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The Magic of the Discworld
Back in September 2011 Leonard Boyd and I (David Brashaw) who run Backspindle Games had recently published Guards! Guards! A Discworld Boardgame in conjunction with Z-Man Games. Both being from Ireland we thought, where was the best place to be just after its release? The Irish Discworld Convention, of course! This venture was not without its challenges as it took us five hours "by car" to get there, while many others who had traveled from across Europe got there in less than four hours...
We were mostly delayed by a Post Office van that was broken down at the Mad Cow roundabout. Funny how this later impacted subliminally in our game Clacks! (darn Post Office).
Funny How Things Come About
The convention itself was magical, the location was the superb Falls Hotel in County Clare, the staff were charming, and the delegates delightful. We spent our time demoing our Guards! Guards! board game and ran an occasional crazy run-around-the-convention game of it with chocolate dollars and beer as the prizes.
On the final day when we were all packed up and relaxing in the lounge, we talked with other delegates about the Sky TV adaptations of Discworld books. I had just said that my favorite one was Going Postal and the great race when Leonard came out with the statement, "I'm sure there is a good game in there somewhere." Hence we started talking about how many lamps were on a Clacks tower, the type of alphabet, semaphore, and transmission of words, and in no time at all had come up with an initial idea of a board game in which players would compete to transmit words.
Playing Around With Ideas
Once back safe and sound in County Down we developed the idea further, agreeing on how many lamps should be on a board, and Leonard devised the Clacks alphabet. We dug out our respective copies of Going Postal for reference purposes. Leonard then created a simple board and tile lamp stickers while I got some wooden blocks cut and painted them black with the interference of our cat — they became his plaything while drying on the windowsill — and we had a demo game ready to go.
Then we thought, "Do we want to be board game designers that create only Discworld-based games?" Much as this is totally wonderful, we felt that no, we'd like to do other games, too. Hence we put the idea of Clacks on hold and we used the sixteen tile idea instead to develop a different simple strategy game called Codinca.
We took demos of Codinca to the UK Games Expo in 2012 and it was loved. Following this response to save time, we self-printed a very small quantity of Codinca and took them to Spiel in Essen, Germany, where we sold out.
The Lights Came Back On
However, Clacks had not gone away. We were aware that for any product to be granted a license by Sir Terry Pratchett, the fans had to like it first and foremost. Subsequently, we made better quality demos of Clacks and took two copies to the Discworld Convention in Birmingham in 2012. The critical question was, "Did we have a good reaction from the fans to this early version of Clacks?" Oh, yes!
We particularly remember going into the Games Room at 11:45 p.m. on the Saturday evening to make sure everything was set-up for the next morning only to discover to our horror that one copy was missing. We set off to hunt it down. We were delighted to find it in the after-hours area being played by four girls who in unison said, "Please let us finish this game!"
Being Granted a License
Throughout the whole convention, both copies of Clacks had been played "non-stop all day every day" by delegates. It was very pleasing, but still a long way from being the complete game and securing a license from Sir Terry.
The positive feedback from the Discworld Convention went back to Terry Pratchett's team and on 8 February 2013 I received an email from Rob confirming Sir Terry was pleased with the feedback and he would be granting us a license for Clacks! Awesome...
Delivering a Quality Game
Now the pressure was on to make it a really good game, quality rules, attractive board, themed playing cards and pieces, and of course an appropriate box cover. Keeping the high standards of Discworld is a challenging proposition, one that we had managed successfully before with Guards! Guards! and were very keen to do with Clacks.
At this time we had "Fault Report" cards in the game. These enabled players to play them against their opponents or use them themselves to help win in the "player versus player" game. Ongoing playtesting was challenging as we wanted some type of cooperative game within the rules, but game balance and mechanisms for this were proving difficult to say the least. As in all our games, not only must the game mechanism work, but it also must feel right, i.e., fit with the theme of the game.
Success Can Be a Distraction
Meanwhile, another of our game publications had taken off in 2013; Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice came to life and became a HIT in every way, so once again Clacks development had to take a temporary second place. By early 2014 Luchador! had become a big success for us via Kickstarter and the pressure to deliver Clacks in 2015 was increasing.
Securing the Right Illustrator
At the 2014 Discworld Convention in Manchester we further playtested Clacks with the fans of Sir Terry's books and chatted to The Artful Nudger, a.k.a. Amber Grundy, about the possibility of her working as the illustrator for Clacks. We had previously worked with Amber on a charity card game for the Irish Discworld Convention and were very aware of the fabulous artwork she could produce, particularly her dragon illustrations.
In addition, Amber is a big fan of Discworld and very knowledgeable about the subject matter. This is, of course, critical to a branded game.
Funding the Game Development
Shortly afterwards we (Backspindle Games) secured some substantive financial support from the Creative Industries Innovation Fund, the Northern Ireland Arts Council, and DCAL. This enabled us to bring Amber on board as our illustrator, invest money in additional playtesting and promotion, and print high-quality prototypes for showing at trade fairs and to others in the industry.
Lots More Playtesting
We investigated the idea that we could also make Clacks playable by blind and partially sighted gamers. This was possible, but unfortunately would add substantially to the costs and was likely to make the retail price prohibitive.
In addition, we started playing around with a new approach to the cooperative game that linked in nicely with the idea of recreating the race between the Clacks and the Post Office in the novel.
This idea was developed further with more playtesting and a balance of movement for the Post Office around the board being created in conjunction with the flavor text cards later to become known as "Incident Report" and "Operators Log" cards. This mechanism was then driven by using the Stress Points spent by players operating the Clacks system. We created two routes for the Post Office: one easier for the Clacks Operators (players) to win and a harder route.
Ensuring the Game Was Balanced
There had also been challenges with game balance for a three-player game, but we overcame this with the introduction of a Deep Dwarf Marker. This not only balanced the competitive three-player game, but also added a little bit more Discworld theme, which is always a good thing.
Not One, But Three Games in One
Then at one of our playtesting sessions at local gaming club Wee Gamers, which is based in a local Primary School, it was suggested that we could perhaps introduce a junior introductory race game within the rules. We played about with this idea, and after more playtesting incorporated a two-player simplified game to Clacks which is mainly aimed at children.
Everything Has To Be Approved
At all stages of a Discworld licensed game, all content and artwork has to be approved, so we were delighted in late January when we received approval from Narativia for the box cover. Shortly after that we agreed with Polish board game publisher Phalanx that a Polish-language version of Clacks would also be produced.
Once both English and Polish contents and artwork had been approved, we went to print. The board looked superb, the pre-order was launched in early May 2015 for shipping around the globe and collecting at Spiel 2015 in Essen.
The official release launch for Clacks is set to take place at theIrish Discworld Convention taking place from 2-5 October 2015 in Cork.
More Fun at the UK Games Expo
In June 2015, we also took the good quality demo copies to the UK Games Expo in Birmingham, the biggest board gaming event held in the UK annually. We were snowed under with demand to play Clacks. Some gamers enjoyed the player versus player game while other loved the cooperative race game. Once again the fact that the gamers loved playing Clacks reassured us we had once again found a good mix of fun, strategy and sneakiness in our game, just what we like in most of the games we play.
Back to the Post Office Van
Funnily enough when we were at the 2015 UK Games Expo we were asked, "Was the Post Office not the good guys in the book and The Clacks the bad guys?" Darn, was this the subliminal message of disgruntlement from our 2011 delay by a Post Office van? Perhaps it was. However, we do know that the Clacks operators were everyday workers and not necessarily the baddies. This made us smile, of course, and adds to a lovely story.
At the time of writing we are on schedule with production and relying on our printers, the shipping agents, and our distribution agents to deliver all games in early October 2015.
Thank you for taking time to read our notes.