Power to the People! – Gamification Discussion #2

Yesterday I took a stroll over to my FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) and found some golden examples of empowerment.  One of the key types of incentive we mentioned in my first discussion.

I should admit that currently it is a very one-sided discussion, and perhaps I need to work on empowering my readers…

Anyway, after walking in and wandering around staring at boxes for a few minutes I approached the friendly staff.  Within minutes of discussing why I was there (my prototypes required some old TCG backs as they are larger than typical playing cards) we were in earnest discussion about both of our attempts at designing games!

Based on some persuasive praise that sounded a lot like “I like this one” combined with the gorgeous art by Sabrina Miramon and I was sold.  Photosynthesis was on its way home with me, and I couldn’t have been more stoked.

Now for the cherry on the icing of the triple chocolate ice-cream cake (too thick?).  He sent me off with more than enough free old cards with one instruction “come back with that prototype, I want to play your game.”

I think I skipped out of the store.

By simply recognizing that I didn’t need to be convinced very much, he was able to make the experience even better through empowerment.  Without a doubt I will return, and perhaps in greater numbers!

The gift of empowerment doesn’t even have to be material like free stuff.  You can empower people through words!  Sometimes even something you hear from a stranger can truly brighten your day, and at what cost to the stranger?

There is naturally a negative side to this, and I’ll touch on that when we get around to “black hat” core drives.  If you want to skip ahead, I didn’t write the book.

But today everything is great, and all is well!  We can create inspiration and motivation in people we root for.  Dust off their shoulder when they fall, or hold the ladder while they climb.  What goes around comes around, and maybe random guy at bar #247 will save a life because he felt just a little more confident in himself that week.

Empowerment in the right hands can make some incredible things happen.  Timing is extremely important, because it has to be from a very sincere place to have the best effects.  Go give somebody you know an “Ata-boy” a “You go girl!” or “Give um hell!”  It could be just the boost they need, and you wouldn’t even know it.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar




A Sailor’s Life for Me – The Fat Catz/Running a Business

This weekend I had the opportunity to catch a show performed by none other than The Fat Catz!  I used to play with these guys so I am clearly biased, but they put on an entertaining show!  The stage was set at the Maple Street Tavern in Graham North Carolina, and the guys were ready to go.

But getting started was a bit rough.  There were equipment failures that would wait until the band hit a good groove and well… womp womp…

While Friday the 13th was an amazing scapegoat, the fact remains that these sort of difficulties are something an upstart project just has to take in stride.  To the Catz credit, they did exactly that!  After it was finally resolved, a few minutes later you wouldn’t have known they had any trouble at all.

Check out a poorly recorded teaser here.  You can find their other material on Spotify and Youtube but like their page too!

Truth is, running a creative project is going to take an immense amount of flexibility and thinking on your feet.  Especially if you are new to the industry and are just trying to make it on your own!

I always liked to compare it to sailing a ship that takes an entire crew on your own.  Hoisting the main sail is rather difficult when you have your hands full steering.  We have to throw some of that water off the deck, but quickly patch up that hole first!  That passing ship won’t know if I am friendly if I don’t have a flag flying, but it’s much more important I know which direction to go… How does this navigation device work again?  Here comes a storm, better lower all the sails before the wind picks u-AH MY SPEAKER BLEW!

You get the picture.

The delicate balancing act never ends.  Keeping a healthy perspective on things can keep you straight, but there will be lapses of sanity and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help!

This experience is not for everyone.  I for one feed off the rush, but sometimes I get myself in over my head.  Set yourself up for success by practicing good use of organizational tools and establishing a routine.  Take advantage of all those salty captains out there with vast swaths of knowledge.  Most of them are happy to tell tales of their triumphs and failures for nothing in return but your enthusiasm!

Ultimately, arriving at your destination tastes just that much sweeter when you know it was a result of your very own hard work.  At least, I hope it will.  I’ll let you know when I get there.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar


This Twitter Light of Mine – Social Media

Given current events it has been quite refreshing to see more people become aware of and discuss the negative aspects of social media.  I have always been a bit of a “Debbie Downer” when discussing social media, but today I want to swim up stream once more!

In the spirit of being fully transparent I will lay on the line my only current goal for engaging in online communities like Facebook and Twitter.

To get your attention.

Cerebral Cellar’s, and my personal goal is to get our games in the hands of as many inquiring minds as possible!  To achieve that will take many factors, but one such factor is the attention of a large group of people who we already know are interested in what we do.  It would also require we have a finished game, but the devil is in the details.

In the interim I hope to provide a service through social media.  I want to help represent other creators I find inspiring, engage in a well-meaning and motivated community, and provoke thoughtful discussion with my unique perspective.

Social media allows me to achieve all of these things, and you could do it too!

We already do so many of these things without thinking about it.  Wear a t-shirt with a band you love, picking up something that someone else dropped for them, offer a suggestion to the wide-eyed couple visiting the bar from out of town, or talking to your friend who hates her job but doesn’t know where else to go.

Seems like just being a decent human being no?  It always makes me laugh thinking about how hard that seems to be on social media!  Having an ever-present soap-box, the luxury of miles between two participants in a conversation, or perhaps simply issues communicating effectively via text seems to bring out the worst in people.  It could be a myriad of other factors, but I think we all have witnessed this phenomenon.

Author Germany Kent put it best: “Speak with caution. Even if someone forgives harsh words you’ve spoken, they may be too hurt to ever forget them. Don’t leave a legacy of pain and regret of things you never should have said.”

Full disclosure, I have not read Germany’s books, but this quote stuck out when I was searching for better ways to phrase my thoughts.

In fact, with the opportunity to think before posting it really isn’t that hard to behave this way.  Do some “googling” before you jump to conclusions when someone contradicts you or consider your audience before airing a controversial opinion.  By being empathetic, and cautious on social media I think we could optimize the benefits of these platforms and minimize the issues.

Share, like, and comment on things that make you feel positive!  The rest of media has cornered the market on anxiety and despair, so let’s make our social version invest in the rest of what humanity has to offer!

We may not be able to change the world, but I would settle for making my corner a little bit brighter for those around me.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar


Two Cents on Incentive – Gamification Discussion #1

Us humans are capable of quite extraordinary things.  From surviving great hardships to building a better world we can all agree that human potential can be staggering.

The catalyst for human achievement I want to discuss is incentive.  What makes the difference between “did” and “could have” for two humans with perfect faculties and environment usually boils down to incentive.  It is an answer to the questions “Why do we do the things we do,” and similarly “why don’t we do things we could?

Author Yu-Kai Chou of Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards teased out some lucid conceptualizations of what types of incentive there are: Ownership, Accomplishment, Meaning, Empowerment, Social Pressure, Unpredictability, Avoidance and Scarcity.

For example, a business owner can spend an impressive amount of time on their company due to the incentive of Ownership, while an excessive gambler is driven by Unpredictability.  
I will certainly touch on each and every one of these in the future, but for now I want to focus on incentive in general.

I watched two games of futball (soccer) today that had incredibly obvious signs of “no incentive.  One was on the highest level of the organized sport, and the other was youth level.  Middle school age specifically.

Liverpool vs. Everton in the Mersyside Derby! A hotly contested rivalry where both teams appeared to be playing to not lose.  The only incentive seemed to be Avoidance, and that was the result both teams got.  0-0.
Everton being the underdog gave them a bit of “Meaning” and “Accomplishment” if they grabbed the W, and by rights they could have had it with a bit more clinical finishing.  Liverpool was clearly resting for their tournament match Tuesday, and that mentality quite nearly lost them the match.

The kids were up 4-1, and were significantly out playing the other team.  At least, until the last 15 minutes.  With the game “clearly” in hand they began to get sloppy.  A goal was let in, and there were several blown coverages that fortunately didn’t result in more leaked goals.

With both grown men and teen boys the level of play dipped below their potential.  The professionals had the excuse of a more impactful match coming up, but the young kids had shifted mentality part way through the game.

Because these are team sports, it is obvious that not ever player was guilty of finding limited incentive.  The ones that carried on at their best have, in my humble opinion, an innate sense of Meaning.  I believe those that can find Meaning every moment of every day set themselves up to be the best they could possibly be.

I know it sounds a bit cheesy, so if anyone has a great quote from someone more eloquent than I please share!

To expand on this, I don’t think Meaning is synonymous to “ultimate truth.  Everyone can find Meaning that is significant to themselves even if it is not found the least bit convincing by someone else.
Consequently, a word of caution is warranted given the dangers of apophenia.  A word which here means “the tendency to perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things coined by Klaus Conrad (the internet is quite the handy tool). The difference between a healthy Meaning that others don’t understand, and dangerous apophenia is a conversation for another time.

You may now wonder, what is my Meaning?  I won’t spoil it now, but if you spend much time with me it is rather apparent.  Consider this an invitation!


-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar

“James, you broke two rules at once” – Altar of War Playtesting Thoughts #1

Yesterday evening Chase and I got an opportunity to finish an entire game of “Altar of War.”  This game is currently being developed by Bryan and Steven of Bryk House Games and we had the privilege of trying out their current prototype on Table-Top Simulator!

Spanning the distance of the East Coast between the four of us, meeting up on this platform was perfect!  After an initial demo a few weeks ago, Chase and I were ready(ish) to roll right into a full game.  At least, one version of play.  Bryk has many ways to change it up and keep this game fresh!

I won’t dive into the details of the game mechanics, but my overall impression of the game was great, and I’d love to play it again!

After setting up on a very unique (albeit, a tad confusing) board, I became master and commander of my Elvish army!  The actions you can take are based on the die you roll, and a very well balanced dice economy.

Chase started out the gate hot as he sent his Orc raised wolf pack to jump me.  I tried to retreat, but holding the line seemed to keep me on pace with my enemy by taking down units and healing up the injured.  The first round fell in Chase’s favor though, and the next thing I knew I had to deal with an “Ascended” unit he had acquired through the “Altar of War” mechanic.  Simply put: if you can beat up on your opponent enough, you can place stronger units on the battlefield.  If you are more passive you could do the same by saving resources.

Luckily I had just the right combination of spell-casters and sharpshooters to take down his Ascended unit before he wreaked too much havoc.  Then it was my turn to bring out the big guns!

After a bit more back and forth, it came down to the wire when Chase had his last shot to win the game, or suffer humiliating defeat (muahahaha).  He couldn’t get his buzzer beater on target, so technically I won the match.  However, a more experienced player would have seen a bold play that would have given him the edge he needed to seal the victory for himself.  Neither of us could see it, despite Bryan letting us know it was there, so I am excited about the depth this game brings for those who love mastering puzzles!

In the end, it was a close match from start to finish that left me feeling satisfied with the decisions I was given, and lessons to apply to another play through.  I can’t wait to see how more play-testing, and a little more art will elevate this game to the next level!

As Bryan enthusiastically egged us on after the game to do so, I want to include my toughest criticism of the game.  Ranged units.  They could only fire in a straight line, and can’t attack at melee range.  I felt like this hampered their ability to be useful in several situations I would have intuitively assumed they could be.  That said, giving them too much power could really unbalance the game.

Chase and I could not come up with a good solution off the cuff, but tried to discuss a few alternatives.  I am not a fan of complaining and not offering a solution, but to be fair I was having a hard time finding much wrong with the game!  Ultimately, it could just be my own preferences getting in the way as Chase didn’t have as much of a problem with ranged units as I did.

I look forward to more playtests, and more conversations with Bryan and Steven (two very nice dudes by the way) as they continue on their journey to create an engaging game.  I believe we can both help each other simultaneously as we continue down that same path.

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar


Don’t Spoil the Broth – Marvel/General

The new Marvel Comic Book Universe movie “Infinity Wars” is coming out soon, and the hype is rising!  I am a huge fan of Marvel movies, and this one is shaping up to be a doozie!
So much so, that the director released a public service announcement to deter anyone from spoiling the film’s plot.

I hate spoilers.  Oh so very much.  In fact I spent the better part of my Saturday morning screaming into a pillow because of it.
I love Liverpool football club, and was anticipating their match against Crystal Palace which I had on record (I only get up for 7:30AM kick-off if it is a massive fixture).  I rolled out of bed, and as usual checked my phone.  The game’s final score was the first thing that greeted me!
I was livid, and promptly have set my phone to never send me sports notifications again.

The world has its fair share of nasty people, and my conniption would bring them some twisted satisfaction if they were the ones responsible.  I hope the Marvel announcement does what it was intended to do, and not act as a challenge to these trolls.

Most people are very aware of the “suckiness” of spoilers, and are extremely good at watching their words.  Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and other TV shows that make their way into conversation at the office or the bar are quite susceptible to spoilers.  However, I’ve heard more “encrypted” conversations about these shows than actual spoilers, so I have hope for humanity!

To wrap this into a “games” theme, consider the opportunity for spoilers in games.  Typically it is associated with cheating (peaking at the top card on your deck for example).  I also have had players at a Poker table forget to burn a card before dealing out the flop in Texas Hold’em.

It is important to distinguish between accidental spoilers and intentional.  I must work on having patience for the accidents (nobody likes playing games with you if you tell them off for every error).

Even if you think it will be great for a laugh we must recognize some people are more invested in certain things to varying degrees, and if “Snape kills Dumbledore” means nothing to you, please don’t think it means nothing to others.

If you still feel the need to spoil things I hope Thanos does indeed pay you a visit.

-James Schoenster
Co- founder of Cerebral Cellar

Final Four Sentences – March Madness

March  Madness is reaching it’s peak, and in the spirit of “It comes down to this” I will give my four sentence takes on each Final Four team.

If you have been following closely I hope you enjoy my attempt at condensing the miles of analysis that has already been done better than my little eye test, and if you are new to this whole College Basketball thing perhaps I can give you a talking point while over 20 million people tune in.

Loyola University Chicago – Loyola Ramblers:
Only the 4th 11-seed to make the final four since the expansion to 64 teams 33 tournaments ago.  40+ teams out of the entire 64 had better regular seasons this year, yet winning a conference tournament gave these kids a chance.  Sister Jean, the schools now famous Chaplin, watched her school win the national championship back in 1963.  Something about Catholics and College Basketball just mixes, so watch out for this underdog!

University of Michigan – Michigan Wolverines
Off to a rough start in the regular season these guys were left out of the upper echelon of teams until their conference tournament.  They won their second Big Ten tournament in a row, and was able to keep that momentum to carry them past the Sweet Sixteen roadblock of 2017 right on to the Final Four.  This team is red hot and the right time, and have had convincing wins in both tournaments averaging 11.6 points ahead at the whistle.  This streak has included Purdue, Michigan State, Florida State and Houston (while much closer) as testament to their voracity

Villanova University – Villanova Wildcats.
This medium sized Pennsylvania school has looked a lock to win the ting most of the year.  They got knocked out early last year after winning it all in 2016 and now they are playing the most solid of any the Final Four teams.  With a sure-fire talent in Jalen Brunson these cats look hard to stop.  Nearly 15% of all brackets picked them to win, so can they finish it once again?

University of Kansas – Kansas Jayhawks
The undisputed best team in the Big 12 bagged it’s 14th straight regular season title, topped off by another Big 12 tournament win.  This team was said to be one of the worst Kansas teams in a while early in the year, but that just can’t hold water any longer.  Taking out strong teams like Clemson, and Duke to get a shot against Villanova is just what Kansas does.  Can Devonte’ Graham and his coach Bill Self find the answer in a heavy weight showdown?

That’s it!  Feel free to chime in, disagree, or change the subject!

-James Schoenster
Co-founder of Cerebral Cellar