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Designer Diary: Spirits of the Forest, or A Long Walk Through the Woods

Michael Schacht
Germany
Frankfurt
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Board Game: Web of Power
It's been a long time since I wrote my last designer's diary, but maybe it's a good idea for a kind of a restart with the story of Spirits of the Forest.

At the beginning of that story stands Web of Power, a board game that I was (and still am) very proud of. Thus, it shouldn't be surprising that before too long I started creating little expansions for that game, along with a very different card game version of it: Kardinal & König: Das Kartenspiel, a.k.a. Web of Power: The Card Game.

Although Joe Nikisch, the developer of Web of Power, was enthusiastic for this spin-off game, the publisher Goldsieber Spiele was not really interested in line extensions or companion games. That sentiment was common at that time in the game industry; expansions and promos were rare and made only for games with really big success, like The Settlers of Catan. The main argument at that time was that only a specific percentage of buyers of the base game would buy an expansion, so profitwise it wouldn't make sense for most of these releases. Of course you know that nowadays publishers have changed their minds completely on this topic and understand that such expansions and games can be a valuable marketing action.

Spiele aus Timbuktu

Nevertheless, I wanted to have the card game released, but since it couldn't be released under the same name from another publisher, I decided to release it myself, with the production of it being a professionally-printed sheet of cardboard that you had to cut apart yourself prior to playing. Even a special box could be cut out and used for the components.


Board Game: Kardinal & König: Das Kartenspiel


This small publishing project of mine was named Spiele aus Timbuktu, and it was the home of a lot of small expansions and unusual games that I made. Maybe you're familiar with the train trilogy of games that includes one of my personal favorites, Mogul? With a little help from my friends Bärbel and Friedhelm Adam of Adam spielt, I had kind of a distribution that helped to keep the project alive over a long time.

Board Game: Richelieu
Reincarnation

In 2002, I received a request from Ravensburger for two-player games because they wanted to start a new series. I reworked two of my games that were especially for two, one of which became Crazy Chicken, while Web of Power: The Card Game was reborn as Richelieu.


Board Game: Richelieu


Both games were supervised by Stefan Brück, and they sold well and were well-accepted, with Richelieu landing on the 2003 Spiel des Jahres recommended list, but unfortunately right after their launch, the publisher decided to stop the series. (I had this experience again with Ravensburger in the early 2010s, with my game Lucky Numbers being part of its short-lived "Einfach spielen" series.)

In the subsequent years, I published a variant of the game for three and four players as a download. MaBi released an online implementation, which later was available also on my own site boardgames-online.net, followed by another online release at Yucata and an implementation as an iOS App under the name Web of Power Cardgame: The Duel that was created by Shannon Appelcline. Here on BoardGameGeek, you'll find a lot of nice fan editions from that time that kept the game from being forgotten.

Rebirth

In 2017, I received a request from Gonzalo Aguirre Bisi for a possible re-release of Richelieu. He wanted to change the theme, graphics and name, and to start a Kickstarter campaign with his company ThunderGryph Games. I was not quite sure whether crowdfunding for a re-release would work well, but Gonzalo was very enthusiastic and I wanted to give it a try.

The incredible support for the game on Kickstarter — more than €350,000 — was like a fairy tale and a total surprise to me. The team was incredibly professional on every issue of the campaign for the freshly renamed Spirits of the Forest.


Board Game: Spirits of the Forest


In parallel, we worked hard on all the nice additions. Finally, the campaign ended after reaching all its stretch goals. (I was very happy especially about the very last one, an additional spirit that's bound to the fireflies.) I was overwhelmed by the big interest in the game, and now we are so close to the production, it having taken more or less twenty years to give the game the best possible release for this design that's been well-developed over the years.

Development and Changes

If you look close, you may find some conceptional similarities between Spirits of the Forest and the Web of Power board game, but both designs appear very different from one another.

Originally Web of Power: The Card Game was for three to five players with a different kind of token (for special actions instead of symbols). After the Richelieu reworking for two-players only, the game now can be played by one to four players. Again, I was quite skeptical about a solo variant (my first!), but it works extremely well and plays out full of tension. It's surprising how many nice little ideas could be found and included, even after this long development time.

The strong artwork of Web of Power was made by Franz Vohwinkel and was also partly included in Web of Power: The Card Game. Oliver Freudenreich was the artist for Richelieu, and Natalie Dombois made the incredible, wonderful artwork for Spirits of The Forest. (Have you seen the sweet trailer?) Hope to see more from her in the future.

I have to come to an ending now and can say that the design process and the work with all these nice people was a lot of fun and very inspiring — a happy ending.

Michael Schacht

P.S. I just visited the warehouse and held the Spirits of The Forest Collector's Edition in my hand — so impressively beautiful...


From gallery of W Eric Martin
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Fri Sep 28, 2018 1:00 pm
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Designer Diary: Call To Glory

Michael Schacht
Germany
Frankfurt
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Board Game: Call to Glory
With ninja wisdom included throughout...

A few months ago, I saw a documentary about ninjas that included an interview with the last living real ninjutsu teacher. The movie offered a lot of previously unknown insights of the movement that started in the hidden province of Iga and created popular Japanese heroes such as Hattori Hanzo and Ishikawa Goemon. That fascinating story proved for me the decisions we made when developing Call To Glory.

"Follow the day and reach for the sun."

Board Game: Drive
The story begins in 2003, when the game had its first appearance as Crazy Chicken from Ravensburger. The prototype was originally a multiplayer one, but when Ravensburger asked for a two-player game idea, I created a special version just for two and presented it to them.

"Don't fight if you don't know what you're fighting about."

Crazy Chicken became the first title in Ravensburger's new two-player-game series. Unfortunately the product line was abandonded in the same year it started due to strategical decisions. Over the following two years were frequent discussions about taking the design into the regular portfolio as a multiplayer game, but that never happened.

"Do or do not; there is no try."

In 2005, the game was rereleased as Drive in the U.S. with a small game board. This was followed in 2010 by Crazy Chicken again, with the original illustrations used in an iOS App (which my wife loves to play :-)) that was developed by a start-up software team while I started to look for a publisher for the "analog" game.

External image
First sketches of the Call to Glory cards

"Pain is a strength, not a weakness."

When I met Jonny de Vries from White Goblin Games at the "Internationale Spieletage" (a.k.a., Spiel) in Essen, he was very enthusiastic about the design and agreed to release the game with the new multiplayer rules, with a minimum of three cards now needed to play the numbers 12, 14 and 16. (A small difference that makes a big effect.) The design, which would appear in its metal box card game series, should also have a different theme. What might that be?

"Freedom is not free."

The theme was a suggestion from the publisher and fits perfectly with a game system in which you kick out the sets of others and try to get enough sets yourself to be victorious. The artwork is done by Drew Baker and is very impressive; it would make a really nice series of posters for the living room.

External image

"Never bite off more than you can chew."

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A layout of the
ninja figures
In the last part of the project before production, the publisher and I worked on variant ideas which resulted in two additional ways to play the game (aside from multiplayer). One variant includes some cool little ninja figures, and I'm looking forward to the final produced ones.

Finally, we worked an unusually long time on the quite short rule booklet just to have a perfect result.

So the last chapter of the story is kind of a deluxe happy ending for one of my strongest games under the headline Call To Glory.

Michael Schacht

Board Game: Call to Glory
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Wed Aug 22, 2012 1:30 pm
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Designer Diary: Crazy Creatures of Dr. Doom/Gloom

Michael Schacht
Germany
Frankfurt
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Board Game: Crazy Creatures of Dr. Doom
I can't recall how many times I've made game prototypes with a Roman theme that transformed into something different by the time they finally appeared in print, the most recent example being the amusement park game Coney Island. The same has held true for monster-themed prototypes, too – but I had a real breakthrough in 2011 when a children's game prototype titled "Monster Monster" was released in the U.S. under the name My Monster.

What's even better is that 2012 has brought about the release of Crazy Creatures of Dr. Doom from White Goblin Games in Europe (to be released in the U.S. as Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom from Stronghold Games), but the prototype for that game didn't have a monster theme at all!

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Joking aside, in Crazy Creatures Doctor Gloom tries to create the wackiest creatures ever seen, and you, the player, assist in doing this through the basic game mechanism of getting rid of creature cards in your hand. The classic way of doing this in games is to play a higher card from your hand than the previously played card, and the starting idea for this game's development was the ability for a player to change the direction of play (from "high on low" to "low on high" and back) under specific circumstances. In the original prototype, this was visualized by simple plus and minus symbols; now we have a machine that enlarges or scales down the creatures. If you play a card of the same number as the one last played, something always allowed, subsequent cards have to be played downwards.

At that point the publisher brought in the idea of alternatively giving other players a card as a "gift".

In the end, the overall gameplay is about playing creature cards from your hand, changing the order of the cards to be played in order to get rid of specific cards, and blocking others from playing their cards. After playing a number of games equal to the number of players, the player with the fewest minus points wins.

That's roughly about it. Since the game has just a few rules, the development work with the publisher and the illustrator wasn't long. The main work was finding a good fitting and nice theme as well as a name to match. The illustrator, Dennis Lohausen, wanted to add kind of a steampunk style. The artwork is nice, especially the rule booklet, which includes a lot of small sketches with pseudo-scientific text, giving the ruleset an atmospheric look.

Michael Schacht

While out in Europe, Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom is available via preorder from Stronghold Games with delivery anticipated in August 2012.

Board Game: Crazy Creatures of Dr. Doom
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Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:30 pm
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Designer Diary: The Making of Mondo

Michael Schacht
Germany
Frankfurt
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
After many recent difficult productions, it's nice to have an easy one for a change – and that's what happened with my new board game Mondo, which will appear from Pegasus Spiele in German and Z-Man Games in English. After a movie wraps, the director does press tours praising the actors and vice versa. I'd like to take this opportunity to do the same, but not just to be polite.
 
This time the game started with a visual idea: an empty playing area that would be covered with matching tiles. This "key visual," as you say in advertising, is an image of the globe, which is depicted on the game board of each player. This defines where you can legally place your tiles, which means that the most important rules are already given to players from the start.
 
Game play takes place simultaneously, with everyone drawing from the same stock of landscape tiles. You earn positive points for animals collected and landscapes completed, while losing points for mistakes or an abundance of volcanoes.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Board Game: Mondo
Early and final versions of the player board

A timer determines how long you have to arrange and place the most valuable combination of tiles. Beginners have seven minutes available to them, and while that might sound like a lot, it's not. If you do manage to finish early though, you can score extra points while the other players continue until time runs out. The advanced and professional game settings, as well as multiple variants, provide increased thrills and a lot of variety. This last feature was already clear during development, namely that the game system is incredibly flexible. Elaborating on these possibilities was a central goal for me.
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Mon Jan 31, 2011 6:57 am
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