Category Archives: Star Traders

Star Traders BGG Con 2016

BGG Con 2016 Recap & Happy Holidays

Category : News , Star Traders

Greetings, Fellow Traders!

We’ve been very busy since our return from BGG Con. This was our first time attending this convention, and it was fun. As advertised, playing games was much more emphasized than tournaments or dealers’ rooms. We did have a dealer’s booth for one day, and played a few games there, but ended up playing more once we got out into the open gaming area.

One of the things we were really looking forward to was showing off the pre-production prototype of Star Traders and being able to play with the actual d4 Contract dice that Panda brought to the show, newly delivered from the manufacturers. They were too big (more about that, later), but they worked really well.

Overall, the game was well received. We’d been told that the typical BGG Con attendee is an alpha gamer — someone who drives decision-making on game purchases for his or her gaming friends, and who deeply analyzes games. After four days there, we can vouch for that description. One gamer sat down with about 15 minutes to spare between games and asked for a description of Star Traders. We started with the backstory, as usual (“you are a star trader …”), but he wasn’t interested. He simply wanted the mechanics, and he needed no explanation of why we had included any of it — he knew right away why there were five actions per turn (rather than four or six), what the pros and cons were of the Prestige Meter, and the various effects of the Trader’s Luck cards. I have no idea whether he will eventually get the game, but he seemed satisfied that the game worked.

We also got a chance to connect with several backers whom we hadn’t met before — it was exciting to show them the game that they have been helping us make. All of them seemed pleased with the updated components and a few even had time to play a game or two or three 😉 with us. One of the cool things about taking the game to shows is getting to play with first time Star Traders. Some take to it really quickly, while others gradually discover the intricacies of the game as they play. Either way it’s always an enjoyable time.

And talking about playing with gamers; I got into a conversation with another player who wanted a diceless variant. (Actually, I think he would have been happier if there weren’t any dice in the box at all.) Having discussed it with him, I realize that we could design a game very much like Star Traders, without any dice — but it wouldn’t be Star Traders. Meanwhile, another player at the same table was vociferous in her desire to keep the dice in the game — she repeatedly told me that it would be much less fun without the dice. These kinds of interactions aren’t normal at the other shows we’ve been to, but it’s always good to get detailed feedback from knowledgeable gamers.

Dice pros and cons are something I haven’t discussed much. Star Traders obviously bucks the trend toward games with fewer random elements and more long-term strategizing. I can enjoy a game like Through the Ages or Race for the Galaxy (while they each have a deck of cards, they are definitely less random than a game like Star Traders). I enjoy them, but I have much more fun playing a game like Star Traders. And I definitely have less fun playing a game like Agricola, where there is little randomness and the resources are painfully limited — a game like that is too much like work for me. 🙂

Which isn’t a knock against any of those types of games; they are just less what I’m personally interested in playing.

In general, I prefer a game with equal parts luck and strategy, so that:

  • everyone (even the least skilled or newest) has an actual chance to win the game,
  • every game has “you’ve got to be kidding” moments,
  • more game time is spent talking and interacting with each other than with single-minded focus on each person’s next best move, and
  • everyone walks away from the table rehashing their favorite moments

That’s been my overall objective with Star Traders: fun. It certainly isn’t the game for everybody, but I am convinced that it will be fun for a wide range of players, from young to old … once we get it into your hands!

We also had the chance to play some other games while we where there, chat with fellow creators and even meetup with some of the Steve Jackson Games design team.

BGG Con is a great show and I can see us returning there again, but first we need to get this game out to you all and that’s what we’ve been focusing on since we got back.

Read more about that in our latest Kickstarter Update.

Meanwhile, back to the pixel mines! Along with trying to keep the manufacturing on track we’re also focusing on getting the other backer rewards ready for y’all. So if you’re a backer you can look forward to those coming together very soon.

Here’s wishing you all happy holidays and a merry new year.


Star Traders Origins 2016

Origins 2016 Recap & Game Components Update

Category : News , Star Traders

Greetings, Fellow Traders!

I’ve been to Columbus and back, spending four very full days at Origins, the national tabletop game convention. Will and Jesse (my two sons and two valuable members of the Emperor’s Privy Council) went with me.

Star Traders at Origins Star Traders at Origins Star Traders at Origins

Our principal objectives were to demonstrate Star Traders and to sit down with the people who will be manufacturing the game. That, and since we were there, take the opportunity to play a few other games … which were all valuable research opportunities.

Special Thanks to the Malted Meeple

Malted Meeple Origins 2016

The Malted Meeple Booth at Origins Game Fair 2016

We were “headquartered” at the Malted Meeple booth in the Exhibit Hall, where we ran demos Saturday and Sunday. I really appreciate the Malted Meeple making space available to us — thanks to Jim, Karrington and Savannah! And I got to play other games in development, including Kung Fu Zoo (a dice-flicking arena game … seriously!) and #Storytags (hash-tagging stories that each player relates). Congratulations to #Storytags — they just announced a deal with a publisher. And I’m looking forward to the edited version (on YouTube) of the podcast that Jeremiah and Scott recorded at the booth on Sunday. In the meantime, here’s the initial version:

Theology Of Games – Meet you at the Meeple live from Origins


We also got a chance to play Star Traders a few other times, out in the open gaming area. We had the new board and Trader’s Luck cards (I think the cards are nailed down now, and we’ve only got a couple more authors to sort out), and we had the new Personality cards with character art on them.

Star Traders Personality Card Prototypes

Star Traders Personality Card Prototypes

Star Traders Contract Arrow Prototypes

Star Traders Contract Arrow Clay Prototypes

We also had clay prototypes of new d4 contract markers. We’ve played several games with them now, and while they make finding pick-up and delivery worlds easier, a normal d4 is wider at the base than we’d like it to be, sometimes making it difficult to place among the station rings. We’re going to try narrowing one side down, and opening up the space around the closer worlds on the gameboard a bit more.

And we’ve decided to run the Personality cards larger, to allow more room for the character art and text. Combining that with fewer player mats (since we now won’t need a player mat for each Personality) means a tidier and better looking game for you guys. We’ve also been able to make additional improvements to the components that we think you all will enjoy.

Speaking of components, we’ve begun pre-press verification on files, the first step toward actual printing and publication. More slowly than we had wanted, but it’s happening! And while I was galavanting around Origins, our artists were busy crunching on Personality and Cargo art — it’s all getting done.

Chatting with Long-Time Designer Friends

It’s been about thirty years since I was last at Origins. With the renaissance of board games, there are plenty of game designers still going strong that I hadn’t seen in that long, and it was great to be able to introduce them to Will and Jesse — the new generation of gamers. Just among the members of the Academy of Adventure Gaming’s Hall of Fame, we were able to chat with:

  • Lou Zocchi (creator of the 100-sided Zocchihedron); the boys grabbed one of his new 24-sided roll-anything dice
  • Darwin Bromley, who wasn’t all that interesting to the boys until he mentioned designing the train game Empire Builder, at which point Will suddenly realized he was talking to one of his gaming heroes (Darwin was also key in getting Settlers of Catan into the U.S.)
  • Mike Stackpole (Flying Buffalo designer and author of some of the most popular Battletech and Star Wars novels; my favorite Stackpole series is the Age of Discovery trilogy)
  • Rick Loomis (who started Flying Buffalo, which ran play-by-mail games long before there was an internet, and which published Tunnels & Trolls, Nuclear War and other classics)

Origins and Gencon are both great to attend, because you get a chance to talk to the people who actually create the games — there are far fewer marketing guys and far more designers than at the electronic game conventions I’ve attended over the past few years. Having said that, I don’t know if I’ll have time to attend Gencon or Dragon Con (over Labor Day), but we’ll let you know if we’re able to get to either of those shows.

Meanwhile, back to the pixel mines! I have another twenty authors to write up for the lore book, and those last component tweaks, and we’ll have a game!

Star Traders Worlds: Anderson

Category : Star Traders , Worlds



Poul Anderson (1926 – 2001; first SF publication, 1947) is one of those whose work I will grab solely on the basis of the author; I haven’t been disappointed yet. His novels don’t depend on deep philosophical queries (although he includes that from time to time); they are simply great reads. Anderson’s most well-known settings are the Polesotechnic League and the world of Dominic Flandry of Terran Intelligence, but he has created many other worlds. Time travel is key to some of his other most memorable works, including The Dancer from Atlantis and The Corridors of Time.

Anderson, writing with Gordon R. Dickson, created the Hoka, the original teddy-bear aliens. The Hokas and  the Fuzzies of H. Beam Piper (who doesn’t appear here but deserves an honorable mention) are much more interesting than any more recent marketing-driven creations.

Nicholas Van Rijn, star-faring trader extraordinaire. When I first started considering favorite authors who write about trading through space, Anderson’s Van Rijn leaped to the front of the line. Who couldn’t love the protagonist of The Man Who Counts (both by counting money and in importance), a man who epitomizes what Star Traders is all about? And now that I’m researching Anderson’s works to complete this brief bio, I am embarassed to note one other title that I’m gonna have to track down quickly: Trader to the Stars (about Van Rijn, of course), plus Baen’s recent compilation of stories about Van Rijn’s most adventurous employee: David Falkayn: Star Trader.

Solar Spice

Van Rijn’s company is the Solar Spice and Liquors Company, which, like Van Rijn himself, is a throwback to the Dutch merchant adventurers of the age of exploration. Rather than selecting a specific commodity from the wide range of Van Rijn’s stories, Anderson exports solar spice.

David Ladyman History in Games

Category : Star Traders

I’ll start by dating myself: I was a freshman in college in 1973-74, the year the first Dungeons & Dragons set came out; I’ve still got mine. That was also the year I learned to play Kingmaker. Kingmaker is set in 15th century England, during the Wars of the Roses. Very different from Star Traders, but philosophically very similar. Both are about rolling with the flow and finding the most likely path to victory.

In the late ’70s I started playtesting for Metagaming, whose greatest claims to fame were Stellar Conquest and The Fantasy Trip (both great games). I didn’t test either of those, but I did test a few of their Microgames, including Artifact and One World.

When Steve Jackson split off from Metagaming to form Steve Jackson Games, I started playtesting for him. That included several of his Pocket Games, and then larger games like Car Wars and Illuminati. By the early ’80s I was doing a lot of development and editing work on Car Wars and GURPS. I edited the first few issues of Autoduel Quarterly (set in the fictional autodueling future) and was Car Wars and GURPS Guru for a while, responsible for system development of both series. I wrote a few Car Wars titles myself, including the AADA Vehicle Guides and the first Uncle Albert’s catalogs (ably assisted by my wife, Martha, in her persona as Uncle Al). Jim Gould and I put together the Advanced Collision System for Car Wars. For GURPS, Mike Hurst and I worked out the Size-Range-Speed to-hit modifiers system, and I wrote one GURPS sourcebook: The Prisoner, based on the short-lived television series of the same name. This was also when I designed Star Traders.

After SJG, I developed and edited a few AD&D modules and spent a couple of years working with FASA, on Renegade Legion and Battletech rulebooks, sourcebooks and scenario packs. And somewhere in this period, I created the language relationship table, first for Justice Inc., and then for the rest of the Hero System line that is better known for Champions. The month my contract with FASA ended, I was hired by Origin Systems as their first (and only) Publications Manager.

For almost seven years, my name went on every product that Origin published, since my team created all its manuals and game guides during that time. I had a great team, including Melissa Tyler, Tuesday Frase, Chris McCubbin and Jennifer Spohrer, with Wendi Dunn and Lisa Goodrich on layout. That include all the Ultima products between U7 and U9, and the first few iterations of Ultima Online. It included all the Wing Commanders after WC1. And we created mega-manuals for all the Janes products that Origin created, including Apache Longbow and USAF. We also did game guides for Bullfrog, a sister company once Electronic Arts acquired both of us.

Electronic Arts decided to shut down the Publications department at Origin, and so the five of us formed IMGS, Inc. and continued creating manuals and game guides, most often for Prima games. We somewhat specialized in massive online games, and in the late  ‘90s and early ’00s we created books for Anarchy Online, Asheron’s Call, City of Heroes, Dark Age of Camelot, Everquest I and II, Guild Wars, Lineage II, The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and Ultima Online. Plus plenty of other stuff.

Available jobs declined sharply in the latter half of the decade, and eventually I was the only one left at IMGS. I continued doing manuals, for Rift, DC Universe Online, Fallen Earth, The Lord of the Rings Online, Saga of Ryzom, and others. I created manuals for lots of different smaller games and other companies. One major series during this period was the Game Development Essentials textbooks, for which I did layout and media clearance. I also created You Are There, a series of Bible workbooks for teens, again with Martha, and that’s how Ryan and I started working together — he illustrated them for us.

Shortly after we finished the You Are There series, Cloud Imperium launched their now-famous Star Citizen Kickstarter campaign, and a month or two later, Chris Roberts asked me to do Jump Point, the monthly PDF magazine for subscribers. Ryan ended up working with me on that, as well (we’re still working together on it today), and so we were very familiar with each other’s work when he agreed to help with Star Traders; it couldn’t have happened without him.

Star Traders Worlds: Schmitz

Category : Star Traders , Worlds



James Schmitz (1911 – 1981; first SF publication, 1943) didn’t write as much as some of the authors on this list, and his work isn’t deeply philosophical, but among my favorite authors, he is one of my most favorite. Most of his writing is set in the Hub Universe, and his female protagonists are among the eariest in science fiction to have some role other than “scantily clad damsel in distress.” Telzey Amberdon (xenotelepath extraordinaire) and Trigger Argee (expert sharpshooter) are two of the most admirable female characters in all of science fiction, and the Agent of Vega series takes space opera down a couple of unlikely paths.

But the crown jewel of Schmitz’ work (in my humble opinion) is The Witches of Karres. This isn’t deep, insightful literature, just an absolutely delightful adventure with trader captain Pausert, who is piloting a merchant ship throughout the known galaxy (does that ring any bells?), with the three young witches he involuntarily rescues from servitude. They’ve got something everyone else wants, making Pausert’s ship a prime target for … well, for everyone else.

Sheem Spiders

Pausert has taken on a more important cargo than he realizes, including a Sheem Spider, an animatronic, horse-sized creation that is designed to stalk and assassinate. It is a masterwork of a long-dead species, and one of the primary elements in Witches.