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Designer Diary: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

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Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet
Written by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala

Antoine: The initial idea for The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet goes back to March 2011. Digger had just been released in the then-new "cylindrical metal box" game line from Asmodee. I liked the roundness of this packaging straightaway and I remember thinking, "It's a pity that the games in this line – Digger, Dobble, Djam – underexploit the specificity of the box's shape". Thus, I started to think about a game that could fully be part of this line, based on its round cards – and I wanted the roundness of the cards to be justified by the theme, so what about planets? I decided to have a word about this idea with Bruno.

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Board Game: Djam

Underexploiting the box's shape; overexploiting its potential to explode

Bruno: When Antoine informed me of this idea of highlighting the use of round cards to represent planets, I was immediately up for this adventure. We started then to brainstorm about game rules via an email ping-pong match, with each idea we proposed bouncing off the ideas of the other player. We immediately converged on a card draft system in which the active player chose a card, then gave the remaining cards to the player of his choice, and so on until the last player had to take the final card. Each player started the game with a central card – a sun –around which he would have to place six planets during a round. The scoring was still undefined, but it should depend on the number of planets of each color.

Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

Antoine: As we were making the first prototype of the game, The Little Prince was starting to take center stage – television series, comic strips, jigsaw puzzles, and more – as works by Antoine de Saint-Exupery were about to be out of copyright. The Little Prince is a universal masterpiece that fully fit with our little game based on planets. Thus, it was obvious: Let's change the theme!

Bruno: It was clear that this new theme fit perfectly well, and it brought an immediate feeling of good will as I've read The Little Prince three or four times during my life. Moreover, it brought a poetic atmosphere to the game, something less cold that simple planets around an unknown sun.

Thus, our planets were not only colored but they were inhabited by little princes, foxes, and sheep, both male and female. That allowed us to create dilemmas about the final scoring. Indeed, in each color, the points were equal to the number of little princes multiplied by the number of planets of this color – but running counter to this, pairs of animals gave a nice bonus, too, and you could make couples only with planets of different colors. The planets had lampposts as well which were an important item in the game as the player who had the fewest lampposts lost points at the end of the game. (Extraterrestrials like to act in dark places, after all, which explains why we can never see them...)

Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

Antoine: Now we were busy testing, updating, and improving our prototype of The Little Prince until we got a stable version – but after several games we had to admit that despite it working well, the game was not fully satisfactory. It didn't have enough fun, enough richness. At that point, in my mind the game started to sink in the dusty darkness of the abandoned games' shelf.

Bruno: Except that it would have been a pity to give up such a poetic project, all the more so since during Bruno Faidutti's Ludopathiques gathering in April 2011, the Ludonaute team with whom we played a couple of games noticed the design – so much so that they got in touch with us in December 2011 to ask whether the game was already booked by a publisher. We were charmed by their approach as they wanted to get in contact with Saint-Exupery's assignees in order to work with an official license for "The Little Prince". We hid from them our doubts about the game rules, and each of us decided to work on our own parts: Ludonaute on the possibility of licensing The Little Prince, and us on an update of our game system.

We met again at the Valence game fair in early April 2012. They knew for sure then that they could work with the copyright license, and we – well, we had not made any progress. It was still the same game that worked well but was not satisfying thematically. Another annoying issue was that the game lasted three rounds, but with no progress from one round to another; the three rounds were identical. We feared that after the first game this redundancy would lead to boredom.

A motivated publisher, an exciting theme, identified issues but with no solution on the horizon, and a new meeting at the Ludopathiques gathering in three weeks – we were under pressure! Then we tried something crazy: Make another game completely different from the first one. Using a smart game mechanism I had in the pipeline, we designed a new game that worked pretty well; it was simple, easy to understand, but honestly not more satisfying than the first one, thematically speaking. The Ludonaute team played the game during the Ludopathiques, and I shall remember for a long time the disappointment expressed on Anne-C's face during the game. Not that the game was not interesting in itself, but it was too different from the first game, without the draft system's interaction that everyone enjoyed at the end. We parted with this shared disappointment, promising to meet soon with new proposals.

Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

At that point, I took a moment to stop and try to reason analytically:

1. Everybody has enjoyed the draft system of the first version that leads towards a nice interaction, with the dilemma of either optimizing one's own score or minimizing the next player's score...with animated discussions, tearful eyes, and beseeching looks.

• We have to keep that, and that must be the basis of the new version.

2. Playing three identical rounds is not satisfying, and we risk boring the players. At the same time, the game duration with these three rounds is fine.

• We need to find another way of playing a single round, with the same total game duration.
• If the duration is okay, that means that we will share 3x6=18 cards in all – but if every player has 18 planets around his sun, there would be a complete shambles on the table.
• Okay, but what if the 18 cards represented a single planet?
• Yes! And the circular planet could be inscribed in a square.
• Eighteen is not a perfect square, but sixteen is!
• So what if each player makes little by little a planet from 16 cards in a 4x4 square...

3. The theme is not present enough in the first version. In particular, it's not satisfying to see tens of Little Princes on the table. Moreover, in the novel, there is no extraterrestrial and no mention of animal couples. However, it does contain loads of other characters, a rose (love), elephants, a snake, volcanoes, and baobab trees.

• Let's make the most of this opportunity to introduce all of these other elements.
• In particular, we need to maintain the player's scoring dilemma by mixing on these cards positive items (characters, animals, lampposts, etc.) and negative items (volcanoes, baobab trees) in accordance with Saint-Exupery's works.

4. The scoring system of the first version works well, but Antoine has always rightly found it too complicated for the target market: a mainstream family. Most notably, even if I think it's simple to add up multiplication results, I've often noticed during test sessions that anyone can make mistakes.

• Let's make it simpler...and richer!
• To do this, we still have left the corner boxes of the square; what if each corner provides a particular way to score?
• In this way, it's possible to highlight the entire character gallery.
• Then in each game, players will have to adapt to different situations.
• As a result, this will also mean no risk of redundancy and boredom.

Of course, at that stage all of this was only theory, stemming from analytics. I needed to talk with Antoine since we would be giving up the initial idea of the project – to make a game with round cards!

Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

Antoine: I was captivated by the new version of the prototype even before my first game. The game play had become richer without the rules becoming harder to understand. The theme was even more present. All lights were green!

The following playtesting games confirmed the validity of the new version. All the players who knew the first version preferred the new one without exception, and the players who played for the first time enjoyed it a lot. This version was the correct one. We had finally got our Little Prince game! That said, we still had to adjust the game flow, making small final adjustments to make all the wheels turn and keep the pace of the game fun. The small Ludonaute team also made a contribution, suggesting that the cards be played face-up rather that hidden in hand. This reduced the wait and lead to delightful bargaining between the players. A proposal quickly adopted! They also asked us to modify some items of the game in order to match the graphic elements that the assignees of Saint-Exupéry put at their disposal.

The last point of the game design was the addition of a variant for the core gamers, that particular species that calculates everything at full speed in their little supercharged brain...

Board Game: The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet

Final look of the artwork and graphic design
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