Thursday, April 19, 2018

Introducing WatUR: Not a KickstartUR, Actual Games For Sale



WatUR is now for sale on my Etsy store. I've listed one because I've only finished one. I have 11 more ready to sew up. As soon as they're done I'll edit the listing and release some coupons and do some promotions.

This is the best game I've ever played. It's easy to learn and instantly engaging. Whenever I get new people to play it so I can watch I have a good time watching them enjoy the give and take of offense and defense that seems like the decision to be made with every roll of the dice. And then in the end it always comes down to such an exciting, close finish everybody feels evenly matched and as though it's all fair in the end.

Most of my play testing and rules development has been with my nieces, Kate, Brenna, and Kara. After I developed the expansion pack and the final case design I went down to my brother's house to play a few rounds with Brenna and Kara. I woke Kara up early on Saturday morning and made her model for me in the pool before the sun got too high. Kara is 14 and it is not in her nature to get up early on a Saturday. She was a very good sport and an excellent model. I used my brother's cell phone to take these underwater photos and videos. I still can't believe how great it turned out. Later that night Brenna and I sat on the side of the pool on a towel and played two games in a row with our feet dangling in the water. It was exactly as fun as I hoped it would be.
Playing WatUR on the side of the pool
This deluxe version of WatUR comes in a floating case called a presURver. It is good for travel. It fits in a tote bag or backpack. The fabric is Solarmax 100% nylon with a water repellant finish and superior UV resistance.

I've shown the board, dice and stones going into a dishwasher because it is theoretically dishwasher safe. At low heat and without detergent I would absolutely do it. But high heat and strong chlorine based detergents would likely degrade the dice or leave unsightly watermarks on the board. I don't actually recommend putting WatUR in the dishwasher. I'd just hand wash it. (I don't even own a dishwasher though. I understand some people just don't hand wash things.) If it's so contaminated it's either that or throw it away, go ahead and stick it in the dishwasher. Let me know how it comes out. If the black dice and stones get chalky try rubbing them with some car polish to bring the color back. While all of the parts are fine in the water and sun for a little while they can't stay in the water continuously. Don't set up a game of WatUR as an aquarium decoration. And don't try to wash the case with laundry. Just rinse it off and wipe it down. Dry it out of direct sun if possible. Every time I've gotten a case wet it was dry again in under an hour.
The PresURver floats with the game inside
The board is fiberglass with etched copper lines. I would love to see what it looks like on an airport security x-ray monitor. All the lines should show up at high contrast because they are copper. Be sure to pack it so it is flat on to the x-rays and not on edge. That would be boring.

All the contents of this premier edition of WatUR
The rules I've written for WatUR are the ones Tom Scott and Irving Finkel played on International Tabletop Day in 2017. I've read other rules but these are the ones I like.

I read the full white paper Finkel wrote on his translation of the cuneiform tablet referenced in the video linked above. The main point of it was that stars are lucky. He deduced that players would have a pile of tokens that they would use as sort of gambling and to reinforce that lucky aspect of the squares with the stars. I find it interesting that the board the British Museum found is actually decorated with rosettes, not stars. Mine has stars. And now with the expansion pack it also has 30 tokens for rewarding you for landing on a star and penalizing you for passing over one. I call this ElabURation.
ElabURation and FloURishes
I made up another expansion called FloURishes. This is entirely my invention. The first time Kate played with it against her boyfriend Matt she made him run out of tokens entirely. We made up the rules for that instance on the spot. Running out of tokens is bursting. You lose.

Inside the presURver there are three pURses that hold the dice and stones as well as ElabURation and FloURishes.
Black dice and stones

White dice and stones
I'm really glad I matched the dice and stones because if I play one game as white then the next time I play as black I might forget and try to move the wrong stone. Anything that reduces my cognitive load leaves more energy for coping with the fact I'm in a social situation with another person.
Please buy WatUR!

WatUR: How It's Made

PresURver
I'm almost ready to sell my new version of the Royal Game of Ur. Thanks to Chris Warnock and his computer controlled laser cutter I have very sharp cases and unique dice and stones that match my board.
Laser marked dice
Chris sends me the dice and stones after they're etched and I color in the lines one at a time by hand. The dice I do with gel enamel that I brush into the grooves then I wipe off the excess on scrap cardboard. (The inside of cereal boxes) Then I cure it under a UV lamp before going on to the next side.

The stones are a bit harder as they are double convex. I've experimented with a lot of different materials and methods and finally came up with a way that I'm going to keep to myself for now because it took me a really long time to come up with it and I'm not ready for somebody else to copy me.

I got quotes for custom molded dice but even at quantities of 2000 they are still more expensive than laser cutting blanks. And they would have rounded corners and not look as nice. I am determined to get my head in this repetitive task game and learn how to be fast at production work. So I only bought enough for the prototype boards I had for the first run.

The nylon fabric I use for the case comes on 60" wide rolls at over $9 a yard. I could only afford the raw materials to make 15 full sets in my first run. (I can't use fabric from the fabric store because it's folded and that fold will not come out of nylon. Only the 60" wide rolled fabric from industrial sources will work. The added advantage of this high priced fabric from Seattle is that it doesn't reek like all the fabric from JoAnn.)

I went through over 10 design iterations before I finalized the PresURver pattern that I sent to Chris for laser cutting. I heard about a new industrial standard process of bonding instead of sewing and wanted to try it out. Bonding is like gluing fabric together with a strip of adhesive between two pieces of fabric. It's heated under pressure to make the seam. I have some expensive bras that are bonded instead of sewn. It makes a smooth seam that doesn't chafe. I don't have the specialized expensive industrial machinery to do bonding fast and efficiently, but I can mimic the results using products for sale at my local craft store, namely Pellon EZ-Steam II. I can still peel it apart though, so it's just like basting. I still have to sew everywhere.
Laser cut star with bonding material
Chris cut circles of the sheet style EZ-Steam with the laser. Then he used a laser-cut template to locate them on rectangles of nylon ready to go in the laser bed. The laser cuts the outline of the star shape, sealing the edge of the nylon fabric with heat with the added security of the bonding material preventing any unraveling.

When the fabric gets back to me in the mail I apply the gold circle, also laser cut, to the back of the fabric. I have a special iron with no holes for steam that I use to bond the gold and black fabric. I made a two layer canvas mat for my Fireslate workbench so I can put all my weight on the iron to press the fabric together. I can only use low heat because it's nylon. I feel like the pressure is critical for this reason.

I mark the lines of the star on the front with a water soluble fabric pencil using a stencil pattern also cut with the laser. Then I sew the lines with 100% polyester outdoor rated heavy thread. I use a Singer 301 sewing machine from 1951 which makes exceptionally straight stitches.


I sew the 4 main star points first in one continuous line then go back and do the short points. As I finish each point I turn the piece over, pull the needle thread to the back with the bobbin thread and knot them. If I don't do it as I go the tails can get caught in the stitching for the next line and make a mess. I use the presser foot of the sewing machine to hold the fabric so I can use both hands to tie the knots. I got pretty fast by the last one. I could sew all the lines for a star in 12 minutes. Chris says this is absolutely not how he would execute this task, but it gives the results I want with the equipment I have. I don't think there is any embroidery machine that can do this exact thing if I wanted to scale up. Embroidering on the whole star would weaken the fabric enormously. I would likely have to redesign this feature for mass production.
Detail for finishing the back of the star
The final step for the front of the PresURver before assembly is adding the snap. I had Chris save the center circle of the star cut out with the EZ-Steam on it. The laser cut about a 2 mm hole in the center. I line this up with another laser cut hole and bond it on with the iron. The snap goes through this reinforced hole and is pressed in place with some special pliers. I rigged them to be a bench mount apparatus with a length of 3/4" PEX tubing heated and shoved on as a handle extender. 

The edges of the pocket and lining are finished with a single fold bonded with 1/2" EZ-Steam tape. Because they are heat cut the raw edge won't unravel. Both hems are sewn as well. There is an inner pocket for the rules on the lining that is prepped with the 1/4" EZ-Steam and sewn around all 4 sides.

I came up with a pretty handy way of making that folded hem even. I cut one side of a legal size manila folder to 1/2" less than the final width of the fabric. After I peel off the paper backing on the bonding tape I fold the edge down to meet the manila folder all the way across. I made these jigs for all the hems I had to do and it improved how straight and square they come out and make it faster. The EZ-Steam can be peeled up and repositioned before it's ironed. It's a nice way to get things really lined up just the way you want them. Nylon is so springy I don't think I could make this without the adhesive.

The rest of the PresURver is assembled with 1/4" EZ-Steam tape to hold everything together while I sew it. It also gives some stiffness to the edge of the case. I worry about clipping the corners of nylon for fear it will unravel and make a hole in the corner, but with the EZ-Steam I think it will hold up well, so I clip the corners then turn the case right side out. I insert closed cell foam rectangles between the outside and the lining as stiffeners before sewing the fold lines. The last step is to put in the other half of the snap. I fold the case closed and mark the spot for the snap with a white Scribe-All then burn a hole through with a soldering iron. Then I can crimp on the snap. If I just use an awl to punch the fabric it runs, making four lines shooting out along the grain of the fabric. Unacceptable.

In addition to the main case which holds the board there are separate pURses for the dice and stones plus a new gold one for the expansion. 
PresURver with board and pUrses
I did them each in a solid coordinating color. The pUrses have closed cell foam stiffeners and will float their contents individually. They also have color matched non-latex elastic. Finding non-latex elastic in three colors was unbelievably hard. I ordered from 4 different sources before I finally got all three colors of the same width and texture. I went with foldover elastic on these. I didn't like the line the fold made when used flat so I folded it over and sewed it with a double needle. This is a ridiculous extra step. If I go to quantity production I hope I can find a source of the satin faced so-called bra strap elastic that will work instead. I have finally gotten 3 yards each in 3/4". My next run of pURses may have that instead of this kind.  
Full contents of WatUR deluxe spread out
The black and white pURses hold the stones and dice and the yellow one is for ElabURation and FloURishes. These are two optional expansions that can be played together or separately. There are 30 acrylic gems and 5 small printed circuit boards duplicating designs on the main board. The acrylic gems were selected over glass to keep the weight of the complete game under 16 ounces. USPS First Class Package Service is the most affordable method of shipping but it is only for packages under a pound. This game can be shipped for under $5, but that is without insurance. I found these at JoAnn on clearance, plus I had a coupon. I had to wash them in dish soap and dry them on a mesh lawn chair in the sun to get that JoAnn smell off them. I have enough for all the cases I have. Next run, who knows. If I have to buy them online they are going to cost a lot more.

I have some custom woven labels in the design. The pURses have my brand, Beachton, sewn into them. My thinking is that anybody who loses some of their parts can google Beachton, find this website, and contact me for replacements. The main case has the name of the game and logo on the side. I bought both these custom labels online from the Dutch Label Shop in minuscule quantities. The price per piece is quite high, but it works with my goal of making high quality products without a giant investment up front. If I manage to sell these then I'll use that money to buy slightly more next time. And even more the next time, reducing the per-item cost with each subsequent increase in quantity. Will I ever make a profit? I doubt it. I'd be delighted if if I can recoup the expenses. My time will remain uncompensated for the foreseeable future. My goal of the year is to beat my lifelong difficulty with repetitive tasks. I've always been lousy at it. I have a hypothesis that only through muscle memory can you do a good job at repetitive tasks. I want to see if I can reach that point.

I also hope that everybody who buys this game will appreciate it as a unique and valuable experiment in design possibilities or as an art object that they will treasure and show off to their friends.

The boards are all ordered online from SeeedStudio in China. The ordering process couldn't be simpler. I upload a ZIP file of all the Gerber layers and it generates a quote automatically. There is no set-up charge. I pay for it with PayPal up front, including staggeringly expensive shipping. It takes about a week to make the boards and only 3 days to ship them to me. The board and FloURishes are like the woven labels. They scale down to small quantities while still allowing for full automation.

I would like to credit my board layout software too, since it was free. I used Osmond Cocoa for Mac. Their payment model makes it like a demo version until your board has a certain number of holes then you have to buy it. Since my board doesn't have any holes at all, free software. This is perfect for my minimum-cost-up-front business model. I had to do some real file format conversion gymnastics to import a DXF file at the right scale. Then I had to do a lot of careful editing to delete the lines it added to make every single curve in the design into a closed polygon. I think the results are very good though and I'm happy with this program. The Help files are excellent. I was able to learn the tools I needed and ignore all the actual features that a normal person would need to make a useable circuit board. I actually drew the cuneiform numbers on the FloURishes using the tools in the program, which is really really not made for that.

If anybody has read all the way to the end of this then you are exactly who I wrote it for and I don't need to explain why.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pode and Abode play WatUR

Pode and Abode are prototypes of a knitting pattern I developed to celebrate a new genus of octopod discovered by the Okeanos Explorer. They're going to play a game of WatUR. Pode is on the left and is playing with black dice and black stones. Abode is on the right playing the white stones and white dice.
Roll to see who goes first. Pode rolls a 2. Abode rolls a 3. Abode goes first.

On her first roll Abode gets a 2. 
She places a white stone on the second square above the notch on her side of the board 
Pode's first roll he gets a 3.
He places a black stone on the third square above the notch on his side of the board.

On her second turn Abode rolls a ZERO!
She doesn't get to play this turn.

Pode rolls a 1.
He moves his stone one space to the star. The star means roll again.

Pode rolls again for being on the star. He gets a 2.
He decides not to move that same stone.
He places another stone on the board instead, 2 spaces from the beginning. 
Abode takes her turn. She really rattles those dice to make up for that zero. She gets a 4!
She places a stone on the star in the corner on her side. Abode gets to roll again.
On her roll again Abode gets a 3.
She thinks about her options and decides to move out into the center column.
Pode's turn. He rolls a 1.
He moves one space forward into the center column.
Abode's turn. She rolls a 1.
She moves her stone forward on to the center sun.
She gets to roll again AND she is safe from being bumped off by Pode.
On her roll again Abode gets a 3.
She can bump Pode's piece off the end of the board. So she does.
 Now that we've seen how to get started, let's cover some what-ifs.
On Pode's turn he rolls a three.
He is blocking himself from moving his first two stones.
And the last stone needs a 2 to move off the end.
He decides he can't move.
Look carefully to see if Pode missed something. 
How does the game end?
Pode and Abode both only have one stone left.
Whoever rolls the special number first wins.
Abode rolls a 1! Abode wins!


But what if she didn't roll a 1? Roll it back.
What if Abode rolls a 2?
She can't play her stone. It's Pode's turn. Pode rolls a 2 as well.
Pode wins!
WatUR was launched with a KickstartUR in October 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

WatUR: The World's Oldest Board Game, ModURnized



I've been working on a new project all summer. I saw a video in April of Tom Scott and Irving Finkel playing an ancient board game and I became obsessed with it. I loved the dice especially. It uses four dice that represent 0 or 1. You add them up. This appeals to me because I have trouble adding big numbers and I have some relatives with the same genetic deficiency. It's not an impediment to doing higher mathematics or anything, but if you're playing a game for fun it's nice to be able to relax and not have to face your shortcomings whenever the dice come up with too many spots showing.

I decided I could make this game myself. It's 4500 years old, surely it's in the public domain. I got some blank tetrahedral dice like they found in the Royal Tomb in Ur and I modified them for the game. The ones in the museum were carved from bone. I was ready to embrace modern materials though, so I used plastic.



I had some scrap 1x6 pine boards so I cut out the shape of the board. I bought Affinity Designer when  they came out with the upgrade recently so I set out to learn that software and design the decorations for the squares. I studied the original closely.

Screenshot of board from YouTube video playthrough

I don't actually like the original design. It's a lot of variations of the all-seeing eye and it sort of creeps me out. There are a lot of copies of this game and they all just look like this. Why? As long as the designs repeat in the same places it could be anything. Why not be original when you're copying the oldest board game in the world?

I thought the 5 spot squares looked like frog eggs. So I designed Frog Ur as my first version.


I took this one to the coast and played it with my nieces and their friends on vacation. They liked it a lot. We played it enough to establish an average time it takes to play (25 minutes) and we tested an alternative route for a more complicated game and timed that too (45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes). We discussed changes I could make to lead you through that alternate route. They had ideas for other Ur puns, like a boat themed one called SailUR or one with domesticated animals called FarmUR. I wanted to do one of star fish and sand dollars called EchinodURms. There could be a Game of Thrones themes one called WintUR.

I tried several of these but I felt compelled to be true to the 8 pointed rosette theme that ran through all the artifacts I saw on the British Museum website. I finally came across Enki, the god of Water. He was often shown as a mountain goat with a fish body, or he had a river just shooting out of his head with fish jumping in it. That's how I settled on WatUR, with mountain goats, turtles, fish, and sun and stars instead of rosettes.

I made some more of the wood boards with decals and played it with a friend. He complained that the dice were hard to pick up. I didn't mind sliding them off the table, but I wasn't crazy about how hard it is to make them. I'd contacted all the dice makers to see if they could customize these dice to have contrast colored tips and they refused to even try. They were happy to customize dice on the flat faces. So I decided I could solve two problems at once by having 6 sided dice made to only have 2 outcomes. Put spots on 3 sides, leave 3 sides blank. Now the odds are the same as the tetrahedral dice. And it's this probability that makes the game work. The fact that your opponent is more likely to roll a 2 than a 1 or a 3 helps you decide where to put your pieces.

I found some ready-made binary dice that had 1 and 0 on them. 1 and 0 made me think of digital logic and that made me think of printed circuit boards. TransistUR was born.

TransistUR

I did some research and found there are prototype board houses in China with no set-up charges and quite a low fee per board. Cost less for fiberglass cut with a CNC router and shipped express from China than it costs me to cut out a piece of wood and sand it, let alone decorate it and hand paint it.

While I was working on my board layout I was also exploring the possibility of doing laser engraving on wood. In the process of getting the vector file to a laser engraver I figured out I could convert my Affinity Designer files to AutoCAD format, good old DXF.

CardboURd, laser engraving sample with lighter for scale, courtesy of Chris Warnock
The board layout program can import that. In just a day or so I had my WatUR design rendered as a printed circuit board too. But I can't have 1 and 0 with Sumerian artifacts. They used cuneiform, not Arabic numbers. So I had to find a source for custom dice. It turns out they're just as affordable as the circuit boards. But only if you buy 2000 of them.

After all this work I really really want these custom dice. I got a dozen made one at a time by hand for $3 ea to photograph, but I want the custom molded ones from the UK. I continued working on the rest of the steps to product launch and decided I could buy the dice if I could get 250 people to pay $35 ea for a set.


Here's the KickstartUR link! It's not going to make it, but it was fun. I have some ideas. I may try it again later.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Grady the Traveling Tardigrade

Tardigrade under an optical microscope
I posted a photo of the wire frame poseable nudibranch on Twitter and immediately got a request to make a poseable tardigrade. Since I like knitting as close to realism as possible I based mine on an optical microscope image. Most tardigrade art is based on scanning electron microscope images which make them look much more solid than they really are. They are really quite see-through. You can distinguish their last meal inside them, usually algae. So I set out to make a blobby, clear, 8 legged creature with wires inside. How'd I do?


The client asked for a taridgrade he could wrap around a martini glass


I started the project by wrapping the plarn around a stitch marker onto DPNs. The head is knit in the round.


The client also asked that the tardigrade be durable so he could take it on adventures







OK, that's the beauty shots out of the way. Here's how I made this thing.

It bothered me a bit to make what amounts to a skeleton inside an invertebrate, but I gotta do what I gotta do. First I made a sort of fleece covering by sewing two layers together like so.
 Next I cut into one layer in the center so I could get inside.

Then I put in a wire  backbone running through 4 wires making up the legs. I put beads on the ends to stop the wires poking through the fabric and to aid sewing up.

Here's the back of the inner body with all the wires in place.

 I sewed the wire to the fabric through the beads

I stuffed the body part with polyfill and sewed it up
 Here's the rather blobby and not impressive tardigrade innards

I cut another piece of fleece and shaped it into a head by adding some padding and sewed it down the back so the wire wouldn't be so pronounced. I didn't take separate pics of this step.

Next I needed a cuticle. Tardigrades actually have an outer skin that they shed as they grow. When they shed their cuticle they leave their eggs inside it. (Citation)

I stacked up a couple of plastic produce bags and cut across them to make rings. I interlocked the rings to make a long chain I could knit
 I knit by eye, holding the knitting up to the body to tell what I was doing

After I had the cuticle knit all the way I sewed it on. Notice I put some algae "inside" the tardigrade first by sewing some bright green merino wool and retroreflective thread onto the body. Also notice I sewed some glass bead eyes to the head.

That was it except for the sewing up! I used nylon monofilament thread to sew it up. It was pretty hard on my eyeballs because it's practically invisible.

Finally I finished up by making the toenails out of some stretchy clear tubing that is meant for making toy pony bead jewelry. I cut it at an angle and then sewed it to the ends of the legs.