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Designer Diary: Boom, Bang, Gold, or From the Spark to the Dynamite!

Emerit Alexandre
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My name is Alex, and I live in France, fifty miles south of Paris. I have been playing board games for more than fifteen years, falling in love back then with gems like Puerto Rico and Euphrat and Tigris, but it is only recently that I took the plunge and started designing my own games. At the end of 2017, it is with a lot of emotion and a bit of fear that I will see the release of my first game in stores: Boom, Bang, Gold. I take advantage of this little diary to tell you more about this wonderful adventure.

Boom was my second prototype. I started it during mid-2015, when it was then called "Gold Fever in Ghost Town". As a beginner in game design, I thought that it was probably wise to start creating with simple concepts and rules as it would be easier to get them out of my head, build the prototype, test to see if they work, and tweak. Well, that approach has a major drawback as you have to find an idea that stands out.

For "Gold Fever", I wanted to make a fast game that can appeal to a large public, a game that has simple rules, and most especially one in which you play with the box. (I love games like Château Roquefort, The Magic Labyrinth, Niagara, and Kayanak to name some classics.) I wondered what I could do differently. My brain grinded for several weeks until this key moment, almost magically (as you never know when, why, or how such ideas happens), when the idea came of shaking and hitting the game box. The spark is this idea of a mechanism: Players would have to hit the bottom of the box with one of their fists to make the tokens inside the box "jump".

All I would need to try it out is a box and a hundred tokens.

With this mechanism came instantly an idea of theme. Players would be in the far west, and hitting the box would mimic the effect of dynamite revealing gold in a mine. The tokens would all have one side with stones and the other side would be more stones or gold or a bonus.

In more detail, at the start of a game, one player throws a handful of gold and bonus tokens in the box, along with tokens that have stones on both sides. Another player takes the game box, shakes it, then opens it — then at the same time all the players try to grab any revealed gold and bonuses. Among these bonuses would be dynamite, and the player who grabs it gets to hold the box with one hand and hit it on the underside with their other hand so that it would reveal more gold that only they can take. Hmm, this sounds fun and looks like a good starting track. I try to put aside this "far west" theme to think of another one, but no, the transplant took too well. It's impossible to find something that would fit better with this mechanism. Even so, for the moment it's all just in my head.

The first ideas for "Gold Fever"

This idea seems promising, but it's only an idea. It's time to get to work and create the first prototype. Hmm, this is one of the most critical moments of game design because it takes a lot to get from an idea to a game you can pitch to a publisher. With this game, for example, it was at least two days of work to have a first prototype (find the visuals, create the material on my computer, print and cut with scissors from the thick cardboard about 160 tokens, etc.) — and nothing says that in the end it will work. But for this prototype, it was worth it. I had my first tests, and "oh joy", the game works right away. It's simple and quick, and my testers are having fun and want to play it more. It also has a little taste of transgression as we players are not accustomed to hitting our game boxes and throwing tokens up to two meters from our gaming table.

Well, the game is not perfect and there are still a few points to review, especially in the game sequences. For example, by placing all the gold tokens at the start, players exhaust all the gold in three rounds and the next rounds are boring. My new idea is to add gold tokens to the box three times, and a player doesn't have to be exact when doing this; they just grab a handful of tokens and throw them in. Thus, three gold veins will be discovered around Ghost Town.

One month after the first spark (and a lot of playtests), I have a game that is worth showing to a wider audience. Even better, I have a nice box cover, thanks to Yann, a person I met through a game design forum on the famous French board game website Tric Trac.

Box cover of the first prototype

My first public presentation of the prototype was done during a board game design contest in October 2015. Thirty prototypes entered this contest, with the public rating the games. That night, I was lucky enough to win. The contest took place on Friday night, the opening day of a board game convention in Angers. As the winner, I had my own table to show the prototype all weekend during the con — and this was a blast. More than a hundred players came to play my game, and some even came back with friends and family. I also had the fortune to meet some publishers.

Demoing at Prélude, the Angers' game design contest

After this weekend, the game is now in the hands of a few publishers. Rather than wait without doing anything — because patience is one of the first qualities that a beginning board game designer must learn — in October 2015, I sent the rules in English to HABA in Germany. And then, just to make a liar out of me, only three weeks later I receive a message from HABA in my inbox: "We have read your rules, the game seems fun, please can you send us a prototype. We need between 20 and 24 weeks to review it." So I sent them a prototype and started to wait again — for real this time.

In the meantime, the first negative responses from other publishers arrived: "The game is fun, but it needs a box too big for our line", and so on. To not lose patience and morale, I started working on other designs. In March 2016, HABA tells me that they still love the game and I am on a short list of sixty(!) games selected for further playtesting and that to bring me good luck, I have to keep my fingers crossed!

Then began a long wait, with the final answer initially planned for June 2016 ("but keep your fingers crossed"), then July 2016 (and I start to cross my toes, too), then August 2016 (and I get a tattoo of crossed fingers on my forearm).

Finally, the positive answer from HABA arrived in October 2016, and for me, it was like the explosion of a stick of dynamite.

Even better, the game would part of their new family line with Karuba, Meduris, and the new Iquazù. What's more, the game was slightly modified by HABA during these months of playtesting. No more shaking or hitting is needed as the box now includes a clever "trampoline" made of cardboard as well as sticks of dynamite to throw directly into the box. Very nice inspiration from HABA's development team!

Final components: the cardboard trampoline allows the dynamite to make the tokens jump

The rest of this story is nothing but pure joy: working on the rules, discovering the first illustrations and components, punching out the components of my first game with my family, meeting the people at HABA France, and going with my family to SPIEL to celebrate the launch of my first game with HABA Germany. Boom, bang, gold!

Alexandre Emerit

Punching out the components with my kids
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Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:00 pm
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