Among the Stars, due out in late 2012 from Artipia Games. As you can see below, it starts somewhat...unexpectedly!
About 18 months ago, some time before Christmas 2010, a friend of mine – who knew of my love for board games as well as of my first game, Souvlaki Wars – approached me with a proposal. He worked in a Christian organization that was responsible for some Sunday schools and summer camps all over Greece. At the end of every year they give a souvenir to the children and that year they were thinking of giving a small board game for the older ones (junior and senior high school). So they asked me whether I could design one for them. I immediately jumped at the offer! Even though the job was pro-bono and the game would not be sold in any store, it was a great opportunity for me as a starting designer.
I began working on it at once. I had complete freedom on what to design, trying only to keep the publication cost relatively low. One of the themes that hit me quite early was that of a childrens' summer camp. Since most of the kids getting the game would go (or had gone in the past) to summer camps, a game with such a theme would be something they would enjoy. After coming up with several game ideas around summer camps, I settled on having the players try to build one.
I had this image in my mind of a 5x5 grid in front of each player, with square cards representing locations. A player would start with just the card in the middle, then play every new card adjacent to one already played. The cards would have limits on where in the grid they could be placed; some could be played only around the main square, others only in the outer squares, some only in the corners, etc. The cards would also have an ability on them, stating where to place them in order to get extra points, as well as their cost in resources.
Another decision I had taken right from the start was to categorize the locations based on function and assign a color to them: the red ones would be administration, the yellow ones sport fields, the houses and the locations that provided accommodation would be blue, and so on. This allowed me to have abilities that played with the cards' colors.
The biggest problem that remained was figuring out how the cards were going to be obtained. I tried a lot of things – drawing one new card each turn, having them appear in front of everyone and then be selected, spending actions to take/play them, and various other ideas – but none seemed to be working very well. In the back of my mind I had the card draft mechanism, but I kept on avoiding it. The reason was simple: 7 Wonders. If I were to use a similar mechanism to the one in that game, the comparison would be inevitable (not to mention the accusation of copying it, despite the rest of the game being completely different). However, drafting had some big advantages: It was simple and easy to learn, it was quick, and it was fun! These are all characteristics that a game aimed at younger gamers should have, so in the end I decided to give it a try and it worked perfectly. It was exactly what the game needed!
When the game was finally ready and given to the children, the comments I received were all very positive – and not only from them, but also from (boardgaming) friends to whom I showed it. I came to realize I had something good on my hands and that a commercial game could be made out of this, so I started looking for ways to do that. Luckily, one of my friends who played the game and liked it was Konstantinos Kokkinis, the owner of Artipia Games. He was about to publish his own game, Drum Roll, at that time and he expressed interest in releasing my game in 2012. As you can probably realize, I couldn't have been happier, so I started working on it at once!
From the Camp to the Stars!
First, I had to come up with a new theme. I am a sci-fi enthusiast and my favorite television show of all time is Babylon 5, so naturally one of the first ideas I had was to apply the game mechanisms in a space station building game. However, one thing I definitely didn't want to do was paste a new theme over an existing game. Whenever I design a game, I always put the theme first, using it to guide the mechanisms so that meant that a big part of the game would have to be designed from scratch. The core mechanism of drafting and placement of locations would still be there but everything else would be new.
Still, I wanted more. I wanted the game to have high replay value and to be different every time you played it, so I added more new things:
The first playtest sessions went well, and the feedback I received was positive. The game was easy to learn, fun, and quick – but with a lot of depth and meaningful choices, and it could also be played in different ways! Of course, countless playtesting sessions would follow, endless discussions on matters big and small, and also a few changes here and there to ensure the best experience for the players.
After many months of hard work, we ended up with a great game that I am sure a lot of you are going to enjoy playing! (Reviews from people who played it already indicate that.) We are proud of the work we did and are pretty sure you are going to love it as well!
The Game's Artwork
It wouldn't be fair to write this article without mentioning Odysseas Stamoglou, our game's illustrator. Right from the start, he managed to grasp the game's theme and create amazing pieces of artwork. He helped us a lot, both during the initial concept phase and with his suggestions and ideas on the world we created. His illustrations are top notch and help bring the game's theme to life!
Among the Stars is scheduled for release at Spiel 2012, with wider distribution afterward. If the description above sounds like a game you'd enjoy, you'll find Artipia Games at booth 4-407 – and if you hurry, you'll secure your place...Among the Stars!
To submit news, a designer diary, outrageous rumors, or other material, please contact BGG News editor W. Eric Martin via email – wericmartin AT gmail.com.
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