Archive for Vangelis Bagiartakis
It's funny how some things end up coming to life – especially when you look at how they started and how they ended. One such case is the creation of Among the Stars, due out in late 2012 from Artipia Games. As you can see below, it starts somewhat...unexpectedly!
About 18 months ago, some time before Christmas 2010, a friend of mine – who knew of my love for board games as well as of my first game, Souvlaki Wars – approached me with a proposal. He worked in a Christian organization that was responsible for some Sunday schools and summer camps all over Greece. At the end of every year they give a souvenir to the children and that year they were thinking of giving a small board game for the older ones (junior and senior high school). So they asked me whether I could design one for them. I immediately jumped at the offer! Even though the job was pro-bono and the game would not be sold in any store, it was a great opportunity for me as a starting designer.
I began working on it at once. I had complete freedom on what to design, trying only to keep the publication cost relatively low. One of the themes that hit me quite early was that of a childrens' summer camp. Since most of the kids getting the game would go (or had gone in the past) to summer camps, a game with such a theme would be something they would enjoy. After coming up with several game ideas around summer camps, I settled on having the players try to build one.
I had this image in my mind of a 5x5 grid in front of each player, with square cards representing locations. A player would start with just the card in the middle, then play every new card adjacent to one already played. The cards would have limits on where in the grid they could be placed; some could be played only around the main square, others only in the outer squares, some only in the corners, etc. The cards would also have an ability on them, stating where to place them in order to get extra points, as well as their cost in resources.
I made a rough prototype and tried what I had in mind. Right from the start it became evident that the grid restriction on where to build each card needed to go away. You see, while I was "playing" I noticed that I kept forgetting to look at that symbol. I would look only at the cost of each card, at the cards in front of me, and at the abilities on them – never at the small grid icon with the restriction. What was the highlight of my initial idea kept being forgotten, so I decided to remove that restriction entirely and have the abilities on the cards affect the way the camp would be built. (A piece of advice to fellow designers: Don't try to force your players to do something they keep on forgetting on their own!) A friend also suggested dropping the idea of the 5x5 concept. Why not let the players go as far as they want when building the locations? Indeed, the design worked much better this way, and the game was starting to take shape.
Another decision I had taken right from the start was to categorize the locations based on function and assign a color to them: the red ones would be administration, the yellow ones sport fields, the houses and the locations that provided accommodation would be blue, and so on. This allowed me to have abilities that played with the cards' colors.
For the abilities, I wanted to take advantage of the theme I had, so I kept on thinking of restrictions or rewards based on actual summer camps. For example, one of the locations was a fountain, a delicate construction with faucets from which the children drink water. When is this location at its most useful? When the children are playing sports as that's when they become real thirsty. So the ability was born: If you build it next to a yellow card (a sports field), you get an extra victory point! Other examples were that you could place the kitchen only next to the dining hall, a cabin would give a bonus if placed next to another cabin, and so on. More or less all of the abilities were made with that logic in mind and it ended up working pretty well!
The biggest problem that remained was figuring out how the cards were going to be obtained. I tried a lot of things – drawing one new card each turn, having them appear in front of everyone and then be selected, spending actions to take/play them, and various other ideas – but none seemed to be working very well. In the back of my mind I had the card draft mechanism, but I kept on avoiding it. The reason was simple: 7 Wonders. If I were to use a similar mechanism to the one in that game, the comparison would be inevitable (not to mention the accusation of copying it, despite the rest of the game being completely different). However, drafting had some big advantages: It was simple and easy to learn, it was quick, and it was fun! These are all characteristics that a game aimed at younger gamers should have, so in the end I decided to give it a try and it worked perfectly. It was exactly what the game needed!
When the game was finally ready and given to the children, the comments I received were all very positive – and not only from them, but also from (boardgaming) friends to whom I showed it. I came to realize I had something good on my hands and that a commercial game could be made out of this, so I started looking for ways to do that. Luckily, one of my friends who played the game and liked it was Konstantinos Kokkinis, the owner of Artipia Games. He was about to publish his own game, Drum Roll, at that time and he expressed interest in releasing my game in 2012. As you can probably realize, I couldn't have been happier, so I started working on it at once!
From the Camp to the Stars!
First, I had to come up with a new theme. I am a sci-fi enthusiast and my favorite television show of all time is Babylon 5, so naturally one of the first ideas I had was to apply the game mechanisms in a space station building game. However, one thing I definitely didn't want to do was paste a new theme over an existing game. Whenever I design a game, I always put the theme first, using it to guide the mechanisms so that meant that a big part of the game would have to be designed from scratch. The core mechanism of drafting and placement of locations would still be there but everything else would be new.
I started with the locations. I needed to come up with distinct locations that you can find in a sci-fi space station, categorize them, and come up with abilities for them. Drawing inspiration from Babylon 5, Star Trek and other sci-fi series, I ended up with a list of locations and six main categories: Administrative, Business or Trade, Military, Diplomatic, Recreational, and Scientific. However, the last category proved to be a problem because I couldn't think of many generic locations that could easily be put there (without ending up as too "specific" or too "contemporary"), so I stuck with five categories instead of six. For the exact abilities once again I started from scratch, trying to come up with new ones that made sense for each location I had. What's more, at some point I realized that every category needed to be different somehow, to have its own "identity". Diplomatic would be all about player interaction, Business would revolve around credits, etc.
Another thing I wanted to do was to add a second resource for the players. The summer camp game had only one, and for that game that decision was okay. For this one, though, I wanted something more. I wanted the players to have more options on their turns and introducing an additional resource would allow them to do so. Not only that, but it would open up design space by allowing me to create new and more interesting abilities. Since this was a game set in a space station, using energy as the second resource was my first choice. Trying to apply a thematic approach, I came up with an interesting idea that made good use of the game's "grid" element: Energy would be produced by Reactors (that had to be built) and could be spent only in nearby cards. This way, a new action was introduced (build a Power Reactor), it made sense game-wise (I had to carefully choose where to build it), and it also made perfect sense thematically.
Still, I wanted more. I wanted the game to have high replay value and to be different every time you played it, so I added more new things:
Racial Abilities: I love games with variable powers, so it was only natural that I tried to put them in my games as well. In this one it also fit the theme perfectly: Each player would represent a different alien race trying to build its own station and having a unique ability. A lot of thought was put into those abilities to make sure that a) they were interesting and meaningful and b) they were balanced. In the end, with a lot of help from my playtesters, I believe we nailed it, having eight completely different races in the main game (and a few more as promos) that make the players change the way they play, try different strategies, and look for ways to exploit their strengths or nullify their weaknesses.
Objectives: This was another idea I had that added more tension in the game – objective cards with specific tasks and VP rewards that would be drawn randomly at the beginning of every game, but allow only one player to complete them. Their effect on the game was great! Players loved them because they gave the players purpose – something to shoot for – and at the same time they increased interaction. The players would all have to be aware of what the others were doing in order to get the bonus.
Conflict Cards: While I was designing the game, I kept trying to find a way to put interaction in the game in the form of direct confrontation. I am a firm believer that drafting on its own comes with a lot of interaction; if you want to do well, you simply can't afford to ignore what the others are doing. However, I knew that not many people see it this way and there would be complains about "lack of interaction" when the game got out. I tried several ideas, but almost all of them would generate more problems than they would solve, the main one being that very rarely (if ever) would a player do something to hinder an opponent instead of helping himself. At some point though, I thought of the Conflict cards. These would be a small set of cards that could be added in the location deck to provide the players with the option to "attack" (in a way) each other. The good thing with this solution was that it allowed every group to play the game the way they wanted. If you liked direct conflicts, you added the cards; if not, you left them out. As simple as that!
The first playtest sessions went well, and the feedback I received was positive. The game was easy to learn, fun, and quick – but with a lot of depth and meaningful choices, and it could also be played in different ways! Of course, countless playtesting sessions would follow, endless discussions on matters big and small, and also a few changes here and there to ensure the best experience for the players.
After many months of hard work, we ended up with a great game that I am sure a lot of you are going to enjoy playing! (Reviews from people who played it already indicate that.) We are proud of the work we did and are pretty sure you are going to love it as well!
The Game's Artwork
It wouldn't be fair to write this article without mentioning Odysseas Stamoglou, our game's illustrator. Right from the start, he managed to grasp the game's theme and create amazing pieces of artwork. He helped us a lot, both during the initial concept phase and with his suggestions and ideas on the world we created. His illustrations are top notch and help bring the game's theme to life!
Among the Stars is scheduled for release at Spiel 2012, with wider distribution afterward. If the description above sounds like a game you'd enjoy, you'll find Artipia Games at booth 4-407 – and if you hurry, you'll secure your place...Among the Stars!
The article below was written by Sotiris Tsantilas, one of Briefcase's designers. I helped him with the translation into English and am posting it here on his behalf:
When Konstantinos Kokkinis, co-designer of Drum Roll and one of the founders of Artipia Games, suggested that we – that is, me and Nikos Sakaloglou, a.k.a. Nick – write a designer diary about Briefcase, I immediately said, "Great idea, I'm in!" However, it soon became apparent that writing such a diary would not be an easy task. And that's because when a work of art – which is what I consider a board game to be – is designed by two people, it is hard to distinguish how each person contributed, especially when the contributions are products of brainstorming between the designers, with help from friends during the first playtests. That said, I'll do my best to give a timeline of the events from the game's initial concept up to its final form, but from my point of view. Hopefully, Nick will correct me if I'm wrong somewhere.
March 2010: Initial Idea
The morning after pulling an all-nighter at a Greek Guild meeting and quite tired from heavy economic games, I was thinking that it would be interesting if there were a compact economic game featuring resource management about running an enterprise, a game that would last about an hour (but without lacking in depth) and that would offer multiple paths to victory. Okay, the initial concept didn't seem difficult to implement: The players place their workers in turn, they give coins, they buy available companies, they buy resources, they use them on their companies, they produce other resources, they sell them, and they try to reach maximum gain.
However, something was missing. Originality! The process above not only was common in other games, it was also kind of boring: Coins again, calculations, one more coin here, one coin less there... How nice would it be if we could make an economic game without coins!
So far I hadn't discussed anything with Nick.
April 2010: Enlightenment
Good ideas come suddenly but when they do you recognize them instantly. You almost get to hear them: The sound of all the gears clicking in place like a lock for which you finally found the right combination. DECK-BUILDING! No coins and no placement of workers. A decision deck where the Buy card replaces the coins, while the products of the companies add more decision cards to the deck. The better business deals you make, the more you improve your deck, increasing your options later.
I made about twenty handwritten cards and called Nick to my place for coffee. When he saw my game, he said that it was a very good idea and he was interested in working on it with me. However, even though the core mechanism was there, the game was dry and barely playable. There was also a part in it that Nick didn't like at all. The available companies would appear randomly which, in conjunction with the random appearance of resources, created a feeling of chaos. Nick suggested having the players select companies and placing them in front of them, available to everyone.
Also, having only one ability available the game seemed to lack variety and depth, so we agreed that Nick would take all the initial cards and try to come up with new ideas and new types of companies, along with new abilities for them. Two days later I received an email from him with fifteen new companies, each with its own ability.
Things had begun to get interesting!
May 2010: The First Playtest
Along with Nick, Manos and Theodore, we had our first playtest game. The resources were small pieces of paper with smiley faces to indicate personnel and hand-drawn small squares (white, shaded or black) for the rest of the resources. Although we had rushed a lot to build it and the game was still in a primitive form, we managed to finish a game (in which I think Theodore won) that left everyone excited. Since both of our new players were experienced gamers, their enthusiasm showed us that we were on the right track!
June-July 2010: First Steps in Developing Briefcase
The first problem we had to face regarded the buying of resources. The initial design had only one deck with all the resources shuffled into it. However, it was frustrating at times to have Buy decision cards in your hand but not see the resource you wanted to come up. Moreover, how could the obstacle cards be used somehow in the game?
We tried many things but the idea we finally settled on was to have all the resources available, each in its own stack. Okay, but if everyone had the necessary Buy cards in hand, where would the competition for the resources be? The answer came almost immediately: By using two cards of the same type, a player would be able to block a resource (that is, make it unavailable for purchase), thus creating scarcity. We had just hit two birds with one stone! Not only had we solved our problem, we had also found a way to use the Obstacle cards which up to that point had only been used to hamper the deck-building.
August-December 2010 : Completing Briefcase
During the next months, Nick continued to come up with new great abilities for the companies. I remember that I rejected most of them because I wanted the game to be as simple as possible. Luckily Nick would insist, and in the end we would always end up including them. Seeing the game now in its final form (with almost thirty different abilities), I realize that its depth, the multiple paths to victory, and the replayability would not be there without that variety in abilities.
Central Bank game board
It was about that time that we had the idea of the Central Bank. Nick was the one who came up with it and it made the endgame much more interesting, adding another strategy in the mix.
February 2011: Greek Guild's Second Boardgame Design Contest
Briefcase, in a near-completed form more or less the way it is today, took part in the Greek Guild's 2nd Boardgame Design Contest. After a close battle with Drum Roll, Briefcase took second place.
From that point on, things took their way. The feedback we had from all the playtest sessions that followed (more than a hundred) was very positive and led us to where we are today: Artipia Games, after last year's Drum Roll, will publish Briefcase in the following months. The work they have done on it is remarkable, and I strongly believe that the end result will be the best possible.
One of thirty different Companies included in the game
In my opinion, what defined the whole design process of Briefcase was the incredible cooperation we had with Nick and the ease with which we would solve problems when they arose. Every time we had a difficulty, one of us would say "Okay, we change this and we do it that way" and it would work perfectly, much better than we had initially designed it. Were we lucky? Perhaps...
I like to believe it was the good vibes of Briefcase...
If Briefcase seems like a game you might enjoy, take a look at the ongoing funding campaign at IndieGoGo. Not only will you be helping Artipia Games fund its production, you will also get exclusive promos that will not be available anywhere else!
Designers Sotiris and Nick at the Greek Guild's Second Boardgame Design Contest
For as long as I remember I have been a gamer.
When I was very young I used to play with my brother's Playmobil figures (which he never saw again). By the time I was finishing elementary school, I was spending countless hours on my Gameboy. Then came a computer in the house and with it, video games. During senior high school I came across Magic: The Gathering and got instantly drawn to it. Fast forward to college and Magic was taking over most of my gaming time. Tournaments, drafts, trades, discussions on deck-building - the whole thing!
And then came the board games, a hobby that easily took over all of my free time.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, during all this time (from elementary school all the way up to college) there was one thing that I remember my mother always telling me: "You spend all of your time playing games. These things are not going to bring you any money, you know."
The reason I am writing this article was that... well... she was wrong.
Souvlaki Wars will be released in a few days, and it happens to be a game that I designed. (Luckily for me, though, my mother was right about most of the other things she warned me about in life)
Enough about me, though. What you are probably interested to know is what Souvlaki Wars is and how it came to be:
Part 1: From Idea to Game
A few months after I had started playing board games, I began to think about creating a game of my own. However, I didn't have that much experience and the whole thing seemed too difficult and too...impossible. So I dropped the idea.
The thought still lingered in my mind, though, and at some point I realized that if there were ever to be a chance of a game being published in Greece and sold primarily in this country, it would need to have a theme that was fun and that people here would relate to. And then it hit me: Souvlakia (the plural of souvlaki). For those of you who don't know, souvlaki is the most popular fast food in Greece. It is basically small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer. Sometimes it is served in a pita sandwich with garnishes and sauces. And it is delicious!
So I had my idea: a game in which players would be owners of souvlaki fast food restaurants!
As soon as I had the idea, the thought of a line of customers came into my mind: People ordering food and waiting in line for their order to be fulfilled. However, as time went by, they would get anxious and after a point they would get angry. This could easily be done with them being cards and rotating them 90 degrees. This way they could have three possible states: Normal, Anxious (rotated 90 degrees clockwise) and Angry (rotated 180 degrees).
The other thing that also came to me early in the design process was the win condition. I didn't want the players trying to gain just money, so I added Reputation to the mix. Each customer when served would increase both the player's money and reputation. This would work well with the line I had thought of earlier and the three states. If a customer was not served after three rounds, then he would leave the line and the player would lose double the reputation that he would have gained.
I had the concept of a line of customers waiting to be served, each with an order and an amount of money and reputation to give when served. But what would they order? I needed to find out what the game's "resources" were going to be. After some thought on the most popular foods ordered in a souvlaki restaurant, I decided to stick to four items: Souvlaki, Pita Gyros (or just Gyros, a popular pita sandwich filled with grilled meat that's sold everywhere that souvlakia is), French fries, and Soda. Each customer would have a combination of these items in his order, and the money and the reputation he would give would vary accordingly.
Okay, I was in good shape, but there were still many things missing. For example, how do the customers come into the game? Do the players select them somehow, or are they drawn randomly and placed in front of them? Here is a part where compromises needed to be made. You see, in reality a restaurant has a big supply of items to offer and the customers come in for food in a random and unknown order. When you see someone coming through the door, you don't know what he is going to order, but nine times out of ten, it is going to be something you can easily prepare for him.
However, this was a game, and players needed to be able to make choices and needed to manage their own resources. So, I decided that players would have a limited supply of the four offered food items, and they would choose the customers coming into their restaurant based on those items.
I now had to find a way for customers to appear and for players to select them and place them in their line. That's where my experience with Magic: The Gathering came to the rescue. Rochester draft was one of my favorite formats, and the more I was thinking about it, the more I realized it could easily be applied. Each round a number of customers would be drawn and the players would pick one in turn. The last player to choose would pick another, then the second to last and so on, up until the first player. It sounded fair and it was a simple solution. The only thing I didn't like was that the first player, in the end, did not have a choice. He was left with only one card and he would have to take it, regardless of whether he would be able to serve the customer. The solution to that was simple enough: The number of cards drawn each turn would be two times the number of players, plus one. Thus the last player to pick a customer would always have a choice between two cards. (I also thought of having the customer pick-up be optional, in case a player couldn’t serve any of the available customers, but in the end I decided against it.)
For the resources that the players would have to manage (the four types of food), I remember spending a lot of time thinking of ways to implement them. Up to that point, most of the games I had played were by Fantasy Flight Games, so I was influenced a lot by that. I was imagining cardboard tokens of souvlakia and French fries, and in my mind they looked very cool. Unfortunately I could not think of a way to make use of them in the game. Cards could fill the role of the resources much nicer and probably a lot cheaper. However, even using cards, there were other things to consider. For example, would each card be a single food? It was nice and simple, but I kept thinking of scenarios in which a player would need a specific type of food and would not draw it. Moreover, a player would have to play many cards every round in order to serve all of his customers. That meant many cards in his hand each round and many cards in total in the food deck.
I started exploring the idea of having multiple types of food on every card, and the more I thought of this, the more I liked it. Not only that, but the cards could also have varied amount of foods on them. Some cards would have three items, other cards two, and a few cards would have only one. This variety would create nice tension during the game as each card could be used in many different ways and on top of that, the players would not need to keep too many cards in hand.
After doing a lot of math and writing down many different versions of the food deck (a process that took more time than you may think), I decided to have two cards for each combination of up to three items, including multiples of the same item. (For the four types of food I had chosen, that was 2 * 34 cards). I also liked the idea of having a card with all the four different food types, as well as a wild card that could be used for any single food you liked. Two copies for each of those two cards, and the food deck ended up consisting of 72 cards.
The math for the food cards was not the only time-consuming process. I also had to create the customers and assign each one an order, that is, the food items that he would ask for. This time I didn't want to have all the possible combinations appear because some of them would be un-realistic. (For example, you don't often see someone go to a restaurant to buy four cans of soda.) So I sat down and wrote combinations of the food items that were likely to happen in real life, and I assigned to each of them a value in money and reputation. To make things more balanced, I used a rough guideline assigning values to each food item. A souvlaki, for example, would be worth 1 Euro and 1 reputation, but a can of soda just 1 Euro. Thus, a customer who ordered one souvlaki and one soda would give 2 Euros and 1 reputation when served. However, as I said, that was a rough guideline and there were cases where I changed the numbers a bit to add more variety.
Now, I had the customers ready. The players would draft them, put them in their line, then serve them.
But that wasn't enough.
You see, I didn't want the game to be "static" or to be the same every round. I wanted it to have a small level of unpredictability and make the players constantly adapt to new situations. Also, I wanted the game to have player interaction beyond just picking up a customer that someone else wanted. The way I decided to do all that was with events that would be played every round and would shake thing up. The catch was that they would be played AFTER players draft the new customers but BEFORE they have a chance to serve the goods. This way, a player would put new customers in his line and would calculate how to serve them, but by the time he would try to do so, many things could have changed: new customers would be added, others would be removed or would decide to change their order, food cards would need to be discarded, and so on. And since there was no way to know beforehand what was going to hit you, the name that I decided to use for these cards was "Unforeseen Events". However, while coming up with the idea was simple, implementing it and fine-tuning it was a different thing.
I thought of many different ways it could be done. There could be random events drawn each round. There could be an event deck for each player with different cards in it. There could be a single deck of events and everyone would draw from it. The cards could have a cost to play them or they could be free but with some limitations. I even thought of abandoning the food deck and having the food items appear in the event cards so that they would fill two purposes.
In the end, and after a lot of thinking, I decided to keep things simple. There would be a single deck of events and all players would draw from it. They would keep a hand of a few unforeseen events but they would be able to play only a single event each turn. This way, more interaction was added among the players while not adding too much complexity - and the possibilities that had appeared were endless since I could have all kinds of effects in these events. Some cards would damage other players, others would help those who played them, others would affect everyone on the table, etc. There was a lot of design space, and every time I thought of something new, I would write it down.
This was also a chance for the theme to shine - and believe me, it certainly did! Most of the time, I would first think of the card thematically, then I would try to translate it into game terms. Of course in some cases I thought of a nice effect first, but in general the theme was so well integrated that I never had any trouble "explaining" what the card represented. What I was aiming for were events common in real life that people could relate to. This would make them fun to play and immediately understood. In retrospect, these cards definitely ended up being the highlight of the game.
The last thing to consider was the "Upkeep" phase of the game. What would players do at the beginning of every round. What played a big part here was that I wanted variable powers for the players. So, I searched for different archetypes of souvlaki restaurant owners and tried to see how I could put them in the game and how they would be different from each other. In the end I decided that each player would pay an amount of money at the beginning of each round, for his operational costs. He would also have to pay to draw new food cards, representing the money he spent on his supplies, and he would be able to pay for advertising, increasing his reputation. All these, along with the initial money and reputation, would differ for each player according to the restaurant owner he chose. That meant that a lot of work would need to be done to balance them, but it was worth the effort.
If you've read any book or article on game design, you probably know that the most important thing to do is to playtest. And not only when you have the full game ready, but even as you design it, you should try to test new ideas on their own (playing small parts of your game) before moving to the big picture.
However, as this was my first attempt at game design (and I had not yet read any books or articles on the topic), I ended up doing the exact opposite! Up to that point every aspect of the game was either in my head or in pages of a notebook that I used to carry with me. (In fact, most of the game design process took place inside metro stations, train wagons or bus stops.) So I bought blank cards and started writing down cards in order to build my first prototype. When it was ready, I started "playing" my game (on my own) to see whether all that I had imagined all that time actually worked.
And to my surprise, it did!
To tell you the truth, I was afraid that many things out of all that I had thought of would not work and would need to be changed. Luckily, the game played out pretty much the way I had imagined. Sure, the need for some changes and tweaks was apparent, but the "look and feel" of the game I had in mind was right there. I could see the line, I could see customers being served, events changing the players' plans, etc. It was right there! And even though a lot of work still needed to be done, I knew I was on the right track!
One of the things that become apparent with those first tests was that the players weren't feeling any pressure. Almost all of the time, I would select customers I knew I could serve so it was rare for one of them to get anxious or angry. Something needed to be done about that lack of tension and the solution came from the theme itself: Telephone orders! Since they are extremely common in all souvlaki fast food restaurants, I had wanted from the start to implement them in the game. This problem gave me the perfect opportunity: After the players drafted two customers, they would each draw one more card from the top of the deck to represent a telephone order they had just received.
The first tests with this solution worked perfectly. Not only did this add just the right amount of unpredictability, it also opened new design space. I could now differentiate the customers in two categories - "regular" and telephone orders - allowing me to design even more "Unforeseen Events" cards around them!
The next step was to test the game with friends. I showed them the prototype, we played a few games, and their response was more than positive! They liked it very much and thought that it was up there with many published games. Still, they commented on some cards and made suggestions, and a lot of them were implemented.
Even a lot of the jokes exchanged while playing gave fruit to new ideas and new mechanisms. For example, I remember playing with a friend and his wife, and when she served a customer, giving him more items than he had ordered, she proudly said "The rest are on the house!" That clicked something inside me and made me realize that I could put it in the game. From that moment on, whenever someone served a customer and played cards with more food items than the ones his customer requested, those items would be considered "on the house" and the player would receive +1 Reputation!
Even though more playtesting was made to the game in the following months, due to other commitments (getting married and all) after a while I sort of abandoned it. Luckily for me, though, fate had other plans. Around the end of 2009 the Greek Guild here on BGG (the largest - and most active - regional guild by far) announced a game design contest. Initially I had thought of taking part with a new game, but weeks passed and I couldn't find time to work on it, so I was left with Souvlaki Wars, which was basically ready. The day before the competition I printed out cards that I made on Word (until then the game was still on hand-written cards) with only the necessary text / numbers on them. With no artwork (save for icons for the food items), with no box (I had the game in a plastic bag), and with wooden markers from other games I went to the competition.
When I arrived, I remember that the first thing that crossed my mind was, "What the heck am I doing here?" You see, everyone else had worked a lot on their prototypes. They had high-quality components, with beautifully illustrated cards and boards, and some of them had even constructed boxes and printed rulebooks. I was sure I had no chance at winning but at least I would get to show my game to other people and get more feedback. However, as the day progressed and people were playing it, they were all telling me that they had a lot of fun and that they liked it a lot. (Also, almost all of them told me that the game had made them hungry and that they wanted to go out and buy souvlakia.) When the time of the voting came at the end of the day, I couldn't believe my eyes. Souvlaki Wars had won first place in the "Best Game" category! (Of course. to no one's surprise it flopped at the "Best artwork/presentation" category...)
Part 2: From Design to Publication
That so many people had liked the game gave me a lot of confidence that it was indeed good enough to see print. Having only friends and family tell you that a design is good is not enough because most times they will be biased - but when total strangers enjoy a game and praise it, you are indeed on to something.
That's why right from the next day I started looking into ways to have the game published. One of them was to try to publish it myself. I found out some costs, made inquiries as to how the whole thing works, and realized that the distribution alone was much more work than I could handle on my own (and with a normal day job taking 8-10 hours of my day). So finding a publisher looked to be the only way. The first and most obvious choice was Kaissa Chess & Games since they are by far the largest board game publisher in Greece. Before knocking their door, though, I wanted to build a decent prototype, something that would look like a finished product to give them an idea of how the game would look if they printed it. In order to do that, I needed to find someone to do a few illustrations and someone to help me design the layout of the cards.
For the first part I had someone in mind and decided to try it out. Some years ago in a magazine I used to read, there was a comic strip at the end which I enjoyed a lot. Many years later, while drifting inside BGG, I found that the artist of that strip was a user here (username: markador) and that he was into board games as well. Thus, when the need for an illustrator came up, he was the first person who came in my mind. I sent him a Geekmail and explained what I wanted. Panayiotis Lyris (aka markador) was very friendly and immediately accepted my offer. We decided that he would draw a cover for the game first and the artwork for a couple of cards to use as samples, which I could use to try to sell my game to publishers.
When he sent me the first drafts, I was amazed! He had done an excellent job and his sketches captured exactly the feeling that I wanted my game to give! When he sent me the final versions, I was speechless. I immediately knew that with that artwork the game would definitely be published, it would become a hit, and that the art would be something that would play a big role in its success. It was only a matter of who would publish it and when.
(A note to publishers: If you need an illustrator for one of your games, try contacting Panayotis. He is an excellent artist; I had no problems working with him and I will be more than happy to do it again in the future. You can see more samples of his work in deviantart or you can send him a Geekmail here on BGG. By the way, he doesn't know that I am writing this...)
For the graphic design I turned to Dimitris Vasiadis, a friend of mine who was also a member of the Greek Guild (username: Base the Bass) and had also participated in the design contest. In fact, he had won in the category "Best artwork/presentation", so he knew his business. Dimitris took Panayotis' artwork, then designed the layout of the cards we would use for the prototype. He also did a very good job and I would like to thank him both for what he did at that time and for later while working on the final product.
So with a nice-looking prototype in hand, I approached the publisher and told him about my game. He liked the theme and we arranged a meeting so that we could play. When we did, it was obvious that everyone on the table was having a good time. And truly enough, a few days later I got a call, we scheduled another meeting, and I was told we had a deal!
You can imagine my joy at that moment! I couldn't be happier! However, closing the deal was only the beginning. There was a ton of things that needed to be done. First of all: Additional playtesting. A word to the wise: No matter how much you have playtested your game (or you think you have playtested it) there is always the need for more. Test it, test it some more, test it again, and then test it twice to be sure, before doing all that again. Test it with experienced players, test it with new players, test it with friends, and test it with strangers. You need to get as much feedback as possible and from as many sources as possible. Be careful, though: While you should take all of the opinions into consideration, you will be the judge of which ones actually need to be implemented.
And you need to fight with yourself sometimes. When I had gone to the publisher, I was under the impression that the game was almost finished. However, after many playtest sessions, it was obvious that various changes needed to be made. Not so much to the core of the game - that remained mostly intact - but mainly to the cards' abilities and the various costs. The only change to the mechanisms at that point had to do with the states of the customers. It was apparent that letting them have three states (normal, anxious and angry) was too much as it was rare for a player to have a customer leave due to not being served - and that meant no real pressure. Thus, only two states remained: normal and anxious. Now the effects of the Unforeseen Events were more serious, and the players had to play carefully in order to avoid losing customers.
A lot of work also needed to be done with the artwork and the graphic design. There were countless emails exchanged between the three of us involved, various versions tried, and many hours spent to get a result that was as good as possible. In the end I am proud of all that work and believe it paid off.
So here you have it! Souvlaki Wars: A fun card game for the whole family that puts the players in the shoes of Greek fast food restaurant owners. In a few days, the game will hit the shelves in the Greek market and right after that it will make its international debut at Spiel 2011. If you like what you read above, be sure to drop by our booth (4-308). I will be there all four days demoing the game and answering any questions you may have.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
I'd like to thank a few people not mentioned in the article above who helped a lot during the creation of Souvlaki Wars. First and foremost my wife Evangelia who encouraged me a lot before going to the contest and who later put up with all the late hours I was pulling in order to have the game ready. Secondly, Konstantinos Kokkinis and his wife Santra who were the first playtesters. They encouraged me and gave me valuable feedback - if not for them, I may not have moved forward with the game. (Be sure to check Konstantinos's game Drum Roll, which will also appear at Spiel 2011.) A big thank you also goes to Manos Velivassakis, who had the idea for the design contest. Without it I don't know whether the game would be where it is now. Last but not least, a big thank you to all the members of the Greek Guild for all of their support during the last months! Thank you, guys! It meant a lot to me.
On February 13, 2011 BGG's GrEEK Guild held its 2nd Boardgame Design Contest in Athens.
For those of you who don't know us, the GrEEK Guild is one of the largest guilds on BoardGameGeek. It was created in June 2007 right after the feature was added on the site, and it has been growing ever since. It has united all the Greek users of the site and we have formed a community where any of our countrymen can talk (in our native language) about board games, ask questions, discuss strategies and meet other people with similar gaming interests. During all these years our little community has evolved and we now regularly meet in a monthly basis (in more than one city!), organize trips, place group orders from online websites, have our own contests, etc.
In 2010, our Guild's creator (ManOfSorrows) had the idea of a boardgame design contest. Without a lot of organization but mostly in a friendly mood, we held the contest with four games participating. (You can find some details here but keep in mind the report is in Greek.) The event was a big success; everyone loved it and almost immediately we announced a second game design contest for one year later! The success of that initial contest was made even bigger when a few months later, the game that won – Souvlaki Wars – was accepted by the biggest Greek company in boardgaming, Kaissa Chess & Games, for publication. (The game will hit the shelves sometime within the next few months.)
As the deadline for the second contest approached, it was obvious that there was more interest this year and more willing participants. Moreover, from the sneak peeks that we were getting it was obvious that the level of the games — both in quality and gameplay value — would be higher than before. We realized then that we should organize the whole event better to make it a nice opportunity not only for the designers to show their creations to more gamers, but for new people to learn about our hobby and our online community. We started looking for sponsors and right from the start, Kaissa Chess and Games offered to help us. With their help, we reserved a hall in a well-known Greek hotel and we printed posters which were displayed in their retail stores. The posters were also displayed in other boardgame stores around Athens, like Fantasy Shop and Playscape.
Another thing that we realized had to change was the process of choosing the winner. In the first year, whoever had played all the games during the contest would vote for his favourite in four different categories, such as best game and most original theme. This year, after lengthy discussions we decided to have a jury which would play all the games and give an award for just a single category: Best Game. However, since we wanted the public to participate more actively in the whole event we decided to have another award, this time for the game that was most appreciated by the visitors of the event.
Initially we had eight games participating. However, a few days before the contest two of them had to drop out since they realized they weren't ready and more work needed to be done on their games. Thus, six games ended up competing for the award of the best game:
In Astrologica, Tony Cimino (BGG user: Diogenis) has the players trying to put some order in the Zodiac Circle, the planets' positions and the Zodiac Houses. A fast and easy game requiring good observations skills and smart combinations, with the art of Bruce Salter.
In Autokrator, a medieval wargame by Lefteris Iroglidis (BGG user: GREEK GAMES), the players take the role of the Holy Roman Empire, the Moors, the Saracens and the East Roman Empire (Byzantines) trying to expand their territories. Emphasis is given to historical accuracy while also having an interesting and original combat mechanic.
Briefcase is an economic deck-building game created by Sotirios Tsantilas (BGG user: sot07) and Nikolas Sakaloglou (BGG user: sakal). The players try to build their own business empires by acquiring various small companies and using them to acquire even bigger ones. A key-characteristic that separates it from all the other deck-building games is that here, with the "Buy" action, the players don't buy cards that go into their deck. They buy resources and companies that they place in front of them. When they activate those companies (using cards in their deck and resources they have acquired) they generate new cards for their deck, which later allows them to buy even bigger companies. It is an interesting variation and the end-result is a fast and addictive game that you will keep wanting to play again and again.
Drum Roll is a Eurogame designed by Konstantinos Kokkinis (BGG user: 3pod) and Dimitris Drakopoulos (BGG user: geremes) and it takes us to a circus during the middle of the last century. Actually not in only one circus, but in many since each player tries to manage his own! In order to achieve that he will have to hire the best performers (jugglers, animal trainers, magicians etc) but also try to equip them accordingly so that when the time for the show comes, they perform to the best of their ability! After three shows in cities around Europe, the player with the highest Prestige ( = victory points) is the winner. A very interesting game, rich in theme and with amazing artwork!
In George Zotos' (BGG user: GeorgeZzzz) Home Sweet Home we get to build the house of our dreams! Starting with just four rooms and with frequent visits to plumbers, builders, decorators etc we get to build new rooms, install central heating or alarm systems, buy appliances or participate in auctions for rare antiques. And what better way to enjoy our accomplishments than to throw receptions and make our neighbours (co-players) jealous??? (Also scoring us some VP in the process.) We have to be careful, though, as their jealousy will lead to accidents happening to us, capable of destroying what we worked so hard to build. The better house we have, the more bad things will happen, from burglars to short-circuits or even earthquakes! Undeniably the most thematically original game in the competition which led to a lot of funny moments during plays!
Finally, in Hunt for the Crown, a card game by Aggelos Vazaios (BGG user: aggelos), we go to medieval Italy and we take the role of noblemen. The king is about to die and soon one of us will be his successor. To ensure that the crown is ours we will have to convince lesser noblemen of various Houses to support us in our attempt. The main mechanism is bidding but apart from money the nobles can also be persuaded with titles, estates or even promises of convenient marriages! However there is a lot of intrigue in the court and the alliances shift constantly ensuring that nothing is certain up to the very end!
When the 13th of February came, we were very pleasantly surprised. The hall was full of people coming to try the games, most of them new faces that we hadn't seen before! Many of them told us that they were unaware that such a community existed, and they became members themselves the very next day! There were also many people who wanted to participate in the contest with their own games. Unfortunately, since we were informed at the last moment, it wasn't possible for them to be included. However we will be more than happy to see their games next year at the next competition!
In the end of the day, the winners were announced. The big "battle" was between Briefcase and Drum Roll, the two games that were considered to be the top contenders for the award. It was hard to select one out of them since both games' designers had done a very good job. In the end, after counting all the votes, the big winner in both categories (jury + public) was Drum Roll but with a very small lead over Briefcase, showing that both games were of almost equal value. (In fact, for the public award it went down to the last two votes since it was a tie between them at that point.) Luckily, both games' designers are planning to publish the titles before the end of 2011, so we will get to play many more games out of each one!
We would like to thank everyone who helped this contest take place, especially our sponsor Kaissa Chess & Games, the gaming club Espairos for the hospitality during the jury's test of the games, the coffee shop Playce where the first competition was held last year and whose owner provided us this time with the big prize for the winner, the online shop Boardgameguru.co.uk for also providing a prize, and the stores Fantasy Shop and Playscape for displaying our posters. Thanks must of course go to Fidel Lainez as well for letting us use his beautiful image in our poster.
We would also like to thank everyone who came by, played the games, talked with the designers and gave them valuable feedback. The feeling of seeing people having fun with something you have created is priceless and we can only feel it thanks to you.
Last but not least, we would like to thank BoardGameGeek without which none of this would have ever been made. Thanks to a feature that many users may not even be aware of (guilds) a community was built, has evolved, and now has managed to change many people's lives forever.
Stay tuned for the next competition, this time next year! We will try to be even better both in organizing the event and in game quality!
Oh, and for those planning to go to Essen in 2011, keep your eyes open! From what I hear, most of the designers plan to appear at the fair and if everything goes well, some of them will even have copies of their creations for sale!