Designer Journal – Tugboats! #1 – The Inception

One day, while working at my full-time job at an after school program, we were playing some card games.  Being an avid gamer, I have always been interested in the game design process and I decided that I should start creating some games of my own. That evening I got out a pencil and scribbled down some ideas on some paper. I had a few games on the list, but one that stuck out was a card game loosely based on “Cow Pie Bingo“, where you had to play cow cards in certain areas of the field to beat the other players; sort of “War” like with a trump suit in the four fields. The game was ok, but not that much fun. We tested it a few times, and I got the idea that it wasn’t a very fun game when I asked if people wanted to play again. They kindly declined. So it was back to the drawing board and out came a set collection type game that involved suits and a little math. Living on the Seacoast I tried to pick a subject that people could relate to, but I could not think of anything that caught my fancy.


While walking around downtown Portsmouth, NH one day, I passed by Tugboat alley and the idea hit me. Tugboats. They help ships into the harbor and there are many different kinds. The next day I was armed with a regular deck of  playing cards and some crudely drawn “ships” on index cards.  I developed the rules: you would try to help (score) a ship by collecting and playing a certain combination of cards in front of you. We played around with different sized staring hands, drawing different numbers of cards per turn, drawing from a draw pile or from the discard,  forced discards, and some action cards. This went on for a few weeks. Every chance I got I played the game with different people and changed the rules to make the game more fun. Then, once I had a game I just needed some artwork and to flush out the theme a little more because I knew my stick figure ships drawn on index cards and old beaten-up deck of cards would not cut it too much longer.

I put out some feelers to other gamer friends, and went on the search for an artist…


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Cow Pie Bingo got an audible guffaw from me here at our office on Pease.

    Thanks for the big smile and great way to end the afternoon!

    Good luck on the tugboats!

    • Thanks David!

      Cow Pie Bingo was a great idea for a theme, but not as accessible to the masses. I still may revisit it.

      Glad I could provide a laugh and a smile.