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Designer Dairy: Top-A-Top

Agnieszka Migdalska
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In June 2010 came the first idea and the first words of encouragement – "This may be cool, do it" – and I got the party started.

The idea was to create a game for friends so that we could have fun together. I had to prepare the cards and box and write the rulebook. The game was supposed to look as if I had bought it in a store as it was a bit embarrassing to tell others, "You know what? I made a game – wanna play?" So when the first prototype was being prepared, a few factors played a very important role: the artwork created by my sister and the box made by my handyman dad.

Working on the details and getting through that first attempt to write the rules took some time. Constant changes, new ideas... Eventually, I managed to print everything. A few hours of cutting out the cards and the game was ready! We had the first box for Orientuj się (making the initial name in English "Orientate yourself!") in our hands.

Then came the greatest challenge so far: the first game played with my friends who didn't know anything about it and had no idea that it was my game – and confronting their opinions. And it worked! The game turned out to be fun for everyone – especially for me – but it was also connected with much stress. I anxiously waited for opinions, but I stopped worrying when I heard the first bursts of laughter. Then it was even better. Some friends started asking where they could buy the game, some wanted to borrow it, others started wondering what crazy people invent such things. The reaction was far more positive than I had expected, so I thought: If the game works, why not publish it?

So I started getting to know a world that used to be completely alien to me: the world of publishing houses, game designer guidebooks, websites, articles, etc.

Finally I met the Kuźnia Gier team. After three meetings the decision was made: "We're releasing the game." The nice guys from Kuźnia introduced me to the world of games and gaming conventions, which turned out to be very interesting, and people were crazy but open-minded. Then I realized how much work was still to be done. First of all, changing the name, so that it wasn't language-dependent. The brainstorming took a few days, and finally I found a Jamaican dictionary and chose my favorite word from there: TOPATOP, with the name later being revised to Top-A-Top.

The game needed testing, which at the time I thought would never end. We got rid of all the elements limiting the potential players in terms of age and language. The game couldn't be too easy either, so we created more difficult cards. And then we printed and tested, printed and tested, did more testing and tested the tests. Many pages of reflections and conclusions were written down. At this point I realized how important artwork was. I met Szwedzki at ARRR interactive; he played the game and caught the idea, and our visions turned out to be very similar.

And then there were more tests Fortunately, the game is rather light, so I had much fun all that year. Still, I am left to wondering why, as the author, do I lose so often?

As for how to play, here's a summary:

Top-A-Top consists of 90 round cards with different pictures that are distributed among the players. They then take turns placing their cards in the middle of the table, creating a pile. You have to react to every card played in the way described in the rulebook, e.g., making a gesture or saying something. Whoever makes a mistake or reacts too late takes the cards from the middle. The person who gets rid of all of her cards first wins. Fun and reflexes are all that matter. Sounds easy? Check it out!

Agnieszka Migdalska
The designer (center) at a convention in Warsaw, Poland
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