Designer Diaries by Daniel Grek

Designer Diary entries for games designed by Daniel Grek/Concrete Canoe Games!
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Dirigible Disaster Part 2: Building a Better Disaster

Daniel Grek
United States
New Jersey
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Board Game Designer
Microbadge: Copper Board Game Collector
Dirigible Disaster

Read Part 1 Here

On December 18th 2012, I nearly dropped hot chocolate in my lap. I’m glad I didn’t because hot chocolate is best suited in a mouth and laps are best suited not burned. More importantly, I was glad that I had just sold my first copy of Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster, my first copy of a board game ever. I was elated by the news. The idea that someone saw this little project of mine and spent money on it still brings a smile to my face but then I thought about the feeling more seriously. How could I get that to happen again, how do I get another sale? Games that got awards on get noticed more, maybe I can get the name Farns Filoworth out there more and draw more eyes to the sale page.

My first idea was to have a professional review of the game done. At the time, one of the bigger reviewers working with games from The Game Crafter was Father Geek. Father Geek also had two different medals available on The Game Crafter for getting a review and having it unanimously approved by the review groups. For those unfamiliar with Father Geek, he plays games with three different groups (Gamers, Parents, His Own Kids) and each gives their own opinion on the game in question. If all three approve of the game it receives the Father Geek seal of approval. I’ll post the link to the original review of Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster below but I was excited to see that even with my very simple (read childlike) art the game was approved by all three groups that played. The Kids had a great time, the gamers enjoyed the pace of the game, but the parents provided the most interesting result. After the first round of play, the parents (most not gamers) hated the game. They didn’t quite get it at all and spent minutes afterward discussing the game and then what they could have done better and then that they all wanted to play the game again! They gave it another shot with everything they discussed and ended up loving the game as well! This escalated the feeling I had from selling a copy and really let me know I had something special on my hands and that I had to keep going and getting FFDD out there.

The art of the game still being an issue, I went into Photoshop and made some improvements and alterations that I did not have time for during the original contest. After altering some textures and redrawing a couple pieces, I started to show off the game with the new art. I had the game listed presented at The Game Crafter’s table at Let’s Play Green Bay and advertised more prominently on TGC’s website. All of these created a few more sales but more effort was going to be required to bring attention to my game. I began one of the most important phases of game design: blind play testing.

For all designers, looking at your game for so long can skew your opinion of it. We can lose perspective on the fun of a game or not fully see new ideas or improvements that could be made. A fresh set of eyes can do wonders for any game. I hit the forums on Board Game Geek and posted for help with playtesting a cooperative game (and not many other details). To those of you who have never dealt with blind play testing before, you want to have the experience of the testers be similar to as if they walked into a store, bought the game perhaps even on a whim, and took it home and started playing. Not only can this get fresh perspectives but it can also give solid feedback on the quality of your rules. For Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster I got a few pieces of information that were extremely helpful:

- I had used blue as the color for steam events and the play mat was entirely blue (to look like blueprints). For some people this made it difficult to spot the steam leaks quickly.
- The event markers were originally “shards” which were very thin printed chits. Many players thought these were tougher to pick up during the game and for a game that focused on fast play, the shards slowed down the process.
- While some thought the game was hard and some easy, the game had no way of scaling difficulty. This was something several of the play testers needed to see.
- A couple players who were self-described heavy gamers did not find enough player choice in the game. While you should want to please as many people as you can with your design, it became clear here that with my intentions of a fun, frantic, and accessible game I would most likely not win over the heavier game crowd.
- I had Passengers placed out as the first event but this allowed for them to be placed and injured on the same turn. This was unfair to players as they had no way of preventing these injuries. To counter this Passengers were moved to the last event.

With each new response I saw both a game that could become better and a game that could become greater. What’s the difference? Well, better means improving upon the points above. Greater means with those improvements getting more people to play, more to have fun, more to share in FFDD. I’ve now seen that this game could be fun for a variety of people and the things I could do to make it better and with that I determined this game deserved to be pitched to publishers. I wanted to see this idea make it out to as many people as it could and finding an established publisher would go a long way to achieve that goal.

With added drive I set out to work on what the players from BGG had pointed out to me. Aside from moving the Passengers to the end of the event order I switched to cubes instead of shards which, while not as colorblind friendly, allowed for easier manipulation during real-time rounds, I also began work with an artist to give the game a more appealing visual style and a much needed graphical upgrade, and the largest task on my end I sought to add scaling difficulty levels to allow greater replayability to FFDD.

I thought for a while about ways to create various difficulty levels in Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster. Creating different dice for different levels of difficulty seemed too expensive while making an adjustment factor such as putting out an extra cube for each difficulty increase just felt clunky and eventually far too difficult without making the game more mechanically interesting. The best way to scale difficulty while also adding to the game mechanically would be to add in new events. By creating extra events the game could be scaled by simply limiting what events were used or not rerolling all the events each round. These new events could add interesting new challenges but also make the game much more customizable.

While earlier in development I had fought hard to avoid using fire as an event. A handful of popular co-op games at the time had used fire as an event or the main focus of the game and I didn’t want to draw comparisons (warranted or not) while I was working on my own game. Having gotten the game out there a bit and having a better feel for the design process I know felt comfortable adding fire to the game, I mean this is an airship that is actively breaking so fire would make thematic sense. For the fire, I initially kept it from injuring passengers to throw off the balance of the game too much. I instead focused on having a set number of cubes that could spread at the end of the round if left out. I also made fire a priority event, so if a room was on fire it had to be put out before dealing with anything else. The decision here was one of theme but as will be discussed later, this was changed a bit as it took away player choice. After some testing I decided to make fire hurt passengers if it grew enough in a room and removed the ability to hurt passengers from steam, which already had a major failure mechanic with solely affecting steam pressure. Fire had 20 cubes and an identical distribution to the Passenger die.

For the second event I thought about impacting the rolling of the game. My brain immediately went to blackouts, in this setting most likely oil lamp black outs. I created a black out event die that had 0-3 on it. For this die, the resulting number still meant the number of cubes placed out but instead of cleaning this cubes up, the old cubes were removed when the die is rolled again. A room with this type of cube had a lamp go out and the result needed to take ANY action in that room would match the Blackout Event Die. Yeah, this was not an event meant to be friendly.

Using these 6 events, players could now choose to roll the original set of 4 for an easy mode or all of the dice initially for other difficulties. After rolling all for the first turn a special randomizer die would select events to roll depending on how hard you wanted the game, select 4 or 5 at random or always rolling all 6 events.
With these new events came the obvious testing and balancing. Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster hit tables over a hundred times and now with its new art had seen some more sales and gotten some solid reviews. I had done a lot of work but I was starting to creep closer to my goal. I now had to take this game I had put so much effort into and show publishers it had what it takes to sell copies on a bigger scale. With a sigh, and possibly the loudest mouse click I’d done as a game designer, I opened my browser, and typed “board game publishers,” and learned that just because my game felt ready didn’t mean that I was ready. I had more work to do so I could make sure that my perspective publisher saw Farns Filoworth’s Dirigible Disaster in the best light. It was time for research.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Pitching, Patience, Persistence, and Publishers

Dirigible Disaster comes to Kickstarter January 12th. Check out its BGG Page or @ConcCanoeGames on Twitter for more updates!

Check out the Kickstarter Preview Page here:
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