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Designer Diary: The Long Path of the Farmer

Grant Rodiek
United States
Redwood City
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"This is definitely better than your last game."

Believe it or not, that back-handed compliment delivered shortly after the first playtest of Farmageddon was when I thought I might have something interesting. I had spent months subjecting my friends to a terrible sci-fi civ-building game I had created, so to hear a little praise – even praise with a caveat – was definitely a good sign.

When I began working on Farmageddon, I set out with a few goals in mind. First, I wanted to create a simple, fast game that my less nerdy friends would enjoy. Believe it or not, I looked at Farmville and set a goal of making a more interesting farming game. In Farmville, you plant crops, wait for them to be ready, then harvest them. I took that as inspiration, then added competition and a little strategy on top of it all.

After a few months of testing and a few more months waiting for the brilliant Brett Bean to finish the art, I released Farmageddon on the print-on-demand site The Game Crafter. I thought, "Surely people will enjoy this low-cost, silly game!" I was partially correct, but mostly fairly wrong.

The problem is that I underestimated how much work even a simple game required to be good. I didn't test sufficiently – can you ever? – and I failed to edit my rules enough to catch some glaring typos. My aunt, a retired teacher, called me to criticize the editing on her copy! It was embarrassing and shameful, but there was a glimmer of hope. Most people didn't hate the game; they just didn't enjoy it. I'm an optimist, so I decided to fix the problems and make it a much better game.

Crop rotation, Pesticides, Crop Insurance

After mailing dozens of copies to bloggers, old college roommates, Facebook fans, the occasional curious farmer from BoardGameGeek, and fellow designers, I've done just that – made it a much better game. As I look back on this year-plus of development, it's interesting to reflect on some of the most fundamental changes.

Josh Edwards provided the harsh, but excellent feedback that the game lacked fundamental strategic choices, such as the ability to obtain more crop cards or defend your holdings. He also noted that the game was often won by the player who drew the best cards, which led to my multi-month pursuit of balance and subtlety, not haymakers.

Cyrus Kirby at Father Geek and I exchanged dozens of emails discussing every single element of the game. He came up with numerous house rules and cards, some of which you'll see in the final game – cards like "Rented Land", which helped address a balance issue favoring the first player. Cyrus also wrote an incredibly kind and enthusiastic review, which gave me the huge emotional boost and charge to seek out a publisher. It was people like Cyrus who pushed me to make Farmageddon great – that, and the picture of his young son beaming with my game in his hands.

Around this time I also removed money from the game, a fundamental change that removed fiddly components and tightened every element of game play. It's as if I took a huge wrench to a loose bolt and just cut off the flow of garbage. You could say this was the turning point. From there on out, many of the new cards used crops as a currency, which added strategy and depth – two beautiful things for a game.

After playing the game countless times, my friends would speak up about cards they hated: "Foul Manure" is fiddly; "Crop Insurance" is annoying and isn't powerful enough; "Foreclosure" is too powerful; I want to be able to harvest instantly. I tested every variant, cut favorite cards, and fixed old problems that persisted for too long. Game design is a long, bumpy road of smoothing out a good idea and turning it into a fantastic experience.

Bodacious Broccoli, Jazzy Coffee, Stinky Truffle – all from the included FrankenCrops mini-expansion

I encountered a great couple on BoardGameGeek, Jim and Nicole, who have tested the game for months. Every time I sent them a change or a new card, they'd try it out and provide me with feedback. I cannot thank them enough. And of course Phil Kilcrease, the man behind 5th Street Games, has been watching the game from afar for a really long time. He would read my rules and even cut up the entire print-and-play to try it. Without him, the game wouldn't be what it is today.

Finally, every time someone said, "I was confused here" or "I didn't get this", I revised the game and asked for their feedback. You'd think the two hundredth time you open the document you'll get it right, but the search for crystal clear rules is a goal all designers should seek.

Farmageddon was designed to bring out at a dinner party when the conversation runs dry. It's designed for hardcore gamers in between Euros at game night. It's designed for parents and their children, roommates enjoying a few beers, or a gamer and his or her non-gamer significant other. It has truly been an effort of the passionate boardgaming communities on Twitter and BoardGameGeek. I am so thankful for your thoughts and ideas, and I cannot wait for you to play the final version.

Happy farming to all! If you're interested, check out the game on Kickstarter. You can read the rules and watch a quick video explaining how to play. If you have any questions or comments, we'll be watching the comments section. Thanks!

Grant Rodiek
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Subscribe sub options Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:30 am
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