TAZ: Bureau of Balance News!

Once upon a time, when a dark pandemic lay over the land and people were trapped in their towers, my company Twogether Studios released The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance—a collaborative storytelling game set in the world created by the McElroy Family. We’ve just launched a preorder for the first expansion to TAZ:BoB (it’s Kind of a Big Deal), and I’m excited about that — but given how isolated we’ve been these past two years, I also want to tell you about the game itself.

The Adventure Zone began when the McElroy Brothers decided to play a D&D campaign with their father, Clint. From humble beginnings, this Balance Arc grew into a sweeping story. In developing the game with the McElroys, we decided two things right away. The first is that this isn’t a game in which you replay the story you may already know—the Balance Arc—but rather, it’s about creating your own unique stories about all the other Reclaimers in the Bureau of Balance. Taako and Merle may show up to lend a hand, but this is YOUR story. Likewise, if what you want to do is to play D&D, there’s already a game that lets you do that (it’s called “D&D”). What we love about the Adventure Zone isn’t the rules and mechanics, it’s the story the McElroys create together. That’s what TAZ: Bureau of Balance is all about; it’s a simple game that helps you create a delightful fantasy adventure with your friends. The rules are simple and no gamemaster is required, and you can finish a session in 90 minutes. If you’re familiar with The Adventure Zone, you’ll spot some familiar faces—but people don’t have to be familiar with the podcast to enjoy the game.

The first step of the game is to create characters. It’s a simple system and you don’t have to track a lot of ability scores or specifics. What’s important is who you are, where you draw your strength from, and how you interact with your companions. The image above is one of the character sheets included in the game, as filled out by Justin McElroy. This is Justin’s character from one of the livestream games we ran when we released the game, and if you want to see how Jason and I play Bureau of Balance, check it out here!

As a team of Reclaimers working for the Bureau of Balance, you are tasked to explore dangerous locations to keep powerful relics out of the hands of nefarious villains. The game includes decks of double-sided challenge cards, and you combine decks to create a scenario. But the cards establish a framework; it’s up to you and your friends to fill in the details. In the example above, you’re venturing into the Cave to steal the Hoard from the Lich. But where is the Cave, and what have you heard about it? What is the precious Hoard? Is it gold? Rare books? NFTs? Who is the Lich, and what’s your connection with them?

Each challenge comes with a deck of cards, and to defeat the Villain or escape the Cave, you must work your way to the bottom of that deck; the doublesided cards ensure that when you face the Lich a second time, you won’t deal with exactly the same challenges. The basic mechanic is simple: declare what challenge you’ll face, determine your strength against that challenge, and roll to see if you are able to defeat it and progress deeper into the dungeon. But once again, the most important thing about the challenge is the foundation it creates for the story. Who is the Lich’s Smug Apprentice? What are they so smug about? How are you going to attempt to defeat them—will you best them in a magical duel, or will you cut them down to size with a well-placed quip? Will you go it alone, or do you need help from your friends—and if so, how will they help?

The most important thing to understand is that this isn’t complicated, and it’s not supposed to be. TAZ:BoB is a concrete foundation for collaborative storytelling and improvisation. You don’t have to make up elaborate stories—if you don’t like being in the spotlight, you can just choose your challenge and roll the die—but the game often rewards you for doing so. We believe that it’s a great game to play with friends who have never played a TTRPG before, but have always wanted to. It won’t teach you the rules of D&D—but it will show you how to create a story with your friends, and to think of your character as more than just a collection of numbers.

What’s in the Bundle?

If you already own TAZ:BoB, you may be eager to hear more about the expansion. We’re releasing two things: the Kind of a Big Deal expansion and a set of five beautiful glittering TAZ20s… or both together in a bundle, which gets you free shipping! The Big Deal expansion adds six new challenge decks to the game. Some of these will be familiar to fans of the series—you can compete with Regular Jereeeeee and other members of his Crew while you try and seize the Sash by winning the Race. But you can also sneak into the lair of the Giant, try to steal the deadly Sword, or finally beat that Crooked Can Game at the Carnival. Some of these challenges are even more chaotic that usual, while others remove the TAZ20 from the equation and require more careful planning.

Whether you’re entirely new to the podcast and game or whether you’re a seasoned Reclaimer, I hope you’ll check it out—adventures await!

My Current Projects…

Art by Júlio Azevedo

While I’m proud of Exploring Eberron, there’s a lot of Eberron left to explore and KB Presents is working on a number of different projects. We’ve already teased a project codenamed Fool’s Gold. This is something that is still in development, but over the last month I had two new ideas that have taken precedence. The first of these is Threshold, an online Eberron campaign that I’m developing and playing with my Patreon supporters. I’m excited about this, and once I had the idea I wanted to get started on it immediately. I’m still going through the Session Zero on Patreon and working out some details about the town, and I’ll be running the first adventure in November.

In addition to Threshold, I had another “Hmmm” moment—an idea that I loved and wanted to create right away. We initially called this project Skeleton, but I can tell you now that the actual name is Eberron Confidential. I’m not going to say too much about it just yet, but I’ll tell you that it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s something both players and DMs can enjoy. It’s currently in editing, and I think it will be available as a PDF on the DM’s Guild by around November 10th. While this pushed Fool’s Gold, that work isn’t lost; I have two major DM’s Guild Eberron releases planned for 2021.

Of course, Eberron is only part of my professional life! I also create games with my company Twogether Studios. After long complications due to COVID-19, we finally have our games back in stock, including Illimat and my RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. In addition, we’ve developed a collaborative storytelling game based on The Adventure Zone with the McElroy family, and we’ll be releasing it soon! You can get on the release mailing list here, or you can watch us play it with the McElroys and other friends on our Twitch channel!

If you have any questions about Threshold or The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, post them below! As for Eberron Confidential, I’ll be sharing more details once it’s through editing!

Bureau of Balance: The Dark Lord

Art by Hari Connor

Twogether Studios is currently developing The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance — a collaborative storytelling card game set in the world of The Adventure Zone’s Balance Arc. In working with the McElroy Family and developing the basic ideas for Bureau of Balance, we agreed that we wanted the game to be accessible and engaging both to established fans of The Adventure Zone and to people who know nothing about it. The Adventure Zone broke down barriers to RPGs and ultimately is about a group of friends creating a funny fantasy adventure together, and that’s our goal with the game: you should be able to bring together any group of friends and create your own unique story in a little over an hour. An important part of this is expanding the world of Balance to allow for new missions – other relics, villains, and locations that your team of reclaimers must overcome.

Bureau of Balance doesn’t require a game master. Instead, you create your missions dynamically by selecting three decks of challenge cards: a Villain, a Relic, and a Location. These cards provide concrete mechanical details—the numbers you need to roll to defeat the monsters, the consequences of success or failure, and the prompts and rewards for storytelling. But these cards are broad ideas that leave enough room for you to make this your story. We wanted to share a closer look one of these mission decks: The Dark Lord. 

An early prototype game board

Bureau of Balance includes four villain decks. Each villain has to present a unique mechanical challenge, while also presenting a compelling foundation for adventure. The Dark Lord is a straightforward concept. We know there’s gerblins (“goblins” to those of you new to the Bureau) in the world; the Dark Lord is a malevolent tyrant with an army of gerblins and trolls, determined to use the power of the Relic to conquer the world. When you start off the game, players collectively need to answer a few questions about the Dark Lord. What is their name? What is their connection to the Relic? Consider two possible answers…

  • The Dark Lord is the Endless Shadow, the ghost of the demigod who forged the Relic at the dawn of time. As long as the Relic remains, the Endless Shadow will return and seek to consume the world. You must destroy the Relic once and for all! 
  • The Dark Lord is Bob, your old roommate from Fantasy College. You always said he’d never amount to anything, and it looks like he’s out to prove you wrong. If he gets that Relic, he’s going to do something very irresponsible with it. 

These two concepts show the spectrum of what’s possible within the game. Do you want your tale to be deadly serious or lighthearted? Are the gerblin minions of the Dark Lord innocents corrupted by the Endless Shadow, or are they just the loser buddies of the Dark Lord Bob? 

When you face the Dark Lord, the challenges are primarily physical. Initially you’ll have to deal with gerblin spies and scouts, along with human toadies and wraiths. You could just fight your way through these hosts, but you could outwit the gerblins or even try to stir up a revolt amongst the minions. As you progress through the deck you’ll encounter more powerful challenges, and Griffin McElroy helped us come up with ideas: If there’s gerblins, there should be hob-gerblins; if there’s a Big Troll, there should also be an Even Bigger Troll. One of the unique aspects of the Dark Lord is the idea of reinforcement—that while the gerblin hordes of the Dark Lord aren’t particularly tough, they are endless; certain challenges can call back defeated gerblins to fight you once again. 

In developing the image of the Dark Lord, artist Hari Connor worked with the idea of an imposing, armored figure that still maintains a sense of mystery.  What lies beneath the Dark Lord’s armor? In the final image you can see tusks—is the Dark Lord some sort of uber-gerblin, or are these just decoration? We wanted the sense that the Dark Lord is commanding an army, and the flavor of The Adventure Zone is carried through by the slogans on the banners of the army (Career Opportunities! Join the Forces of Evil!). 

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a collaborative storytelling card game for 2-5 people. A single session takes 60-90 minutes to play, and the dynamic design provides over a hundred hours of possible adventures. Preorder now through January 25th (ships August 2020).  Each preordered game includes an exclusive Reclaimer Rewards expansion. Find out more at :  theadventurezonegame.com! If you’d like to see it in action, check out this episode of AFK!

What I’m up to: TAZ and CCD20!

I had a fantastic time at PAX Unplugged, but I’m busy as ever! I’m still working on Exploring Eberron, and it will be out early next year. In the meantime, there’s two other things happening right now!

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is the latest game from my company Twogether Studios! Working with the McElroy family, we’ve developed a game that lets you create your own unique adventures in the world of the Balance Arc. TAZ: BoB is a collaborative storytelling game for 2-5 people, and it takes about an hour to play. There’s no gamemaster; each dungeon is dynamically generated, and you build the story together.

You can find out more about The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance here, and if you preorder in the next month you’ll get bonus cards! If you’d like to see it in play, LoadingReadyRun played in last week—check it out here!

CCD20 2019

Nine years ago, Satine Phoenix invited me to participate in a livestreamed D&D event to raise money for children’s literacy charity Reach Out And Read. Tomorrow (Saturday, December 14th) the tradition continues! I’m guiding a team of awesome players through an Eberron adventure, starting at 10 AM Pacific Time! Other DMs will be running the same adventure for different groups throughout the day. You can find more information—and a link to donate to Reach Out and Read at the CCD20 website. I hope some of you will check it out!

That’s what’s keeping me busy. I’ve got a few short Eberron articles on the back burner, so tune in next week for those!

PAX Unplugged 2019: Booth 3323!

I’ve just arrived in Philadelphia for PAX Unplugged, one of my favorite conventions. I’ll be spending a fair amount of the convention at the booth for my company Twogether Studios. We’re just about to launch the preorder for our latest game, The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, and we’re going to be demoing and testing the game throughout the weekend; you can also find our other games, including Illimat, Action Cats, and Action Pups!

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a storytelling card game that allows you and your friends to create your own adventures in the wider world of The Adventure Zone. It’s a cooperative game and doesn’t require a gamemaster; working with your friends you seek to reach the bottom of a deadly dungeon and recover a dangerous artifact, all in about an hour. You might have to armwrestle an ogre, cross a vile jelly pit, or endure the withering criticism of a sarcastic specter. No knowledge of The Adventure Zone is required to play the game. Like my previous card game Gloom, it’s a game that encourages you to build a story with your friends—but like Gloom, you’re not penalized if you aren’t comfortable telling elaborate stories.

If you want to talk about Eberron, you can do that too! I will have dedicated signings Friday from 4 PM – 5 PM and Saturday from 5 PM – 6 PM, but if I’m at the booth and not in the middle of something else, I’m always happy to answer questions or sign books. Since people sometimes forget to bring the books they want signed, this year we have special bookplates you can have signed, featuring art from Exploring Eberron.

Speaking of Exploring Eberron, I’m afraid that the release has been delayed. While we’ve already started layout and editing, holidays and a number of personal issues have delayed by work on the final chapter and I’m still getting it wrapped up. I will announce here as soon as I have a date I am confident in, but at this point I feel that it’s probably going to be a January 2020 release. I am as disappointed as anyone about this, but the Traveler had other plans.

Thanks as always to my Patreon backers (Patrons, I’ll be reaching out soon to get some input about future content) and I hope to see some of you at PAX Unplugged!

What’s the story with Action Pups?

We’re in the final two days of my latest Kickstarter and I’m still looking for some good dogs. But what IS this game? What it all about? What do I love about it?

In 2017 I made a game called Action Cats! as a labor of love. I never intended to release it; I just wanted to make a game with pictures of my friends’ cats. The structure is simple: the judge presents a picture of the cat and gives that cat a name. Everyone else combines two cards in their hand to create a sentence, and then tells that story. This is a critical point. You don’t just hand the cards in; you present the story, expanding and adding as much detail as you want. It was a simple side project, but once I started playing it with people, I discovered that it was a lot of fun. Collaborative storytelling is one of my favorite activities, and it’s the best part of Gloom. But… we’re living in very gloomy times, and as much as I love Gloom, it’s fun to have an excuse to tell HAPPY stories for a change.

We released Action Cats early in 2018. The next day, I woke up to find my pug staring at me as if to say “Dude, where’s MY game?” Scientific studies have determined that he’s 104.2% as cute as our cats (full disclosure, these are pug-funded studies), and we know a lot of other people with adorable dogs. So Action Pups! seems like the next logical step.


At a quick glance, Action Pups! looks like a lot of games you’ve likely already played. There’s a judge. People combine cards to make an answer. The judge makes a choice. It is a common design, and that’s a good thing about it; it’s a game I can play with any member of my family, and I can teach you how to play in 15 seconds. But the actual experience of playing it is quite different from, say, Apples 2 Apples. Let’s consider a round.

The judge sets a dog in the middle of the table and introduces them… in this case, the judge declares that this dog is Loudmouth Larry.

Each player has a hand of cards. One side of the card has a picture of a dog; the other has two story prompts—the beginning and the end of a sentence. Each player combines two cards to create a story; when everyone is done, they take turns pitching their stories.

Keith: At the end of the day, I think there’s one question we all ask ourselves. Who… think about it… Who’s a good dog? Is it you? Is it YOU? Every week, Loudmouth Larry examines another of the great dogs of popular culture. This week: Snoopy. Cultural icon, sure: but is he a good dog? Tune in to find out!

Jenn: I admit, “Who’s A Good Boy” is a compelling podcast. But Loudmouth Larry’s personal story is far more interesting. You may not have thought about this, but when people go into witness protection, they can’t take their dogs with them; it’s a dead giveaway for someone searching for them. Loudmouth Larry is a professional surrogate dog, providing people on the lam with temporary canine companionship until they can return to their own lives. His podcasting is the one thing that provides continuity in this nomadic life. 

Now, if you’re not feeling inspired, you can just read the text straight off the card. But like Gloom, what I love about the game is using the card text as a starting point for a more interesting story. If the dog is a superhero’s sidekick, who’s that hero? Does the dog have a super power and a secret identity, and if so, what are they? If they have a podcast, what’s its name? Who sponsors it?

One of the things I enjoy about this is that it adds variety. There’s over 28,000 possible card combinations. But someone can play the same combination of cards three games in a row and come up with a different take on it each time. This is further enhanced by the use of gray text. In the example about, the card says ‘This dog would like to know: who’s a “good dog?”‘ The fact that good dog is in gray means that you can change it when you present the story. So Loudmouth Larry wants to know who’s a SOMETHING. He might want to know “who’s a cat in disguise?” or “who’s addicted to podcasts?”

Ultimately, the goal of Action Pups! is to encourage people to tell stories… to give you a reason to think about what your pup’s podcast might be, or how this dog is going to save the world. It’s family friendly, and some of the best games I’ve played have been with three generations at the table. It’s not a game about winning; but it’s a fun tool to get people telling stories. And, of course, it’s a chance to…

Get Your Dog In The Game

Action Pups! will include 170 dogs. But we don’t just want any dogs in the game; we want YOUR dogs. Anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their dogs, and our favorites will be in the game. In submitting pictures, there’s a few things we’re looking for.

  • Portrait Orientation. The picture needs to fit on the back of a card.
  • Pups, Not People. We want images of individual dogs with no people in the shot. It’s about the dog’s story.
  • Props. Poise, or Potential. We’re looking for dogs that inspire stories. They’re all good dogs, but we want pictures that make you say “What’s that Pug doing in front of a microphone?” or “Why is that Corgi wearing a crown?” Whether it’s an interesting location, funny costume or prop, an interesting pose or expression, we’re looking for pictures that will inspire stories.

That’s all there is to it. But there’s not much time left! If you think your dog is an action pup, back the Kickstarter campaign before it comes to a close!

Illimat is in the Wild!

In 2015 Colin Meloy and Chris Funk presented me with a mysterious board with a small box in the center. Could you make this into a game? Something that feels like it could be a hundred years old and just forgotten — something you might find in the back of your grandfather’s attic? It was a crazy challenge, and the board sat in my basement for a few months while I thought about what sort of game it wanted to be. I playtested my first prototype with my father almost exactly two years ago today. And now that game is a reality. You can get Illimat at Illimat.com or at The Decemberists website, and you can check to see if it’s available at your FLGS; if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, I know it’s currently available at Mox Boarding House and Guardian Games. 

Illimat is built on the foundation of classic card games, such as Gin, Cassino, and Scopa. It’s about creating and collecting sets of cards, and if you’ve played any traditional card game you’ll pick up the basics quickly. But there’s a twist! The box is placed in the center of the board, and it sets the season for each of the four fields… and that in turn limits the actions you can take in a field. So you can do anything in summer, but you cannot harvest (collect) cards in Winter; you cannot stockpile (combine) cards in Spring; and you can’t sow (discard) in Autumn. When you play a face card you change the season to match that card, so when I harvest with the King of Summer, it becomes Summer in that field. This adds a dynamic element, as every turn of the Illimat changes what’s possible… and it’s extremely satisfying when you can block an opponent’s play by turning the Illimat to Winter. 

A second twist comes in the form of the Luminaries, Tarot-sized cards that are dealt into the corners of the board. When a field is cleared, the Luminary in that corner is revealed… and every Luminary has a unique ability that affects the rules of the game. Like the Illimat, this is a dynamic element that keeps each game fresh.

I’m proud of Illimat, and I hope you’ll check it out! A special thanks to all the Kickstarter backers who made it possible for us to create it. If you have any questions or comments, share them below.

The Luminaries are cards in Illimat that depict iconic characters and things — The Changeling, The Forest Queen, The River — and generally have the flavor of tarot cards. Are the tales of the Luminaries contained in the Decemberists’ songs? Or will they be? 

Yes. The Luminaries included in the core Illimat set represent characters and themes from the Decemberists album The Hazards of Love. The expansion includes Luminaries inspired by The Crane Wife.

If you were to bring Illimat into Eberron, as a game played like Conqueror or Three Dragon Ante, what would you alter? Would Luminaries be kept as they are as tales passed from Thelanis, or would you change them to signifiers like Galifar monarchs or legendary figures from the past?

For anyone who doesn’t understand the question, Eberron is a fantasy world I created for Dungeons & Dragons. 

Personally, I think it’s easy to ground the existing Luminaries in the setting. I’d establish the basic story of The Hazards of Love as a tale tied to Thelanis, and as such, something that could play into a campaign. The Forest Queen is an archfey who rules an endless taiga in Thelanis. She took The Changeling as a child, but The Maiden wandered through a manifest zone into Thelanis and she and the Changeling fell in love. The Forest Queen called on The Rake to deal with the Maiden, but with a little help from The River and the Rake’s murdered Children the Changeling manages to rescue the Maiden, and they all drown happily leaving only The Newborn behind.

Once I’ve established the tale in the campaign and people have played some Illimat, I’d introduce the Forest Queen as an archfey who could be a patron, enemy or both… and the Rake as a potential foe. Depending on the power level of the players and the role I want him to play, the Rake could be a powerful fey; a full archfey in his own right; or perhaps a human warlock/rogue who’s made bargains with a range of dark powers in order to satiate his desires. Given the whole idea of the powers of Thelanis as figures known from story, it would be a fun way to have players learn the story and then encounter these spirits in the world.

 Any more questions about Illimat? Ask below!


Twogether Studios has just launched the Kickstarter for our third game: ACTION CATS! It’s a simple card game about revealing the secret lives of cats. But what is Action Cats? Does the world really NEED another game about cats? Let me explain.

Last fall, an online discussion left Jenn & I brainstorming ideas for games about the wild and unlikely adventures of cats. It should have ended there, but something about the idea stayed with me and I decided to make it as a thing to share with friends. I love games that encourage storytelling; it’s my favorite aspect of Gloom. And when you look at a picture of a cat, it’s easy to imagine possibilities. Can they travel through time? Do they have a plan to take over the world? I asked friends to share pictures of their cats, and over the course of a few months I tinkered together a prototype. I didn’t expect it to go any further than that, but as we played it with friends, we just found that it was a lot of fun. Looking at an adorable picture of a cat makes bad times better, as does sharing stories and laughter with friends. So Jenn and I decided that we wanted to make this game… so here we are.


Action Cats is a simple game. Each card in the deck has a picture of a cat on one side. The other side of the card has two story prompts: the start of a sentence and the end of a sentence. One player is declared the Judge, and it goes something like this…


Action Cats is a simple design. You’ve played games like this before. But here are the things that drove me to make this one.

  • It’s compact. Each card in the deck includes two separate prompts and a cat on the back. While it’s only 160 cards, there’s over twenty-five thousand possible story combinations. 
  • It encourages and assists storytelling. Like Gloom, you can choose to play Action Cats with no elaboration. If you’re not feeling creative, you can simply read the text as it’s written on the cards. But Action Cats encourages you to use the prompts as a foundation and expand upon the story. The name of the cat may provide inspiration, and you can also build on the stories of the players who have gone before you. So even if you end up using the exact same combination of cards in two games, you may end up telling a different story with those cards. This cat was the first cat in space and it’s all your fault… but is that because you pushed the wrong button and launched the rocket while they were inside, or is it because you bought this cat their first telescope?
  • It’s quick, easy and family friendly. 
  • It’s got cats. Our original round of donors provided an amazing selection of cats. Every time a new cat comes up, it brings a smile to my face and ideas for stories. For the final game we’re asking every backer to share pictures of their own cats, and I have no doubt that we’ll end up with an inspiring and adorable selection. If your cat has a story to tell, you can send us your pictures… and maybe they’ll be the next Action Cat!


At the moment, Twogether Studios is completing Illimat, a game we kickstarted last November. We hoped to have Illimat out by now, but there have been a number of roadblocks – many tied to the fact that it’s being printed internationally (floods and mandated power use reduction in China!). However, Illimat is now in production, and for the moment our work is done; so as a company we need to get started on the next thing. We want to have Action Cats out before the end of 2017, and we believe that is a reasonable goal, for a few reasons…

  • We’re keeping it simple. No add-ons. Stretch goals that enhance the game without adding entirely new things to be created. Nothing involved but a box and cards.
  • We’re printing it domestically. We’ll be printing Action Cats in the US, which reduces risks and delivery time.
  • We’re almost done with the game. We’ve been playing the game for months. We’re expanding the original game, adding many new cards and cats – but we expect to get the game to the printer within weeks of the end of the campaign. All we need to finish it are pictures of your cats.


With any Kickstarter, you have to address the question why back it now? Why should you join us at this point instead of waiting until it comes out? There’s a few good reasons to hop on the Kickstarter train…

  • Get (your cat) in the game! We’re building this game with 100% crowdsourced cats, and anyone who backs the game can submit pictures of their cats for consideration. As there’s only 160 cards in the game, not everyone’s cat will be included… but this is the chance to get your cat in the running.
  • Help us expand the game. We don’t know what the demand will be for this game. We’re starting with 160 cards. But if the campaign does well, we’ll add additional cards to the set. By backing now, you help us increase the size of the core set.

Action Cats is a simple game, but it’s fun and I can’t wait to share it with all of you! If you have questions ask away – otherwise, go to the Kickstarter page and check it out for yourself!

Games at JCC5: It Takes Two

The wood paneled game room on the JoCo Cruise is luxurious. It’s not just the bottomless cauldron of coffee or the terrible pizza on demand, but the truly luxurious experience of being able to find fellow players to join in on a game at nearly any hour of the day or night. The early risers start conquering kingdoms over breakfast, the afternoon and evening gamers overflow to other floors of the ship, and late night gaming morphs into morning. There’s more people checking to see what the maximum number of players are for a game than struggling to find the minimum. Luxurious, right?

But we don’t live our lives on cruise ships, and it’s often a challenge to find enough people to play your favorite game on the spur of the moment. Over the last few years, Jenn and I have built up a roster of games we enjoy playing with just two players… and when we helped plan the gaming track on JoCo Cruise 5 this year, we put together the “It Takes Two” Event to share some of these games with our fellow Sea Monkeys. A stellar group of Helper Monkeys, volunteers and game designers abducted from vacation made the whole event possible by teaching these games.

We wanted to share the list of games from the event both for those Sea Monkeys who attended but couldn’t remember the name of a new favorite… and for anyone else who’s interested in learning a new two player game.

Do you have a favorite two player game that’s not on this list? Let us know in the comments below!


Two players work together to build a castle… but each player wants to seize control of the best courtyards. In Castellan each player uses a set of castle walls and a deck of cards that determines what pieces can be played; the challenge is to claim the most territory by the time the castle is complete. A typical game of Castellan lasts 45 minutes.


Invented nearly 40 years ago, Cosmic Wimpout is a classic press-your-luck game using five custom dice. It’s simple and easy to learn, and can be played in under ten minutes; the design allows even a losing player a last hope for a come-from-behind victory. While the basic game is very simple, there’s an assortment of variant rules that add complexity; some of the more popular rules can be found here.


It’s the French Revolution, and everyone’s trying to get a head… or as many of them as possible. Each day there’s a line of nobles heading for the guillotine; you want to use your tricks to rearrange the line to ensure that you end up with the best nobles in your basket. Will you manage to end up with the head of Marie Antoinette, or will you be stuck with the heads of the lowly piss boy – or worse, the beloved Hero of the People?


In this strategy game, players shape a board as they place their insect forces, achieving victory by surrounding an opponent’s Queen Bee. Each piece has its own unique move; for example, soldier ants can scurry to any position on the edge of the hive, grasshoppers leap over opposing forces, and beetles clamber over other pieces and immobilize them. It’s a simple and elegant game, and the pocket version is very portable – but it’s certainly a game that makes you think. A game of Hive generally takes 10-20 minutes.


In Jaipur you assume the role of a trader seeking to amass wealth through careful trading of goods and camels. On your turn, you can either claim goods from the market in the middle of the table, or sell goods from your hand… but you can only hold onto a certain number of cards at a time. Will you hold out to try to get the most valuable combinations, or buy and sell as quickly as possible? Will you invest in camels or ignore the mangy creatures? Jaipur is a simple, fast game but has enough strategy to make every round unique.


Looney Pyramids are a set of versatile tools that can be used to play a vast assortment of games. There’s even a handy searchable community wiki where you can find instructions for over 300 different two player Pyramid games that vary in complexity and length of play. With so many games to choose from, you’re sure to find something you enjoy! At It Takes Two, Kristin Looney taught people to play IceDice, Launchpad23, Treehouse, Pharoah and Pink Hijinks.


In Lost Cities two explorers compete to explore the farthest reaches of the unknown. The deck of cards is divided into five suits – one for each of five expeditions – and it’s up to each player to decide which exotic locales to explore. Every card has a value, and once you play a card of a particular expedition – a 5-point arctic exploration card, for example – you can’t play a lower value card. As such, it is a game of strategy and patience as you try to decide which expeditions you want to commit to, and how long you should wait for the right card before committing to a journey.


A “new classic card game,” Pairs is simple, fast and fun. It uses a unique deck, and beyond basic Pairs there are many variants you can try depending on the experience you’re looking for and the number of players you have available. At It Takes Two, designer James Ernest taught the two-player bluffing game Regent; you can find rules for Regent and nineteen other variations here.


A huge hit in the JCC5 game room, Splendor place you in the role of a Renaissance gem merchant struggling to gain prestige. Gather chips and invest in valuable mines as you hope to lure nobles to sample your wares. While Splendor supports up to four players, it is an excellent game for two.


This science fiction game blends the deckbuilding feel of Ascension with the direct conflict of Magic: The Gathering. Assemble and improve your fleet of ships and bases, and hold off your enemies until you have the power to crush them. It’s fast and simple, and each of the four factions within the game enhance a different style of strategy, allowing you to pursue different paths each time you play.

GenCon, Gloom, and Twogether!

GenCon2014I’m back from GenCon with a few new games to try out. While I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to play games, it was an inspiring trip and an opportunity to catch up with lots of old and new friends. There were also a few important announcements that I wanted to share.


The second edition of Gloom is in stores now. You can find more information about it here, but I wanted to highlight a few things. This is an improvement to the existing game, not a complete transformation. While there are significant differences, it is possible to mix old and new cards together. With that said, if you own the first edition but still want to get the second edition, I’m working on something that will let you get good use from outdated cards… expect more news on that in a few weeks. if you have any questions about Gloom Second Edition, ask below.

However, there was another piece of Gloomy news at GenCon. I’m teaming up with Atlas Games and Steve Jackson to produce MUNCHKIN GLOOM. You may wonder how this works… after all, the goal of Gloom is to tell a sad story while keeping your opponents happy, while the foundation of Munchkin is backstabbing your friends while you amass ultimate power and wealth. Well, how exactly do you GET all that power and wealth? Munchkin Gloom takes a look at the other side of the coin, placing you in control of a dungeon full of monsters whose lives are about to be ruined by a band of obnoxiously overpowered adventurers. We’ve got a lot of fun ideas and I think it’s going to be a great flip side to the basic Munchkin saga. Munchkin Gloom will be out in 2015, along with Fairy Tale Gloom.


It’s been a long time coming, but my wife Jennifer Ellis and I are finally launching our own game company: Twogether Studios. I’m best known for creating Gloom and Eberron, and Twogether will reflect the principles seen in both of these. We intend to create engaging products with a strong emphasis on storytelling and imagination. We are working on RPGs, card games, and other ideas, and expect to launch our first Kickstarter in February 2015 to fund the production of a game we’ve been working on for the last year. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, you can follow us on Twitter at @Twogetherstudio, or keep an eye on our website. I’m very excited about our plans for 2015!


I’m afraid this weekend didn’t produce new information about Eberron support in Fifth Edition. The D&D team at Wizards of the Coast has a lot on their plate right now managing the release of the new books, and I suspect it’s going to be a little while before they can focus on this. However, it’s something that is still in motion and I’m excited about the possibilities, so hopefully there will be solid news in a month or two. In the meantime, I’ll be getting a Q&A out later this week. And for my part, I just put together a half-orc paladin of the Silver Flame (from the Demon Wastes) to play in the 5E campaign I’m playing in. More news as soon as it’s available!