Today, we're diving into the Zen-inspired journey of creating Bonsai, a game designed by Massimo Borzì, Rosaria Battiato, and Martino Chiacchiera. This is a tale of six years of growth, collaboration, and friendship.
The Seed of Inspiration
The story began when Rosaria and Massimo pitched the idea of Bonsai during a contest at Etna Comics, an Italian games and comics convention. The concept of arranging hex tiles to form a bonsai was intriguing, but the jury found the gameplay short on depth and the scoring seemed unfulfilling. More work was needed to make it shine. The game yearned for more thematic richness, more "Zen-feeling", and the chance for players to create their own unique masterpieces.
That's when Martino, former developer at DV Games and currently a freelance game designer, stepped in. He instantly fell in love with the bonsai-themed game, and sensing the potential for something special, he immediately reached out for a collaborative effort.
Then he waited for ages. Well, it was about one or two days to get a reply, but it felt like a long time as he was so excited to be allowed to work on this project, he couldn't bear to wait even a second.
Eventually Rosaria and Massimo joyfully agreed to co-design the game, and together they embarked on the journey to rebuild the game from the roots up.Some playtested versions of the game
Hold On — Why Bonsai and Not Some Other Plant?
It was a choice driven by passion. Massimo, Rosaria, and Martino shared a deep love for Japan, with a Zen garden nurtured at their home and years of studying Japanese (to list a few of our related side hobbies). The dream of nurturing a bonsai held a special place in our hearts, a dream that time and the dedication required never allowed. Creating the game wasn't about profit; it was about realizing a cherished dream together.
In other words, we enjoyed the idea of caring for a bonsai so much that doing a game that would "make us do it" was already a payoff greater than anything else.A picture of Massimo's Zen garden in Sicily
The Art of Pruning
Over two to three hundred years, erhm..., playtests, we meticulously cultivated the idea of Bonsai. In growing bonsai, patience is key, and here are some key areas we managed to achieve:
We needed a system to get resources and another to get cards. We didn't want to introduce the usual action just to get those, and we didn't want to introduce a currency to pay for resources and cards as first of all that idea lacked theme, and secondly it wasn't as elegant and interesting as something else.
But what else then? After a few other ideas, we realized we could combine the two problems to get the solution! We therefore introduced a line-drafting system in which the longer a card remains untaken, the richer it becomes in resource rewards. This elegant mechanism mirrors the passage of time and the evolution of both the bonsai and its caretaker. As the ancient proverb says, "A bonsai is the reflection of the grower's soul."
This system would provide interesting and dynamic choices every turn, and it's up to the player to consider each time which card is optimal at every given turn, evaluating also which resources are gained by selecting it over another.No bookkeeping is needed since the board itself tells you what reward is attached to each card
The Cards of Wisdom
To keep the game accessible while still offering depth, first we tried many different effects that cards could possibly do, then we proceeded to streamline the list of effects to focus on the most engaging possibilities. Minimal design is all about removing the unnecessary because less is more, and that's exactly what we did.
Balancing the Deck
Fine-tuning the deck of cards was like shaping a bonsai as it required meticulous care. We had to ensure that the game remained variable and balanced without resorting to predetermined card orders. Players had to adapt, much like a tree bending with the wind.
An insane amount of different prototypes were done, all differing just by the composition of the deck. We therefore proceeded to stress test all of them, iterating and iterating each time in the effort of "finding the perfect combination", and we never rested until we got to a point we felt nothing could be done to improve it further — or so we thought...
Reading the Canopy
While Bonsai doesn't have direct negative player interaction, the ability to anticipate opponents' moves is a crucial skill. Like a bonsai's branches reaching out to the sun, understanding others' intentions can provide a vital edge.
Every card on display is a juicy opportunity for boosting the growth of your bonsai or scoring more points with it, but none of that is useful if you fail to work with what you have.
The Artistry of Interface
We thought the placement rules were easy and logical: wood grows adjacent to other wood, leaves hang on wood, flowers hang on leaves, and fruits show up between leaves. Also, two fruits cannot be adjacent one to another because that's the way it usually is.
A player aid is included to help someone remember both the placement and scoring rules of each of the four elements, but the game's interface already guides the player to follow them naturally. Each of the four different pieces, in fact, elegantly visualizes its placement rules, creating a harmonious blend of form and function.
The Beauty of Aesthetic
Looking for a great art style, one that could capture the unique feeling of the bonsai world, we had the luck to stumble upon Davood Moghaddami, a talented artist who was instantly in when we found out that along with being a great artist, he is a passionate bonsaist!
Speaking of visual art, we also want to thank the talented Spoiled Boiled for making this amazing video. Watch the official teaser now!
We wanted the game to be all about the theme, and one thing that no bonsai can miss is style. Objectives, akin to the goals in Kanagawa and Augustus, were therefore implemented to add depth and tension.
Players now face choices and predictions as they pursue three tiers of goals. To take a small reward now or aim for a bigger prize later, that's a tough choice to consider as soon as you achieve the requirements to score an objective. To keep the game fresh and make the game-puzzle differ each time, a unique mix of three different objectives is selected in each game, and you can claim only one tile in each color.
Freedom of Self-Discovery and Self-Expression
In the world of Bonsai, the most beautiful bonsai is not just a work of art but also the one that scores the most points. Just as wisdom and care transform a humble tree into a living masterpiece, your decisions shape your bonsai's destiny. In order to achieve that, we implicitly made the tiles score more points if added to your bonsai in a thematic way, so to speak.
Rules for placing tiles and the requirements of the objectives are specifically designed to make you build something realistic, but the objectives also differ from game to game — and in the end how you shape that bonsai is up to you anyway.
This, in the words of many playtesters, happened to create a “Zen and relaxing experience” without losing the puzzle and challenge for scoring the most victory points. On the contrary, having more freedom, players also have more agency than usual in finding their unique path to optimal scoring.
The implicit effect of this is that both the tile scoring and the objective requirements leave you space to get to them as you prefer. They provide requirements, but not an exact way to fulfill them. Players are therefore free to build the bonsai almost as they like, and no two are going to look the same!
Before presenting Bonsai to the world, some more aspects were meticulously cultivated:
• DV Games developers Marta Ciaccasassi and Luca Appolloni started right where we had stopped, and spent countless hours polishing the deck and rules, ensuring every card was a piece of the puzzle.
• Together with us, the designers, they nurtured our solo mode, now enriched with unique scenarios to challenge even the most introspective bonsai enthusiasts.
• Several playtesting groups and board game clubs were involved in intense blind-testing sessions to gather feedback, pictures, and numbers in order to assess whether the balancing of all elements was right. This blind-testing process gave us more perspective on the end-user perception and provided great insights on how to improve the game and all its assets.
• We did extensive research on the topic of bonsai and also consulted with the UBI ("Unione Bonsaisti Italiani", an Italian bonsai association) in order to double-check and review all aspects and info related to the game and the world of bonsai. Some of these are summarized in the rulebook for people interested in learning more about this beautiful hobby.•••
As we wrap up this designer diary, we're reminded of these words of wisdom: "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now."
It was this quote from the Internet that really got us and the publisher thinking; we realized we could do more than "just a game" as everything is a chance to make a difference. First, even though it was more expensive, the game has been entirely produced with FSC materials, including the wraps and inks!
Second, the publisher arranged an agreement with Trees for the Future, a nonprofit organization committed to building more resilient communities and a healthier planet. Through Trees for the Future, DV Games was able to plant eight thousand trees in the last two years.
The Final Blossoming
Bonsai sold out at Gen Con 2023 within minutes, and while it's going to be available only in English and Italian at SPIEL '23, many countries are going to release it soon after in their own language. It's not released worldwide yet, but it's already a success! We are grateful for that and couldn't be happier. As mentioned before, it has always been about the journey, not the destination. We enjoyed working on the game no matter the end result, and therefore the fact that we can finally share the fruit of our labor and passion with so many people fills our hearts with pure joy. We cannot wait to see YOUR unique bonsai growing!
This project is the culmination of years of care, patience, friendship, and collaboration. It's an invitation to embrace the art of shaping and growing, both in the game and in life, so whether you're a seasoned gamer or a novice in this field, come and discover the beauty and tranquility of Bonsai.
How to Play Bonsai
Now that you know everything about how Bonsai was born, learn how to play it by following the tutorial made by Watch It Played!
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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26 Sep 2023
Marine Worlds expansion for Ark Nova from designer Mathias Wigge, on a review copy provided by Capstone Games. As someone who enjoys Ark Nova, but is not necessarily gaga for it, I was really curious to see how it felt to play with the Marine Worlds expansion and if it would push me closer to being gaga for Ark Nova. If you're not already familiar with Ark Nova, you can check out Eric's first impressions post and video from April 2022 to get a feel for this popular zoo-building game that debuted in October 2021 from publisher Feuerland Spiele.
Ark Nova: Marine Worlds adds sea animals and new aquarium special enclosures for you to add sea animals to your zoo. There are new zoo cards for the new sea animals, as well as new sponsors, and new conservation projects. The new cards are great for adding more variety to Ark Nova, especially considering how much of the gameplay is centered around the cards.
All sea animals have a wave icon on them, which has no effect when playing the card, but whenever you replenish the card display and add a card with the wave icon on it, you'll discard the bottom card of the display and replenish again. I really love this addition because Ark Nova has so many cards and you're often looking for a particular type of animal, so it's nice to have a way to cycle through the cards in the display more frequently.
About half of the sea animals in this expansion have a coral icon on them indicating they are reef dwellers, which introduces a fun, new mechanism to the game when you have reef dweller sea animals in your zoo. Whenever you play a reef dweller card, you trigger the effects of all reef dwellers in your zoo, including the one you just played. These are nice special abilities you can build up in your tableau. However, if you're not planning to collect multiple reef dwellers, you'll miss out on the satisfying feeling of triggering a bunch of them.
Aside from introducing sea animals and aquariums, the Marine Worlds expansion adds 4 alternate versions of each action card. To incorporate the new alternate action cards, each player gets 3 of the new cards at random, which are then drafted – keep 1 and pass 1, etc. From your 3 drafted action cards, you'll choose 2 different types of action cards to keep, swapping out the corresponding original version of each. Each of the alternate action cards have small bonuses, which gives each player a slightly asymmetrical set of action cards to play with. I found this to be a very nice change, and I love the variety of having 4 alternate versions of each of the 5 action card types.
Marine Worlds also comes with a new association board to accommodate new universities. When you perform an Association action to gain a partner university, there's a new generic university tile that allows you to gain one of the new animal-specific universities (associated with a particular type of animal), if you don't already have one. This adds a research icon and an animal icon to your zoo, and allows you to immediately gain a card from the deck that matches the corresponding university's animal type. I found this to be very helpful because it's another way to get more animal icons you need in your zoo.
There are new bonus tiles, new final scoring cards, and new base conservation project cards that add even more variety to Ark Nova. In addition, there are 38 replacement cards; some cards needed updated iconography to incorporate sea animals, and some card effects were changed as well. I didn't notice any major impacts from these changes, but I definitely appreciate the variety.
Another bonus in the Marine Worlds expansion is the cute, upgraded components for the 3 main tracks and animal-shaped player tokens to use on the left edge of your zoo map instead of cubes.
Marine Worlds adds cool, new elements to Ark Nova that I found enjoyable. It's one of those expansions that feels smooth to integrate with the base game, since the new elements are interesting and add more variety without adding a lot of bloat. While it's not something you must have to enjoy the game, I don't think I would ever play Ark Nova without it, and I certainly don't think it adds much complexity-wise where new players couldn't jump right in with the expansion. If you are already a fan of Ark Nova, this expansion is a no-brainer. If you're not an Ark Nova fan, don't expect this expansion to sway you much, but maybe the few new twists are just what you're looking for. Either way, the additions are great, and the game still plays similar to the base game, just with a tad more variety and nice component upgrades.
Frosted Games (Watergate), 1 More Time Games (Riftforce), and Deep Print Games (Beer & Bread). If you enjoyed any or all of the aforementioned games, you should definitely check out Match of the Century from Paolo Mori, which is a SPIEL '23 release from Deep Print Games and Capstone Games.
Paolo Mori (Ethnos, Libertalia, Dogs of War) needs no introduction, and clearly knows his way around designing excellent, tense, two-player games, which I discovered by playing, loving, and sweating through Blitzkrieg!: World War Two in 20 Minutes and Caesar!: Seize Rome in 20 Minutes!, from PSC Games. Thus, I was very excited to get my hands on an advance copy of Match of the Century, which Clay Ross let me borrow to play with Eric during Gen Con, and then kindly sent me a copy ahead of SPIEL '23.
Match of the Century is a two-player, unique card-driven game where one player assumes the role of Bobby Fischer and the other player plays as Boris Spassky, recreating the final match of the 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavik. Each player has their own asymmetrical decks, and you alternate playing cards to simulate multiple short and tense chess games until one player reaches 6 points, winning the title and becoming a chess legend.
In Match of the Century, as in a real chess match, you play a series of games. To avoid confusion, I'll refer to the chess "games" as "rounds" within a game of Match of the Century. Each round comprises up to four exchanges, where you and your opponent play exactly one card each. As a result of an exchange, you usually gain or lose advantage relative to your opponent, and this is tracked on the left side of the game board as you resolve each exchange. If the advantage marker is on your side at the end of the round, you score a point. Otherwise, if it's on your opponent's side, they score a point. If it's on the neutral space indicating a draw, you both score a point.
Each player has their own unique deck of 16 cards, and each card represents 2 of 32 chess pieces. The cards are separated into two parts: one part shows a white chess piece and the other part shows a black chess piece. Each side of each card has a strength and an effect. When you're playing Match of the Century, you take turns playing as white and as black. In the first round, Spassky plays with the white pieces so that player will have the white queen as a reminder, and Fischer plays with the black pieces. It's helpful to flip your cards in your hand so they're all showing the color pieces you'll be playing for the current round.
Players sit on the side of the table such that the Fischer player is facing the blue side of the game board, and the Spassky player is on the red side. Each player has a mental endurance track on their side of the board to represent changes in their focus and fatigue throughout the match. Throughout the game, when you gain or lose mental endurance, you'll adjust your mental endurance track accordingly. Your mental endurance level is mostly important because it indicates your hand limit. The more cards you can hold, the more flexibility you have when it comes to exchanges. Depending on your mental endurance level, you also may gain some pawns to strengthen the cards you play for exchanges, and it also may affect where the advantage marker starts at the beginning of a round. In any case, it's important to keep your mental endurance in a good position relative to your opponent's as you play Match of the Century. It's also beneficial to avoid some of the punishing disadvantages of low mental endurance. This is a great thematic mechanism in a game about a major chess competition.
Each round, you play up to a max of four exchanges. Starting with the player who has the initiative, each player plays one card onto to any open exchange space, with a piece of their current chess color pointing to the center. In addition to playing a card, you may immediately strengthen its piece by adding up to 2 pawns from your personal reserve to the 2 pawn spaces above the card. You gain these pawns from either the mental endurance track, or from card effects. After the player with the initiative plays a card, their opponent must play a card on their side of the same exchange section, and they may also optionally add up to 2 pawns from their personal supply to strengthen their piece.
The exchanges are the meat and potatoes of the game. There are so many rich decisions that come from the hand management in Match of the Century. You have so many things to consider when you're playing a card into an exchange whether you're playing a card first or second. If you have the initiative and you're playing a card first, you have to not only decide which card you want to play, but also which exchange section you want to play into. You are also factoring in how your opponent may respond, and when it makes sense to add pawns to strengthen your card. Plus, you also need to consider what's on the opposite part of the card because it may be a card you want to save for next round when you're playing the other color. When you win an exchange, you're going to start the next one and sometimes that can put you in a vulnerable position.
As the player playing the second card, you have so many decisions as well. Is it important for you to win this particular exchange? Do you want to play a stronger piece, or perhaps a weaker piece then add some pawns to win this exchange? Does it make sense to tie and make it a draw? Or do you want to intentionally lose so you can trigger a powerful ability on your card? Again, lots of awesome decisions to consider and lends itself to tense, thinky gameplay...just like chess!
Again, if whoever wins a round scores a point, and if players tie, they both score a point. As soon as a player's king (score tracker) reaches the center space on the match track (6 points), that player wins the entire match and the game ends.
If you are a fan of games with simple rules, tough choices, and tense gameplay, Match of the Century might be right up your alley. I really dig it for those reasons, but also because it's thematic and unique. The component quality is great and it can be played in less than an hour, which is great. It's also super cool that Match of the Century includes a 23-page historical context booklet, which is awesome to have for a game based on a real historical event.
- [+] Dice rolls
David Esbrí, our editor on The Red Cathedral, created a WhatsApp group with the following welcome message: "Well, when do we start with the next game?" Of course we said, "Right away!!!" What else are you going to say? You don't get opportunities like this every day!
Of course, we didn't know what this was going to mean in terms of mental health, nor that we were going to get to know the term "best-seller syndrome" first-hand thanks to The Red Cathedral, that small-box game that still brings us so many joys.
We had always flirted with the idea of designing a trilogy someday, so why not consider it? This seemed like a perfect opportunity, and Devir thought it was a good idea, so there we went. We already had The Red Cathedral, so the next thing would have to be a building that wasn't a cathedral and that didn't have red as a representative color. Since we absolutely love Japan and one of its most emblematic buildings is Himeji Castle (a.k.a., White Heron Castle), we thought, why not? We will call it The White Castle.
So, the theme was settled. Now it was time to find common ground with its predecessor. Since the dice mechanism was what people liked the most, it obviously had to have dice and an interesting selection mechanism.
As with The Red Cathedral, the initial dice mechanism is what would sustain the entire development of the game, and we were convinced that the castle had to be the centerpiece of the game (which is called "The White Castle" for a reason). The castle had to be present. Above all, it couldn't be a simple evolution of The Red Cathedral. It had to be a completely new game.
When we thought about Japan, it was inevitable to remember its castles, its temples, and its beautiful gardens, where there were often bridges and ponds with Koi carp. With these elements and concepts, we designed version 0 of the game, where there were already bridges and a castle with rooms, in a similar way to those in the final game — but it wasn't going to be that easy.
Version 0 was a disaster: resources were missing everywhere, the turn resolution was a nightmare, and most of the game mechanisms didn't fit together, but we still believed we could fix everything...until the first reviews, games, and comments for The Red Cathedral arrived. We began to think that perhaps we couldn't make a game just as good.
Everyone loved the rondel; everyone emphasized that the good think about the game is the rondel, and we love it, too!
So we thought: Why aren't we making another original rondel and giving people what they like? Let's make a new rondel! Double! Triple! Let's have it move in several directions! No more dice! Dice are expensive to produce! Rondels with colorful meeples that do different things! With this deviation from our original vision of how we would approach game design, we entered a spiral of failed releases, which lasted about a year.
We tried everything! We had ships, battles, farmers, and lots of resources. We always wanted the game to reflect Japanese feudal society and its clans, and we maintained that between versions. We made rondels of all types, shapes, and colors. (Some of the prototypes were very elaborate!) Some versions included nearly one hundred different cards and endless mechanisms interspersed among them, but nothing, absolutely nothing of what we did was enough.
Nothing worked as finely as The Red Cathedral, yet in each failed version, there were always elements that we liked.
We got so frustrated that when we sat down to work on the design, our mood would change. We were upset by the mere fact of not moving forward, and we were starting to foresee schedule problems. We spoke with David and told him what was happening. He talked to us about the best-seller syndrome, which writers experience when writing their next book after an immensely successful publication.
Amid all this emotional tsunami, we stopped designing and came up with an idea to expand The Red Cathedral. This was a wonderful breath of fresh air; working on expanding something that you know through and through is not the same as creating something from scratch which must be up to par.
Thanks to this break, and after realizing that we were still capable of designing things that are very good, we thought, "What if we forget about everything, about all the failed rondels, about all the comments on our games...and we focus on enjoying ourselves and go back to the bridges? The bridges were cool!"
And that's what we did. Based on version 0, we designed a new version, which used a curious mechanism that we abandoned because it was too complex for what we wanted to achieve with the game: If you took a high-value die, it would give you money (because all the squares in the castle had low values), but the action associated with that value had to be less powerful than the one associated with a low-value die (since it would probably mean that selecting the action costed money). There were too many things to consider, and it made the game complicated, so we abandoned it.
We had this duality of many resources/not very powerful action and vice versa, but then we saw it in Tiletum — and thank goodness because when we saw it, we had the game at 70%.
So we changed it for a simpler concept: the values would be a reference to know whether you must pay or get money, and the actions to be executed would depend on the color of the die used. While we were at it, instead of having the action printed on the board, we would have different action cards and the board would change radically from one game to another. This change was what gave meaning to everything. The game finally clicked.
From here on, the development sped up, especially in Tabletop Simulator, although we also played homemade paper-and-cardboard versions.
We created a small community of testers, thanks to whom today you can enjoy The White Castle. It was great to see how even though only four people were playing in the TTS session, there were eight people just for the sake of talking and seeing what we had changed this time...and they got a little addicted to the game. The best message you can receive from your testers once a development is completed is them asking whether they can still play, even if there is nothing to test.
The personal board was merely the support for the meeples, and we thought that the feeling of evolution was reflected by the board getting empty, but it sort of fell short. We thought: What if we can activate card actions just like in the castle? Then we came up with the mechanisms of obtaining cards from the castle to put them on your board.
The story of the lantern action is somewhat more embarrassing. We came up with it because we didn't like that you ended up with a pile of cards on your board. What could we do with them? Yes, that's how silly the spark of the idea was. We don't hide. We changed actions on the board and boosted the lantern as well as the individual actions, and it was enough. We loved seeing that evolution on the board.
But what about the majorities? The Red Cathedral has a fun majority mechanism that gives meaning to many things in the game, so why not add it to this game, too?
In the end, we didn't have enough elements to implement a majority mechanism that wouldn't almost always end in a tie, so we decided to give each type of character a way to score, and that would be it. About the majorities, who knows? Maybe for an expansion...
And the bridges? They should have even more prominence!
Curiously, when we were finishing the development process, we bought a 3D printer. Of course, one of the first things we did was to print some 3D bridges to see how they would look...and we still don't know how, but we convinced our editor to include them.
When the game was finished, we handed it over to David. He worked closely with the incredible Joan Guardiet, who made our ugly boards and cards come to life. It was wonderful to see how we were all so like-minded on the art of the game. At SPIEL '22 Joan showed us some illustrations and concepts, and that alone gave us goosebumps. This was going fast!
Meeple Foundry was incorporated into the project so that our questionable icons — especially the Japanese garden, which looked like a brain — were well understood and everything was properly placed. With all of these ingredients, David was able to do what only he knows how to do: make magic with the components and art of the game and give it the form of an irresistible product for any collection.The garden action
After two-and-a-half years working almost exclusively on this project, with six or seven different games fully designed and discarded for not being good enough, we were finally able to breathe, having learned this lesson: Never deviate from your initial idea, the one that got everything going.
Shei & Isra
- [+] Dice rolls
Ondřej BystroňCzech Republic
Kutná Hora: The City of Silver is a historical city-building Eurogame for 2–4 players that features a real-life supply and demand experience in which every action you take has an impact on the game's dynamic economic systems. The game is being published by Czech Games Edition, and it will debut at SPIEL '23.
In this designer diary, Czech author Ondřej Bystroň (who co-designed the game with Petr Čáslava and Pavel Jarosch) shares the challenges and joys of working on his first published project.•••
"Why Don't You Put It on the Table?"
The idea for a board game was kicking around in my head for a long time, but it took a while before I became serious about designing it. Occasionally, I took some notes or made a couple of sketches, then let it go after a while to pursue something else. However, even at this early stage, all of my thoughts were wrapped around medieval towns. I love medieval towns. I love to walk through them and read about them, and I particularly enjoy imagining how people lived back then.
Everything became more serious a couple of years ago. I believe it was my mom (and fellow gamer) who asked when we'd get to see the game I talked about on the table. That question came during a period when I was between two jobs. I had some spare time, so I took my notes and started designing.
I just didn't know where to start. As many of you are aware, loving board games and designing them are two very different things — but I felt confident, and I had plenty of project management experience from leading creative teams. "How different can designing a game be", I thought. I was a true "sweet summer child" — totally ignorant.Art references and sketches of historic Kutná Hora architecture alongside one of the final building tiles in the game
Telling a Historical Story Through Board Games
All of my initial ideas centered around a nearby city in the Czech Republic. I wanted to share the story of Kutná Hora. As my first steps of game design, I read everything I could get my hands on about the city. For me, board games felt like a great medium for telling the story of Kutná Hora, and I wanted to have it be as real and historically accurate as possible.A photograph of St. Barbara's cathedral and the city of Kutná Hora as it stands today (photo by Josef Čáslava)
Based on my research, I was able to piece together what felt like a good baseline of a game concept. I spent months fleshing things out in my notes and on my computer, but in hindsight I realize I should have just gotten it to the table as soon as possible and invited people to try it out much earlier in the process. I was naïve.
When we finally played the game for the first time, it didn't really work the way I planned. I discussed the prototype with my co-designer Pavel Jarosch and my wife Katya, made some changes, and we played it more — and it didn't work again. Every "fix" we made created more bugs in the design. It was pretty broken. But after those initial games, we were hooked and wanted to create a great game. Pavel and I began to develop the game together. We created a bug list, tackled it point by point, and began looking for some outside help.An early prototype of Kutná Hora
For example, when I was struggling to understand some details about the city's history, I picked up the phone and called the museum in Kutná Hora. Much to my surprise, the lady I spoke with was extremely helpful. She was great about explaining important details to me and answering all my questions...and she wasn't the only one.
Throughout the design process I was often helped by others who were kind enough to take a moment to share helpful insights, including many in the board game community. Lots of designers are sharing their learning and point of view on various podcasts, too. I've found that the board game industry as a whole is extremely friendly, which is something I'm grateful for. Our early playtesters were fantastic, and their enthusiasm gave us motivation to push forward.
It took us more than half a year to get to the point where we believed that we had a good game, but it was nowhere near complete just yet. Around this time, we connected with Czech board game designer and developer Petr Čáslava, who tested the game and politely showed us — all within his first turn — that our concept needed more refinement. We were at a crossroads.Another old prototype, with this one showing some of the thematic and visual progress
Economy in Design
Soon it became clear that we needed to make hard decisions about which direction to take. Petr gave us many good ideas and recommendations, and I spent a month reflecting on the options in front of us. During that period, I played a lot of new games, took a lot of notes, and did a ton of reading.
And then it suddenly started to make sense. Kutná Hora is an economics game at heart, but the economy at that time was just a thin layer. I wanted to go deeper.
This was the moment when the idea for the dynamic supply and demand economy mechanism came to me. When the supply exceeds demand, prices go down, and when demand exceeds the supply, prices increase. The economy had to be built around silver ore and silver. It was, after all, a game about a medieval mining city.
From there, adding in bureaucracy was a logical next step. Historically, Kutná Hora was a major source of the king's income, and the royalty soon understood that they must get a clear overview of how much silver was produced.
On the other side of that equation were the people. Nobody knows for sure how many people lived in medieval Kutná Hora, but estimates put it well above 20,000 inhabitants. From today's perspective that's not much, but in the 1200s that was the population of London. People need food to eat, buildings to live in, and places to have entertainment, so I decided the other branch of the game's economy must be driven by the population and its needs.The final design for one of the games two resource tracking systems. Here, we see the population increase by one, which adds demand and increases the value of wood and beer. However, in the third image a wood producing building is constructed, which fulfills some of the demand and reduces the wood value.
Across several weeks, I prepared four major versions. It felt like we were constantly testing, discussing, developing, preparing prototypes, and testing again. And it worked. The game changed in the ways we wanted. It became more serious, suddenly there were clearer decisions, and it was ever-changing.
That ever-changing element I liked a lot. The fact that the economy wasn't fixed made the game more dynamic and always different with each play. I wanted more of that. Around that time, the idea of dynamic neighborhood pricing was born, with the cost to reserve a plot of land being determined by the highest adjacent neighboring building. Again, it was something that made good sense, thematically. When you want to build next to a church, the plot of land is going to be more expensive than if you are buying land next to smelly limekiln, for example. As much as this was realistic, it quite naturally led testers to build mostly in cheap neighborhoods. I didn't like how the city looked.A look at the final design of the city board and several city structures
The inspiration for a solution to this came again from reality. Kutná Hora is a real city, with real quarters. It was built in a certain order, which inspired me to implement neighborhood symbols that brought a new scoring layer to the game, a layer that introduces interesting decisions. Players now had to consider more carefully where to build. Yes, you can build the town hall next to the sawmill, and it's going to be cheap. However, leaders of the town probably won't be happy to work next to the noisy workshop. Because the symbols on those two buildings don't align, you wouldn't be scoring points at the end of the game from them if you built them next to one another.A look at the visual evolution of some of the early prototype building artwork
Momentum and Changes
Throughout that time we kept consulting with Petr, and he kept providing ideas, direction, and challenges. The biggest challenge we ran into was the economic model itself. At that time in the game's development cycle, the economy was represented by different bars and tokens. It wasn't easy to operate, and it was hard to understand what the current price of different commodities was. Plus, the economic board was huge.One of the first iterations of the dynamic economy tracking system
The idea to simplify the system into rotating wheels came quickly once I was able to identify the issue. This early solution was just a different expression of the same supply and demand system, brought from two-dimensional boards to moving wheels. However, it took some time to make it work outside of my head. Once it was done, it was possible to operate the economic side of the game easily and read the commodity prices on first look.
Everything was on the move around this time. My third kid was born; the game economy was moving, literally; and the newly developing Covid lockdowns were changing our reality from one day to another — but that was just the beginning.An early implementation of the wheel version of the economic tracking system
After another visit with Petr, we decided to ask him to work with us on the game as a team member. At this point the game was already heavily influenced by him, and it felt natural for us to have him on board. Petr agreed and brought new energy into the development. As we all live in different places, we moved the development to a digital version. This was particularly fitting since this was during a period of Zoom meetings and long-distance co-operation for many people.
As much as we had a good core for the game, we weren't there yet. We had invested lots of energy in the economic mechanisms, but other parts of the game felt underdeveloped and chaotic. The game, when pushed a bit harder, was breaking on multiple levels, so we continued the endless circle of testing, brainstorming, thinking, arguing, prototyping, and testing again. In a way it felt surreal. One of us would leave an idea on our Discord during the night, another would build on it during the day, and in the evening we'd be playesting.
It took us several more months of testing and countless updates, but the game was getting into the shape we wanted. My wife redrew the prototype completely. It was time to start with open testing and to talk to publishers.A much prettier hand-illustrated version of the wheel prototype
That One Event That Changed It All
It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were in the car, leaving for a gaming event where Kutná Hora was tested heavily. There were a ton of people testing the game across the four-day event, and we got great feedback. We should have been happy, but we weren't. What we didn't like was the "loan" action — not that it wouldn't work mechanically, but it was more that we didn't like the emotion that players had when taking the loan.
Petr went straight to the point: "What if we cancel loans? People hate them." Okay, but that doesn't solve what to do when players run out of money. He suggested we let players take multiple incomes per round, whenever they want, as an action that would tie into the current market value of the resources they could generate.
Just like that, things clicked. I had gotten so used to the fact that income is something that normally comes at the end of the turn that I had closed myself into a small box. That solution was great! Need more money? Did beer just jump up in price, and you are able to produce plenty? Then trigger your income action and re-fill your coffers. Brilliant.Kutná Hora being tested by some of the CGE development team during an internal testing event
We were not done yet. During the testing event, we also realized that end-of-turn scoring tends to get predictable. Players knew what is going to be scored when and adjusted their playstyle. That's okay, of course, but our concern was that it would get boring after a while. We had a dynamic game that played differently each time, yet the end-of-turn scoring was predictable. That didn't feel right.
"Why Don't We Let Players Decide What and When to Score?"
After that, the idea of patricians came almost instantly. In the game, they are your relatives who are lobbying for your interest in the town hall. Are you mining a lot? Well, then you might want to influence town hall to better appreciate your efforts, but you must pay to get them to council. We liked that a lot. The medieval world was not too different from ours, and people were giving bribes in exchange for influence. Of course, to save their immortal souls, they later became beneficiaries of the church.The final visual design for the patricians
What surprised us was the reaction of many players. They were not happy that scoring conditions could potentially be valid for all players. They wanted patricians to work exclusively for them. Some people had a mental block about activating a patrician and providing another player with points. We even got quite a bit of feedback that it doesn't work and that we should scrap the idea.
I'm very happy that we didn't. Patricians eventually became one of the key elements of the game, and they contributed strongly to the great replayability of Kutná Hora.
As much as we were happy with introducing patricians, we lost the St. Barbara cathedral in the process. From the early stages of the game, the cathedral's construction was connected to end-of-turn scoring. We couldn't lose the most iconic church in the city. We wanted to bring St. Barbara back, and our goal was to have it as a more active and important part of the game. This ended up being a change that was much appreciated by testers as the more active approach we took with St. Barbara opens alternative paths for players and tempting options to explore.
A look at the final card design for the action-selection cards
All those changes meant constant updates to the prototype. As much as we knew this was making the game more interesting, it was also making it more difficult to manipulate, so at the pinnacle of all the changes we introduced action cards.
What started as an attempt to improve the flow of gameplay and reduce cardboard elements turned out to be so much more than that. Action cards brought a totally new decision layer to the game and gave players much needed planning possibilities. Plus, the cards look great. I learned that when can possibly improve the experience for players, you have to go for it. It's always going to improve the game on so many other levels that you can't predict up front.
And that was it. We had a game we wanted, the game we imagined. We were ready. Right? Oh, I couldn't have been more wrong.
Working with CGE
When we made an agreement with CGE about publishing our game, they were quite busy. This was just before launching the Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders expansion (that later became super successful). Plus they were developing two games at the same time: Deal with the Devil and Starship Captains. They were literally buried under the work and not as focused on Kutná Hora at the time due to the busy production schedule. That changed after SPIEL '22.
Right after SPIEL, more prototypes of Kutná Hora were produced and massive testing started — and with massive testing came massive feedback from every direction. And, of course, many comments contradicted one another. In the morning one tester reported that reputation is too weak only to, later that day, report that acquiring reputation is a clear winning strategy. Testers were trying to break the game on many levels and that generated a continuous stream of comments.CGE team members brainstorm intensely during a design meeting
I must admit that this period was extremely confusing to me. I believed we had the game tested, that it was solid and great fun, yet there was a continuous flow of input. It took me a while to learn how to work within that structure, to sort out what was relevant, what was a good suggestion, and what was a personal preference. We, as authors, had long evening calls, then tested and adjusted on a daily basis. This heavy period took about three months. It was intensive and exhausting. However, what came out of it was good. We have confirmed all the core mechanisms and agreed that our focus should be on balancing some components.
I've always considered myself a spreadsheet fan, and the economy model was present in the game from day one. However, next came the real heavy calculation number crunching. Tests brought tons of data that was collected and analyzed. Necessary adjustments were made. I remember one testing event during which people were playing prototypes, having fun, and discovering the game...while Petr, Tomáš "Uhlík" Uhlíř (author of Under Falling Skies and one of CGE's developers) and myself were closed in a room and doing adjustments based on the last analysis for twelve hours straight.
That was just one of many days like that. Our goal was to identify and adjust elements that were unbalanced. We were trying to find the sweet spot between having the game be edgy and be "fair" but slightly boring. You can imagine that people differ in their opinions over where that fine line is, and since the mechanisms are connected, each "small" change influenced the game on many other layers.
Those were hectic months for all of us. At the end, we all adjusted to one another and finished Kutná Hora. That was possible only because as much as we had different opinions and working methods, at the end of the day everyone related to the common goal: to deliver the best experience for players.
When Black Is Too Black
Even if you haven't played a game before, it's easy to develop an opinion on it based on its visual design. This was exactly what happened with Kutná Hora. To be honest, we as authors had different opinions on how the game should look. When Radek, our lead graphic designer from CGE, approached us with a request to give our suggestions for an artist, it took us some time to agree.
We wanted the look of the game to align with its mechanisms and overall mood. Easier said than done. What was clear, however, was that we wanted to use darker tones. The city was built on mines, and there was continuous smoke from smelters. We wanted a medieval Stahlstadt style visually. The idea was that the dark board gets lightened as the game progresses and as players start to build out mines or buildings. We wanted the game's buildings to have strong colors and high contrasts. The game feels fast and creates unexpected situations and dramas. We wanted to have that expressed in the visual style — and as you might guess, that raised some eyebrows.
During CGE's spring testing event, what started as a small conversation between a few people about the game's board style turned out to be an event on its own. At one point there was the highest quantity of game designers per square meter in the known universe — Matůš, Mín, Tomáš, Adam, Vlaada — all of them around the table, each having their own opinion of how our game should look. It must have been quite a spectacle since many players interrupted their own games, came to our table, and listened to the conversation and had their own opinions, too, ideas quite different from what Petr and I wanted. The discussion expanded further into general aesthetical principles and color theory. It was one of those special "CGE moments", but as with the majority of things, it turned out in a good way, and it was great to see how many people took a personal effort in delivering Kutná Hora the best possible way.A close-up of some of the final RE-Wood components used in the finished game
What is great is that Radek really knows his job. He was keen on providing visual clues for players, having visually impaired people on top of his mind, while always keeping the overall direction in mind and creating a unique visual style for the game.
What Does It Take to Be Ready?
The biggest surprise? It takes lots of time. I was lucky that along the way so many people helped me on so many levels, yet the design and development took every free moment we had. Another surprise was how intensive design and development felt. It was like trying to run a marathon with a series of fast sprints. Whenever you catch a breath, it's time for another burst.
Of course, it wouldn't be possible without family and friends. My wife supported me the whole time. Without her, I wouldn't have moved beyond the first prototype, and the same goes for my cousin Jiří and other early testers, who spent hours and hours playing raw early versions.
For me, it wouldn't be possible without my co-designers. It was easy to build on each other's ideas and lean on each other's expertise.
The biggest learning experience, personally, was in realizing that the greatest source of inspiration comes from the real world. Whenever I was stuck and couldn't find the solution, the easiest way forward was to look at how things worked in real medieval Kutná Hora. Once I understood that, it was easy to find the path forward.
Ondřej BystroňWhat the finished game looks like today after a long journey of iteration
- [+] Dice rolls
Asger and Snorre, and today we are thrilled to take you backstage of Combo Fighter, a card game dedicated to bringing the rush of old-school arcade fighting games right to your game nights.
We love to tell stories and create experiences that bring people together across skill levels and ages, and make you laugh and cheer, even if you are not the ultimate victor. We believe that losing a game should not be a downer but a thrill — and a prompt to dive back in. Game design is about creating good times, about sharing laughs and moments and high-fives.Asger and Snorre at Gen Con
When we started Plotmaker Games in 2013, our designs were brought to market through established publishers. Now, we are finally a truly independent studio and publisher, which is super-duper exciting, and we relaunched the game as Combo Fighter: Plotmaker Edition – Pack 1 in 2022.
Combo Fighter is our love letter to the great arcade fighting games we grew up with. It was born from a passion for old-school arcade fighting games, comic books, and the raw intensity of real-life martial arts.
The Feel of the Game
We wanted a game that really captures the magic of classic arcade fighting games. We wanted it to be as fast and exhilarating as a game of Tekken or Street Fighter, where the real action isn't just on the board but also in your head. The essential feeling of the game must be about trying to outguess your opponent, to see through their move before they even make it.
By drawing inspiration from the intricacies of Tekken 3's gameplay, we distilled the essence of fighting into three key actions: Attack, Defense, and Footwork. This rock-paper-scissor dynamic forms the foundation and core of the game. The simple mechanism allows for lightning-fast arcade action. While the game has strategic depth, the depth is more psychological than logical. This allows for an intense game of bluffing and out-guessing your opponent, and we found this perfect for conveying the feeling of fast-paced arcade fighting games.
With Combo Fighter we didn't want moves that just looked cool on their own; we wanted to give players a chance to create series of epic moments. We wanted cool, individual moves with an inherent martial arts logic that combine to tell a story.
Finally, we wanted a game that's accessible, no matter your skill level. It should not be about being a chess grandmaster but about having a blast together. We wanted the focus to be on the thrill and universal joy of landing a knockout punch or pulling off a perfect combo.
Crafting Unique Fighters: Personalities Woven into Cards
Combo Fighter is also about taking on a character and – in the fantastic arena of imagination — becoming a formidable fighter. You've got brawlers who love to land big hits, true combo fighters who fire off long salvos of smashing techniques, and the tactical geniuses who rely on making their moves come together in an all-or-nothing game-winning combo. In Combo Fighter, each character is a unique bundle of awesomeness.
The Fighter Line-up
It's time to meet the stars of the show, the fearless and dedicated fighters who gladly shed sweat, tears, and blood for your entertainment:
Tele "Stomp" Manava
Stomp is back! Old fans of the game will know that this dude is our Sumo Wrestling champion. Sure, he's slow, but boy, his Earthquake card! It lands like a wrecking ball. You can practically feel the ground shake. And his Samoan War Dance combo allows him to repeatedly return the card to his hand. Oh, and did we mention he has negotiated a big contract? Stomp is now sponsored by Papa's Syrup. Pancake lovers unite!
We took a trip to Finland and found the inspiration for Karhu at the bottom of a bottle. She is to the point, effective and strong like Finnish beer. "Karhu" means bear, and she seemed like a perfect fit for the no-nonsense fighting style of Krav Maga. Mechanically, Karhu introduces the new colorless cards, special cards that fall out of the rock-paper-scissor circle but allow for hard-hitting special techniques. Karhu is the mother of six boys, so she knows how to tug you in.
Fox made a strong debut in the first edition. For those who don't know her, imagine Eddy Gordo from Tekken. Fox brings that same rhythm and flow, and her press-your-luck style feels like mashing buttons and hoping for the best. With a 20+ damage potential, it is guaranteed to have your opponent at the edge of their seat. With Fox, we went for that 1980s roller-skating vibe – a true style icon.
Paying homage to the legendary Muhammad Ali, Elijah King floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Taking on the role as King allows you to relive Ali's spectacular and unique fighting style at your gaming table, firing off the champion's famous techniques such as "Dancing Jab" and "Phantom Punch". This guy has got a charisma that is off the charts – a true tribute to a true hero.
Ferro's story is wild! In their review of the first edition, SU&SD figured him "an investment banker", so we thought, hey, let's go with that story! But the thing with investment bankers is that they sometimes get caught — and sometimes they are innocent, too. While prison might have changed Ferro's appearance, his no-pain-no-gain Kyokushin karate remains as fierce and hard-hitting as a stock market crash.
With a nod to Tekken's Hwoarang, Snø is an avalanche of spectacular kicks. Snorre is half Norwegian, so Storm is also a secret love song to Snorre's "lost" country. Mechanically, we have revamped Snø's stances for (much!) smoother gameplay, so switching mid-combo feels as natural as a breeze. We hope that lovers of Tekken will be able to enjoy the essence of a Hwoarang-style fighter as they step into the ring as Snø Storm.
Malaya de Vera
Malaya is a mix of real martial arts and crazy fantasy moves. She is an avid tech student and tinkerer. Her portable power pack allows her to power her Arnis sticks and to unleash a powerful finisher move reminiscent of Ryu's "Hadoken" blast. This will surely make your opponent sweat. Like Junior Aurelus from Pack 1, Malaya is super tricky but also super satisfying to play.
Katashi "The Bull" Ono
Imagine an American football running back turned fighter. This is Ono in a nutshell. He is all about waiting for the right moment, hiding behind his powerful blocks to set up a smashing dash and deliver the knockout hit. Also, astute observers might recognize D.VA's mech from Overwatch as the visual inspiration.
The Artwork and the Graphics
We wanted to dial up the blend of traditional and fantastic elements. With the release of Combo Fighter: Plotmaker Edition – Pack 2 and Pack 3, we wanted to push the superpower elements even further and give the game more of a Kick Ass-feel.
For inspiration, we looked to Michael Lark and John Paul Leon. Both do awesome and dynamic poses, and their fighting sequences have a lot of power and rawness. Lark and Leon have also been great inspirations for the way they design and draw gear and tech. We love when you can feel the physical weight of the gear in the illustrations.
We wanted the game icons to mimic old-school arcade buttons. The players must feel they are hammering buttons as they play their cards. In the early prototypes, the buttons looked like modern app buttons – but when we came up with the arcade buttons and the design of the "original" Combo Fighter arcade machine, things fell into place in a nice way.
We wanted the general user interface to look like it was made of crude, light grey plastic as on the first PS1 controller. We have added small dents and chips in the surface for texture, but to be honest many of these subtle details got lost in printing. When you draw digitally, you sometimes tend to zoom in too much. Lesson learned.
Deck and Health Intertwined
In Combo Fighter, your deck is also your health bar. Each hit you take means losing cards as your fighter stamina is depleting. This mechanism was mainly inspired by real-life fighting. Anyone who has ever fought in the ring knows that it is crazy exhausting!
A big part of being a skilled martial artist comes from managing your breath and stamina and not squandering your energy. "Playing the game well is about making your hits count" was a design mantra we stuck with during development.
The Combo System
We took a page from fighting game legends and created a combo system that feels like orchestrating a symphony of hits. Win a flip, and you get to unleash a flurry of cards in a sequence that must flow just right. It's like those jaw-dropping combos you see in arcades, and they are insanely satisfying to pull off. "Make the combos shine" was another of our design mantras, a reminder that those sweet sequences are where the real magic happens.
In this edition, we wanted to make the power tokens even more dynamic and offer more interesting choices to the players. As we developed the game, it has been amazing to see how much differentiating of character is possible with just this little mechanism.
The Combo Fighter logo is inspired from a BMX patch Snorre had as a kid. Most fighting games rely heavily on red and black for their visual identity. With Combo Fighter we wanted to break the mold a bit in terms of both visual appearance of the fighters and color scheme. The blue tones from the logo also found their way to the individual fighter backgrounds. We wanted subtle backgrounds that wouldn't steal the thunder from the fighter they supported. Snorre got the idea for the backgrounds from his kid playing Mirror's Edge.
The Future of Plotmaker Games
This is a beginning of a journey. The Plotmaker daredevil pilot is aiming for more adventures! Combo Fighter Pack 1 dropped in 2022. Pack 2 and Pack 3 are getting ready for their big debut at SPIEL '23. And we are not just a duo anymore. Emilie joined full-time in 2022, giving the studio much needed extra fuel to allow for new adventure and titles. Niels is a seasoned developer who has been with us from the beginning and steps in when needed.
We are always thrilled to talk about games and upcoming titles and to share our passion, so please come say hi if you see us at conventions or shoot us an email if you have any questions.
Thank you for spending this moment with us. See you in the ring!
- [+] Dice rolls
Johannes Krenner and Markus Slawitscheck
The story of Challengers! started on May 29, 2020. Johannes and I were at our regular board game testing group in Vienna. At that time, we were only acquaintances who sometimes met there on Mondays. However, Johannes knew that I liked to play digital auto-battlers in my free time, and so did he. After we were done testing that day, I waited at the bus station when Johannes approached and pitched me his idea: He wanted to create a deck-builder auto-battler with me.
I was intrigued by the idea, although I had my doubts that this would work as an actual game. Nevertheless, I wanted to try.
A few days later, we scheduled a thorough brainstorming session. I created the first prototype by putting stickers on Hanabi cards. Cards with the same color would be part of a set, and some cards had effects that would strengthen other cards from the same set. In the picture below is the first draft of what would later become the Cinema Set. Three of the cards even made it into the final game.
First, we toyed around with a fixed number of cards, but then chose a hard limit of six different names in your deck. This allowed us to simulate the joy of finding duplicates, just like in our computer game inspiration.
However, the recounting and its error-proneness bothered me a lot. It felt clunky and inelegant. "The bench", a separate game board with six slots that must not be overfilled, was the perfect solution to the problem: It brought in a press-your-luck element that was also very visual. In addition, it allowed for many new card effects: Either directly buffing other cards "from the bench" or reviving cards like the "Butler", which allows you to remove cards from the bench and therefore indirectly increase the deck-size.
With 7-8 mini-match-ups during a tournament, it was extremely important to us that the match phase was short and exciting to watch. A match had to be playable in under two minutes because at this stage you have little control — especially in the beginning.
But this "sitting back" allowed a rare feeling of play: You could suddenly cheer for your creation – the team that you assembled. The bench makes this game phase easy to follow and thrilling to watch as the benches of both sides fill up.
When we decided on the theme of the game, it was important for Johannes that the matches were peaceful and that nobody would be harmed (contrary to our auto-battler inspiration), so we gave the cards animal names and made the match-phase a fictional sport.
At that time, we were already quite happy with the game. Therefore, it was a good time to dive deeper into the card effects. We wanted to create interesting and fun combos, but still make the cards easy to understand.
Our first priority was to make the timing of effects very clear. The way we achieved this was through key phrases like "Ball loss" or "From the bench". This is something quite unique about Challengers!: All the key phrases are essentially just timings for when an effect is active and when it isn't. When we made this change, the number of questions we got during gameplay went down to almost zero.
For a long time, the attacker also put all the cards which had not won the fight on their bench. This repeatedly led to confusion, effect timing problems, and draws since both players were able to lose at the same time. Markus is often the person who points out these things that are suboptimal, whereas I feel hesitant on spending a considerable and indefinite amount of overtime on improving something that is already fun.
It takes courage to throw previous work overboard in search of a higher level, but I think maybe the most important quality of a good game designer is NOT clinging to a dysfunctional idea – even if it's a beloved mechanism. After all, as a player, when you're in the flow, you don't want to be held up by checking rules all the time, especially in a game that you play with eight people where everybody is enjoying the tournament-atmosphere. For us, rule clarity and accessibility were top priorities.
When we decided that the attacker didn't bench their other cards, it led to another frequent question: Which card of the opponent needs to be defeated? A simple marker, the "ball" (which later on became the flag), was also a thematic solution.
All digital auto-battlers contain some kind of economy mechanism. Players usually must decide whether they want to buy new characters or level up to get stronger characters later.
Naturally, we started with an economic system in Challengers! as well. Players could add new cards to their deck or instead discard them to buy level points and thereby level up to tier B and C. This mechanism was okay; however, it was complicated and didn't make the game more fun.
Ultimately, we decided to get rid of it and just print the available tier (A, B or C) directly on the tournament plan. When we made the change, it felt like a huge relief to the gameplay. All the unnecessary tracking of level points was gone, and players could fully concentrate on the fun part of the game – adding new characters to their deck and thereby building their dream team.
Although the game was accessible and fun, the mathematics "under the hood" were often not trivial. For some necessary calculations, a Google table — today it has 66 sheets — has proven to be invaluable, especially for working together remotely during the pandemic, for keeping notes, and for organizing our ideas of new cards.
Markus and I "met" there online, sometimes planned, sometimes by chance, often late at night. It makes you feel really old when spending a weekend (in bed and) in front of a Google table sparks so much joy...
Okay, it was less the table than what we did there: fantasizing about new strategies and new ways to play, reading up on your co-designer's ideas and discussing them in detail. In short, we were hooked! Sometime after the sets were roughly finished, we also started to keep track of winning strategies there. As a result of these statistics, which would have been difficult for us to assess otherwise, some cards have changed their final value or effect.
By the time Challengers! was released, Johannes and I were no longer testing colleagues. We had become friends who love working on games together.
For my 31st birthday, Johannes made a special gift for me: A collage with all the different versions of the cards we had for Challengers! I still feel blessed and lucky that Johannes approached me at the bus station and that I got to work with such a great designer!Markus (l) and Johannes
When you have been developing games for over fifteen years, you might find yourself daydreaming or imagining what it would be like to win a prestigious award like Kennerspiel des Jahres or As d'Or: Initié. When it happens, it feels almost surreal. I am grateful that I was able to share this experience with Markus because he is as thoughtful and gentle a person as you could wish to meet, and it is a treat to work with him.
Now we are looking forward to the SPIEL '23 debut of Challengers! Beach Cup, especially the unique player powers that were a great joy for us to develop and play with. Have fun!From left: Markus Slawitscheck, Julian Steindorfer (co-owner of 1 More Time Games), Roman Rybiczka (the other co-owner) and Johannes Krenner
- [+] Dice rolls
• Synapses Games will release a new edition of Hisashi Hayashi's Yokohama in August 2024 following a debut at Gen Con. (Time to start the Gen Con 2024 Preview!)
Gameplay in this release will remain the same as the original 2016 edition from OKAZU Brand other than the inclusion of the eleven tokens in the Achievements & Free Agents promotional item released in 2017.
The graphics, on the other hand, will be completely new, with the game boards being double-layered so that pieces sit in place. A separate kit will be sold with metal coins should you desire such a thing.Mock-up shown at a Gen Con 2023 press event
Synapses Games plans to follow up this release with a new edition of Yokahama: Roll & Write in 2025 and Yokohama Duel in 2026.
• Lucky Duck Games has announced a partnership with Dutch publisher Splotter Spellen for the release of a special edition of Food Chain Magnate and its The Ketchup Mechanism & Other Ideas expansion.
Lucky Duck stresses that nothing about the gameplay will change from Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga's original design. Instead the publisher is working with Matt Paquette & Co. "to make significant changes to the game's components including the addition of miniatures, a new milestone tracker, and a storage solution as part of the box. This Special Edition is planned as a one-off print run, and there is no retail release coming for this edition."
This edition will be released solely in English via a Gamefound crowdfunding campaign that will launch on November 14, 2023.The originals
- [+] Dice rolls
My parents invited me to come to their place for a week for recovering, and once I could travel again, I went.
The next morning during breakfast, we had a conversation regarding one of my nephews, who is diagnosed autistic among other things. While I am certainly not him, I tried to put in words how I imagined that the world looks from his perspective. I recalled how we walked through a park and he just fell over his own feet while there was absolutely nothing happening that could have stolen away his focus from walking.
Well, except for all those leaves, the sounds of a suburb, the sun breaking through branches and creating flickering lights in the eye, and all this extra-detailed dirt surrounding us. The more I looked, the more irritating and unpredictable things I found right there. Imagine that you see all the branches of a tree at the same time instead of the assembled tree. Of course you would stumble over your own feet; the filter just needs to slip for a split second.
On the other hand, I've seen my nephew operating Minecraft where the perceived input is predictable, and I can say he is very fast in the processing. I started to think that he just might have a way more granular perception than me, while also being good in putting all those scattered pieces of information together.
As I tried to put this interpretation of my nephew's worldview into words for my parents, I had a sort of vision: a giant Go-style board that was filled with colorful stones all over, with all these stones relating to each other. A translation of being overwhelmed by information, projected onto a game board. Going forward, I spent the day trying to get a game out of this idea.
Around that time I was fascinated by "sorting things" as the main gameplay feature. I had been introduced to that idea by Hartmut Kommerell and his game Finito!. (To this day, I am still an avid player of Friedemann Friese's Finished! as well.) Sorting also made a lot of sense with my core idea since the scattered pieces from my vision needed to have meaning somehow, so why not sort them together by color after starting with a random distribution. Frankly, I also had no alternative plan of what do with the core idea.
In order to be able to sort the pieces, there needed to be a free spot as the necessary wiggle room for gameplay logic, as known, for example, from Solitaire. Otherwise, one would be limited to swapping the position of two pieces. With a free space, however, one could move any piece on the board onto the free space. Neatly, this does allow for an overwhelming possibility space if you attempt to think all options through.
To reduce the complexity to a humanly processable level, I decided for a relatively small board and found that 7x7 was a good number. I like the symmetrical look, and it has a good amount of pieces but not too many, and it is an unusual size. It has a well-defined middle spot since seven is odd. In order to have one space free, I would need either six groups of eight pieces, or eight groups of six pieces. (Because x^2 = ((x+1)(x-1))+1 where "x" is the grid size and "+1" is the missing free spot. Oddly enough, I remembered that mathematical detail from earlier in my life when I had developed some interest in prime factorization.)In contrast, a me-design
Over the following days of my recovery, I tried both versions and found that the eight-piece groups were easier to wrestle with at first, but frequently caused the endgame to be absolutely horrendous since you are likely to lock yourself in by a bad decision in the beginning. The six-piece groups were a bit more tame, with fewer possible shapes, and the resulting eight groups interacted more with each other. Eventually, I decided that the eight groups of six pieces felt better. I also tried using diagonal connectivity for groups, but orthogonal adjacency was way more intuitive, and it also would mean that you are basically trying to build hexominoes.
After realizing that all puzzling and thinking becomes quite pointless if you just recall an easy-to-memorize end distribution from the beginning, it was clear that the game needed the additional rule of "do not repeat the same shape twice". Otherwise any efficiency pressure would fall victim to a trivial geometrical pattern for which the play can easily be optimized. In other words, I needed to ensure that planning for the end state would happen during play, not before.
In hindsight, this new rule of "unique shapes" made the groups of six a pretty obvious choice since the 35 possible hexominoes have a more interesting possibility space than the 369 octominoes.
Back in Berlin, I showed the game to some fellow designers and received the feedback that they wanted to have a measure of whether they became better over time, i.e., they wanted points. At first I was reluctant to that idea because I did not feel the gameplay should be about score of any sort — but I gave in and there are nice benefits from the scoring system: It gives a measure people like, it introduces the possibility for a losing condition, and it allows the modeling of the "not the same shape" concept through an incentive instead of through an arbitrary rule.
Hence, my scoring system ended up giving positive points for every unique group. (In my original rules, the number would go as low as 3 points per unique group for expert play.) I added extra points for having the central spot free when the game is over — yes, OCD is an important thing to consider — and you deduct points based on the number of moves you take (to model the efficiency of play).
It seemed to me that the mood of the game and the strong symmetry of the board and the shapes would appeal to people who like things organized. For the prototype, this inspired the idea of using marbles that would fall into the right place on the board. Being a little overconfident in the pull of the game, I contacted Gerhards Spiel und Design and ordered custom wooden boards, which I populated with glass marbles from a specialized online shop. This resulted in a really beautiful prototype that seemed to be too costly to produce, but was very useful for pitching and for playing.It also sounds nice...
One addition to the gameplay was the introduction of advanced game modes. These were based on the 35 possible hexominoes that I printed on transparent cards. The transparent cards were useful for explaining to new players what a group looks like and how many there are, as well as demonstrating how mirroring and rotating a group still counts as the same shape.
The modes I went with were simple: In the first one, you play with the same rules, but you draw three random shapes that you must include in the end distribution in order to win. (I spent quite some time looking for a combination that would not allow you to have six unique shapes while having the middle free, but I did not find any.) In the second version, you draw six random shapes, and you must not build any of them to avoid losing, which resulted in a true brainburner of a game. I felt these additions should prevent gamers from quickly coming to the conclusion that they had cracked how to play the game correctly.
It became clear that this game was strongest for two players. I do think the design offers a satisfying puzzle-solving experience when you're alone — after all, you are basically building and optimizing polyominoes efficiently — but having two players playing adds a completely new dynamic to the game. Both players usually have different plans for how to proceed with the game. Even if both players "do the math", they are likely to come up with different conclusions, both of which may be equally viable. For example, the next four turns will mathematically offer more than five million possibilities for how to go about them.
Players coming to different conclusions will happen only if the players do not talk about their plans, so that subsequently became a necessary cornerstone of the experience and the ruleset. With this communication limit in place, one needs to communicate and negotiate the proceedings solely through their actions, then later adjust to the obviously horrendous moves that one's partner continues to play.
The game puts players in an almost meditative state of contemplating the possibility space of the game and keeping awareness for each other as it is simply not practical to find the optimal play through brute force. The puzzle gets deeper the closer you look, and an observer would see a board with randomly placed colorful marbles that carry a meaning to two silent players staring at it. I witnessed one game in which ten minutes of perfect silence was suddenly broken by one player yelling, "ARE YOU STUPID OR WHAT?" (The sentence has a more significant ring to it when hollered in German.) This outburst inspired me to promote and pitch the game under the placeholder name of "Marie Kondo's Anger Management".
While I was confident in the game, I was not confident whether any publisher would ever sign it. The game does have a strong table presence, but it is drop dead abstract and making it right might turn out to be expensive. To my surprise, it was not hard at all to find a publisher who was on board with the game and saw a raw potential in it, wanting to create something with great production value. I signed a contract in 2019 on my birthday with a projected release date of end of 2020.
Well, that did not work out.
The exact reasons are not important. A lot of games fall through for numerous reasons, get delayed for years, or are terminated. In the summer of 2021, Silke, who owns one of the eleven wooden prototypes as well as the Würfel und Zucker board game café, showed the game to Anita, who runs the Austrian games agency White Castle, and Anita fell in love with the design. She really wanted to have it, which meant she would pitch the game to publishers for a share of the royalties in case she succeeded.
Since I had already signed a contract, I did not feel I should go around and pitch it to anyone else, but on the other hand the game was clearly not getting made. I approached the original publisher, and despite the game being almost a year overdue, there was neither a timeline for the release nor a timeline for when there would be a timeline. By the looks of things, it would take at least another two years until I could hope for a release, while the possibility of cancellation seemed real.
I pursued and struck a weird three-party deal between the original publisher, White Castle, and myself: White Castle would get the opportunity to pitch the game for one year, with SPIEL '21 upcoming. If they succeeded with their pitching, they could sign a contract only if the game would be released by the end of 2023. This way, I could have my cake and eat it, too: I wouldn't violate any of my agreements (in fact, I had the right to terminate my existing contract due to the game not being released on time), the game would get released earlier than with the original publisher, and if White Castle didn't succeed, I still would have the old contract and the original publisher had more time to figure out their side after receiving a clear warning sign.I will not make that joke here
The only problem with this construct was that it is a pretty bad deal to take for any publisher that might be interested in publishing the game. Releasing a game within 1.5 years is possible, but usually would not line up well with the planned-out slots and the overall business plan, especially if the game in question does not fit any pre-existing product line or box size and is costly to produce. Given that the game does not follow a well-introduced genre — "co-operative open-information abstract with limited communication" is not a thing I believe — it would appeal only to anyone who would like to take a risk.
Apparently Anita's pitching was fruitful. She used the prototype from my sister, who thankfully let her borrow it for this purpose, but while the game was considered by a company that likes to do high-production value games, it fell through. The boss liked it, and their spouse liked it, but the editors did not like it and found it to "not have enough game in it".
However, Anita also showed it to the Finnish publishing house Martinex, which publish board games under the brand Peliko. Their first reaction that I heard was this quote: "We especially like in this game that you do not have to talk" — which might be the most Finnish compliment ever.
After they tested my sister's prototype internally, they had questions at first, but once it clicked, they wrote an email entirely in caps lock indicating their interest in the game. They did not only agree on the sporty release date; they even signed their contract before the calculation was finished. In other words, they committed to the game in an unusual manner.Many tongues for a language independent game
For the product development, Martinex needed to crunch the costs down. Hence, the released version will have punched cardboard for the board instead of wood. The marbles got replaced with wood after their research showed that they do not like the ingredients that get put into marbles. They came up with the name "Mandamina", which I believe is Malagasy for "arrange differently", and they slightly adjusted the scoring mechanism. Sadly, they decided to cut the challenge cards — but hey, you can still make some yourself if you think they might suit you. The list of shapes can be found on Wikipedia under "Hexomino".
Mandamina is being released in Scandinavia and France, and maybe, just maybe, there could be a future version as wooden as the prototype if it becomes an economic success.
Peter JürgensenAnd this is what Mandamina looks like now
- [+] Dice rolls
Perspectives, we decided it would be appropriate to write our sections for this designer diary separately, each recounting the experience from our own perspective.
We agreed that we would not edit out any discrepancies. If there are any inconsistencies or differences of opinion about what happened, it's because that's how life – and co-designing – works. People see and remember things in different ways, so here are two perspectives on designing Perspectives.
Matt & Dave•••
Inspiration can strike from anywhere. Often in my role as a tabletop game designer, ideas come from other games you play, but the much more exciting ideas come from outside the board game world. Sport, hobbies, videos, music, you name it — I love being inspired by creative fields outside my own.
One such very fertile ground for ideas is the adjacent field of video games. I especially enjoy watching the videos of Mark Brown, better known as Game Maker's Toolkit on YouTube. Over the past eight years, Mark has produced hundreds of videos dissecting game design in a way I have rarely seen elsewhere, in video games or board games, and he has a knack of diving deep into particular games that intrigue him and exploring how they work.
Over seven years ago, Mark published a video on his favorite game of 2015: Her Story, a narrative puzzle game from Sam Barlow. I actually had to stop watching the video the first time to go play the game before it was spoiled for me – and the next hours of playing Her Story from start to end in basically one sitting were some of the most enjoyable and unique I have had playing games.
But in an absolutely brilliant bit of design from Barlow, when you search for a word, the database returns only the first five clips that contain that word. If you search for a common word, say "murder" or "kill", then you will be accessing only a handful of possible clips that mention that word, and most likely you will see the same clips from the first interview again and again — so you need to search much more precisely, with words you think might come up only a few times, in order to access all the clips and solve the mystery.
The thing the game does so well is making context so important to how you understand what is going on. You might watch a clip at the start of the game, getting one meaning, but when you come back to that clip after watching many other clips and gathering more evidence, suddenly you will glean new information and meaning from the same sequence. The evidence hasn't changed – your perspective on it has. It was this feeling, of the same information slowly giving new meaning for the player over time, that I wanted to explore in a board game.
This was the first time I was trying to make a narrative-style game, and in 2015 we hadn't quite had the explosion of new narrative board games that we know today. T.I.M.E Stories had only just come out, and it would still be a year until the first boxes of Exit and Unlock! would hit the shelves, so I didn't have the same framework with which I approach narrative game design today. (Titles in the Adventure Games and echoes series were all designed much later, although thanks to the vagaries of game publishers, acquisitions, and delays, Perspectives will release later than those two series even though it was designed much earlier.)
I tried a few ideas at the start, some based on text and some on images. I remember thinking you could have a geography-based game in which players would be presented with different images of a city and asked to figure out how they slotted together to form an overall map. I even went so far as to go outside and take photographs around my local neighborhood in Prague to make a prototype, but it didn't work so well! You needed more than just a puzzle; you needed a story embedded in that puzzle so that players could use their own intuition and knowledge.
It wasn't until early 2017, more than year later, that I would arrive at a new prototype that bared some resemblance to the final game. There were 24 cards, clumsily adorned with illustrations I had put together in Illustrator (see below), which were dealt out evenly between the players. Using the information on these cards that depict a fictional city, players had to answer a number of questions about a crime that had been committed.
There was only one rule, which has stayed throughout the entirety of the game's evolution: Players are not allowed to show each other their cards. Apart from this, no restrictions exist on communication, and players can describe what's on their cards as they wish, even reading some things verbatim. This ownership of information meant that the game wasn't just about solving a mystery; it was also about communication, something new compared to the solo experience of Her Story.
Even though my limited illustrative ability made the mystery much more difficult that I had intended, playtesters really enjoyed the experience, especially the simplicity of the game system. You got those "a-ha" moments when one player would describe a feature on one of their cards and suddenly another player would search through their cards to find the one that contained a detail they had previously dismissed as irrelevant, only to have been given new context by what the other player had said. Players would bounce information between one another, leading them from card to card and increasingly understanding what was going on, giving order and meaning in what initially had been cards with a set of seemingly random information.
With this initial case designed and me now content with its progress, I started on the journey to find a publisher for the game. Seeing how even small issues with my illustrations would lead to huge misunderstandings, I knew I would need a publisher with resources for the high standard of illustration the game would need. I also needed one who could put the game through rigorous development — the problem with narrative games is that you soon run out of available playtesters as each can meaningfully test a given scenario only once!
Space Cowboys first as by this time it had established itself as the leader in such games after T.I.M.E Stories and Unlock! — and while they liked the game, they ultimately passed given that they already had a lot of work supporting the other two game lines. Thankfully, in Nürnberg in 2017 I had an excellent meeting with Repos Production, who decided to sign the game.
Around this time I had met Dave Neale at the Cambridge Playtest group, and he had been bringing along what would eventually become The Baker Street Irregulars, the latest box in the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series. To this day I haven't met a designer quite like Dave – he approaches design in such a unique way, with a knack of entwining deep storytelling into everything he makes.
With Repos and me trying to develop Perspectives, I knew that given the enormity of the task – especially designing new scenarios — that having Dave on board would be amazing for the project. I asked Dave to join me, and thankfully he agreed to sign on as a co-designer. Apart from watching that first video from Game Maker's Toolkit, meeting Dave was the most important thing in getting Perspectives to the final game you see today.
After this point, we got to work designing new scenarios with Repos. Probably the main mechanical change was the move to a four-act structure in which the first three acts were self-contained with their own cards and questions, and the last act required all the players to use all the cards from the previous three parts, making these cards visible to all players to solve a final set of questions. It allowed the story to progress within each case, and Dave had a knack for coming up with some amazing twists for "Part 4" of each case.
Despite the game being pretty well developed at this point, sadly it fell into a bit of a publisher limbo, with no real idea of when it might see the light of day. We knew the game was going to need a huge investment of time and money from Repos, especially considering the need for detailed and high-quality illustrations on over one hundred unique cards, so we were happy to wait.
Then we heard that Repos was being bought by Asmodee, and the game entered a different kind of limbo as Repos adjusted to being a studio within a larger group. At this time, the game moved to Space Cowboys, who thought the design could be a good fit for its line. So it might have taken five years after my initial pitch to them, but finally Perspectives had found its rightful home.
Speaking of which, we have been so fortunate to work with Space Cowboys. The care and attention to detail can be seen in so many aspects of the final product, care and attention that is absolutely necessary to provide the intended experience for players. One illustration out of place and suddenly a scenario can become confusing or even unsolvable, and thus a huge thanks needs to also go to the three illustrators – ann&seb, Vincent Dutrait, and Looky — who patiently worked with us over many iterations and alterations. I'm so happy with how the final box has turned out.
It has been quite the journey, but now is it time for a new perspective on the game – yours!•••
Dave:Quote:"Why is this card black? Is it a printing error?"In 2015 and 2016, I was regularly attending the Playtest UK Cambridge meet-ups – a group made up primarily of published designers, including Brett Gilbert, David Thompson, Trevor Benjamin, and Matt Dunstan. I felt privileged to be able to playtest with such a talented design group.
I shook my head and remained poker-faced. As a designer observing a playtest of a mystery-solving game, you don't want to give anything away by your expression. The player, Carl, shrugged and slipped the card to the back of his hand, deciding to instead focus on the other cards, the ones that actually had something printed on them.
"And that's everything I have", Carl said, eventually, after describing the cards to his fellow players. "Well, except for the one that's just black." He paused a moment and frowned. "But...that can't mean anything, can it?"
One day, Matt brought a game in which cards were dealt out to each player and everyone had to describe their own cards but not show them, working together to solve a mystery. It was a neat, simple idea, and unlike most mystery games, it put the emphasis on images and player communication, and Matt already had interest from publisher Repos. I thought it was a great concept and was curious to see how the game developed, but did not realize at the time I would be seeing that process from the inside.
Not long after that session, Matt contacted me. He felt he was struggling to get the narrative aspect of the game strong enough, and given my experience with narrative games, asked whether I wanted to co-design the game with him. Given that I'm writing this now, you already know I said yes.
Aside from taking a lead on writing the stories, I recall suggesting changes to the format. I think in Matt's original version new cards were added each Act, so each player had a LOT of cards by Act 3. I suggested making the acts more self-contained: players do Act 1, then put those cards away and get the cards for Act 2, etc. And for a fourth and final Act, all the cards from every Act go face up and players can freely look at all of them to answer one final question. That worked well and remains the format of the published game.
We both struggled to come up with the optimum way of scoring the game. Could players choose to reveal cards publicly, but at the end of an Act they get 1 point for each card not revealed? That seemed like a nice idea, but how would that interact with points for getting the questions right? The scoring was not actually resolved until the game was in the final year of development when the publisher decided giving points for correctly answering questions was the simplest way to go.
Perspectives spent some years in limbo... Repos liked it a lot, but couldn't quite agree on what direction to take with it in terms of design and overall framing. Then Repos became part of Asmodee, and the game was passed to Space Cowboys. Consequently, it has been a six- or seven-year journey to publication!Quote:"Okay, so we think we know what happened", said Carl.Regarding developing puzzles and stories, I often began by thinking of quite simple visual puzzles that would require communication between players to solve, something that might be obvious if you laid cards out in front of you, but which looked weird or baffling if you could see only one or two of them. Once I had such an idea that worked, I then began to build a story around it.
"Mostly", another player replied. "But like you said, Sarah, there are still some gaps."
Sarah nodded. "Let's each just give a one-line description of our cards again. There must be something we're missing."
I sat and watched in silence — but I could sense a breakthrough might be imminent and inside I was willing them to succeed.
Another approach was one I have used when designing many other mystery games, especially SHCD: The Baker Street Irregulars and The Animals of Baker Street. I asked myself what I would find weird and intriguing when I got my hand of cards: What would be something I could make no sense of at all? Then I would churn through possible explanations for these odd cards trying to find something plausible and satisfying. I had to let many of these ideas go as I could not come up with explanations I was happy with, but some survived through playtesting and into the final game.
I have adequate drawing skills and can draw fast, which is helpful for a game like this. (Matt often says his lack of art skills puts him at a disadvantage in this regard.) I can quickly mock up prototype images and get testing – a couple of my prototype images are below. I could also make quick edits on the fly, even adding details to a card midway through a playtest if I realized a change was required.
Indeed, one big challenge for Perspectives has been getting the art right, all the way from prototyping to the final production copy. This game is ultimately all about the art, and even the tiniest incorrect or ambiguous detail can seriously derail players. That has involved a lot of tweaking and a lot of communication between us, the publisher, and the artists.
And when the art functions as intended, it's been so satisfying to see how well the game works. The simple but ingenious core concept, paired with strong stories and some baffling puzzles can generate great "a-ha" moments and wonderful player interaction.Quote:"Wait... what did you just say about that card, Sarah?" Carl looked up, and you could almost see the rush of thoughts cascading through his head. Sarah repeated her statement, then there were a few moments of silence.As with all game design journeys, there have been challenges along the way, but looking back with the final product in hand, you understand how even the most difficult moments were instrumental in creating a game you are proud of.
Carl sat back in his chair. "Right", he said. "I think we have everything."
"But we don't know..."
"We do." Carl's confidence made his teammates pause and stare at him — then Sarah's eyes lit up and she blurted out: "Oh yes! Of course!"
Carl smiled. "That's why the card is black."
The other players still looked confused. "So", one of them said, "care to enlighten us?"
"Sure", Carl began. "It's simple really."
Sarah nodded. "We've just been looking at it all wrong..."
It was a pleasure to co-design this game with Matt. I hope he sees it the same way.
- [+] Dice rolls
Eric's final Gen Con '23 post inspired me to finish consolidating my notes and share more of my Gen Con '23 experiences.
Luc Rémond's Sky Team at the Hachette booth. Sky Team is a co-operative, limited communication, dice placement game from Le Scorpion Masqué and Hachette Boardgames USA, where 2 players take on the roles of a pilot and co-pilot working together to land planes at a variety of different airports. The awesome dice placement decisions were reminiscent of Under Falling Skies, but extra interesting since you have to work together without communicating with your partner. I thoroughly enjoyed my first play of Sky Team and look forward to playing it more.
Cargo Empire is an upcoming pick-up-and-deliver game from designers Alexander Bogdanovsky and Pini Shekhter, which Moaideas Game Design is crowdfunding on Kickstarter in Q4 2023. In Cargo Empire, 1-5 players build networks and deliver cargo in a fanasty land.
• Folded Space had a booth at Gen Con for the first time and it was cool to see some of their new inserts. If you're not familiar with Folded Space, they make lightweight game inserts/organizers from Evacore, which is a memory foam made from 75% recycled plastic. Their original inserts were all gray colored, but now their newer inserts are printed with color, which is an awesome improvement aesthetically, as well as a big help with organizing components in the trays.Revive insert
Gloomahaven: Jaws of the Lion (new v2 version)
Ierusalem: Anno Domini insert
Undaunted: Stalingrad insert in action (this photo is not from Gen Con)
• Kyle Shire and Alexandre Uboldi's Queen by Midnight from Darrington Press seemed to be a popular Gen Con '23 release. Considering its intriguing table presence and the fact that it's a deck-building game where you battle as asymmetric princesses, I'm definitely interested in playing it sometime.
• I grabbed lunch with Dávid Turczi one day at Gen Con and got the lowdown on an upcoming release he's working on. Of course, I'm sworn to secrecy and not allowed to mention any details, but let's just say he's cooking up something cool (as usual!) that we'll hear more about in 2024.
Elf Creek Games demo area and they were showing off the new edition of Keith Ferguson's Santa's Workshop, which is a re-implementation of the original Rio Grande Games edition from 2017, and is due out in December 2023. The second edition includes some improvements such as double-sided player mats with a new family-friendly side for younger and/or less experienced players.
I also got a sneak peek of the prototype of the upcoming Secret Villages expansion for Merchants of the Dark Road, which adds a rumors module, and a secret villages module with leads you take and activate at the secret village, plus new heroes and new events.
Mike Kelley from the One Stop Co-Op Shop podcast and YouTube channel, which is a channel I often watch to discover games that play well solo. I got to hang with Mike at Gen Con '23 and I really enjoyed my play of his prototype of Flame & Fang, which is a co-operative, scenario-driven game co-designed by Peter Gousis, and published by Escape Velocity Games and MVP Boardgames.
Here's the story behind Flame & Fang, which is being launched for crowdfunding on Kickstarter on October 11, 2023:Quote:In a world where dragons were thought to be extinct, somehow a clutch of eggs survived. Now hatched, the siblings must struggle to thrive in a harsh world that doesn’t seem to want them there. Worse yet, they have attracted the attention of an evil presence that has begun to stalk them…Flame & Fang had some really interesting deck crafting and hand management decisions, and I always enjoy collaborating with my teammates in co-op games. Playing one scenario left me curious about the rest of the game and future adventures, so I'm looking forward to hearing more when the Kickstarter launches and playing it more in the future.
In Flame & Fang, players will have to manage the three different aspects of their dragon: the need to fight, the desire for flight, and the thirst for the hunt. Each turn players will draw and play cards that will let them fly around the board, gather resources, upgrade abilities, battle enemies, and turn new pages to reveal their story.
During the game, 1-4 players will cooperate to guide a group of dragons through a series of adventures. Players will each control their own dragon to navigate the chapters that continue the tale of how the dragons will grow, mature, and overcome obstacles. The game requires deck crafting, hand management, action selection, and cooperative planning to ensure success!
BackerKit booth to chat with Max Salzberg (co-founder) and Justin Hannigan (V.P.) from BackerKit to hear the inspirational story of how they went from running the first six-figure campaign in crowdfunding history, to discovering the need for a robust pledge manager, and then creating it. Wanting to further improve the creator and backer crowdfunding experience, BackerKit officially launched a full-fledged crowdfunding platform in June 2023 with a big project kickoff from Cephalofair Games (Gloomhaven: Buttons & Bugs, Gloomhaven: The Role Playing Game, Miniatures of Gloomhaven, Gloomhaven: Second Edition, and more).
Max and Justin were very passionate about their mission to create helpful tools for creators to connect with their backers, and for creating an enriching space for both creators and backers. Going forward we'll likely see more and more board games crowdfunded via BackerKit as an alternative to Kickstarter and Gamefound.
• Speaking of BackerKit, Leder Games was promoting their upcoming expansion for Greg Loring-Albright's asymmetrical pirate game Ahoy!, which will be crowdfunded on BackerKit in Q4 2023. I'm really looking forward to hearing more about this Ahoy! expansion.
Brotherwise Games booth, I checked out Castles by the Sea, which is a puzzly sandcastle-building game for 1-4 players with Santorini vibes, from designers Jon Benjamin and Michael Xuereb.
Aaron Mesburne's 2-player, Boss Monster tile placement game Overboss Duel was also available at Gen Con from Brotherwise Games, and is now available at retailers. Overboss Duel uses the same core system as Overboss, but this time players are directly competing on a shared player board.
John D. Clair's Empire's End was also available for demo at the Brotherwise Games booth and is en route to backers, and targeted to be available at retailers in mid-November 2023. I enjoyed playing this at Gen Con '22, so I'm glad it's almost officially available.
Shortly after Gen Con '23, Brotherwise Games successfully crowdfunded Michael Xuereb's Dungeon Kart on Kickstarter (KS link). Dungeon Kart is an all-new racing game set in the world of Boss Monster for 2-8 players, which will be available for late pledge in October 2023.
• Every now and then when I'm wandering around at conventions, I have to stop and check out a game solely because the box cover art is really cool and grabs my attention (or scares me a bit). Such is the case with Kevin Wilson's The Stuff of Legend from 3WS Games, where 3-6 players collaborate as a boy's loyal toys working together to rescue him from the evil Boogeyman.
• I tend to dig performance-focused board games such as Shakespeare and Castell, so I had to stop by Devir's booth to get a quick look at Remo Conzadori and Fabio Lopiano's 3-Ring Circus. In 3-Ring Circus, 1-4 players take on the role of circus directors touring the U.S. in the 19th century, hiring performers, and putting on performances in different cities to become the most famous circus in the U.S.
Plaid Hat Games was showing off Freelancers: A Crossroads Game, which was their big Gen Con '23 release designed by Donald Shults. Freelancers is an accessible, fantasy RPG campaign experience for 3-7 players, driven by a story-telling companion app, similar to Forgotten Waters.<--In case you missed it, Candice's Gen Con 2023 Round-Up/Discoveries: Part 1-->
- [+] Dice rolls