Game Dev Diary - Starfall Forest

Game development diary for my new children's board game Starfall Forest (formerly known as 'Stardust'). And oh, it's a board game that doesn't use a board..

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Starfall Forest has it's own entry on BGG

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi all,

Starfall Forest now has it's own entry on BGG.

Hurrah!


Martijn
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Wed Mar 7, 2012 6:26 pm
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Actual play

Martijn Althuizen
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Today I played some actual games of Starfall Forest. No playtesting but actual play. It's a fun little game!




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Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:03 pm
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Time for another poll!

Martijn Althuizen
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Okay guys and girls...

Another poll!

Please have a look at this images...



And also take this into consideration:
I myself find the following colors less suitable:
- Green (because the trees and snakes are also green)
- Yellow (becasue the stars are also yellow)
- Black (because the dice are also black; but the dice aren't IN the forest, so it's not as big an issue as with green and yellow..)

And then do share your preference!

Poll
What colors should the 4 fairies have (pick 4..)?
Black
Gray
White
Red
Blue
Yellow
Purple
Green
Orange
Brown
Pink
      27 answers
Poll created by Martinus

EDIT: If you want to vote for more than 4 colors then that's okay too!


Thanks,
Martijn
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Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:50 pm
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Components

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi again,

Up until now I just carried around this box with all the game components that I ordered. Which are more pieces than strictly needed to play the game, because I didn't know exactly how many pieces I was going to need so I ordered a bit extra.

But here's a picture of just the components needed to play the game:



There are:
- 28 trees (24 for the base forest and 1 for each of the four players)
- 25 stars (which might become 28 stars for the final game..)
- 4 fairies (blue, red, white, black)
- 4 snakes (1 for each of the four players)
- 12 hearts (3 for each of the four players)
- 5 dice


I'm not quite sure the 25 stars will be enough. If playing with four players, the maximum number of stars that can be in the possession of the players is 16. If a player gets a fifth star he/she is done playing so the 5 stars can then be used again.
This means that in a four player game there's a hard limit of only 9 stars possibly being in the forest if each player already collected 4 stars. There simply won't be any other stars left to put in the forest.

While I don't think it's very likely that the spare stars will run out, I'd rather not have it happen at all. And besides, I do have to put something in the rules about what to do in case it does happen..

But what? I don't want to introduce any complex or theme-breaking mechanics. Like having players write down the number of stars they have if additional stars are needed. Or like not having a star drop if there aren't any stars left. That's silly. If a star is going to fall, it's going to fall! It has to!

I've thought about a mechanic in which a star that falls into the forest has a limited lifespan. So after it's crashed it's starts to loose it's energy and once it runs out of energy, the star is removed from the forest. I very much like this idea as it would mean that there'd also be a bit of time pressure when going after stars; get it before it's gone.
I haven't been able to come up with a neat and easy enough mechanic for this. I'd want a star to be in the forest a fixed number of rounds. If nobody's collected the star after that, it gets removed from the forest.
But there's just too much overhead in keeping track of which player placed which star, how long a star has already been in the forest, etc. So this idea is pretty much busted.

At the moment I'm really tempted to just add in a few extra stars. 28 stars instead of 25. Then there'd be the same amount of stars as there are trees in the game. That's very neat and tidy..

But it still doesn't really solve the issue. Because do I just add the extra stars and mention nothing in the rules about it? That's bound to come back and bite me..

Martijn
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Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:32 pm
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Some playtesting photos and movies

Martijn Althuizen
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Sun Feb 19, 2012 3:11 pm
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Rules booklet stuff

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi,

The time of making a proper rulebook has come. I'm making some mockup graphics to help explain some of the stuff that needs to be explained. Things that might be easier to explain by using images as well as text.

But it's quite hard to make images that are easy to understand.

Here are some of my first attempts...



Legend:

Icon for an upright tree:


Icon for a tree that's been knocked over:




Images depicting allowed fairy movement (1 step):
note: left image shows starting position, right images shows valid end positions

All upright trees:

. . . . . . . . . .




Some trees knocked down:

. . . . . . . . . .




Images depicting allowed fairy movement (2 steps):
note: top image shows starting position, bottom image shows the only valid end position








Images depicting allowed snake movement (1 step):
note: left image shows starting position, right images shows valid end positions

At a tree:

. . . . . . . . . .




In between two trees:

. . . . . . . . . .




In between four trees:

. . . . . . . . . .




Base forest setup:
note: To help show that there needs to be enough space in between the trees for the snakes:

step 1:




step 2:




step 3:




step 4:





I'm sure there are better ways to depict things. Maybe it's not even necessary to have all these images. But it's better to try stuff out and then discard it, rather than not having tried it at all!

Cheers,
Martijn
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Sun Feb 19, 2012 2:29 pm
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More playtesting = 2 small tweaks = The rules are final!

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi,

This morning and afternoon I did some more playtesting with several children and adults.

The rules were pretty much done already and all the games that were played were greatly enjoyed by all. Nonetheless I had 2 ideas to make the game a bit better still. So the last 2 games were played with these 2 tweaks in place and the game was liked even better with the these minor changes:

- A new dice layout. Although the game works pretty well with dice that have 2 stars, 1 shooting star, 2 snakes and 1 fairy, I have come up with an even better dice layout:



So one of the snakes has been replaced by a dice symbol. Any dice that show this symbol have to be re-rolled until they no longer show the symbol. Only then are the dice interpreted (=their outcome applied to the game).
note: I want the dice for the final game to be black dice with colored symbols. The black dice give a nice suggestion of night time.

- A player that manages to save his/her fairy (by collecting 5 stars) no longer gets to take part in active play. Such players can of course still watch the game as the remaining players play on, but they no longer get to roll the dice, add stars and move snakes.
note: Players with fairies that have succumbed to snake bites do still get to participate in the game. The only thing they can't do is move their fairy until it gets revived.


I'm really happy with these last few small changes!

Cheers,
Martijn
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Sat Feb 18, 2012 3:02 pm
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Look & Feel

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi,

I personally quite like the wooden meeples that I have used so far for the Starfall Forest prototype. But I thought it might be a good thing to look at some other options too.

In the game the players are represented by fairies. Even though they also control snakes, it's the fairies that are unique to each player. So I tried experimenting a bit with having different 'meeples' for the fairies. I therefor went out and bought some different types of fairies from local stores. Below are some photos of the stuff I found today.

I think it would be nice for each fairy to be different from the other fairies. So not the same meeple with a different color, but really a different 'character' for each player.
I saw these three unique fairy miniatures (the store didn't have any more different ones). I like the way these fairies look, but they don't go well with the rest of the components that I've been using for the prototype. The detail of the miniatures is totally different from the more abstract shapes of the wooden components. And also, despite the fairies being miniatures, they're still way to big compared to the trees!

In another store I also found some other fairy figurines that have a less 'realistic' look. These were even smaller than the miniatures and about the same size as the wooden meeples. So they do fit quite well with the trees.

Finally I also found some silver stars that I felt better suited for used with the 'realistic' miniatures.

Do let me know which 'style' you prefer by participating in this poll:
Poll
What style do you like best for my new game 'Starfall Forest'?
All wooden components
Wooden components with mini fairy figurines
'Realistic' fairy miniatures and components
Something else altogether (do let me know what!)
      67 answers
Poll created by Martinus


Thanks,
Martijn


These are the wooden fairy meeples I've used thus far (image copyright Spielmaterial.de):






I prefer the yellow wooden stars.
The silver cardboard ones are not as easy to pick up and handle.
And with the wooden stars it's also far easier to see if there are multiple stars at a tree.


I like the fairy figurines in these last 3 images most. I prefer them over the more detailed and 'realistic' miniatures.
They're nicer than the wooden fairy meeples and they still look good together with the wooden trees and snakes.

EDIT: The game is still in development, so I've used fairies from other manufacturers to see what works and what doesn't..
The wooden fairy meeples (and all other wooden components) are from Spielmaterial.de.
The realistic miniature fairies are from Dark Fantasy as far as I can tell..
The mini fairy figurines are Squinkies from Bandai.
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Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:18 pm
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Overview of the rules

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi,

I've come to the point of the development process in which it's time to put the rules down on paper. After that's done, it's time for the blind playtests; having people try the game out all by themselves.
I'm sure I'm going to be needing a few rounds of blind playtesting before the rules will written out good enough for players to indeed be able to figure it all out without any help. But that's what the blind playtests are for!

Here's a quick write-up of the rules that will the basis for the first draft of the rules booklet:


1. Premise & Goal

Players are fairies that each try to collect 5 fallen stars as this will give them enough stardust (the life-force of fairies) to return to their home among the stars. All fairies will eventually manage to return home. But who will get there first?

The race to the stars is on! But beware.. There are venomous snakes about. Try not to get bit as this will cost you the precious stardust you so desperately need to go back home.


2. Game setup

Build up the base forest as shown on the image below:



Each player then gets a tree, a fairy (in his/her own color), a snake and 3 heart meeples.

Determine the starting player. (note: how to do this is yet to be decided)

Next come four rounds in which each player in turn does the following:
round 1: knock down a tree by placing it flat on the table
round 2: add a tree (standing upright) that's reachable via at least one other tree (note: the tree's position must fit/extent the grid of the base forest)
round 3: place a snake at a tree or in between two trees
round 4: place his/her fairy at a a tree

The starting player takes the five dice. All dice are identical D6's and have the following layout:




3. Game turns

In each turn a player does the following:

- Roll all dice that haven't yet been set apart. The very first roll of the game is always performed with all 5 dice.

- Set aside any dice that show a star, except if a shooting star is also rolled. A shooting star cancels out a star. Example: If two stars and one shooting star are rolled, only one star is set aside.

- Once 5 stars are collected, a star will fall down into the forest. The player that rolled the fifth star gets to choose at which tree the star will land. If multiple stars are collected in the same roll that completes the set of 5, then the tree the star lands at will be knocked over.
Stars cannot be placed at just any tree:
- the star has to be placed at a tree that's at least 2 steps away from the player's fairy (ie. the player has to roll at least 2 fairies in order to get to the star)
- there can be no other fairies at the tree (a star can be placed at a tree with a snake though)

- If a star was placed in the forest, the next player gets to roll all 5 dice again.

- Move his/her fairy and/or one or more snakes based on the outcome of the dice rolls. A dice showing a fairy means a fairy can be moved 1 step. A dice showing a snake means a snake can be moved 1 step. Example: If you roll 2 snakes you can move a single snake 2 steps, or two snakes 1 step each. Players don't have to move their fairy or any snakes if they don't want to (even though they may have rolled fairies or snakes).

- Pass the dice that were not set aside on to the next player (clockwise)


4. Moving fairies

Fairies always move from tree to tree. Shown in the image below are the valid paths between the trees that form the base forest:



Fairies can not end a move at a knocked down tree. They can go to a knocked down tree but they must in the same turn move away from the knocked down tree again.

Fairies cannot go to trees with snakes. Snakes can also block paths in between trees. The images below show how snakes affect the available movement paths (green paths are valid, red paths are unavailble).

There can be more than one fairy at a single tree.




5. Moving snakes

As shown above, snakes can be at a tree or in between two trees. For a snake it makes no difference if a tree is standing upright or if it's knocked down.
When a snake is at a tree it can move to any adjacent tree. It can also move from being at a tree to being in between two trees, with one of the trees then being the tree it came from.
If a snake is in between two trees, it can move to an adjacent 'in between' spot. It can also move to one of the trees it's in between of.

There can be more than one snake at a single tree or in between two trees. Snakes never block one another, they can only block fairies.


6. Collecting stars

If a fairy reaches a tree with a star, it gets to collect the star. A fairy can visit multiple tree with stars in a single turn and hence collect multiple stars in a single turn.

If there are multiple stars at the tree a fairy only gets to collect a single star upon reaching the tree. As long as a tree is not knocked over a fairy can stay at the tree and collect a second star in the next turn. Only moving to the tree twice will get the fairy two stars from the same tree in a single turn.


7. Getting bit

If, at the end of the player's turn, a fairy is still at a tree with one or more snakes, then the fairy will get bit. Once for each snake that's at the tree. And each bite will cost the fairy one heart. So in order to prevent getting bit a fairy will have to move away from the snakes, or the snakes will have to be moved away from the fairy.

A previously collected star can be swapped for 3 hearts. If a player has no hearts remaining and then gets bit again, he/she will have to swap a collected star in order to get back hearts to need to discarded because of getting bit.
If a players needs hearts but he/she has no previously collected stars to swap them for, then his/her fairy succumbs to the attack. The fairy has to be laid down flat on the forest floor. While a fairy is immobilized, the player that the fairy belongs to still gets to roll the dice and, if the dice allow so, move snakes and place new stars in the forest.
Before the fairy can be moved again, it has to be revived. Whenever a new star falls down into the forest, regardless of which player gets to drop the star, the star will be drawn toward the weakened fairy. The star's dust will revive the fairy instantly, restoring it to it's original health of 3 hearts. After this the star is removed from the forest and play continues as normal.


8. Going back home

If a fairy manages to collect 5 stars it has gathered enough fairy dust in order to return home. The fairy ascends to the stars, leaving Starfall Forest behind.
The player whose fairy has managed to return home stays in the game. He/she still gets to roll the dice, move snakes around and drop new stars if the dice so allow. Of course any dice that show fairy can no longer be used because his/her fairy has already left the forest.


9. Variants

I plan on including the following variants:
- Scaredy-snake variant; In this variant the snakes are afraid of being out in the open too. They can only be at a tree and not in between trees.
- Star Fluke variant; In this variant fairies get to collect ALL stars that are at a tree in a single visit/turn.




That's pretty much it! Now to put it decent writing..
I always have great trouble writing rules. So I'm now off to see if I can get a friend to help me out!

Martijn
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:25 pm
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More playtesting, more improvements

Martijn Althuizen
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Hi,

Yesterday I got another evening of playtesting in. This time with two children (boys aged about 12) that had never played the game before. They had a blast playing the game. Especially going after the fairies with the snakes and biting them!

Below I will list all the things that have changed and I'll give some insight as to why. Some things are new, other things reverted back to how they were in an earlier phase of development.

Forest setup
Although I like the idea of moving trees to other positions at the beginning of the game, it might lead to confusion during play. As was proven in playtesting yesterday.
The empty space left behind makes it harder to 'see' the underlying grid structure of the forest. Especially if you don't keep the trees neatly positioned. And the boys I played with yesterday were so engrossed in playing the game that they regularly moved trees and knocked over trees placing them back upright in a slightly offset position. At some point one of them tried to cross a clearing diagonally, which isn't allowed.
Seeing that I don't think children will be likely to play more neatly when they're having so much fun chasing the fairies with the snakes, I decided I needed to think of something else instead of having such open spaces in the forest.
My solution is this: Instead of each player having to move a tree to another position, players now have to knock over a single tree at the beginning of the game. This ensures that the gridpoints (the trees) all remain in place, which prevents players from accidentally making moves that aren't allowed (like skipping a gridpoint when moving diagonally).
Along with the new dice layout (see below), the knocked down trees still make for good enough obstacles, often forcing fairies to moves around them rather than over them.

Falling stars
Players have to place new stars at least 'two steps' away from their own fairy. At some point one of the boys placed a star at a tree in which another player's fairy was hiding. Since he had also rolled 2 stars in his last roll, this tree was also knocked down. Which left us with a situation in which there was a fairy at a knocked down tree! Which isn't really 'possible' because fairies can't hide in knocked down trees. And it also meant other problems: What if the player that the fairy belongs to didn't roll any fairies on his/her turn? Would the fairy still stay at the knocked down tree? That doesn't go well with the idea that fairies always want to stay hidden, something the theme of the game does rely heavily upon..
So to 'fix' this, I decided to simply not allow players to place stars at trees that house fairies.

A new dice layout
I decided to drop the 'tree wildcard' in favor of a second snake on the dice. The wildcard really allowed too much movement abilities for the fairies. Now that the snakes are more mobile than the fairies, the 'original feel' has returned to the game; the fairies feel more vulnarable once again, which is how I originally envisioned it to be.
This is the new dice layout:



Getting away from snakes
I had this rule in place that stated that if your fairy was at a tree along with a snake, it HAD to be the fairy that needed to get away from the snake (to prevent getting bit). This rule felt too artificial and didn't go well with the other rules that govern snake movement.
I changed the rule so that it is now also allowed to simply move a snake away from your fairy. If you rolled at least one snake, that is.
This also better balances the gameplay with the new dice layout. With the new dice layout players are a lot less likely to roll a fairy, so also being allowed to move a snake away from your fairy increases your chances of not getting bit. You'd get bitten far too much if you'd only be allowed to move your fairy away from a snake, and not the other way around.

Hearts
Since it's now easier to prevent getting bit (because you're now also allowed to move a snake away from your fairy) each player now only gets 3 hearts instead of 5.

Hey, that's not fair!
The one and only thing the boys didn't find fair was when I moved my fairy away from a bunch of snakes at the time that I didn't have any hearts nor any stars remaining and without me having rolled a fairy.
They felt I just had to stay at the tree with the snakes, not as a last resort be allowed to move nearer to a star that had just fallen down.
And they're right. It is a bit unfair. So I really needed to come up with something to fix this. So Anthony and I have now come up with this:
If a fairy runs out of hearts AND stars completely, then the fairy loses consciousness and collapses down onto the forest floor. In the game this is represented by placing the fairy meeple flat onto the table (like the way miner meeples in Magnum Sal are laid flat when they're tired from having done work. Consider this my tribute to that game!).
The fairy can now no longer be moved by it's player, regardless of whether the player rolls any fairies. That player is still allowed to roll the dice and possibly move snakes around or put a new star in the forest.
The fairy is revived whenever a new star comes falling down. This star is drawn to the fairy in need. So whichever player is dropping the star, he/she has to drop it down onto the fairy. This revives the fairy and restores the fairy's health (3 hearts). The star is then removed from the forest and the game continues as usual.

And those are the changes.

In the next post I'll do a quick overview of the latest rules.

Cheers,
Martijn
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:58 pm
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