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Designer Diary: The Making of Uluru – We Came, We Sat, We Squabbled

Lauge Rosendahl
Denmark
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Board Game: Pelican Cove
Uluru is another of those games that seemed to be born fully mature overnight and completed in a weekend or so. We hear that about a lot of games, but the reality most often is that such spontaneous creation would not have happened if the author had not spent the previous ten years obsessing about games and producing failed designs. At least that's true in my case, with Uluru.

The Idea

I think the particular weekend in question came after a week in which all four kids had being really demanding about a certain situation ... We have only two children ourselves, but we share a house with a couple who also has two, and since we eat together most weekdays, we usually have eight around the table.

And the kids had in those days very strong opinions of where they wanted to sit ... and where they wanted each other to sit ... and where the parents should sit. It could get really hairy sometimes, not least because grownups also have opinions of where they want to sit, even if we don't burst out crying to be heard. If I have cooked, I like to sit close to the kitchen, another prefers the end of the table, and none of us likes the crammed inner seats on the bench.

Prototype

Thus the game was a reality in our daily life long before it became a board game in my head. So no, it wasn't about placing dreambirds around Ayers Rock, but about making an unruly family sit down and shut up around a dinner table.

From gallery of luchau
Various tables that did not work


The first version I made attempted to use a regular table with 6/8/10 chairs and a card set of interrelationary demands (like "I want to sit next to red" and "I want to sit across from black"), but I needed more subdivisions of the seats and a varied spread of seats along the sides. And then I realized that the game was even more real than I had thought because an exact replica of the actual table that stands in our kitchen proved to work better than any I could draw.

From gallery of luchau
=>
From gallery of luchau
Our actual dinner table ... proved to be the best game table


The rest of the design went as they usually do – prototype, playtests, adjustments, new prototype, more playtests, and so on - until I had eight different cards and a scoring system in which you received clear glass tears for each pawn you did not seat right.

From gallery of luchau
This photo was sent along with the rules to Kosmos; I called the game "Seat 'em!"


For a long time I found the game way too simple and tried hard to make a more complex scoring system or expand the number of seats. But everybody who tested it voted unanimously for the basic version with no frills. I also remember thinking it was just a rip-off of Ricochet Robots – both games involving simultaneous problem solving with a sand timer – but if that's so, there probably aren't many truly original games out there.

From gallery of luchau
Some scoring cards I found in the files - I have no idea how I meant to use them!?!


Finding a Publisher

Two years earlier I had sent a prototype for another game to Hans im Glück. Only a few companies still accept "cold calls" from unpublished designers, and HiG was one of them. Unfortunately the publisher returned the design with no comments three months later. They just wrote something like, "We had to stop working on your game, thank you very much."

I mailed a nicely laid-out PDF of the rules to Kosmos and had it turned down again, but this time received a long, thorough explanation for why the design wasn't good enough.

I was quite impressed by the sincere treatment of an unknown wannabe like me, so of course Kosmos was the first company I contacted with my new game (again with photos of the prototype and a fully illustrated PDF of the rules). And this time they asked me for a prototype, which I sent along so fast it left skidmarks in the postal system.

By that time I had created two more demand cards, and when the contract was finally signed (about six months later - this business takes patience), I had created two more.

So now the game has 12 different demand cards that I designed and a flavor and layout that I had very little to do with. I have been assured that there are plenty of loud kids in Germany, but apparently they can't be expected to sell as well as certain Australian rocks :-)

From gallery of luchau


And by coincidence, Uluru is probably the most amazing place I have ever been to. Sorry for the terrible scan of my old chemical photo.

At first I was really protective of my original flavor for the game, but Kosmos had artists make sample artwork for both my setting and their suggested Uluru flavor, and I had to admit the game became clearer and more attractive with the Aussie touch.

Last weekend I attended the toy fair in Nürnberg and saw the final game for the first time. I think it looks tremendous, so I was very happy!

Board Game: Pelican Cove
Image taken by Daniel Danzer, aka duchamp, at Nürnberg 2011


Lauge Luchau Rosendahl
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