Designer Diaries by Daniel Grek

Designer Diary entries for games designed by Daniel Grek/Concrete Canoe Games!
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Dirigible Disaster Part 4: The (Kick)Start of Something Wonderful

Daniel Grek
United States
New Jersey
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Board Game Designer
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Dirigible Disaster

Read Part 3 Here:

As you are probably aware, dear reader, Kickstarter has done wonders for the board game industry. With the ability to crowd source games, the hobby has seen and increase is solid cardboard experiences and a boom in the number of self-published titles reaching the market in some way. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of other designers and put out my own Kickstarted game. I tried to learn everything that I could beforehand and use that info to put out a small game to get myself started. I had some great artwork but in truth, I wasn’t happy with the design of the game. I’m most likely going to rework it and try again in the future (the artwork is really cool) but I needed to spend more time with the game and more time with the Kickstarter. This is why, when I had a chance to sign Dirigible Disaster to Letiman Games, I jumped on it. Dan Letzring had some solid experience with Kickstarter and his knowledge of running a campaign was improving by the second. I recommend taking a look at the campaign link at the end of this post to see the great job he did with Dirigible Disaster’s page.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Now that my game was signed we first had to enter into the tweaking stage of game design. With the entrance of a publisher into the equation you have more eyes that can spot issues with a game but you also have an additional invested party. The amount of passion for your game that a publisher has may vary, ideally it will be at least as high as your passion if not more, but the one thing that holds true for all publishers is they are making a financial commitment to each game they sign. That is the biggest reason many of us pitch games, so we don’t have to worry about where the money comes from to make it. As such, a designer has to be mindful of the publisher’s opinions and wants for their game. I said before that your game is not your baby and a resistance to listen to critiques or make compromises on some of the game’s aspects could turn a publisher off or cause them to lose passion for a project. It also won’t help your reputation with the next game you pitch.

I was (and am) fairly lucky that Letiman Games has been very passionate about Dirigible Disaster and has been easy to work with to help improve the game. Publisher Dan has fostered open communication about Dirigible Disaster leading to several solid changes to make the game better. One of the first ones I recall simply involved the loss condition when placing out cubes. In earlier drafts of Dirigible Disaster, The only cubes that controlled that cause you to lose by placing them all on the board were the broken cogs and duels. Lantern black outs would never run out, if all the steam was out you would lose by pressure, 16 passengers had to be injured to lose from them, and fire was a priority event that often didn’t get placed out completely. My logic with all these rules was, as stated earlier, I didn’t want to be too derivative of existing co-op games, like Pandemic. But as Publisher Dan pointed out, thematically and mechanically Dirigible Disaster was very different from Pandemic, so having a similar “you lose if you need to put out more cubes and can’t” mechanic would make the game easier for players understand and wouldn’t turn our game into another Pandemic. By having all cubes work under one general rule that if you need to put more out and can’t the game ends it eliminated the more complicated counting of how many passengers are injured and also gave other events a slight bump up in importance.

We also revisited the priority clean up rule for fire. While the rule made sense thematically, requiring players to take care of that event first no matter what other events were present removed player agency in our game. Solid game design should put choices in the player’s hands and not make the choices for them and while not every game is Agricola, our game plays on the players gambling on the events they think they can take care of or what they think the biggest issue for their team will continue to be.

A publisher will also bring finances and marketability into the equation more. In my pre-signed edition of Dirigible Disaster I had included a die to randomize what events were used at lower difficulties. This extra die served little purpose in the game overall but would require a relatively large expenditure, it being custom. Publisher Dan and I then worked to rebalance the difficulty levels so each level would use a specific set of the events and a new event would be added as the difficulty was scaled up. Publisher Dan also looked into the sand timer of the game, as that is one component that some people find cheap looking, no matter what the cost. We thought of an iOS and android app but that would only be feasible as a stretch goal with the additional expenses required. A digital timer would be of a better quality but would require an increase in price that would understandably turn off most backers. Publisher Dan was able to pull through, though, and commission special songs that would time out the rounds perfectly and also increase the atmosphere of the game.

One of the most interesting experiences I had at this stage of designing was learning when to listen to your testers and when to listen to yourself about what your game needs. Each person that picks up your game will have different likes, dislikes, and responses and everyone cannot be 100% satisfied no matter how good the final product is overall. We had two very different scenarios in this regard when doing the final testing with Dirigible Disaster. The first occurred earlier on when working with Letiman Games. One of their play testers was into Steampunk and didn’t like the use of Duels as an event. They suggested some kind of disease or something instead (same effect as the duel just different skin). Publisher Dan and I both like the concept of duels much better and thought it fit with the theme more but what we learned through surveying some gamers was the people that liked duels weren’t terrible offended if it was changed but the people that didn’t like duels were a bit more vocal about it. Because of this the duels became Plague and even though we saw the change as unnecessary for our own personal tastes, it turned out to be a small change that could have a bigger impact on backers. Conversely, Some of our testers reported back to us that their game took them an hour to play through, mostly due to the set up between rounds. They suggested that we create a deck of cards that would act as pre-rolled event die and rooms to speed up the process. While the idea could still be considered for maybe a stretch goal down the road, including these cards in the base game adds additional cost and a great deal of time balancing for something that only one group of players experience. Had more groups exceeded our 20-40 minute time estimate we would have to deal with the issue more immediately but as of now this would be an additional that would have little impact on the players of Dirigible Disaster but a great deal of impact on the game itself.

Even on the eve of the Kickstarter campaign launching (link below) there is still plenty of work to be done. Even today I was making some minor edits to rules and I am still working out some possible stretch goals should we overfund. I’m also parsing out the possibility of a one player mode for Dirigible Disaster. There are some good leads on how to make that work but the biggest thing I have learned is that I am terrible at my own game. I’ve heard that is true of most designers, though, so I will take that as a good sign. As I type out these last sentences I can’t help but feel optimistic for Dirigible Disaster. Letiman Games has done a wonderful job with the Kickstarter page. We’ve gotten the game out there with some solid reviews and some fun interviews (Check below in the near future for links to those). More importantly for me, I’ve grown as a designer so much over the last few years and have learned so much about the board game industry. I hope any aspiring designers that have read this take some of my earlier words to heart. I know I myself am still new but I think the efforts everyone has put in on Dirigible Disaster will open a lot of doors for Letiman Games and me. I hope that you take a look at our campaign and, if you see even a fraction of the game that we see, that join us in making Dirigible Disaster happen. It has been a great ride so far and in about a month or so we’ll have a much better idea of how long this ship will stay in the air. Who knows, maybe I’ll make Dirigible Disaster Legacy? I need to stop joking about that because that could be rather cool. Anyway, that’s all I have for you right now. Check out our BGG page for links to practically everything under the Sun. I’ll see you on Kickstarter soon.

Happy Gaming,
Dan Grek

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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