LA Comic Con Panel on Golden Age of Tabletop Gaming

This is a panel organized by High Voltage about how awesome games are and how to grow and build an inclusive gaming community. This took place on 10/28/2017 at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, hosted by Will Pasquin with these panelists:

  • John Clair – Mystic Vale, Downfall
  • David Zuckman – Obscure Reference Games
  • Ross Thompson – IDW and Kingdom Con
  • Chris O’Neil – Brotherwise Games
  • Brian Henk – Overworld Games
  • Will Pasquin – High Voltage

Audio/Podcast Version:

Kickstarter Panel – 2015 San Jose Protospiel

Richard Bliss hosts the Kickstarter Panel at the San Jose Protospiel. All Kickstarter topics are discussed from the following panelists:

  • Jeremy Commandeur
  • Brian Henk
  • Teale Fristoe
  • Aldo Ghiozzi
  • Richard Bliss

Podcast/Audio Version:



Moving from Print-on-Demand to Manufacturing, Part 1 (Options)

It’s a Jeremy-heavy episode as we start a discussion on which Print-on-Demand (POD) services are available. Brian jumps in with first choices for larger manufacturers. Richard is fascinated.


Packaging Your Game

Jeremy geeks out on his love of all things box, while Richard explores the dynamics of sleeved vs. unsleeved tabletop game box design and Brian explains his trials and tribulations designing boxes for display and functionality.


  • Box Quality
  • Box Design
  • Box Sizes
  • Custom Game Trays


When is Your Game Ready? Part 3: Finishing Touches

Brian and Jeremy discuss the current trends in what publishers are looking for, Richard reminisces about the goals and hardships of playtesting a TCG, and the guys determine if a game can ever truly be finished anyway.


  • Component Complexity
  • Playtesting a Trading Card Game
  • Late Game Modifications
  • Second Editions
  • Dealing with Erratum


When is Your Game Ready? Part 1: Playtesting

In this episode, Richard asks Jeremy and Brian to explain how to get players to playtest a game, specifically:

  • How to host a playtest
  • How to blind playtest
  • How to remote blind playtest
  • How to track playtest feedback


To Early Bird or Not to Early Bird?

Brian and Jeremy talk to Richard about their differing views on earlybird offers on Kickstarter. It’s how nerds fight.


Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000 Strategy Primer

Smash Up’s Awesome Level 9000 expansion brings in 4 new factions and the Talent ability. Talents can be used once on your turn and have an impact on the strategies and tactics to use with each faction. Don’t forget to use your talents!

The new factions that are added are all usable and none are overpowering. There is enough randomness in which cards you draw that any combination can win, however, you can get a significant advantage if you find a faction combo that works well together. I’m going to go through each faction, discuss combos and other tips for playing them more effectively, and tell you which factions are good pairs for each. The video below covers all 4 factions or continue reading what follows it for the text version of the analysis. If you care about only a specific faction, you can watch the video that covers that single faction.

Bear Cavalry

Bear Cavalry is a control faction that has a surprising amount of muscle to render opponents’ small minions ineffective. The standard operating procedure is to lay claim on a base with a Cub Scout, and then you move any smaller minions of your opponents over to that base to kill them upon landing. You may want to pair them with a faction that increases the power of your Cub Scouts, like the Dinosaurs who have their augmentations, so that you can kill even larger minions.

High Ground is arguably the best card in deck for the Bear Cavalry as it is the key to an even more powerful combo than Cub Scout, and can be used along with all of the minion moving cards at your disposal to kill ANY of your opponents’ minions. If you can get that card in play, you will very likely win the game. You never want to rely on a single card in the deck, but even if you get it out and it is destroyed, you have cards that can bring it back.

This faction can be paired with many other faction with success. My favorite is probably Pirates because it is similar in its ability to move minions and destroy them as well. You can really control the game with those two and take advantage of the Cub Scout and High Ground moving combos. Overall, I believe Bear Cavalry is the best out of this bunch.

The Secret Grove is an annoying base for them because they don’t have any minions small enough to take advantage of it. But don’t worry, the Bear Cavalry faction has two bases tailored to their style: Field of Honor and Tsar’s Palace. Tsar’s Palace is a good place for a Cub Scout because it forces opponents to play their smaller minions somewhere (to be moved here) but Field of Honor and Bear Cavalry may be the best faction/base combo in the game. If this base comes out and you can make it your killing grounds, you stand to gain tons of victory points, while still destroying opponent minions. A.K.A. You win.


Ghosts rely upon keeping your hand limit very low to get various powerful bonuses. The bonuses increase minion power, bring back minions from the discard pile, take control of someone else’s minion, or gain 1 VP. Any time in Smash Up where you see “1 VP” on a card, pay very close attention, because those cards are often the difference between winning and losing and are so much easier to get than winning bases.

This faction is based largely on timing. They have a wide array of great cards, but they usually have restrictions on how many cards you have in your hand that will affect how helpful they are in your current situation. They don’t have a lot of minion power, but Spirit is their bread and butter because it’s a power 3 minion, which is good, it allows you to discard a bunch of cards, which you want, and it lets you kill an opponent’s minion.

They are an ab0ve-average faction on their own, but the hard part is pairing them with another faction. Most factions want to gain the card-advantage to provide more options, but this one needs fewer cards to really shine. If possible, you will want a faction that will get some kind of benefit for having cards in the discard pile, such as Zombies who bring minions back from the dead or the Steampunks who can easily recover the valuable lost cards in the discard. The fact that Ghosts don’t play well with others forces me to label them as the weakest faction of this expansion.

The two bases added for the Ghosts are The Dread Gazebo and the Haunted House. The Dread Gazebo is good for them because base actions are not very important to them, but the Haunted House is the one they really love because they don’t mind discarding cards, while it will really hurt other players to do so.

Killer Plants

The Killer Plants are a very solid faction in this expansion. Their Water Lily minions will ensure you get a steady stream of cards coming into your hand, which should give you the card advantage over your opponents and allow you to make efficient use of your turns by almost always providing you with both a minion and action to play. However, they are fairly dependent on when you draw certain cards and because they let you search through your deck for cards, they tend to go into a slump once your deck runs low until you get to re-shuffle your discards into it.

This leads us to another core component of the Killer Plants: the Sprout. They let you pull a power 3 or less minion from your deck, and play it as an extra minion to replace the Sprout, so if you can pair that with a faction that has a 3 or less minion with a summoning bonus, you can take full advantage of these guys sprouting out all over the place. Getting Sprouts early is great, but you will find your deck sputtering if you’re unlucky enough to pull these in the bottom half of your deck because you won’t have many cards left to search. Another downside is that playing one minion ends up removing two from your deck, which means you’ll be drawing fewer in the future. This is where you’ll need the Water Lily card drawing to keep those minions flowing. If you can get a bunch of minions in your hand, you can often play more than one in a turn to surprise your opponents with a big power boost coming our of nowhere and triggering a base score.

You can think of Plants as a great support faction because they will help you with your card advantage and allow your paired faction to pile onto those bases. Combining these guys with a faction like Ghosts won’t work very well because the Ghost benefits you get from having few cards in your hand will not apply when you’re drawing extra cards from Killer Plant abilities. Since this faction allows you to pop out lots of small minions, it works well with a mobilization faction like Bear Cavalry or Pirates because you can distribute all your little plants among the bases to put the numbers in your favor before scoring. Otherwise, get Robots or Zombies or another faction that has a lot of little minions to overwhelm opponents.

The Secret Grove base will help you get your Sprouts out even quicker, but will help your opponents just as much as you unless they don’t have any small minions. The Greenhouse was added for the Killer Plants but will definitely help opponents as much as you, or more, since you may have already searched through your deck to find the minions you want to play while this will probably be their only way to do it.


The Steampunks are another solid faction, but will be better in support of another faction, however they have some extremely powerful base actions that can get you a victory no matter who is paired with them.

Base actions are the Steampunks’ specialty. The Rotary Slug-Thrower gives each minion at a base +2 power and the Aggromotive will give you a +5 power advantage. WOW. You don’t need much beyond those to win bases and games. Other Steampunks cards will help you recover or protect your base actions, so it will be hard for your opponents to throw a meaningful wrench into your machine. If possible, pair them with a faction that has many/good base actions, such as the Tricksters from the base game.

The Difference Engine is great to help get you a card advantage over your opponents, especially when played on a high breakpoint base or in a game with fewer players. Their minions aren’t bad either. Captain Ahab has a Talent that lets him move to a different base on his turn, so don’t forget to use that to your advantage whenever possible. The Steam Men get a bonus for base actions, so they are almost always a 4 power minion. They don’t have a stand-out bomb minion, but their machines are solid and dependable so you can hang in there in any base battle.

For bases, the Workshop is the best one out there for them, but the Inventor’s Salon is handy too. The Dread Gazebo doesn’t let you play actions on it so that one you pretty much have to forfeit when it drops. In general, bases do not have much of an affect on the way the Steampunks roll.

King of Tokyo Strategy Primer

You have before you a strategic analysis of the game King of Tokyo. This game’s simplicity makes it appeal to a casual gamer (even young ones), but the decision-making can entertain even a hardcore probability-crunching, math nerd.

One of the coolest things about this game is that it was designed by Richard Garfield, who designed the collectible card game Magic the Gathering. In many ways, this game defined my childhood, taking me on quests for the perfect combination of cards to destroy my friends in our parent’s basements. But even as I have grown up, I have found myself drawn back into the Magic universe every once to play in tournaments or check out the latest sets, and that makes me realize what an incredible game Mr. Garfield designed so long ago.

But we’re here to talk about King of Tokyo, specifically the base game. Per my usual style, I will assume you already know the rules so I don’t have to spend time explaining them and I can get right to the strategy. Note that strategies change significantly in the expansions, so I will be covering them in separate analyses. Check out the video version immediately below or continue on for the text version.

I am going to go through each strategy very concisely at first and then follow it up with a more detailed analysis.

High-Level Strategies

These are the three most viable strategies you can employ in a game of King of Tokyo:

  • Aggressive – Try to kill all of your opponents.
  • Passive – Roll only for victory points.
  • Technology – Buy upgrades that will improve your efficiency.

In general, you will do better if you choose one of these strategies and commit to it rather than bouncing around between them, but it is possible for a hybrid strategy to work. Although committing is best, it’s common for a strategy switch near the end of the game to help put you over the top, either switching into rolling exclusively for attacks to finish off your opponents or exclusively for victory points to try to win the race to 20 victory points. Now I’ll go into each of these strategies in a little more depth.

Aggressive Strategy (Attack)

The goal of this strategy is to try to kill your opponents without worrying about victory points.

When you’re rolling the dice, you’ll want to go pretty much exclusively for attack rolls except when you need to heal or there is an awesome attack upgrade that will improve your efficiency in killing your opponents.

If you can manage, you want to begin your turn inside Tokyo, not for the bonus VP you get from it, but because you are now damaging all of your non-Tokyo opponents. So being inside Tokyo is the best way to do massive damage, but you will find that you will often land your death blow when you are outside Tokyo because whoever is inside couldn’t heal and they stayed in there just a bit too long.

In some ways, this strategy is best with fewer players, because more players mean more monsters to kill and more time for one of the monsters to get 20 victory points before you can kill them. But another way to look at it is, the more players there are in the game, the more damage is being thrown around, so this can definitely work in a larger game too. More importantly, the more players there are, the longer it is between chances for each player to heal because there are more player turns in between each of their turns, which means they will be easier to kill.

A key here is not to get distracted by unnecessary item purchases, getting energy, or rolling for victory points. You should be almost completely focused on ATTACKING. The only time you should take a break from attacking is to heal up or get enough energy for an attack-boosting upgrade.

Passive Strategy (Victory Points)

Here you just roll for all victory points and don’t worry about doing damage to your opponents.

In 2, 3, and 5 player games, it’s best to be in Tokyo for this strategy since you get 2 points before even rolling anything, which is 10% of what you need to win the game. Otherwise it’s too deadly to try to say in there because the player ratios will make it too deadly, causing you to spend precious rolls on healing instead of VP once you leave. When you have the full force of 3-4 people attacking you from outside Tokyo, you probably won’t last a whole round to get your extra 2 victory points, and even if you do, you’ll spend a few turns healing up instead of going for VP dice combos. So for this strategy in games like these, if you find yourself inside Tokyo, just get out as soon as you are attacked… but I’ll talk more about differences in player numbers later.

For this strategy, ignore attacking completely with the exception of dealing a death blow to someone who stayed in Tokyo one turn too long expecting you to keep up your victory point focus. Knocking someone out of the game is almost always the right decision unless they are not challenging you for the most VP because then it’s just a waste of rolls as you might as well keep working on gathering victory points.

Technology (Buying Cards)

Here you go for energy points and buy sweet gear for your monster.

You probably won’t win the game by sticking to this for the entire game because your opponents will focus on either attacking or victory points and you won’t be able to keep up with them, however you can do well to use this in the early game. This is, however, the most fun strategy to play because some of the cards you can get really let you mess with your opponents or pull off some really good combos.

If you go for this strategy, initially, you will roll exclusively for energy. Then you buy some awesome upgrades and slowly change your strategy to either aggressive or passive based on those items’ abilities. This allows you to be more flexible as you adapt to the current game state during the mid-late game based on opponent strategies and the upgrades you acquire. You won’t want to wait too long before committing to one of the other strategies though because if you do, you’ll be so far behind your competitors that even your decked out monster won’t be able to catch up in time.

Number of Players

The number of players in the game GREATLY modifies the strategies you should be using. Here is a table of the number of players and how deadly or not-so-deadly, it is to hang out in Tokyo based on the players. The darker the red, the hotter it is in Tokyo and the less appealing it is to try to last a whole turn in it.


In a 2-player game, you might as well stay in Tokyo as long as you can to keep grabbing those free victory points. You’ll want to be more aggressive outside of Tokyo to get your opponent to yield it to you because it’s often the player who can stay in the longest in a 2-player game that will win.

In a 3-player game, you have 1 monster against 2 monsters, which isn’t great for someone in Tokyo, but is often worth it to get an extra 2 points if they can last until their next turn. It’s usually not too hard to stand up to two attacks in a row and should be worth it to get 2 victory points.

When you go up to a 4-player game, you now have 3 players attacking the one player in Tokyo. If you last the whole round in Tokyo with 3 players attacking you, your life will be hanging on by a thread when you are next able to escape and you’ll have to spend a few turns healing, so this is not a good player ratio to try to stay in Tokyo.

In a 5-player game, the ratio improves for the player in Tokyo because it’s now 2 on 3. You might as well stay in Tokyo as long as you can because even outside of Tokyo, you’ll still have two players attacking you.

With 6-players, the ratio isn’t too bad in 4 on 2, but you still have FOUR PLAYERS attacking you when you’re in Tokyo, so it will be hard to tough it out until your next turn. You usually just want to focus on a more passive strategy from outside Tokyo so you can stay alive.

Just keep in mind with all of these, that these ratios change as monsters perish, so if you were playing a 4-player game and wanting to stay away from Tokyo, as soon as a monster dies, it becomes a 3-player game and much more lucrative to hang out in Tokyo.


When you roll a King of Tokyo die enough times, the probabilities will all even out so that each side will appear 16.67% of the time. The problem is, a game of King of Tokyo is so short that you don’t have time to wait for the probabilities to even out, which makes it hard to plan your strategy.

If you have a fear of math, you should probably skip this section. Otherwise, take a look at these tables.


It’s a kind of cheat sheet for the main dice-rolling probabilities you will need in this game. There are actually 2 different tables depending on your dice-rolling intentions. For both, you can look on the top to find the number of dice you’re rolling and then you can look along the left to find how many of one type you hope to roll. If the probabilities look low to you, keep in mind that this is for rolling a particular face, like the attack, not for just rolling “3 of any one kind”, for example. This is a very important distinction when you are interpreting these tables.

These probabilities were created using the Binomial Distribution, which is not a trivial concept, so to avoid spending time teaching a statistics class on this subject, just trust that they are correct or send me a message on some kind of social media or my blog and we can have a fun stats discussion. Download these tables right here in Excel format to mess around with them:

King of Tokyo Probability Tables

Of course you probably don’t want to bring this cheat sheet to a game night or you will be mocked, hated, and targeted throughout the game, so it’s more of a pre-game-night refresher of how likely the rolls will be that you may encounter.

General Tactics

Be very careful with your life. Try not to go below 6 life when you’re in Tokyo because it’s very hard to get that life back by getting hearts, and you’re usually not being very productive in attacking or getting victory points if you’re always worried about dying.

If you are in Tokyo and you won’t easily make it to your next turn without getting close to dying, get out ASAP because if you stay and then a couple of other monsters do damage to you forcing you out before your next turn anyway, you just took extra damage from those monsters unnecessarily.

A formula for whether to leave Tokyo that I have used successfully is:

3 * (turns left before your turn, including your turn) > (your current life)

If you get attacked and this formula is false, get out now. So basically, assume you will take 3 damage per turn. Of course there are other factors too like you know one of the other monsters is about to die and will do anything to not attack you to avoid going into Tokyo or someone is clearly going for a passive strategy and likely won’t attack you on purpose, you can assume you will only take 1 attack from them while deciding whether to stay in Tokyo. Of course this is just an estimate so you can feel free to trust your gut too!


These strategies are often starting points and will need to be modified or abandoned in the mid or late game depending on your opportunities. The strategies and tactics you use also greatly depend on those that others use. If everyone is fairly aggressive, you can still beat them with the aggressive strategy by staying 100% committed to it while they occasionally get distracted by some non-attacking upgrade purchases or going for victory points. Basically, you can do it better than them if you are more committed.

Still, there is a ton of luck in this game as the dice rolls can defy your strategies. Although the decisions you should take are very clear over thousands of games, each single game of King of Tokyo involves so few rolls for each player, that even playing perfectly will only give you a small edge.



Lords of Waterdeep Strategy Primer

Lords of Waterdeep is often regarded as a gateway worker-placement game. It’s not a gateway game for someone new to strategy tabletop games, but it’s more of a step up from Catan or Ticket to Ride. It does such a great job of keeping the game short, but still taking you through the engine-building process of most worker-placement games. This will serve as a strategy primer for the base game that covers the most critical strategies and tactics you need to keep in mind to optimize your play. Watch the video version immediately below or the text version that follows it.


It’s no secret that the goal of this game is to maximize your victory points by the end of the game. To do that, you need resources, whether it be adventurers or gold. These resources are all roughly equivalent:

1 Cleric = 1 Wizard = 2 Fighter = 2 Rogue = 4 Gold = 2 Intrigue Cards

Keep this in mind as you decide on the quests you acquire or which resource you chose when you are faced with options. Early in the game, you almost always want to choose Clerics and Wizards over Rogues or Fighters since they will help you complete higher VP quests as the game progresses. Once you get towards the end of the game, this distinction isn’t as important because you are more concerned with just completing a few specific quests before the end of the game.

Game Progression

Early Game (Round 1-3)

Primary Goals:

  • Build buildings that are valuable to opponents with output that will help with your lord’s quest types.

  • Gather quests of your lord bonus types, focusing on plot quests that will give you useful bonuses for building your engine.

  • If you cannot get plot quests, you will want quests that give adventurers as output so you can use them as input to other quests to increase your efficiency.

Your highest priority in the first few rounds is to buy good buildings that will be valuable to opponents and help you complete your quest types. In order to keep buying buildings in the early game, you will spend most/all of your first 9 actions on the Builder’s Hall, Castle Waterdeep to take the first player marker, or Aurora’s Realms Shop to acquire gold. It may feel like you are wasting actions, but it is well worth it to get early buildings that will benefit you throughout the rest of the game. You can stray from this if the buildings available are not very good or continue it even after the first 3 rounds if the buildings are particularly outstanding. Controlling Builder’s Hall will take anyone who is Larissa Neathal (the building lord) out of contention while ensuring the buildings that get onto the board will provide additional opportunities to get the adventurer types that will help you complete your quests.

Any additional actions should go towards acquiring and completing Plot Quests or other quests that give adventurers as output, but are also of your lord’s bonus types.

Middle Game (round 4-6)

Primary Goals:

  • Stop worrying about Plot quests and start getting/completing quests that give adventurer output.

  • Use the engine you have built with Plot quests to your advantage.

  • Start acquiring quests that will give high VP output.

You should be transitioning away from acquiring Plot Quests and building buying so you can finish up creating your “engine” and getting it to peak efficiency. This part of the game is all about getting resources, getting quests of your type, and completing quests as quickly as possible.

End Game (round 7-8)

Primary Goals:

  • Determine your competition. You should know their lord’s identity based on the quest types they have completed.

  • Give mandatory quests to your primary competition, specifically in Round 8.

  • Focus on quests that give you huge VP output rather than adventurer output or Plot Quests.

Ideally, you should slide into the finish line with no adventurers in your Tavern, no Quests left to complete, no unused Intrigue card, and empty pockets. This means you didn’t waste action points on getting quests you could not complete or getting resources you couldn’t use. Obviously, you get some end game points for gold or adventurers left over, so it’s not the end of the world to have some of those to cap off your points, but they would be better used for quests.


This spreadsheet (waterdeep_stats) is a breakdown of all quest inputs and outputs. You’ll see that they are extremely well balanced between input and output so you’ll be able to get an edge over your opponents in one of these ways:

  • Your lord’s bonus.

  • The special bonuses you get as rewards.

Note in the spreadsheet that the only quest that has ridiculously good output compared to input is the Commerce quest for Thin the City Watch. Try to acquire that quest no matter your lord’s bonus quest types.

To take advantage of the first one, you will want to find the quests matching your lord’s bonus types with minimal input requirements and tend towards adventurer output rather than point output. This will help you complete more quests throughout the game and allow you to get a big bonus from your lord’s quest types at the end.

For the second one, you want to get engine-building bonuses in your early quests that will make you more efficient throughout the rest of the game. This might be an extra VP bonus for one of your two lord bonus quest types, extra resources when you take an action that provides one of your primary adventurers, or a building bonus.

Although high victory point quests generally have the best ratio of output to input, it is usually better to get as many low input quests of your lord’s types so you can cash in on that lord bonus as much as possible. Granted, many small quests will require more quest pick-up actions, but it is generally a better deal because of bonus rewards from them and the bonus you get from your lord.


Buildings are another way to gain an advantage over your opponents. You want to buy buildings EARLY while keeping these three things in mind (at least one, but all, if possible):

  • Feature an action that allows you to take your primary adventurer types so you can use it to complete your quests.

  • Have an owner reward of something that will help you in case your opponents use it, whether it is your primary adventurer type, gold, or VP.

  • Keep buildings with actions that your opponents need for their quest types off the board.

You should put forth an extensive effort to buy buildings in the first 3 rounds, but after the 4th round, you can pretty much ignore them as the benefit you get from others using them will be greatly reduced. The primary exception is that there are some buildings (usually costing 8 gold) that will be particularly useful for completing your quest types that may even be worth buying later in the game so you can take advantage of easier access to those adventurer types. Another exception would be to pay the cost of the building to get the VP bonus that has accumulated from no one buying them.

A good building in the first round will get you 8 rewards (either from you using it or an opponent) for an investment of 3-8 gold. Those rewards will equate to a ton of resources and victory points throughout the game.

The less frequently discussed side of building purchasing is that if you can control Builder’s Hall, you control which buildings get out onto the board. You may want to buy less useful, cheaper buildings and take up the Builder’s Hall space to prevent an opponent from buying a building that will be particularly helpful in completing their quest types. In other words, controlling/occupying Builder’s Hall has advantages that go beyond strictly the output of the building you purchase. In short, controlling Builder’s Hall lets you control the game.

Intrigue Cards

Intrigue cards can help you improve your action/turn-advantage because you get a benefit from the card and then you get to reassign that agent to another action later in the round. You basically get 2 actions for the price of 1. Unless there is a very critical action space that you need on your turn before someone else gets it, use your action on intrigue cards whenever possible.

It may be hard to decide which Intrigue cards to use. It depends primarily on the number of players because many give advantages/disadvantages to a single opponent or multiple opponents. In a 2 player game, using an Intrigue card to take two adventurers while giving your opponent (100% of your opponents) one isn’t an amazing deal. In a 5 player game, getting two adventures and giving one of your opponents (25% of your opponents) one is a much better deal.

Mandatory Quest cards should obviously be played on the opponent in the best position. You usually want to save those for the final round so you can prevent them from completing a high-reward quest at the end of the game. Carefully analyze which opponent is doing the best and/or the number of actions they will have to take to gather the resources needed to complete the mandatory quest.