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BoHM – Prototyping and Playtesting V4…

V4 in action: Pilka Criss in her Destroyer, vs. Vinnie Paul Van Dahl in his Axemaster…

Last Saturday I held a public playtest of version 4.0 of the rules.  This playtest was significant in that it was the first with all eight schools of rock represented by individual decks, and all 32 starting Titans. The complexity of interactions between the many, many cards in the set, at this point, meant that any errors in the core mechanics should be brought into sharp relief during play. And boy-howdy, did they ever!

The player pool turned out to be small, with only two players and myself, but I still gained a lot of valuable information on the current state of the game, and how much work needs to be done to make it ready for sale.

The first and most important change was in my perception of how the mix of conceptual elements (miniature wargaming and card gaming) balanced and affected the mechanical play of the game. On the one hand, you have the detailed mechanics of games like Battletech or WH40k, which means a lot of tactical variety, but also lots of table space and long play times (upwards of 3 hours, depending on point values).

On the other hand, you have the simplicity and portability of card games, which in general, don’t require nearly as material or table space, and rarely last no more than an hour, but have less tactical and strategic agency. My goal with BoHM has always been to create a hybrid that takes the best of both formats and ties it to a strong theme.

After two games, it became abundantly clear that this game, in its current version, leans much more heavily in the direction of wargaming, rather than card gaming, in complexity and playing-time (nearly two and a half hours for the second game, which is way out of line for a card game). Table-space skews slightly in wargaming’s favor, as well. With all the cards laid out, it takes up an area roughly 3’x 2′ per player, roughly half that of the standard miniature game, but double that of the standard card game. This imbalance clearly needed to be redressed. But how?

Feedback from the players identified three main mechanical issues, in this regard:

  1. An imbalance between armor vs. damage
  2. A lack of motivation to maneuver and find cover (especially in a 2-player game).
  3. A lack of significant differentiation between ranged, melee, and hand-to-hand combat. 


The shifting balance between armor and damage has been an issue since the first version of the game. Titans died too easily in versions 1 and 2, and then I overcorrected between versions 3 and 4, so that the playtest games took far too long to resolve. Even after the changes made on the fly after the first game in Saturday’s playtest, the second took almost 3 hours to finish.

It was at this point that I realized why I was having this issue: my wargaming roots were showing, and overly influencing my mechanical design. 

I’ve always been very vocal about how this game is supposed to be an homage to all the things I loved in my ’80s youth. The problem with this is that collectible card games were a post eighties invention, and not as ingrained in my gaming DNA as tabletop wargames. At one point I owned about 85% of Games Workshop’s catalog (and pretty much kickstarted the GW hobby in my neck of the woods), while I sold all my Magic cards a mere two years after it came out and only dabbled with other card games. It wasn’t until games with in-play deck-building mechanics popped up over the last decade (games like Star Realms), that my interest in the possibilities of card-based games was truly piqued.

Having realized this, I went after the wargaming shibboleths that haunted my current version of the game. The first thing to go was the armor roll, a core element of the game since version 1, and based on the traditional armor save used in most tabletop wargames (especially WH40K). I love the mechanic, because its quick and easy to understand, but it doesn’t combine well with the ablative armor system used in games like Battletech (which I also loved). 

In effect, I was doubling down on armor, and it was taking forever and a day to actually cause any damage. I needed to use one, or the other, not both (duh). Ablative allows you to have extended combats between single units, and creates tension without the swinginess of dice pools, so out went the armor roll. I kept cover rolls for terrain, but for the most part…

Speaking of doubling down on armor, the last version boosted external and internal structure totals considerably. This issue was less easy to fix, and it forced me to go back and change some of the underlying formulae and numbers that formed the core of Titan design. 

The main issue was the linearity of structural progression between different sizes of Titan. Reduce the numbers for the larger models, and the lighter ones become glass cannons. But increase them, and destroying a Juggernaut becomes a matter of death by a thousand cuts. So, a new formula was introduced that reduced the discrepancies in structural integrity between various Titan classes (providing more of a negative curve) and relied more on other factors to highlight the differences in power level (like weapon capacity, strength, speed, and literal power levels).

This, of course, meant changing an entire set of interrelated cells in a massive multi-page spreadsheet (and rebuilding several Titans in the process), but even if the balance isn’t perfect this time, it will be much easier to modify using a single set of numbers in future, so it was totally worth it.

A whole lot of functions goin’ on…

All of this naturally inspired a partial solution to problem 2, as Cover now has become much more valuable as the only real way to mitigate damage (along with other special effects, like the cooling ability of water, or the ability to block LOS using a hill or cliff). Two birds with one autocannon round, so to speak.


Solving the differentiation between attack modes was the easiest of the three issues to solve, and also contributed to making the game less static (issue two, again). In the first playtest, once in close range, nobody budged, and it became a slug-fest of ‘I shoot you,’ followed by ‘fine, I chop at you.’ The Tactical Display became an afterthought, the differences between ranged and melee Titans became irrelevant, and the game was reduced to simply chucking dice at one another. This was the one area in which I had a total wargame fail.

Like this, but stretched out over an hour…

My redesign should hopefully create more nuanced version of combat. Only certain weapons are now allowed in Melee and Hand-to-Hand combat (range 1 and melee weapons for Melee, none at all for Rumble), engaging and disengaging requires the use of precious actions (improving the action economy as a side result), and going full Rumble is (as in real life) such a desperate affair that it encourages Titans focused on ranged combat to keep their distance (which means I’ll also be expanding the number of Zones on the Tactical Display to allow more room for maneuver).


Hopefully, all of this will redress the balance between the wargaming and card playing aspects of the game, by reducing play-time while also boosting tactical options and considerations. But only time, and future play-tests, will tell.

It wasn’t all redrafts and rebuilds, however. The general consensus on the difficulty of learning and applying the game rules seems to be that, once the basic rules of the game have been applied for a couple of rounds, the game is rather simple to learn and play. There is a great deal to learn, strategically, due to the variability of the cards used in the Tactical Action Deck, but no more so than any other deck-building game, and, after only a half hour of play, one player was really starting to get the hang of how to apply his deck, and which Titan and Rider would be best suited for it.

The game theme was also fairly well received, and the feeling of giant rock & roll robot combat seemed to come through well in play. One player actually sang the title of one of the cards every time he played it (in this case, ‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam). 

Sonic Wizardry was also repeatedly employed, and reinforced the musical fantasy element the game needs to really reinforce its theme. Those damned Dogs of Doom (nightmare spectral hounds of titanic proportions), for example, worried my legs constantly throughout the game, and my own music kept costing him actions due to the distraction of spectral images called up by my playing Fear of Ghosts.

The Riders also have enough variation to give them all a unique role in combat, depending on which Titan and Deck you combine them with. There is a lot of variety there, and no two games need to be the same. It was actually a lot of fun playing duelling doks, a game where both combatants were less combat oriented, and relied more on their specialist abilities to grab victory.

In case you’re wondering, it was Corgan by a headshot…

There’s still a lot of work to do before the next playtest, but I’m on the right track, and getting closer…



Still trying to find a full time job 3 years after graduating with my MFA, so things have been slow on the gaming front, with little time to play, much less design, but here is the dirt on the projects at hand.


Now in it’s 9th revision, I have completely revised the game to use a smaller playing surface and simpler mechanics that still accurately represent professional football, but abstracted to speed up play considerably. The 1-1 field representation and UGO-IGO mechanics have been replaced by something that more closely resembles the chess match that is X vs.O in flow and visual components.


QBB_Field_Rev9The board is now split into irregular areas that reflect how the offense mentally identifies the field. This makes plays easier to design and also helps to reduce the number of movement related skills.

The Zone skill, for example is now unnecessary as the amount of segmentation decreases as one moves upfield, with board spaces becoming larger, allowing a Free Safety to cover the rear of the defense realistically.


Whereas before, I had each individual player taking an action during a turn, I have realized that the action in a play really can be divided into a sequence of three parts: 1. The Line Action, where interaction between the O and X lines determine the flow of the rest of the play; 2. Running Routes, where the rest of the Offense deploys to receive the ball and the defenders react to those deployments; and 3. The Resolution, in which the ball is released and the final results of the play are determined.

This greatly speeds up play, as it is no longer necessary to fuss with all 22 players during a single play. The results of 1. The Line might end up with a sack or a running play, eliminating the necessity of dealing with steps 2 and 3. Similarly, the results of the line limits how many players the offense gets to deploy before they must pass the ball, and certain timing passes will force the ball to be thrown immediately, again, eliminating the need to waste time fiddling with non-active players. And Step 3. The Resolution, is now a simple roll off on a table to determine final yardage instead of the back and forth moving of miniatures until the ball carrier is brought down or reaches the end zone.


Building plays is now easier with a system of offensive and Card_Play_Routedefensive cards that focus on particular parts of the play sequence and certain areas of the field. A coach’s hand will consist of a number of cards (7 on average) which can include a combination of Play cards (routes, defensive structures, etc. as seen on the right) and Action Cards (special events and skill usage).

Rules for skills are now presented in a more usable format: Instead of having to memorize skill lists with tons of exceptions, all the info needed to play will be on the particular card used (both play and action). This makes the game easier and faster to play and allows for a smaller number of broader skills with a greater variety of uses.



BoHM_Card_Rider_Eddie_FrontThis is actually pretty close to done. In play-testing, the mechanics seem to work extremely well at recreating miniature wargaming with cards.

I want to redo the armor rules and tighten up the mechanics for building Titans, to speed up play and reduce complexity a bit. Also, I’m considering how to simplify the card types to cut down on clutter.



waterlooJust before finishing Bone Orchard, I went off table top RPGs and hung up my hat as a designer in that area. The customer base was too segmented and the profit to cost ratio was poor, but mostly, I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. It might have helped if there was a subject that really grabbed my attention and hadn’t been thoroughly explored yet, or if the RPG market was even slightly interested in any of my more outlandish and niche projects like BoHM.

Flash forward 2 years and I’ve picked up an interest in the Georgian Era, and Napoleonics. After a lot of reading over the last year or so, I am inspired to do another RPG based on that period. This time the interest is an academic one, however. I want to make what I believe the first RPG would have looked like if I had been at the forefront of that design instead of Gygax and Arneson. What would it look like if I had created the first RPG, based on Napoleonic wargames instead of fantasy, and based on my particular design ethos and predilections?

So I’m slowly, over time and in between working on other things, building an RPG based on the period, based on the 3 booklet structure of the original D&D game, but with rules of my own,which will be more heavily inspired by the refereed narrative of the Braunstein games of David Wesley rather than the more mechanistic Chainmail rules. It’s one part academic exercise, one part keeping my design skills sharp and one part trying to finish something less graphically and workload intensive than my other two projects.

There is another motive: I am looking to create a video channel on games and game design and I think this would make an interesting subject for a ‘How To Write an RPG’ series of videos for that channel. But more on that later….


Stryper_Cover_TheCoveringFThe final deck for my demo set is complete: Rex Sweet, Nazarite Priest in his Juggernaut class 4RC-H4NG3L ‘Archangel.’

Along with this new deck, I’ve updated all the older ones as well, to take into account some slight rules tweaking and to include counters for Heat, Power, and Damage as well as Control Markers, so you can mark cards from your deck that are placed into other player’s areas.

All that is left is to create the cards for creating the Tactical Display track and put the rules into a proper demo rulebook, although the latter might have to wait as I have a metric butt-tonne of cards and counters to assemble before tomorrow. Still, everything should be good to go for you to download the game and give it a whirl within the week.

Audio Adventure For Sale at RPGNow…

CoverDylan Darby was born lucky. So lucky that he wins an all expenses paid trip on a luxury starliner in a contest he didn’t even enter. His lucky streak continues onboard, as he cleans out even the most seasoned card players with a stunning regularity that defies the odds.

But when the starliner stops dead in the middle of space, light years from the nearest habitable planet, and he is accused of murder and sabotage, it seems as though his luck has run out.

In order to save the ship, its crew and passengers (not to mention his own skin), Dylan will have to unlock a talent he doesn’t even know he has. A talent that will change the universe as he knows it in ways he cannot possibly imagine…

The Improbable Adventures of Dylan Darby: Gambler’s Cruise, a fully dramatized audio adventure, is now for sale over at RPGNow. This is a demo pilot for a possible Science Fantasy radio series that is being shopped around for national broadcast or a potential Kickstarter campaign to produce a full series of programs for future sale.

It is both a tribute to, and an attempt to revive, the great 20th century American radio tradition that spawned the likes of The Shadow, X-Minus One and Lights Out, a tradition that is even more at home in the modern era of digital media.

Total Running Time: 42 minutes and 53 seconds.

FOR GLORY! Print & Play Demo is Available…


The Kickstarter for For Glory! has been moved back to February (my Thesis is just taking up way too much time for anything else at this point), but in the meantime, we’re making a Print & Play Demo available for download for those who would like to give it a try and all for the low low price of absolutely nothing at all. You can find it here:

Print it up, put it together and play a few games and then let us know what you think over in the forums. Those who are particularly helpful will find their names added to our credits Edda and, if they have a really cool idea, might even find a custom card with their name on it! That’s how the Lemurs of Lemuria card ended up in the set…

October ’13 News: For Glory!!!

BoLBGMapV3It’s been a bit quiet since the Barbarians of Heavy Metal Kickstarter failed to fund, but that is mainly because I’ve been busy preparing our next Kickstarter: For Glory!!!, the Barbarians of Lemuria Boardgame.

Currently, I’m putting the finishing touches on a Print & Play Demo version of For Glory!!! for free download. Within the PDF package, you’ll find a complete game, although it only contains a limited selection of cards and is missing many of the more advanced features of the full game. I’m in talks with Angus over at Chronicle City about producing the physical game and Jeff Laubenstein, who did some of the art for the BoHM Kickstarter, is also working on some pieces for For Glory!!! (and possibly Simon Washbourne’s Barbarians of Lemuria Mythic Edition) as well.

Currently, the For Glory!!! Kickstarter is scheduled to begin in November, but I plan to release the Demo Kit as soon as I complete it so folks can play around with it and generate some comments and buzz.


Over at the Kickstarter, I’ve added another couple of updates.

The first is simply a modification to the iMetal Stretch Goal so now we only need to exceed our goal by $1000 to open that one up. The second, posted today, includes new Reward Level Upgrades, a hardback version of the book and a Metal Master (our fancy term for GM) screen with an included 32 page adventure: War Pigs!

All of these were requested by backers, so if there is something you’d like to see us produce, let us know in the comments. You don’t ask, you don’t get!

Also, Jeff has provided us with some more WIP art! Let him know what you think!



Behold the first pencil sketch from Jeff Laubenstein for Barbarians of Heavy Metal: the Patron Saint of Punk, The Rotten One (click for a larger image)…

Rotten Sketch 2

It’s a WIP, but you can already see why Jeff was the only artist who could truly realize the bizarre world of the 31st century.

The Kickstarter is almost 40% of the way there after a little over a week and still going strong. Whatever reason you have for not backing BoHM, never mind the bollocks and forget your holiday in the sun! Make a submission to our pretty (oh so pretty) product if you want to be anarchy! God Save the Queen!


Jabberwocky Productions is no more. We left is dead and with its head, we’ve come gallumphing back as Jabberwocky Media LLC!

What this means, in a nutshell, is that we no longer do freelance web or multi-media design. We are, instead, totally focused on the design and production of games, both digital and analog, as well as any emergent trans-media products that pop out of those designs, such as novels, audio-plays (and interactive audio plays), comics, whatever.

Here are a few new projects in the works:


Currently in Kickstarter mode, BoHM is the Table-top RPG of Rock & Roll and Giant Robot Combat in the 31st Century. It is a unique product in the RPG industry in that we are releasing it not only as a book, but as a Digital Boxed Set that allows you to play the game completely from your tablet. Everything you need to join your friends for epic adventures in the Metalsphere is contained in a single app, including dice, character generators, GM tools, the lot. Take it anywhere and play anytime.

We are planning on an April 2014 release for BoHM for those who join in the Kickstarter and a general release in August of that year. You can find more info on it here.


The Barbarians of Lemuria Boardgame, For Glory!!! puts you in the character of a hero seeking BoLBGMapV3fortune and glory as you traverse the lands of Lemuria. This will be a massive game with two playable maps (one for small groups of 2-4 players and the other for 5 to 8), 12 different characters to play, over 400 cards including encounters over six types of terrain, exotic treasures, wily companions, mysterious sorceries and more.

The game is in its final prototype form and only awaits final art and some final playtesting. The Kickstarter for For Glory!!! will start sometime in the Fall.


Designed by Angelo Lombardi, this is a game of dueling pirate ships. It uses a unique worker placement mechanic to represent you as the captain assigning your limited crew of scurvy dogs to the various tasks needed to send your opponent down to Davy Jones locker!

A deceptively simple game that is easy enough for the whole family to play while still keeping things interestingly tactical for the adults, it will come with two ships, two miniature pirate crews and two decks of cards, enough for two courageous captains to conquer the waves.

It is currently in development for a 2014 release…


We now have functioning forum boards for those of you who have questions, want to talk about one of our games or just have ideas you want to share in general. You can find the forums here.