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Designer Diary: Garden Nation

Nathalie SAUNIER
France
Bois-de-Céné
Pays de la Loire
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Board Game: Garden Nation
By Nathalie and Rémi Saunier

Rémi: The story of Garden Nation begins in 2013 when watching a video about mathematics and "super noughts and crosses".

What is this? It consists of nine little grids drawn in the nine spaces of a main big grid of noughts and crosses, each of them being connected to the other places.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: We created the first prototype to show to our gamers club near home. At this point, it is an abstract game with four colors. The aim is to do alignments of x tokens with your color and realize secret objectives. Gamers like the idea, but it is too abstract and too long. We still have a lot of work to do...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Rémi: The board has 81 places: 9 places composed of 9 places. We decide to reduce it to 7 by 7. The theme of the game decides itself: it will be "urban".

Each board is composed of two shops, two factories, two houses, with the seventh place being the recycling center. Each ground has a value between 1 and 5 credits.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The theme helps with the idea of layering the tokens to build buildings: these are now floors.

What else has now appeared in the game:

• Money in the form of banknotes that are used to pay for the floors built.
• The opportunity to sell already built buildings to the bank or to other players.

We have the idea of a majority at the end of each round to earn money, and there are both common objectives and personal ones to earn victory points. The first tests of this version are better and give us a feeling of good hope with the mechanisms.

We go to a festival in the north of France with that brand new prototype, but players say it is difficult to read the board and the pictures are overloaded.

Back home, I do a new lighter and easier prototype to play with.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: The next evolution comes after another festival in Toulouse. After a notably frustrating game, the idea of two actions per round for each player arrives after a debriefing.

Also during that festival, after a conversation with a publisher who doesn't like the theme, we start to think about a new one.

Rémi: I find one — hacking — but Nathalie immediately disagrees with it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

That theme brings new ideas we find interesting. For example, it's fun to turn the different boards to gain access to the network. An AI also appears.

The game becomes half co-operative as players have to attack a system and beat the AI that protects the system, but each player also has a secret mission. Finally, we abandon that version and go back to the urban theme.

Then we try to upgrade the game with inter-zones and add special buildings and bonus victory points. Bonus actions that players can play during the game arrive at that point.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: Here comes a new festival, and new changes in the life of that prototype. We drive to Britany for the Finist'Aire de Jeux festival, one of our favorite ones. Erwan Hascoët, the boss of Bombyx comes and tries our game. He seems to appreciate it, takes it for tests with his team, and after a few months says Bombyx wants to publish it.

At Bombyx, exchanges between the team and authors are at the heart of development. You come with a project, but it's together with the Bombyx team that the game evolves — and these years of development have been rich!

Together we decide on the difficulty level. We deconstruct the game and simplify it to keep the bits that seem to be the best. A few modifications which bring us to the final version:

• The banknotes leave room for an individual board to manage the budget and the special actions.
• Roofs related to the objectives of "public markets" appear.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Rémi: Mechanically we start to feel that the game is quite finished, but we are still searching for a more "sexy" theme.

Nathalie and I decide to explore an Asian one. An imperial city must be built. The grounds become military, religious, civil, and wasteland. We imagine common objectives with the new theme like temples, barracks, and post offices. Each player represents a family who wants prestige and wants to become the Emperor's advisor. I create and print 3D pagodas (one sort per family).

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: Test after test, the game evolves until the fantastic day when after a memorable common game, Erwan says: "Good job, the development is over. We'll now take charge for the next step."

Bombyx is well-known for its very rich graphic universes. We can't wait to see what they are about to do with our mechanism. With Loïg at the controls, they propose different universes to us...

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Rémi: And a few weeks later we meet four little people and the artwork of Maxime Morin, who had previously done Codex Naturalis for Bombyx.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

When we signed with Bombyx, we had the ambition of having a deep and strong graphic game, but the result is incredible and amazes us. We can't tell you how fantastic this human and professional story was.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Nathalie: And the story has just begun because Garden Nation is to due arrive in an English version in the United States and England in the middle of 2022!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Image: "Game Trotteur" and Sylvain Trabut

Nathalie & Remi

From gallery of NathalieSaunier
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