile later DoW drops.


Eventually we get to talking about  collaboration. We skype and email to kick around a few ideas, then Ben and I present to Jon our white whale, our asymptotic design, our great American novel that is Space Vikings. We gave him basically the following pitch “ya uhhhm so this game is good and euro-y but we can tell it should be ameritrashy, so eurotrash-y really, but we are having trouble cracking it so can you uh make it awesome?” We spent the next several months meeting in Lansing as often as possible being those jerks that hog a big table at Panera and buy like one coffee to share. (I kid, have you seen us? Ben is the light weight of the group and he is pushing like 240 these days. Of course we ate. A lot.)

The outcome of those design sessions is that a game that had already been through a long, extended development cycle and totally worked and was fun and good went through another long, extended development cycle as Wasteland Truckers and got better. I think it was 15 minutes into our first playthrough with Jon when he says “this is a trucking game. Post apocalyptic trucking actually.” That allowed us to spend the next several months working with Jon (and separately at Ben and I’s weekly design sessions) to develop, theme, integrate the theme, work on theme some more, and set the overall vision of Wasteland Truckers. It was a blast.

Nathan Back:  And thank god.  Because if I got a twitter message that said “Do you want to publish a Space Vikings game I would have said yes, and then Molly would have told me that we already had a viking game and we can’t possibly market both of those.  I would have retorted, Yes but our Vikings are not in space.  They are on earth.  I totally would have still published that, but I’m super glad we got Wasteland Express Delivery Service instead.  

Oh, and as promised.  Meet Sky Captain.  You can see this guy on the cover of the game box as well, but here he is with his really rickety airplane ready to bring hell fire from above on our very capably equipped truckers.  Next week we’ll hear from Jon Gilmour, and the week after that from Riccardo Burchielli.  Please let us know in the comments section what you want to see or what you want covered.  Until then, be on the lookout for a State of the Saurus on Monday, and of course more information about Wasteland Express.  Maybe next week we’ll show off Carrion and everyone can freak out.  Or maybe we’ll save her for later.  

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Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays/ 4

Wasteland Wednesdays – The one where Pinchback talks to himself

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Before we let Ben take this away this week, I wanted to let everyone know that over the next three weeks we are going to hear a bit from the three co-designers of the game about some of the game play decisions that were made that led to what is ultimately Wasteland Express Delivery Service. We’re also going to spoil out some more work from Riccardo in the form of a brand new player character we have yet to show. But first, Ben.

Hello, Ben Pinchback here, one third of the game design team on Wasteland Express Delivery Service. This is the first in a series of articles coming from the designers. Matt and Jon will have their say later, but today you get my version of the story where I can take as much credit as possible without being interrupted. Matt and I have been working as a team since we started designing our first ever game Fleet over 6 years ago, and this is our first and only time to date working with someone else as well. How did this happen, and what has it been like? This series of designer articles will take you behind the scenes of how the three of us became friends and into our process behind designing this irreverent trip trucking and fighting through the wasteland.

Meeting Mr. Gilmour:
I’ll never forget the day I first met Jon Gilmour. It was a great day for him. Not so much because he met me. Rather because it was Thursday of Gencon 2014 and there were well over a hundred people wrapping around the Plaid Hat booth and down the aisle waiting in line to buy his new game Dead of Winter. And by down the aisle I mean so many people that it was blocking the entrance to some other pretty major publishers’ booths. The Plaid Hat Crew was king at this moment. So Matt says to me, “Hey let’s see if Jon’s around. I want to say hi.” I of course had no clue they had ever talked but apparently they had. This is why I keep Matt around mind you. Sure he can design games, but he’s also not afraid to make friends with absolutely everyone. So we walk up to Jon and he’s sporting quite a grin. He was just standing there soaking it all in. My first thought was, someday I want this feeling he is having right now. So we talked some and I walked away telling Matt how genuinely nice I thought Jon seemed and Matt told me that Jon actually lived only about 4 hours from us. Huh. So Matt did his thing and within a month or so we were Skyping with Jon and talking about working on something together, which quickly led to day trips and all day sessions with Jon. Matt does what Matt does. But what Matt doesn’t do is sit around on his couch sketching shapes while thinking, “You know the Octagon is a very under-represented shape in board game maps today. And wow when you put Octagons together, you get squares left in the voids. How is this not a thing everywhere already!?”

Back in 2011, Matt and I were prepping for our first ever game design Fleet to Kickstart in the spring, and we were already neck deep in a handful of other designs. The bug had bitten us badly, and there wasn’t a spare moment when I wasn’t thinking about games themselves or more likely game design. So as mentioned above, the simple act of just randomly sketching shapes on a notepad while watching TV led me down a pretty serious rabbit trail. A 4×4 map of octagons as terrain and cities / outposts / strongholds being the square voids and the edges was a very quick progression for me that night. By the time I showed Matt probably a week later I had already decided that we were going to do a pickup and deliver train game using this setup. My paradigm for train games in 2011 was mostly Age of Steam / Steam and I thought a game where you actually hump the goods across the board physically seemed like a novel idea. It turns out this form of goods pickup and delivery was actually commonplace, but the board wasn’t. The more I researched it, I did find some games using Octs and Squares, but not as many as I thought I might. This map with different octs being different terrain, using squares as cities, and the system of moving around these shapes was there on the couch in 2011 and it’s still the backbone of Wasteland Express Delivery Service 5 years later. It’s really cool to see an idea like that come to fruition and better yet to realize you never could have done it right on your own. What I was going to do with this system is so a thousand times lamer than what came out of working with Matt, Jon, and the eventual greater creative team Pandasaurus assembled.


The other gameplay element that developed over the next 5 years that would survive countless thematic changes and mechanical iterations was this idea we had of a Player Action Mat. If you can remember ever counting to 10 a thousand times over and over during two hours of Tikal (a game that I love by the way), then you can understand the desire to come up with an action selection game where the game held your hand a little bit more and guided you to the actions you could do and even kept track of them. Eventually Matt and I came up with the idea that each player has an action mat that lists the actions available to a player and has boxes next to them for activation with action cubes. Each player has the same amount of action cubes to spend over a series of rounds, and the cool thing was that we found quickly that this action cube allocation allowed us to not only present the available actions to the player, but also to limit the amount of times players can take a certain action in a certain timeframe organically, because the action cubes do not clear and refresh until they’re all spent. One other thing we loved about this system was that it kept the game moving and the down time was very small because a player’s turn is to play one cube to their mat and take that action. Turns then become very quick and the game hums around the table. Move, Buy a good, Attack, Take a job, Deliver, Visit a shop, etc. Now mind you, I could have never imagined the levels of awesomeness our little player mats would be taken to after we met Jon, but I’ll let the other guys write about that evolution. Safe to say when we met Jon, we had a very solid system that worked mechanically well. But it was far from awesome. Really really far from awesome as it would turn out. Side note: Jon has a rule when talking about design direction. The rule is, “Which one is more fun?” That’s it. It seems simple, but so often we aren’t wired to think this way. We’re so worried about balance and all these other things that we miss out on something as important as, “Which one is more fun?” And the coolest thing is balance came even after choosing fun time after time. The lesson here is, you can balance later. Make it fun first.

A prototype player board. This is what all board games would look like if designers were the artists. Just remember that the next time you see a board game artist.
A prototype player board. This is what all board games would look like if designers were the artists.

I will let Matt and Jon talk more about the thematic journey, but mechanically there’s the backbone. The octagon and square terrain/cities/outposts works amazingly well for trucking around goods, fighting, and performing missions. The player mats / action cube system has given players a nice and easy way to maneuver through our world. What we’ve done with this system is add in an absolute mountain of special missions to accomplish. The three main factions in the game each have unique decks that give agendas to push, tasks to complete, possible crazies to join your truck riding shotgun. But for a huge thematic game, the turns seem shockingly simple, and that’s probably the thing I’m the most proud of from the mechanical side. Often times I feel like I’m playing an RPG questing style video game on the tabletop. The game mechanics literally get out of the way and let people completely focus on the adventure at hand. And how did our game’s journey go from solid, to awesome, to absolutely unbelievable? Tune in soon for Matt and Jon to tell that side of the story.

Nathan again.  I promised a new player character, so meet Big John.  You’ve seen Big John’s truck before on the cover (along with Tweeks), but this will be your first look at the man behind the wheel, and the very first piece of art that Riccardo ever finished for us.  Once we saw Big John’s sketch we knew the whole package would come together.  Also, superfluous male nipple warning.  And since I’m feeling generous, have a gander at his truck too 🙂  Hit us up with any questions or suggestions for future content here in the comments section, and stay tuned next week for another Wasteland Wednesday, and the return of State of the Saurus, where we get into the weeds on the business side of gaming.


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Big John Vehicle

Posted on /by Nathan McNair/in Wasteland Express Delivery Service, Wasteland Wednesdays/ 4

Wasteland Wednesday! The one about Publishers and Stuff

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Welcome to the very first Wasteland Wednesday!

Every week until the release of Wasteland Express Delivery Service we will be sharing new information about the game, providing some behind the scenes look at the game development process and letting our fans have a little peak behind the curtain.

Today, I wanted to go through some of the early stages of the game from the Publishers point of view.  Sort of an look at the inner workings of my mind when I’m being pitched a game.  And share a little bit more of Josh and Riccardo’s amazing artwork.

For a publisher, the game development process often begins near the end of the process for the designers.  Sometimes a game is designed to specifications of a publisher (as is often the case with licensed games, where the IP comes before the game design).  But the vast majority of games you play have been years in the making.  Matt, Ben and Jon have an amazing story to tell about the design of the game, and we’ll definitely force them to do that before we are done.

I came along Wasteland Express Delivery Service via Twitter.  For anyone who doesn’t follow Matt Riddle on Twitter (@mdriddlen) you should.  I follow Matt because he is well connected and keeps on top of Kickstarter boardgame on goings super well.  Which makes him a good way to find games that I might want to back.  In this instance, I saw a tweet that more or less said “Who wants to publish Ben and I’s new game with Jon Gilmour.”  My reply “uh, yes please”.  The next thing I know I was asked if I was going to Unpub 2015.  I then informed Molly we were road tripping to Baltimore the next weekend.  The single most random way I have ever been introduced to a game.  I also had to drive back to NYC through a Winter Storm at 1AM.  Texans are not equipped to do such things.

We met the guys at the Baltimore convention center (and by the way, if you have any interest in the industry and game design, absolutely find an UnPub event to check out.  It’s an amazing way to see a lot of very good designs in their early stages, and meet a lot of very passionate fans in the industry).  What they showed us was a game with a lot of hexagonal pieces with space fields on the background (an earlier iteration of the design, that they killed because there are waaaaaay too many space games out there) and a bunch of glued together foam core for pieces.  For the next hour they walked us through the game overview, explained the mechanics, the game end conditions (which were a hand waive at the time) and all of the decision trees players would have to make.  You can actually tell a lot about a game before you ever play it in these stages.  Player decisions are usually the thing that powers the fun factor of games.  What decisions do you need to make, what options exist, what are the trade offs, how badly can a player screw up, can they come back from screwing up, can they screw their friends up etc.  You want to make sure that a player always feels in command of a game, and that the game does not play itself.  Balance is the hard part to get right, and the part that takes the most work on the back end.  But I can normally tell if a game is one that I am interested in publishing from a 30 minute elevator pitch, you see enough unpublished games and you get a smell for what will or won’t wind up being fun.  I was very interested.

Wateland Prototype

From there Molly started asking the market positioning questions, which are much more her domain than mine, but are equally critical.  We’ve all seen the BGG geeklists of games with the same boxes.  I’ve also been more or less forbidden from publishing a game with a dude in a funny hat with a tall ship behind him.  You need to make sure that your game has a marketable angle and something that helps it stand out on a store shelf and in player minds.  Obviously the pedigree of the three designers is without question.  Matt and Ben make just the most amazing games.  Fleet has been a favorite of mine since I kickstarted it way back when (I even own the Fish meeples that Matt and Ben had personally made).  Jon is of course the co-designer of Dead of Winter, which I’m sure a few of you have heard of.  The working title of the game at the time was Wasteland Truckers, and there was a lot of great world building that needed some fleshing out.  There were factions, and missions, and end-game events going on but it was all super rough and definitely needed some work from a writer to come in and add some depth to it.  We knew we needed to go big on the artwork to sell the theme.  We knew we were looking at something very very unique here, a game that most definitely was not already sitting on the shelves of players.

The last bit of conversation we had with the guys was production of the game, and what vision they had for breathing life into the prototype.  We knew we wanted to bring miniatures into the game, and we wanted the three Raider Trucks to actually have goods cubes nest in the back of their miniature.  We wanted giant hexagons to build a big map with that really stood out, and we knew we wanted a nice top down map that felt like the sort of world you might see in a video game.  We wanted an art feel that looked a bit comic book esque, with some humor but not slapstick and aiming for a more mature audience with a PG-13 rating, something we knew would be risky but would help the game stand out among other games.  I casually mentioned “Like DMZ” and Jon Gilmour knew exactly what I was talking about (Matt, Ben and Molly are not comic book people, and I judge them for this..  speaking of, I need to finish this as my weekly pull list backlog is getting scary big).

We took their hand made prototype with us, and over the next few weeks played the hell out of it with as many people as we could get our hands on.  We poured over the rulebook, started taking notes and coming up with suggestions that we wanted to see.  This is where a lot of the really cool narrative stuff started to form in our minds that wound up forming the backbone of the insane narrative story-arc that Jon, Matt and Ben created.  The game balance was phenomenal.  I whipped up a few spreadsheets so I could run numbers over a number of scenarios and it all came together.  The guys had created an insanely well balanced game that felt like a purely thematic game.  They call this a mid-atlantic design.  Somwhere between a Euro and Ameritrash.  I think they nailed it.  It has all the thematic trappings you could ever want from a thematic game, but balance for days.  This was a game I absolutely had to publish, no question.

I shot them over a contract and we started getting to work. 

I’ll cover all the art and how that came about in a later Wasteland Wednesday, but it’s amazing how many of the ideas from that in person brainstorm session wound up making it into the final game.  The Raider trucks do have goods that nest in the back of the miniatures.  Except they aren’t wooden, Justin Bintz actually moulded those into water barrels, bushels of food and weapon crates and they look fantastic.  When I reached out to IDW to find an artist that could achieve the look of DMZ, it turns out their editior knew Riccardo Burchielli.  So, not only do we have art that is going to look like the style we wanted, we got it from the guy who made it.  The hexagonal pieces are no longer space themed, and have the exact sort of video game map look that we wanted courtesy of my favorite board game artist Josh Cappel.

Over the next few months we’ll have everyone involved share a whole lot more about the game design process, the rules, artwork, final production files and Molly and I will jump in with the Publishers perspective on all of this.  Our hope is to share with all of y’all the game creation process from front to back and give you a super in depth look at the world that the amazing creative team has created for Wasteland Express Delivery Service. 

For now, here is a look at some of the game pieces Josh has created for all of y’all to gallivant across, and two more Raiders that I absolutely love.  You can see in Josh’s artwork some super awesome small details like an old airplane graveyard and some small fishing villages.  Oh, and the Nuclear Reactor that exploded.  The pieces in the game are totally modular and can be set up randomly (or in very specific ways for the narrative based play).  This means rotating these pieces or moving them will wind up creating very different gameplay scenarios.  I don’t want to talk too much about gameplay here…  but those symbols you see will help steer the Raider trucks (symbols are placeholders).  That Radiation logo definitely can do something bad to you..  and you can see that some terrain is easier to move through than others.

Josh Art

Monsieru LaVeau has just dumb small details.  The bolo tie cat skull…  the dead rats taped to his shoes.  Mouse skulls around the brim of his hat…  and the spikes at the end of his cane with amazing blood splatter.  This is a world that is ruled by batshit insane people who have pieced together parts of our society, and the best way to describe most of the Raider characters are people with some sort of obsession with part of our current culture.  LaVeau here is somewhere between French Aristocrat, New Orleans and Voodoo Halloween costume run amock.  I absolutely love him.