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Dokmus» Forums » General

Subject: Origin story of Dokmus rss

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Mikko Punakallio
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Once upon a time there were dinosaurs all around a boy called Mikko. The situation was filled with tension, the triceratops looked like it could attack at any moment. Mikko rolled the dice and the triceratops attacked the t-rex succesfully! You see, the dinosaurs were small plastic figures and Mikko had created simple rules to play battles with them.

Fast forward a year and Mikko gets a handheld mechanical puzzle game as a present. The game has a 4x4 grid with 15 tiles numbered 1-15. One of the places is empty and your goal is to get the numers in order by moving them around.

Fast forward a few years and has Mikko has started playing roleplaying games. On the character sheet is a place for the deity the character worships. Mikko decides to create his own deity, that a lot of his characters worship.

Fast forward a couple of years and Mikko is trying to be a game master / dungeon master for the first time. One of the players decides that their character will worship the deity Mikko created. Another player decides that their character will mock that deity. For some reason the first player is very succesful and his character finds a lot of good items. And the second player is really unlucky and faces one accident after another. Turns out Mikko wasn't a very good game master.

Now we jump twenty years forward and Mikko has started designing board games. At the moment Mikko is interested in dynamic game boards, where the playing area changes during the game. Mikko remembers the puzzle game he played as a kid. What if the game board consisted of different map tiles that the players could move around? From that idea became the first version of Dokmus.

In the first version there were 8 map tiles in a 3x3 grid, with one place empty. On their turn each player could move one map, rotate one map 90 degrees and then place three of their tokens. It was very simple but during the first test games it just seemed to work. Thinking what map tile to move and rotate gave players a lot of interesting decisions and the game board was constantly changing.

At this point Mikko is part of a company called Toad Kings. The other Toads were also interested in this new game, so with their help started the long process of actually making a board game that can be published. The process included hundreds of games, demoing the game at events, many iterations of the graphics and a lot of ideas. Luckily there were many people interested in testing the game and giving feedback, so the Toads could constantly improve Dokmus.

Finally it was time to try to find a publisher for the game. Luckily Lautapelit.fi, publisher of for example Nations and Eclipse, really liked Dokmus and wanted to publish it. Mikko and the Toads will be demoing the game at Essen 2016 and we will see if Mikko is better at designing boardgames than he was at being a game master.

Oh, and the name of the deity Mikko created as a kid for his characters to worship? Dokmus.
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Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. Pratchett
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Great story. Thank you for sharing

Taking this opportunity, I dare to ask you ninja

Can you tell a bit more about your design process?
What's your take on designing games? How do you do it?
Do you have some favourite designers whose games you enjoy?
Where do you get your inspiration from?
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Mikko Punakallio
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My design process starts by collecting ideas for game mechanics and themes. I have an Excel file where I collect them, mechanics bank and theme bank. Some of the ideas are small, like different ways to determine initiative in games or different drafting mechanics. Some are bigger ideas, which I use as a base for designing games. I select one of the bigger ideas and then go through my other ideas to see which would combine well with that.

At that point I usually have just a text document that I go over with my fellow designers from Toad Kings, our company. I have a lot of ideas, so I usually present a few different ideas and see which they like the most. After that we usually make the first proto and start testing what the basic idea of the game feels like in practise. I prefer to start with a simple proto and then add more layers to the game. That way I can first see if the basic idea is fun and every time we add something, we can see if it made the game better or just more complicated.

After that it's a lot of testing, tweaking and balancing. We like to bring new playtesters into the process at various points, since the first impression people get is really important. Someone who has already tested the game many times will give different feedback for new versions compared to someone who sees the game for the first time.


Couple of my favourite game designers are Richard Garfield and Donald X. Vaccarino. Magic: The Gathering has entertained me for over 20 years and Dominion and Kingdom Builder are both among my most played board games.


As for inspiration, that can come from anywhere. Most common source is other games. I might see a single action card in some game and think about a game mechanic based on that. Or I might be playing some game and create a house rule (I do this quite a lot) and then that house rule is the inspiration for me. There are so many board games that creating a new and unique mechanic is really hard and even when you think you have done that, some friend will tell you about this children's game from 1982 that had a similar mechanic So many times you just try to combine existing mechanics in a new and exciting way.


My game preferences change from time to time, but at the moment for me a good game:
- Is easy to play. Meaning it has easy to learn rules. If it takes you 30 minutes to explain the rules or if during play you have to constantly check the rules for clarifications, that takes away from my enjoyment of the game. The game can be hard, but I prefer that it's hard because I have to make difficult decisions, not hard because the rules are hard to understand.
- Allows players to make many meaningful decisions. The decision can be about what card to draft, where to place your token or how much to bid in an auction. But during the game I want to make a lot of these type of decisions.
- Is fast. I prefer games that take under 60 minutes to play. There are so many good games that I'd rather play three shorter games during the gaming session than one that takes many hours.
- Has good replay value. This usually means that something in the game changes from one game to the next. It can be the available cards (Dominion), the maps you play with (Kingdom Builder) or something else.
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Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. Pratchett
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Thank you for the answers. It is always an interesting background info about designers. The influence of your MtG hobby can be spotted in all of Toad Kings games: the world/cards are being turned quite often. To me, this is your signature mechanics.

Funny that you mention how you are sometimes told that your original idea had been implemented before. It seems that most ideas indeed have been implemented but it doesn't matter as long as you mix and match what is best in them, to bring a new dose of enjoyment for players.

Reading about your preferences and having played Dokmus, I can see that it really does conform to your ideal game design:
- easy to play with straightforward rules
- full of meaningful and hard decisions
- fast
- highly re-playable (the number of possible board arrangements is huge).

Now the politically inappropriate question : is Dokmus your best game so far with which you are completely happy or are you preparing an even bigger hit?

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Mikko Punakallio
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Of course the plan is always to have the next game be better

But I'm really happy with Dokmus, it's exactly the kind of game I like to play. I had a couple of different friends tell me after their first game, that "Dokmus is so you". I thought that was a great comment to get.

I actually counted the number of different starting board combinations. There are 8 doublesided map tiles and they each can face one of four different directions. And there are 8 places, where you put a map tile. So if my math is correct, there can be 676 457 349 120 different starting combinations. (8*4*2*7*4*2*6*4*2*5*4*2*4*4*2*3*4*2*2*4*2*1*4*2)
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