Archive for Anne-Cécile Lefebvre
In June 2016, Cédric, Ian, and I — the three who comprise the Ludonaute team — first played Jeju Island, a game published by our Korean partner Happy Baobab in 2015.
We immediately felt in love with the mechanisms and the smart style of the game, which was designed by Gary Kim, Jun-Hyup Kim, and Yeon-Min Jung. It is an easy to learn and very interactive game, mainly intended for families and children, about traveling around Jeju Island — the most beautiful island in Korea — and gathering specialty items. The mechanisms are based on awalé games and are very smart. The art is cute and charming, very Korean-style.
At this time, we were starting to set up The Legends of Luma world and game line. The idea of this collection is to tell a big story through a series of games, with the same characters appearing throughout. We have six heroes (Moon, Lys, Siana, Red, Nostromo and Ulrich) who explore a new fantasy world, trying to figure out why they have been sent there. We had a story and a world, and we were looking for games that could be integrated into the collection.
We had the first game of the collection: Oh Captain!, which covers the arrival of our heroes on Luma's world. Oh Captain! is a bluffing game, fun and chaotic. We were looking for a more peaceful and quiet game to tell the story of their journey with the Nomads through the mountains of Luma. Play Jeju, to use another of the game's names, seemed to meet the main criteria we had for the range: a duration of less than one hour, not too many components, and easy to play.
But of course we couldn't just change the title. For the first time, Ludonaute worked on an adaptation of an already-published game. It has been a very interesting experience for us, and it's what I would like to tell you about in this post.
Moving from Jeju Island to Luma: Changing the Theme
We first thought that instead of traveling on Jeju Island, the players could travel on Luma. But the trip is circular in Play Jeju, whereas our heroes travel from Kokota to Wilango, two different places in Luma. Thus, the game board couldn't be a map of Luma. Despite finding another way to transform this game into Luma's world, you'll see that we did not completely give up this idea of traveling between locations.
Since the six characters are traveling with nomads, we assume that at night they set up camp and gather around the fire. Well, that is the perfect place to tell stories and legends. What if they sat around a huge fire with different groups? The atmosphere of such a background fits perfectly with the kind of feelings we wanted to pass on in this game.
Thus, the Jeju tiles became Story tiles and the point cards that players try to claim with Jeju tiles became Legend cards that you capture through stories. The game now tells of an evening gathering with the nomads instead of a tourist trip on Jeju Island. The game's name would obviously become "Nomads".
That was the easy part.
Party of Six: Changing the Number of Players
Since the "Legends of Luma" story has six characters, we first tried to increase the maximum number of players from four to six by simply adding 2x2 additional tokens and 40 tiles. Alas, this "simple" approach raised a big problem: The game became very chaotic with six players and lasted far too long, leading to them losing interest.
Looking at the game again, we saw another approach. Play Jeju has one special object, the Harubang statue, which moves on the board and sometimes triggers a bonus effect. What if the Harubang statue could be represented by one of our characters? And if so, which one? Well, Lys, the old and noble woman of the party, is the most calm and impressive character. She stands up and supervises the evening.
With Lys represented by the game itself, the other five characters would be player options, which meant that Nomads would be playable from two to five players. The gameplay, however, felt very different depending on the number of players. To prevent the gameplay changing this way, we tried to have different set-ups based on the player count, but doing so meant not only having different numbers of tiles, but also a different number of spots on the game board.
In principle, this wouldn't be an issue. We have a fixed box size and shape for this line, which means we're limited in the size of the game board that we can include, but we puzzled things out to have double-sided game board pieces that could be assembled in different ways according to the number of players. In this way, we could have six, seven, or eight spots around the fire.
The problem was that this set-up was complicated and laborious — which is not a good way to create an "easy to learn" game.
We then hit upon another idea that allowed us to make the set-up the same for every player configuration. The whole party travels with the nomads all the way through the story, so let's make all of the characters present for the storytelling in the game as well, but those characters who aren't being played have fallen asleep around the campfire. In game terms, the story tiles that they would collect are simply discarded. With this rule, the game lasts the same duration in any player configuration and has the same set-up. Elegant, isn't it?
Less Chaos, More Tactics
The goal of the game is to collect the appropriate tiles on the board in order to take point cards. To do so, on their turn, a player sows a stack of discs (that must contain one of their discs) on the various spots. After this move, every player who has a disc on the top of a stack collects the tile next to this stack, even during another player's turn.
Collecting the tiles can be very tactical since you have to try to stay at the top of the stacks as often as possible, while burying your opponents' discs under yours or under the neutral discs. This is the part of the mechanisms we did not change.
Regarding the point cards, in Play Jeju, they are revealed at random from the deck in a row of five cards, and you have no idea which card will be available next. Moreover, some cards have special effects such as refreshing all the point cards in play or acting as an everlasting Jeju tile. We felt that this part of the game could be frustrating. For the audience we aimed at with Nomads, we were looking for a little bit more control.
The first change we made was to have all the point cards available at the beginning of the game for all the players so that you know exactly what is available and when. This engages a race between the players.
In Play Jeju, the point cards require you to discard different tiles to claim them, and it was difficult to have a big picture of which tile would be of most interest for you at which moment in the game. What's more, because some point cards had joker spaces that could be satisfied by any tile, sometimes getting one tile or another did not matter, which seemed a pity.
So we changed the requirements of the point cards into identical tiles, with the option of upgrading a card worth few points into a higher point card during the game. This brought more choices to players: Should I get this low point card now before another player gets it, or should I wait to have more tiles of this type to get a higher point card, even if I am not sure that I can collect enough tiles?
Moreover, by creating legend tiles this way, we were able to have continuous legends with a beginning, a middle, and an end. We could really tell stories with the cards, so that is what we did.
The third change was to split point cards and special effect cards in order to create a dilemma over which to acquire, but this change created a pattern in the gameplay that was not so good; players simply took the effect cards during the first part of the game, then the point cards during the second part. Thus, we decided to have only point cards (songs and legends) and to instead place the special effects on the character cards.
Tension and Competition
Scoring in Play Jeju is nice and encouraging. At the end of the game, you count your point cards and every pair of remaining tiles.
We wanted to prevent players from collecting as many tiles as possible without thinking through a strategy, so we imposed a penalty of one negative point per remaining tile at the end of the game. This may seem nasty, but in fact it increased the competition and the tension at the end of the game — and we liked this change of mood in the game flow. At a certain point, players suddenly try not to get too many tiles. There is now a twist, and they play the movement phase differently from the beginning of the game.
We wanted to introduce progress into the game. Of course the tiles that disappear and the race for the point cards give the game a smooth progression, but we felt like the game was made of two parts: before and after the twist. Then came the idea of having this twist several times during the game. What if we do not attend one evening gathering, but several? After all, the journey of the characters from Kokota to Wilango lasts dozens of days, months even.
So we introduced new tiles, moon tiles that are now scattered among the story tiles. When four moon tiles have appeared, it's now the time of the full moon. Our characters do not change into werewolves, but rather they review their situation. There is an intermediary scoring that implies you can't afford to get behind with the legend cards too long. This new game rule brings a lot of tension and offers you choices.
The Cherry on the Cake
In Nomads, players are the heroes of Luma: Moon, Lys, Siana, Red, Nostromo and Ulrich. Each of them has their own personality, and we wanted to show this in every game of the collection. That means that a special ability for each character would be welcome.
For a long time during game development, the "special effects" were available via some of the point cards. At one moment, it seemed obvious that these special effects should be the special abilities of the characters. Thus, these effect cards became song cards, the only cards in the game that you can now acquire by discarding different tiles instead of identical ones. The game includes only four song cards, and each player can acquire only one. You might not want to get one too early in the game because they are worth less than the legend cards, but if you wait too long, you'll collect only a less valuable one or even none at all, which might leave you stuck with leftover tiles.
As for the special effects, it was easy to assign an effect to each character of the story:
• Nostromo has an extra disc: his pet frog.
• Siana is an acrobat, so she can jump over a spot.
• Red is a small boy, so he slips between the other characters.
• Ulrich is slow and heavy, so he can drop two discs at the same time.
• Moon is Lys' daughter, so she gets the bonus of the Lys token more easily than the others.
To conclude, after a year of playtests and design sessions, we are giving Play Jeju not a twin, but a brother: Nomads. Both come from the same family but they have quite different personalities. We thank Gary Kim a lot for his help and his kindness.
I think you did a really good job.
I like Play Jeju, but also like Nomads.
They have their own fun points!
Thanks to all of your efforts for this lovely game!
Everything started with a call from Cédrick Chaboussit in June 2014 just to have a little chat. (Since our common work on Lewis & Clark, which he designed and we as Ludonaute published, he has become a friend.) During the conversation, he explained that he had the idea of placing the stickered goodies from Lewis & Clark on some dice so that they could then be used to activate the actions of characters. He had already run a few tests and it seemed to work well, with the flow of the dice between players being quite interesting. There was still a lot to do, but he hoped to be able to show us a prototype during the upcoming Gen Con.
Cédrick Chaboussit and Vincent Dutrait at Spiel 2014
A few weeks later in Indianapolis, we tried the prototype together — and as it happened for Lewis & Clark, we fell in love quickly with the game. We think that the way of managing the dice is awesome and never seen before. Sure, the card effects are not yet balanced and there is a lot of work to do, but we're really into the game. It's decided — we're going to publish it.
The moment we decided to publish the game — Gen Con 2014
At this stage, Cédrick's idea for the game is to recount the return of Lewis and Clark's expedition. At first, we wondered whether another theme wouldn't be better because for us this game was a lot more that just a dice version of Lewis & Clark. All things considered, we decided to keep the exploration theme because we are fond of this aspect of scientist discoveries, which is not present in the earlier game.
Prototype dice make me crazy
In September 2014, that choice is confirmed: The game would be based on the Lewis and Clark Expedition from a point of view not too close to the action. It would deal not only with the return of that Expedition, but with the entire adventure, with your goal being to rewrite the Expedition's journals.
The prototype in September 2014
It took up a lot of space
In the meantime, we're working on the mechanisms of the game. We improve the flow during the stage when players retake dice, and we set up three ways to score (through the cartography, the discovery of species, and the knowledge of Indian tribes). Also, we're working on the design of the cards and the personal board. Finally, the Indian tribes' powers and the paths are still not balanced, but I'm not worried because knowing Cédrick, he would set up a little algorithm to balance everything and a few tests would do it.
This work takes more than a month. In the meantime, we create two kinds of tribes and alternative paths in order to create a more flexible game. We're happy because this is still coherent with our setting.
We used Lewis & Clark's pictures in the prototype
At the beginning of December 2014, the game is finished. (We are still discussing some little details, but mostly we're done.) It's time to call Vincent Dutrait, the illustrator whom we have already worked with on Shitenno and Lewis & Clark. We are on the same wavelength, so everything is working well. Vincent seems to be enthusiastic and creates awesome and detailed illustrations. He will tell you more about his work soon.
The prototype before Vincent started working on the game
During this time, we write, proofread, rewrite, and translate the rules so that everything will be perfect.
One of the main questions regarding the contents of the game involved the dice: wood or plastic? Both have their pros and cons, and in the end we went with wooden dice to fit with the game's spirit: exploration and the great outdoors. As dice recognition is crucial for game play, we chose colors easy to distinguish: white, red, yellow, blue and grey, pushing green to the side.
The final dice
By the end of April 2015, we had finally created a wonderful game ready to be produced. (On our website, we wrote about our trip to Ludo Fact to watch Discoveries being produced.)
Punched boards at Ludo Fact
Let's hope that you'll get as much fun playing this game as we got making it!
Editor's note: For an overview of the gameplay in Discoveries, here's a video that I recorded with Lefebvre at Spielwarenmesse in February 2015:
You have certainly read many designer diaries. As the publisher of Colt Express, we were tempted to follow the same exercise but from a different point of view. We would like to share with you what is our job, our passion.
Our job consists every day of finding new games and new ideas. Designers send us many emails detailing their projects, and we can meet them directly at the different game conventions. Over time, we've come to count some of them among our friends. That's the case with Christophe Raimbault, who we first met in 2009 at a French convention. Cedric Lefebvre (my husband and co-founder of Ludonaute) and Christophe tried many times to design games together via regular Skype sessions. They especially worked on different prototypes based on time travel, but it never resulted in anything really exciting.
The Beginning: August 2013
Christophe was writing a report on "game mechanisms in real time" at university and asked us to read it over. An excerpt:
I always try to design games as immersive as possible for the players. In current games, most of the time, the turn-based mechanisms generate a time-out each turn. Players waiting for their next turn are in a "pause" state, almost out of the game.
In the next Skype session with Christophe, he described a prototype he had imagined a few years ago with his brother: "West Pirates". He was working on it again to test a real-time mechanism for his report at university. We were interested by the idea and immediately asked him to send it to us.
We were really excited from the first test of the game: It already looked like a western movie! As we played, we could see the movie scenes taking place right there, on top of the table. All sorts of players can play "West Pirates": hardcore gamers, casual ones, our children, our family — everyone is excited about it.
Of course, the game was far from being ready; there was a lot of work to do. To be honest, if we hadn't known Christophe for long, we would have returned the prototype to him saying that it's a really good idea but there were many improvements to make — but we knew that we could trust Christophe, and the idea of finally working together on a real project was thrilling.
At the beginning, the game was quite different from today:
• It wasn't turn-based and players would play their action cards on the center pile as quickly as possible.
• The carriages were actionable and could be disconnected.
This version was fun but really chaotic. Despite this strong idea of a real-time based game, we suggested changing it into a turn-based game, and the first tests were really encouraging: The game was now more fluid and less chaotic.
At this point of the development, the train was represented by carriage cards lined in a row on the table. An outlaw was placed on the card if he was in the carriage and next to it if he was on top of it. A player could perform many more different actions than today: disconnecting carriages, jumping, performing a super action...
In November 2013, Christophe and Cedric met again at a French game convention next to Montpellier where they tested "West Pirates" together. Then, Christophe went home for two days, while the Ludonaute team continued, as always, to work in the dining room. We played many times and we had many ideas for improvement. It was a big step for the game. We signed right there a contract to officially become the publishers of "West Pirates".
Controlling the game was our first goal:
• What is the best way to draw cards?
• Can we choose them?
• How many cards should make up a hand?
• How many rounds should the game last?
• What sort of events should take place?
• How do we penalize wounded players?
From November 2013 to February 2014, we worked on all of these questions through Skype sessions with Christophe once a week. We played again and again...
What Type of Box?
We had now to choose in which form the game would be sold to shops. We were targeting casual and family gamers, but not only children. We had to get our game to be not too expensive and with an attractive design.
Christophe is a massive fan of card games and we considered publishing the game in a small box like our The Little Prince: make me a planet. It would contain only cards and a few pawns and would cost around $25.
The next step consisted in asking for prices from manufacturers. We discussed this with Whatz Games, our usual partner in China, and while this simple box with cards and pawns was doable for our target price, we didn't want to stop there; we wanted more. We fancied original material that would help the game immersion.
We immediately thought about plastic figurines, whether colored or pre-painted. We had never worked on this before and we had to learn everything: plastic types, molds, and so on.
Finally, we had to decide how big our first printing would be, which would lead to the unit price of our figurines. We had to speak with different partners, send prototypes, and obtain their agreement...
A New Member for the Team
Another crucial choice for the game was the illustrator. While Christophe looked for illustrations on the Internet to design a fine prototype, he found the blog of a storyboarder working in animation named Jordi Valbuena. We fell immediately under the charm of his "cartoon" style, colored but not childish. His drawings and sketches, visible throughout his blog, were full of movement and dynamism.
That was exactly what we were looking for: drawings that could bring a western world into life and touch as wide a public as possible.
First sketch of the "Climb" action
We contacted Jordi in December 2013. We were lucky because he lived in Marseille, only thirty minutes from us, so we invited him to come discuss and play at home.
We discovered an enthusiastic, inquisitive, and very professional man. It was his first time working in the world of board games. He played and discovered the technical constraints of the material. The illustration work started immediately by the definition of the characters. We needed six distinct characters, each of them showing a different aspect of the far west. There was the result of our discussions:
• A lonely bandit inspired from Lee van Cleef
• A charming and rebel women like Jodie Foster in Maverick
• A dandy like Christopher Waltz in Django Unchained
• An Indian girl
• A muscular giant
In January 2014, we spent two days with Christophe in Paris. We noticed that there were too many things in the game. From the beginning of the project, we had added all the ideas we had into the game without strong selection. Finally there were many rules and complicated interactions that were not good for a first discovery of the game.
We decided to clean up the game and remove all that could disturb new players, but we kept all these ideas in mind for possible expansions. For the basic game, we removed, for instance, scenarios, hostages, objects, and special carriages. We stuck to the original exciting feeling we had on the first tests: The movement. This simplification is a systematic step in our game developments. It allows us to focus again on the heart of the game and what is really original in it. We wrote the first rules, which was an important test to check whether the game was really as accessible as we thought.
The Naming Nightmare
We had been playing "West Pirates" for four months almost every day, but we didn't have a commercial title yet. Each game goes through the same difficulty: We need to find an international title that's easy to remember while perfectly describing the game — a real challenge, believe me.
We had a list of possible titles, but we couldn't decide. As the modern people we are, we called the Facebook community to help with a little survey:
The game finally has a title! Please, ladies and gentleman, cheerfully welcome Colt Express!
But this is not the end of the story. Yes, the first step of work on the game was now over: We had a game with great and simple rules. Moreover, this game had a name — Colt Express — and the first illustrations from Jordi were really exciting. But something happened — something great and important — that entailed long months of work...
The exhibition of our game The Little Prince took place in Lyon in February 2014. That same night, we played Colt Express with Little Prince designers Bruno Cathala and Antoine Bauza.
The prototype played that game night
We asked them their feeling about Colt Express. Was it a good idea to put miniatures in the box? Both thought the same way: "The heart of the game is the train, not the characters. You have to enhance the train, and if the bandits have to go on the roof, let's build a roof!" It seemed so obvious that it was the right thing to do for the game. Of course, there would be a lot of technical problems to solve soon...
Bruno Cathala thought as well that the game turns were too repetitive. A few weeks later, Christophe came up with a solution: round cards that introduced new way of programming and events.
Throughout February 2014, we worked on the concept of the 3D train. Cedric tried to find a shape that was easy to build and fun to play.
Different prototypes in paper and wood
We tried different solutions: wood train, painted train, plastic train, cardboard train... In each case, the choice of a 3D train would really increase the price of the game. We were leaving our initial target price; was that really a good idea? We guessed that players would buy a game with a low price or with original material (but both are quite conflicting).
We asked Dominique Breton, a friend of ours, to build us a train with a 3D printer. A big thanks to him!
The locomotive and a carriage built by Dominique
The Cannes Festival was a great opportunity to show the 3D train to the public. We wanted to learn the feelings of and get advice from the players. It was the crash test. At the same event, we talked to our American, German and Italian distributors. Ludo Fact, a German manufacturer, was really excited about the project and promised to offer interesting prices.
Christophe takes feedback from players
The feedback was unanimous: Colt Express is "the train game". The 3D train was essential.
In March 2014 we decided that Colt Express wouldn't get plastic miniatures but a 3D train instead. We had to find a manufacturer that could accept the challenge — and with a fine price. Cedric worked many days on board sketches...
First sketches and first prototype
There were many constraints:
• The train had to be solid, and the different pieces had to stick together. The conception was complicated, and we had to think through everything: punched board sketches, cutting margins...
Too wide snicks and the carriage is wobbly; too thin snicks and the train is really hard to build.
• The carriages had to be wide enough to receive meeples and loot, but not too wide because we wanted a normal box size. Indeed, the assembled carriages must fit into the box.
• The assembling had to be simple and easy. One of our prototypes revealed that the last piece was physically impossible to assemble with the carriage. You can imagine the great number of cardboard cuttings we had to do to achieve the expected outcome.
• The cardboard quality had to be impeccable, and not too thick to avoid the deformation when cutting small pieces.
Deformation caused by cutting too close in too thick cardboard
After lots of talks, our usual supplier Whatz Games proposed a great black cardboard: It was heavy, classy and did not split. We chose this material and asked for a final sample.
That was the moment when Ludo Fact sent us a quote with the price we had asked for in Cannes. We know that their cardboard is of good quality. (They produced Norderwind, for example, and its technicians are experienced.) So there was a dilemma. What do we do: go on with our Chinese partner who was very reactive on this project and who, in the end, offered a satisfying solution — or turn towards a European production at the same cost? After a long moment's hesitation, we chose Germany and Ludo Fact. Indeed, that choice allows us to avoid issues such as quality tests, customs clearance, and sea transport for most of our customers...
In May 2014, we approached many distributors in foreign countries to increase the number of printed copies and get the best public price. In the end, we're publishing eight versions for the first printing, with a total amount of 15,000 copies — an unheard of total for us. The game contents and the box size were decided then:
• A Ticket to Ride-sized box, same as Lewis & Clark, to allow people to place the train inside the box without disassembling it.
• Playing cards without bleed (because we like that )
• Wooden meeples, with a personalized shape.
• A cardboard train with six cars and one engine.
• The public price is fixed at $40.
What About the Artwork?
Meanwhile, Jordi was working, first on the Action cards, then on the Round cards.
Then he started working on the box cover: a huge work with lots of returns. The box cover picture is critical: That is the first view that potential players catch of the game on the Internet or in game shops. It has to be appealing, it must be understandable by a wide audience, it has to give the right idea of what the game is, and it must stand out. This is a great challenge.
We finally chose to place the train in the middle of the picture and the bandits acting around it. Once again, the train is the center of the game.
We opted for sunset yellow colors to fit with western movies codes, and a golden frame rather than a black frame in a spirit of the "Gold rush".
Contrary to Lewis & Clark, we resolved to get away from the historical, academical aspect. Too bad for realism this time — we wanted to make the players use their imagination.
The last step of the artwork is the train. Jordi needed the final sketch before illustrating the main contents of the game. The punched boards drawing was ready in early June, after the approval of the sample Ludo Fact made. Despite the big constraints he had, the artist succeeded in creating a wonderful decor in record time.
A Welcome Help
We had to finish the files by the end of June 2014. The game rules and the box bottom still needed to be illustrated. Time is short. We would not have the final sample we were waiting for to illustrate the examples in the game rules. We feared that we would have to postpone the game release.
Meanwhile, we started thinking of the game promotion: We loved the Miniville trailer that was broadcast in June in France. We needed something like this! We contacted Ian Parovel who made the trailer. He was excited by the project. We gave him all the art of the game so that he could check on which files he could work. He submitted a shooting script to us and offered to start with the making of a 3D rendering train. It was just what we needed at this moment to finish the games rules edition. Well done, Ian!
A part of the train used in the games rules and in the video
In passing, Ian had a look at the box pictures. Thanks to his advice, we improved the colors and made an attractive box bottom.
The box before and after Ian gave his advice
We also worked on the card tray in July. It was a real headache! See for yourself!
In Q2 2014, we demoed the game at various game events. Each time, the feedback from the players was constructive. Facing different audiences, we decided to include two ways of playing the game: a "casual gamers" rulebook and an expert variant that added management of the discard pile.
In mid-June 2014, at the game festival in Paris, the prototype was in its final version. Christophe was there and attend all the games, listening to all the comments and feedbacks. Everything went very well except a very small grain of sand in the wheels of our machine: Django's ability was too difficult to play. Following a proposal from a player, we changed it to the ability of shooting through the roof.
The prototype played in Paris
After seeing so much enthusiasm around the playing table in Paris, Christophe left the game event super motivated and eager to develop the game more. He started designing additional playing modules to add to the game in a possible expansion.
In early August 2014, Christophe visited us. We playtested his "Hostages", "Weapons" and "Horses" modules. So many great ideas he had! We played again and again, loving the game even more. The game has got a long life ahead of it.
After several hours of playtests, some weird things happen!
On August 8, 2014, all of the files were sent to the manufacturer, and just last week at the start of October 2014 the copies of the game left Ludo Fact's factory. We have checked the quality and do not need to worry about it anymore.
We have also released the video Ian made for us:
From now on, we are not in control of what will happen. We have put all our heart in this project together with Christophe and Jordi. Lots of people helped us along the last year, with feedback and advice. Thanks to all of them as Colt Express is the fruit of all of these interactions. It is a team adventure, a journey that changes you. We hope that you will enjoy the game as much as we had fun with it.
The game will start its life at Spiel 2014 in Essen, Germany and will be available in various European countries at the same time and in the U.S. in November 2014.