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A book publishing game design... comments?

4 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/31/1969

Inspired by the talk of games about game publishing in the "Themes Waiting To Be Used" thread, I came up with this concept. This is the rough writeup I did to start it out, nothing about it is tested and the numbers are completely arbitrary, and it's written very stream of consciousness (if it's confusing, bear with it to later points where things reconnect), but I wanted to just see what people would say! Oh, and I just realized it has no victory condition... I guess some certain amount of total money, or perhaps most money after 4 years, or something.

Brains & Nobull
players: 3-6
playtime: until you figure out a victory condition

Each player gets a hand of 8 cards. Cards show simple pictures on them, like “Sun”, “Bear”, “Fishing”, “Tree”.
Players combine these to make a story synopsis for a children’s book. The player puts any number of them (at least 3, but up to all 8) down in an order of their liking, and reads the synopsis as they envision it. For example, a set of “Fish” “Boy” “Tree” “Bear” could be read as “One day a happy fish meets a young boy and they decide to go hang out at the boy’s favorite tree. A bear eats them both. The end” (your stories may be slightly less morbid, and slightly more meaningful, if you wish).
The manufacturing cost of each copy of a story is the number of cards in the story (call it the page count if you like).

The first round of the game is the Spring season, and each round the season rotates to the next. Seasons don’t matter except that in Winter, everybody sells twice the normal number of copies, and Spring is the only season in which you can manufacture new copies, and buy new stories.
Each Spring, each player writes a new story (and replenishes up to 8 cards again for next Spring), telling the synopsis to the other players. Every player decides how much they like each story, ranking them from 1-N (where N is the number of players minus one – players don’t rank their own stories). You then give the smile tokens with the appropriate numbers to the other players facedown, so nobody can see how many smiles they got. Then the players as publishers must bid on the stories. It’s up to each author how they want to accept bids and which bids they want to take. Bids can be in money form or promises of future favors (no rules on whether you must actually fulfill such promises), or royalties on sales, or anything you think will work. Authors pick which offer they’d like to take, if any, and the chosen publisher takes the story, and receives the Smile tokens for it. No publisher may have more than 3 stories at a time, but you may drop any story in favor of a new one.
One rule is that you may choose to self-publish your story (before or after hearing the bids on it). In this case, you get the story for free, but you must pay twice the manufacturing cost for it.
The number of Smile tokens a story earned is its initial Demand. If the initial Demand for a book actually exceeds 10, it has 10 demand, and you earn $30 per extra Demand point, in “Pre-orders”.
Each new season begins by rolling a die for each book and subtracting half that many Smiles from its demand (a 1-2=1, 3-4=2, 5-6=3). If its demand falls to zero, the book is retired, and removed from the game (you can’t later advertise it to bring it back).
You can spend advertising dollars to increase demand. For $50, you choose one of your books, roll a die (you can pay up to $150 to do up to 3 in a season) and increase demand according to this formula:
1 – demand decreases by 1 for the chosen book, because your ads were annoying
2-4 – no effect
5 – demand up by 1 for every book you sell
6 – demand doubles for the chosen book!

Demand can never be higher than 10.

When sales time occurs, each book sells 1 copy per demand point. You earn $20 per copy sold, minus whatever royalty the author negotiated, which is given to the author. If you don’t have enough copies to meet demand, demand will decrease by 1 out of spite (total, not per copy you lack).
Each Spring, you manufacture new copies of your books, paying the manufacturing cost ($1 per ‘page’, aka card) per copy. Pick how many you want, and do so wisely, because you can’t manufacture again until the next Spring, and also, if a book goes out of demand, your inventory is worthless.


1 – Roll a die for each book to see how much demand it loses.
2 – If it’s Spring:
A – Each player presents a story in turn
B – Each player ranks the other stories and provides their smile tokens.
C – Players bid for the rights to the stories
D – Players pay to manufacture copies of the books
3 – Each player may choose to advertise up to 3 times.
4 – Sales occur, 1 copy per demand point (2 copies if it’s Winter), for $20. Don’t forget to pay royalties!


54 story cards
5 each of smile tokens labeled 1-5
18 book tokens
1 information mat per player (6 included?)

The player mats are laid out with 3 rows on them. Each has a spot for setting the stack of cards pertaining to the story on the left side, and a series of 10 boxes to the right of that to show the demand for the story (players put a smile token on the current demand level), and a set of 50 boxes under that for inventory of the book (book token placed at the current inventory level).

intriguing idea

I really like the idea. As far as a victory condition, I suggest a set number years must pass, then the player with the most cash wins. The idea is simple, and the adevertising expenditure with the element of chance adds a bit of suspense. Allowing the players to "rank" the stories seems like a nice built in piece of player interaction as well, along with the bidding as "publishers".

Keep working on this. Nice idea :)

Hedge-o-Matic's picture
Joined: 07/30/2008
Re: intriguing idea

DrZippy wrote:
I really like the idea. As far as a victory condition, I suggest a set number years must pass, then the player with the most cash wins. The idea is simple, and the adevertising expenditure with the element of chance adds a bit of suspense. Allowing the players to "rank" the stories seems like a nice built in piece of player interaction as well, along with the bidding as "publishers".

Keep working on this. Nice idea :)

I agree! As someone who is actively working through the publishing system, I have to say that this sounds like a lot more fun!

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
A book publishing game design... comments?

My take on this game (which I called "The Book Fair") concerned itself merely with the publishing level of it - the central concept I used was that "no-one knows anything". So the publishers could either try to hype a title, or follow the current "hot" genre, or try and win awards, all of which produce income that lets them bid on next year's books. But essentially, none of the players really know what will catch the public's fancy at any time.

I must confess that I like your addition of the minor creative element that allows for a bit of speculation on the popular titles - it takes the story-telling component from games like Nanofictionary and adds a game to it.

Joined: 12/31/1969
A book publishing game design... comments?

Yes, I like to throw in an element of creativity and ownership to games, because it's like boosting the fun value of the game for free. It takes a dry set of rules over which people are competing, and throws in laughter, which equals fun, without me having to do any designing. Contrast it to, say, Munchkin, which is a dry set of rules that are supposed to give you laughter due to their artwork and wording. That's humor that only works once or twice (though I think it does add a certain overall levity to the proceedings, and it's a tack I use in my computer games).

I've never actually seen something like this where you try to make a story simply from abstract pictures, so I wonder if it will be too artsy for some people (most notably the kind of people who would PLAY a strategic business-management game such as this!). In two other designs I have drawing as the creative element, and that works well because anyone can do it, no questions asked (in both games it doesn't matter how well you draw, you're not competing on quality at all, and in fact it doesn't even matter what you draw, as opposed to something like pictionary where there is a "right" answer), not to mention those games are simpler to actually play. I guess the nice thing is that it doesn't matter too much here either - as long as your ego can take a bruising, you can succeed based on the bidding and publishing, and either never get published, or never get good publishing deals. You'll be behind somewhat though, due to a lack of royalties.

The original spark that started this game was the idea of the players voting in their particular favorites to determine product demand. I really like that because you need some mechanism to decide what the books are worth, and the actual taste of human beings is exactly what that mechanism is in the real world (and just like the real world, it then has to get filtered through the publishing process, and peoples' taste can magically change as a result of advertising... so cynical and so true). And it ends up that the players really play the role of a purchasing agent, trying their damnedest to both get a good deal, and guess what the consumer demand for a given product will be, when the only hard evidence they have is their own opinion. Hmm, on that note, maybe I should make you purchase new inventory BEFORE you get to see what the demand for your latest purchases is. Now that's realism.

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