Silk — but I heard Shut Up & Sit Down's review of the game, and they really liked the moments when the monster ate worms. ("Nom, nom, nom!")
That made me want to make a game in which animals eat other animals, too. This then turned into an idea of making an "ecosystem manager" — a game in which you have to keep the balance between populations of animals in an ecosystem.
I decided to use dominos to build the ecosystem. My aim became to make "Kingdomino, but where your kingdom comes alive." (I have a special relationship with Kingdomino because it won the Spiel des Jahres the same year that my Magic Maze was nominated, but that's another story.)The inspiration — Kingdomino image by Henk Rolleman
I chose the first animals that came to mind for the ecosystem. Rats, rabbits and frogs are all at the bottom of the food chain, and they are all eaten by tigers and eagles. I chose them because...well, because they are cool. But what would eat tigers and eagles? Something even cooler, hmm...
Dinosaurs, of course!
The goal I wanted players to have in this game was to keep a fine balance in their ecosystems, but how do you measure this balance in a simple way? I realized that a balanced ecosystem would be one that allows a lot of top predators (dinosaurs) to live. If, for example, there were too few tigers and eagles, the dinosaurs would starve, but if too many tigers and eagles existed, they would eat all the prey and end up starving, ultimately making the dinosaurs starve as well.
Initially, points were given based on how many dinosaurs you had alive in your ecosystem at specific moments of the game. Later, I decided that you would score a point each time a dinosaur ate a tiger or eagle because then points were tied directly to the most exciting moments of the game: When your dinosaurs come ravaging down from the mountains to eat. (I don't think dinosaurs actually lived in mountains, but again, it just seemed cool.)
During the game, players draft tiles with two different (or similar) terrains and often with a new animal on one of those. That didn't change during the design process, except that I changed the spaces to hexagons instead of squares. That made the placement of tiles less frustrating. It can be surprisingly hard to keep similar area types together using square dominos, but it became a lot easier with hexagons. In Kingdomino, keeping area types together is a central part of the challenge, but in Gods Love Dinosaurs the challenge lies elsewhere, so I wanted to make that part easier for the players.
The most important development of the game was the flow. In the first version, the game consisted of a set number of rounds. In each round, players were presented with tiles and picked one each to add to their ecosystem, then a card was drawn that dictated which animals would move, e.g., rabbits and tigers.
There were two problems with this. First, it was often obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem. Second, you didn't get any chance to plan ahead since you wouldn't know which animals were going to move.
Even though the game didn't really work, the playtesters clearly enjoyed the "eating moments" of the game a lot, so I knew the game had potential and set out to fix those two problems.
First, I tried less random movements. You now knew ahead of time that the rabbits were going to multiply soon, or that the dinosaur would have to eat in a few turns, but you still didn't have any control over it, and it still didn't solve the issue that your best tile choice during drafting was often too obvious.
I needed more reasons for players to want one tile instead of another, and then it came to me: I could perhaps solve both my problems at once by introducing five columns of tiles, one for each non-dinosaur animal. Whenever the last tile in a column was taken, that type of animal would move.
Suddenly, you have a lot more to think about when choosing tiles. It might still be obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem, but what if it were in the wrong column? Players now have to balance the choice between "which tile is best" and "which animal should move". Problem one was solved! At the same time, players now had control (collectively) over which animals ended up moving instead of it being decided by random card draws. Problem two was solved as well!
I love the moments when a rule change suddenly makes a game "click". This was one of those moments. The rest of the design process was just about getting the details right, and it ended up being my fastest idea-to-contract-proposal process yet (three-and-a-half months).
Pandasaurus Games did an amazing job with the visuals and made ani-meeples for all the animals, so I can't wait to get my own copy once it's released on October 21, 2020.
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Archive for Kasper Lapp
- [+] Dice rolls
Most of those games take some time to get started because the cards have special abilities, and you need to know all of them and how they interact before you can play. I wanted to take the core experience of such games and build the simplest possible game around it — a game that could be explained in a minute.
The basic concept I came up with was this: Each player has six tokens of three different colors, and they want to get rid of these tokens. In each round, each player secretly plays one of their remaining tokens, then reveals them. They are trying to fulfill some "goals" that are unique for the round, such as "Be one of exactly two players to play a black token" or "Be the only one to play an orange token". If you succeed, you get rid of the token you played. If you are down to one token, you win. There is no difference between what the colored tokens do, so there is nothing to explain about them.
Initially, the goals were given by cards. Each round, a new card was drawn to decide the goals for the round. All goals were about being a certain number of players playing a specific color token. And since you always needed some way to win with any kind of token you played, I found that it worked well when cards had a rule like "If none of the other goals succeed, anyone who played an orange token gets rid of it." (That's what the star means on the bottom of the card at right.)
My tests showed that all the cards that worked best basically had the same formula, so it didn't feel like I was taking proper advantage of the cards. Also, you would need quite a lot of them for variation. I wondered whether you could draw several cards and combine goals, but then a friend suggested I use dice instead. That worked much better. Rolling dice is quick, there is no card shuffling, and you get a lot of different combinations.
But how should the dice be designed? One of my first designs looked like this:
The stars still meant "If none of the other goals succeed, anyone who played an X token gets rid of it", but many dice rolls gave only one choice as to what was correct to play because you could win with only one color. I realized that the "star" rules should instead be implicit. If a color didn't have a goal — that is, if it wasn't represented on any of the dice — you could get rid of it if no other goals succeeded. In that way, you could always in principle get rid of any color.
The dice above never gave the possibility of "1 or 2 white" because all the white goals were on the same die, so I figured that dividing the dice by "amounts" instead of colors would work better.
I wanted some blank spaces, so the amount of goals would vary, but I always needed at least one goal, therefore one of the dice should have no blank spaces. I found that the goal of being the only one to have chosen a specific token was the most fun, so I wanted to make sure there was always such a goal by making this die:
Which meant that I needed to leave blank spaces on the other dice:
On my first playtest, I expected the game to be a very "thinky" game, one in which you would go through endless loops of "He'll probably do this, so I should do this, but he expects that, so I should probably do this instead..."
But what I found was that the winner of the game would most often be the one who best followed their gut instinct instead of trying to think everything through. This is probably the reason why the game turned out to go so well with non-gamers — and of course the simplicity of the game also helps with that.
I found that the winning condition of playing down to one token had a problem: If you ended up with two tokens of the same color, you no longer had a choice of what to play. Of course, this situation would be your own fault, but it was an undesirable situation anyway. Thus, I changed the rules so that you would win the moment you had tokens of only one color, instead of when you had only one token.
The theme of the game was weak when I submitted it to FoxMind. The tokens were just the elements earth, wind and fire (black, white, orange). Why no water? Because if both fire and water were in the game, you would expect them to interact, which they wouldn't. You would expect water to beat fire somehow.
Luckily FoxMind had a better idea and turned the design into a potion-brewing game with a nice brewing bottle, which is both part of the gameplay and at the same time functions as the game box. We are on different continents, so I have not yet held The Potion in my hand, but I can't wait...
[Editor's note: For those who might want a themeless version of this design, German publisher Steffen-Spiele released this design under the name POK at SPIEL '17 in October. —WEM]
- [+] Dice rolls