The Game Formerly Known as Elemental – Attunement

Two moves.

That was all it took for me to be walloping Chase and his only entity in the face with Krith, my Centaur War Hero.

You see, unlike Chase I was wielding the power to drain my own physical energy for unrestrained elemental control!  I had imbued my “minion” (we call them entities) with the power of the forest as aptly as Mother Nature herself could.  Unlike Mother Nature, my wrath was focused on one person: the unworthy combatant standing before me.

Krith dealt a massive blow, and the crowd went wild!  This Olympic duel was the highlight of the proceedings, and it started out with as big a bang as promised.

This is the world of Attunement.  Cerebral Cellar’s deck building, element fueled card game duel.

We have just finished version 2.2 of our “functioning” MVP (minimum viable product).  It is on the forum, and ready to be playtested with us on Table Top Simulator or in person!

In the back channels we are working on things like art, graphic design, and lore (hence the Centaur with a name that sounds like a man with a lisp calling for his pal Chris).

But more importantly, it is time to kick up playtesting a notch!

After Krith and myself had garnered a lead (and the crowds favor), Chase summoned a despicable creature of Ice and Frustration.  The Chillinator cast his ability, and returned Krith to my spell book (hand).  He followed it with a sucker punch to my person, and any lead I had, was lost.

“…That needs to cost more”

Chase astutely adjusted this card immediately following this test.  We want the game to have swings, but also reward players for “power plays” like using my player ability (Ritual) to get the jump on my opponent.  Having my lead erased so easily didn’t feel right.  Especially when later in the game he steamrolled me with a combo that rivaled mine.

Had the first part of the game remained in my favor, perhaps Chase still would have bested me, but we both agreed it would have been more fun if it were closer.

That is where playtesting comes in.  We need as much data input for balancing as possible!

Taking a spin on Table Top Simulator takes about an hour if you have never played before, so if you have this software let me know and I would LOVE to get you involved!

TTS costs about $20, so I don’t expect everyone to have it.  Let me know if you want to play the game in person, as I usually have an up-to-date copy.

If you are not interested, or just do not have the time, please think about anyone you know that might!  At this point you just have to be willing to have a new experience to qualify.

Looking forward to playing, and growing with everyone!

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar



Tantalizing Title – Timing

As I am sure you have all been waiting with bated breathe for an answer, I haven’t posted in a while because I wanted to time this post better.  Tuesday posts just get much more attention, so I wanted to wait and just hold on to this one for a spell.

Hello the future!

The next couple of weeks are going to be relatively busy, so having content made while I have time is important.

But enough about me.  I wanted to talk about timing.

A one time slap shot, letting the beat drop, catching enough air off the kick, or landing the game winning spell.  Each of these require mastery of timing.

Timing also comes into play when explaining to a co-worker that we do “X” task slightly different, reminding your partner that we need to pick up flea medication for the cat, and especially when proposing.

I feel much more comfortable with one over the other, and through some miracle I have a wife who would Love to explain further.

The first batch is what I would consider physical in nature.  While Ovechkin and Tony Hawk are certainly near the pinnacle of their respective talents, it really still just boils down to a few simple actions:

Stick strikes puck, jump, land combo, increase tempo until momentarily stopping followed by picking up a new beat.

Piece of cake.

Which, also requires physical timing and creating a piece of cake requires more skill than the idiom implies.

Considering I am using it sarcastically though, it could mean…

Nevermind…  Sorry.


The second form is where I fail over and over again, but is oh so very important to ensure a well rounded lifestyle that I must never quite learning from my mistakes and (hopefully) improving over time!

The trick is this version of timing requires you consider an entirely separate mind.

To call this “daunting” undersells it if you ask me.

Perception is easy to consider when it is only your own.  Maybe you miss something out the corner of your eye now and again, but for the most part you can describe what you are seeing, hearing, tasting, and it is easy for you to recall these experiences when you consider those descriptions.

Every time I keep my head down, and strike the ball with this part of my foot by swinging my leg about this hard the ball will sail to the side of the goal only about 2-3ft off the ground.  If you track it, you can find (within some statistical range) what angle you swing, precisely what spot on your boot, and how much pressure is exerted on the ball by your strike.

If I tried tracking the emotional response of my wife every time I say “Yes dear,” while also tracking the speed and pitch with which I say it, I’m not sure either of us could derive much meaningful perspectives on the subject.   …and it would also result in being beat upside the head by my survey.

Establishing a report and keeping an open dialogue can only help build up good will and empathy.  Two things vital to pulling off these two-person 360 no-scope maneuvers.  Some people click immediately, others will take time to build a common ground, but working with other perspectives and feelings is not some “luck of the draw” skill.  I believe it can be built between two, or even greater numbers of people.

I’ll take my lumps, but sometimes persistence pays off.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar







Second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning – Interview with Dan Letzring of Letiman Games

Today I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mr. Dan Letzring, owner of Letiman Games.  If you have ever played Groves or Dino Dude Ranch you are already familiar with his work!  Even more exciting is the fact Dan took time out of running his Kickstarter campaign to speak to me!

Dan and the other creative minds at Letiman have presented the gaming community with “The Neverland Rescue” an asymmetrical 2 player game based on the work of J.M. Barrie.  The asymmetrical concept really excites me, and Dan does a really good job of participating in the online board game community so I decided to reach out.

After briefly introducing myself I was able to probe the mind of a successful game publisher!  So without further ado, here is what he had to say:

How did Letiman Games begin?
I had been playing hobby games for a few years when I finally played Fluxx. The game-play inspired a design of mine that I self-published with my first Kickstarter campaign in 2014.  I loved everything about developing games, running a business, and working in the game industry. The company has been going ever since!
Fluxx is great!  How long was between playing Fluxx and the first campaign?
After playing Fluxx, I took about a year to design the first game and quite some time after that getting it to Kickstarter. However, I should have done more and still kick myself that I did not take more time on both the design and the first campaign.
Were there any legal hoops to jump through for using J.M. Barrie’s work as inspiration?
So the original novel is in the public domain, so I did not have to as long as I stuck specifically to the original works. The play and later versions (like the Disney version and other films) are not in the public domain so any character traits, plot points, and locations mentioned in those later works had to be avoided. To prepare, I read the original novel in the original text. Over and over. And over.  If our artist used any character traits that were in later works but not the original novel, we had to discuss removing them to make sure we adhered to what we legally were able to. It was quite fun to work on!
What is the toughest part of being a Publisher?

So, everyone thinks that when they have a good design, they should just go for it and self-publish.  I try to tell them there is so much more to it than just funding a game on Kickstarter (which is also SO much work!).  Running a company involves building a brand, social media presence, paying taxes, working with large groups of contractors. There are so many moving parts.  If you do not have business sense and you do not do project management well, pitch your game to a publisher.

So I guess the short answer is the hardest part about being a publisher is having so much to do that it leaves you little to no time to keep designing and you have to be very organized and efficient to get it all done.

If none of that scares somebody off, what is the best advice you can give brand new publisher hopefuls?
TALK TO PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY.  Do not be afraid to approach other publishers who have done it, share your ideas and collaborate with us to help make your game as good as possible. We have been doing this a while now and can provide valuable resources in getting your game out there!
Thank you so much Dan for giving my little blog some great insight!  Now everyone check out the Kickstarter page, watch or read some reviews, and pledge away!
– James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar


FOMO Arigato – Gamification Discussion #3

Have you ever experienced FOMO?  It is an acronym for the “fear of missing out.”
FOMO can impact us all in many different ways, but it usually is surrounding an activity you were invited to, that for whatever reason you can’t attend.

While your friends are out enjoying a night of bowling, you are stuck at home studying for an exam, cleaning up after a busy week, or staying late at work.  It sucks.

But… you don’t even like bowling.  You hate asking for bumpers because it is embarrassing, but more times than not you end up watching your ball slowly but surely creep over to the gutter, and hitting a single pin is a victory.

Maybe you are friends with Jerry, and he invited you, but Jerry’s friends (the ones you know will be bowling with him) are rude, uninteresting, or just not really into the same things as you.

Yet… I still REALLY want to go!

Given everything you know about yourself and the activity you are “missing,” the logical conclusion should be “I wouldn’t have had that much fun anyway.”  However, that doesn’t seem to make it suck less does it?

FOMO is a perfect example of the core drive Avoidance.  One of the several classifications of incentive I have spoken about in the past.

For anyone with a business or psychology lesson under their belt you may know the Sunk Cost bias, and that exists because of this behavior driver.

As FOMO manifests we are often helpless to reason our way out of feeling this sense of loss.  It can be so strong that we find ourselves doing something we don’t enjoy, with people we mostly don’t get along with and wondering “why am I here?”

Avoidance is an example of a “Black Hat” driver.  While the example of empowerment is a “White Hat” driver, and makes the participant feel good to drive behavior, a Black Hat driver does the opposite.  You are motivated to act because of a negative feeling.

In the case of FOMO, we are driven to do something to avoid this sense of loss.

A gut reaction to “Black Hat” drivers is typically something along the lines of: “I would never do that to someone playing my games,” “is that ethical?” or maybe even “I have you now Mr. Bond!”

Even if you don’t identify as a super-villain I assure you, there is a lot of good to come from Black Hat motivators.

A great example is “time out.”  When raising a child there comes a time when “Because I said so” loses it’s weight, and to elicit the proper behavior the threat of “time out” does the trick.  Because the child understands time out, he/she will be more likely to behave in the desired way to avoid it.

I’ve seen this impact gamer friends as well.  Why try a new game when we have already put so much time into this one?  I am decently skilled, and I’ve unlocked all these cool skins or champions, so why start from level one?
Even with convincing arguments that the game we have been playing has flaws, and the new game is engaging and fun, the avoidance of “losing” all the time and effort put into the first game keeps you playing it.

As a game designer it becomes very enticing to build this sort of driver into my game.  If my players acted rationally they would go play something else, and I’ve worked Very hard to make a game that is fun to play, so why should I feel bad for doing whatever I can to keep them coming back?

Black Hat motivators are a part of our everyday life (FOMO specifically rears it’s ugly head frequently on the weekends).  They typically fall into the same category as a “white lie,” or a “necessary evil.”  I don’t want to advocate assault, but how many people do you know would benefit from a swift kick in the bum?

There are other Black Hat drivers that I will discuss, so hold final judgment until we can cover them all, but how you feel about this form of motivation will have a huge impact on your game design.  For my non-game designers, being aware of these drivers can help you either understand and empathize, or help you reason your way out of falling for Sunk Cost Bias among other things.

Reality isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.  Understanding the dark arts can be extremely useful even if you swear off using them.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar











Strong Convictions Precede Great Actions – The Struts

As it always seems to do, the opportunity to see lots of good music has hit me in bunches the past month.

I wish it would be a bit more spread out sometimes because I get an itch when it becomes too long, but I can’t complain about getting to see so many great acts like The Fat Catz, Disco Risqué, Perpetual Groove, Mona, and The Struts.

Every single act was different and amazing in their own way, and I could go on for a while about their individual performances, but I want to focus on just The Struts today.

For the uninitiated, I recommend you watch their music videos for “Could Have Been Me” and “Put Your Money On Me.” If you don’t like The Rolling Stones, Queen, dancing, or fun in general they may not be your speed.

The music was energetic, and the atmosphere was exhilarating, and it really all came down to the performance of Luke Spiller the front-man.

Like a mix between Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury he exploded on to the stage with ferocity, and only increased his energy level from there!  With the help of a popular tune that got the crowd singing he established the fact we would be singing and clapping or dancing the entire show, or we could leave.

Luke and The Struts recently toured with Foo Fighters, so they were used to some large crowds, but when they released their début album (in Luke’s own words) “nothing happened.”
It wasn’t until they came to America that they met up with managers that linked them to Dave Grohl and company.

So Luke knew what a smaller crowd could feel like, and it somehow played right into his hands.  Being a Sunday night in Lynchburg VA meant our crowd of about one to two hundred was all the venue could muster.

More than enough for Luke apparently.

He engaged us on every tune, and let us know how this was his favorite crowd ever (at first I thought it was pandering, but by the end of the show I started to believe him).  At one point he came down into the crowd after splitting us down the middle, and did a bit of a “Call and Response” competition.  He had us nimble enough to get down on the ground to do so, and that way we could all see and hear him shout “AAAAEEEOOOOooo” and respond in kind when it was our side’s turn to be heard!  After jumping back on stage to pick right back up with the show it felt like we were all individually his best friend.

His vibe was intoxicating.  I couldn’t have had a bad time if I was trying!  It is a miracle I am not hoarse today, as I felt the toll on my throat when leaving the show.

So how does this have anything to do with Games?

I think it provides a bit of inspiration on how to truly represent yourself and your passion.  Whether you are a front-man in a band, a game designer, or couldn’t be happier as a bank teller.  Making every individual you meet feel special that YOU are the one in front of them is only achievable by keeping your passion and energy as high as possible 100% of the time!  People feed off of the “good vibrations” you put out, just as they do negative feelings as well.

Even if your party only had 3 people show up, you can’t let disappointment show. That just soils the experience for the ones who did!  Besides, 4 people is a perfectly appropriate number for a great board game.
If things don’t go your way, you can always treat it as a personal challenge to yourself.  The idea being, you were excited about something all on your own, and it only takes one other person to share that excitement.

Maybe they wont respond the way you would hope, but that’s expected.  Different strokes for different folks and all!  The part that matters is you practiced consistency, and avoided coming across as fake or hypocritical.  Our ability to truly perceive how important your actions are at each individual moment is limited, so make sure you are putting out the best of you all the time!  Who knows whose attention you could be getting.

I know this can sound unrealistic, and I am sure Luke has his bad days too.  That reality shouldn’t get in the way of attempting to follow this plan.   Shoot for the stars and you might get to the moon, but if you have a bad day forgive yourself.  We may not all have the “X” factor that makes The Struts performance so contagiously fun, but even the little things count, so never give up!

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar



Should I Stay or Should I Go – Hearthstone

I finally got to enjoy an evening of playing one of my favorite games.  Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is an online card game designed by Blizzard (same folks that brought us World of Warcraft and Overwatch).  It has to be played online because certain mechanics in the game would be very difficult to track in a live version (random selection, copying cards, etc).  They add in some awesome visual and audible effects that make the game flashy and fun too!

You play 1v1 with a self-made deck of cards from a vast collection, and I have played since it came out back in 2014 so I would say I have a reasonable portion of the cards available.

The game is free, but the catch is some cards are objectively better than others.  You can buy packs to potentially nab these powerful cards, but you are stuck slowly grinding away to get in-game gold you can use to buy these packs if you don’t want to spend real moneys.

To its credit, the game rewards you decently for playing, and back when I played daily I was putting together multiple decks with mostly the best cards.

Then they bring on a new season and a bunch of old cards get phased out.  You can keep them, but not use them in ranked (competitive) play.

This got to be too frustrating when I couldn’t play as regularly, so I slowed down how much I played even further.  They recently released a new season, and phased out most of my cards again, but I wanted to check it out regardless.  The new cards and mechanics they have introduced through the years have been a mixed bag.  Some very cool and fun to use, others tiresome and demoralizing.

I have always been a fan of free expansions, and Hearthstone has stayed true to keeping the game free for all.  They gotta make a buck somehow though, and getting a few people to buy packs each time they release new cards is how they do this.  So I find myself stuck between two concepts I find value you in:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “How can we make this better?”

I love the new waves of cards that give the game variety, but I hate watching my progress get systematically wiped away every year.

Cerebral Cellar has our own methodology.

Create a whole box (none of the Magic or Pokemon random pack nonsense) that contains every card designed to date.  That will have a set price, and you will be able to purchase an entire game in one box.
When we find ways to improve the game, or add new cards, we will sell expansions down the road.

This avoids any of the negative feeling “oh if I only had that card” while also allowing us to evolve the game.

I like our middle of the road plan, but maybe you have a better idea?

If you play Hearthstone, how do you feel about the method they chose?  Based on my limited explanation, I’d like to here from non-players as well!

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar

“Here come old flat-top, he come grooving slowly” – Building a Community/Disco Risque

It is quite difficult to live modern life without having several different pockets of people you interact with on a weekly or maybe monthly basis.

Even if you work from home you likely have to communicate and coordinate with several different people.  Who do you see consistently at the gym?  Be it the guys at the bar, or your rag-tag gaming squad we designate groups of people and associate them with what we do around them.

This compartmentalization I think helps me stay sane because I find myself meeting lots of people, but I would guess it works on a smaller scale too.

If you want to make a successful living doing something like performing, designing games, or selling homes you need to have a lot of contacts.  So I am going to talk about these pockets of communities under the assumption you are trying to maximize the number your bandwidth allows.  It is not all about having the most contacts, but who they are and what role you play for them matters too.  There is a bit of efficiency to it.

Here is an example:

This weekend I got to witness my favorite local band Disco Risqué win a contest to play at the LOCKN’ Festival nearby by getting enough votes from people at the show.  They are beautifully nasty, deliciousness in the airwaves, and they deserve to be on the playlist of any muther-rocker with a pulse.

Music can get a bit subjective, so I apologize if my over-enthusiasm doesn’t groove with your tastes.  That isn’t why I think Disco won the contest anyway.

Here’s the the rub.
With as much grace as you can imagine, the band members themselves drove a few Van fulls of us local yocals to the show.  I’ll leave the details to your imagination, but the DR nation willed these fine gentleman to glorious triumph!  A nation I will quickly point out was built by those very same gentleman.

Between the 4 members of the band I imagine each of them brought representatives from several pockets of fans.  Even just in our ride we had several people who had only the band in common.  Hadn’t even bumped into each other at a show (I am hard to miss, so maybe that feeling was one-sided…).

We all came together to support the artistry, but the members of the band foster something even beyond that.  The love for them as people just exudes towards them on and off the stage.

If you are passionate about something you are creating, make sure to realize you are representing that thing in all that you do.  I think this adds a little incentivized spin to the Golden Rule.

Apply yourself in this way to just about any activity (even a wilderness hiker could have a huge Instagram following), and put yourself out there!  See which pockets go well, and don’t feel bad kindly not associating with others that aren’t your speed.  There are enough people out there that a little bit of selectivity wouldn’t hurt.

Before you know it, you’ll wish you had fewer enticing opportunities.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar