Thoughts of a small publisher - Value Add Games

We are a small publishing company from Slovenia. We primarily focus on family and smaller board games in which we are always trying to add some additional value. We also make custom board games for corporate clients, which make great business gifts. We have our own team of game designers, graphic designers and illustrators. This allows us to have complete control of the game design process from the start to the very finish. With this blog, we plan to share our experiences we have picked up in board game and graphic designing, illustrating and publishing. We hope that both newcomers and experts in the industry will find this blog informative and interesting.
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Interview with the game designer of WolfWalkers: My Story, Maja Milavec

Value Add Games
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We have recently released a new card game: WolfWalkers: My story. To give you some insight on the whole development process, we have interviewed the designer of the game Maja Milavec.

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On left: CEO of Value Add Games, Urška Hartman, On right: Game designer Maja Milavec

Q: How did it all start?
Maja: Two years ago we started our collaboration with Cartoon Saloon – an animation studio based in Ireland who have been nominated multiple times for both the Oscar and the Golden globes. We have collaborated with them before when we have released our previous game: WolfWalkers the Board game, whose target audience of that game were children and families. For our next project we have wanted to create a game whose target audience would’ve been teenagers and adults who like both the WolfWalkers film and board games. We had a large repertoire of wonderful illustrations provided by Cartoon Saloon and we wanted to use them in our future project. The studio especially wanted us to show the entire specter of illustrations from the movie, not just images of the main characters, since every frame of the film is art in itself. This is a very unique situation since usually when designing games, we have to create the illustrations for the game, but this time we already had the illustrations so we used them as an inspiration.

Q: So the illustrations came first and the mechanics followed?
Maja: Correct. The context of the movie led to the design of the game. This is why, as an example, the themes of Objective cards are not random but are based on the film. Similarly, the icons on Story cards reflect what is on the image. This way the theme of the game is intertwined with its mechanics and it is not something that was just “stapled on”. I like designing games this way, because it is way easier to be inspired when it comes to mechanics. We really wanted to make sure the illustrations are the heart of the game – as you take and place cards you have beautiful scenes from the film right in front of you, which allows us to relive the story.

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WolfWalkers: My Story

Q: Did this cause any problems with balancing the game?
Maja: It was a bit harder than usual since the objectives were mostly inspired by the films plot. The only thing we could’ve altered was the value of said objectives. But it was easily tackled with a few days of math and spreadsheets.

Q: The game is for 2 players – Any reason for this?
Maja: If you check BGG, a lot of games these days are from two to four, five or six players, but if you check the recommended amount of people, it is rarely two. I think this is because a lot of those games were primarily made for multiple people and a two-player mode has to have additional rules that sometimes changes the flow of the game. We really wanted to focus on making a very streamlined two player experience, especially for these times, where lockdown has forced a lot of people into their homes and it is hard to find multiple people to play games with.

Q: But there is an option that allows for more players?
Maja: Correct. When we have finished the design of the game, we have entertained the idea of having a higher player count. We tried merging two copies of the game, and with a slight change to the rules, the game can be played with three or four players. Therefore if you want to play with 3 or 4 players you have to use two copies of the game. This made us slightly different from the majority of other games, who usually have extra rules for two-player mode.

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Designer Maja Milavec explaining the rules of the game

Q: How did the idea for an expansion, which is included in the game box, come to be?
Maja: As we playtested the game we came up with a lot of ideas on what else would be entertaining if the player had the option to do on their turn. On the other hand, the testers told us that the base game is excellent as is. We had a lot of great ideas but they would have made the base game more complex and in some cases, unbalanced. So we have decided to put most of these variations of rules into an expansion that comes with the game. These cards add a lot of replay value to the game and give it a lot of strategic and tactical depth. Players have the option to randomly pick the cards from the expansion or, if they find a favorite combination of cards, play with them multiple times.

Q: Do you have a favorite card from the expansion?
Maja: I do. It is a card that allows me to change the location of two cards in my grid. I don’t see myself as a very strategic person so this card comes to the rescue quite often.

Q: What mechanics does the game use? Why did you choose these specific mechanics?
Maja: The game has multiple mechanics, one of which is tile placement – or in this case, card placement. The second mechanic is drafting, since players are choosing from six cards in a common pool. With these cards, players are trying to form patterns by placing cards in their personal grid. I really like games where you get to build something of your own and not get punished if you make any mistakes. This is also why there are no negative points in the game if you fail to complete an objective. There is also no direct conflict with the other players, the only thing you can do to stop their plans is take a card that they need. You can find similar mechanics in Kingdomino and Cartographers. Based on the lovely theme of the film on which the game is based on, I didn’t want there to be direct conflict between the players. So I made it more of a competition to build a better story. So even if you lose, there is still a sense of accomplishment for what you have managed to build.

Q: How long did it take to develop and publish the game?
Maja: We have been developing the game for over a year. We started at the end of last spring and we were still finishing testing and graphic design a few months ago. When you follow such a process from start to finish you really gain insight on how the inner workings development process that you didn’t have before. When the game works smoothly, you are probably only a fourth of a way to the finish line.

Q: What is the point where you know that the game is good?
Maja: When your testers ask you where they can buy the game or when they say they want to play one more time. Or when you, despite having a closet full of good games, decide to play your own. Then, you know you are on the right track.

Q: Did Cartoon Saloon cooperate in the development of the game?
Maja: Of course. We were in contact with them all the time. We were discussing which illustrations they wanted us to include. They also told us about their process of making the film, what is important for them to be in the game and they also checked the final product if everything is according to their film. They are very responsive and cooperating with them was a pleasant experience.

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Value Add Games WolfWalkers products

Q: What was the hardest step in the development of the game?
Maja: The hardest part is ditching ideas. At the start of the project you have thousands and thousands of ideas, all of which seem very good. It is hard to let them go. But it is important that we streamline the game and we don’t make the game and the rules needlessly complicated. But when it comes to the last stages of development, It is always a challenge to write good rules. The game is fairly simple, one can explain the rules of it in a few minutes. But it can take a couple of weeks to put them in such a format so they are clear, consistent and have everything included but are not too long. After which you must also design the graphics of the rules and test them multiple times and make multiple changes to make sure they are on point.

Q: What did the game prototypes look like?
Maja: We usually make simple prototypes from paper. In early stages, we just made handwritten cards so that they could’ve been tested quickly. This way it is also easier to abandon ideas that do not work. Had we put more work into early prototypes it would have been way harder for us to abandon certain ideas. Only later on we started working on better prototypes – printed cards on harder paper. Although in our case, we already started with very pretty prototypes, since we had illustrations from the start. You can read more about the physical prototypes in our first post in the blog.

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People playing the game during the release event in Dobra poteza

Q: We know that last year, when the bulk of the development took place, was very “isolated”. How did you test the game?
Maja: Usually, we prefer to test our games in person, since it gives us a lot of good feedback. A lot of information is gathered from tester’s commentary, but an neglectable amount can also be gathered from non-verbal communication – what seems to frustrate them, how do they handle the components, how hard is it to see the information in front of them, how much table space does the game occupy etc. During the pandemic we had to adapt so we moved the majority of our testing into a virtual environment. We also gave our players print-and-play copies of the game, so they were able to test the game in their homes and give us their feedback later.

Q: Was it difficult to test this way? Did it have any advantages?
Maja: It was actually a way faster way to test the game since it was easier to arrange sessions from the comfort of our homes. We didn’t have to make physical prototypes and any changes to the game were applied with ease. We covered the virtual prototypes experiences in our blog.

Q: Any final thoughts?
Maja: Development and publishing of a board game is a wonderful process in which a lot of people cooperate and everyone brings a small piece to the final mosaic that is a beautiful and an interesting game such as this one. I would like to, in the name of Value Add Games, thank everyone who helped with this project: Cartoon Saloon, designers, testers, text writers, text editors, animators, photographers and manufacturers. Without them, the project would not have been possible, so thank you.

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Value Add Games team

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