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Designer Diary: Motion Pictures: Movies Out of Cardboard, or From One Art to Another

Alexandros Kapidakis
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One of the first things they taught us in film school was that when writing a script, you need to write about what you know. Although we didn't agreed with that opinion, inevitably we did write about characters and situations that we had already experienced. Everything about this profession was new to us, and it's unlimited options were frightening, so we needed something familiar in order to get a foothold. It was obviously easier to reproduce something we already knew than to imagine, and then create, a whole new universe. As we grew as artists, we had the chance and ability to venture outside the known and usual stories to create something truly unique and new. That took time, practice, and a lot of hard work.

Some years later, the same happened to me again when I started designing board games. Here, like in the film industry, I was entering a whole new — and equally massive — ocean of potentials, and I needed something familiar to grab and float onto.

So the first game I ever tried to make was about the film industry, a subject I already knew well. As a beginner, I fell into literally all the traps a first-time designer can fall into. My first game was way too long and complicated, it had every mechanism I had encountered, and most importantly it wasn't fun. Thankfully I had already dealt with many, many, many failures and disappointments in my first job, so I didn't give up and I made a second, a third, and many more versions of that initial game. At some point I was confident enough to show it to a publisher, mostly for feedback and thoughts. In no way was it a finished design, but the meeting was positive enough for me to keep at it.




From that meeting, I learned about a national board game design contest that was taking place in my town. I was encouraged to participate in it, but I felt it wasn't the right time to show my design to such a wide audience. I promised to myself that next year I would be ready. In the meantime, I put aside my first game and tried to complete other ideas I had. Some were very promising, and some were unimaginable disasters.

Some months later, the next national board game design contest was announced and a friend of mine suggested that I should participate with my cinema game. I felt it was still too complicated and big for that environment, so I decided to make a new game, specifically for the contest, by keeping the same theme and inserting new, streamlined and easier mechanisms. I needed to create a game that could convey the theme of managing a movie studio by using only cards. I wanted a game that would be easier to set up, explain and play than the heavy worker placement and economic game that I had already made, so I tested many different mechanisms and I ended up loving the idea of hand management. As in real life, you need to manage correctly your crew and cast, as a production of anything audiovisual is an extremely long and hard process. I also wanted to incorporate a sense of expansion and progression, so I decided to implement deck-building aspects to the game by adding new crew members that the players could hire to their studios.

The projects at the beginning were only movies, but soon I realized that by adding new kinds of projects, such as television series, commercials and awards, I could add multiple ways to victory, much more replayability, and of course cool new artwork!

Early in the design process, I also decided to make the game two player only as I thought I could manage the balance better and I was able to playtest it more often. In the initial playtests, I was happy with the general idea and direction of the game, but I needed to make sure that players always had interesting choices to make during their turn and were not obliged to play a specific card. Unfortunately by making some big changes to the game, I went to the opposite direction. I though it would be cool to have each type of project always available to the players. That way they always had something to do in their turn, but the problem was that these many options didn't help the pace of the game, and by removing the limitations I had made the game less interesting. By reverting to the original idea of shuffling together all the projects and dealing some of them in the middle, I could create an interesting puzzle again.

Many versions later, I was convinced that the game could support more players, but I wanted to make sure that by adding more players I wouldn't add more chaos, so I decided to incorporate specific set-up patterns in order to ensure that by the time a player's turn came up again, the available projects would be mostly the same.




After a lot of work, I had a version that played 2 to 4 players in forty minutes, and I was confident enough to submit my game to the competition. During that competition the designers would have the opportunity to playtest and showcase their games, and after three months the jury would select the ten best games. The first of the three playtest events was very enlightening because for the first time strangers played my game and gave me feedback. Up to that point, my focus group was friends and family that although sincere still wouldn't hurt my feelings with aggressive opinions and critiques — but strangers didn't care about my feelings and that's exactly what I needed! After the first event, I redesigned almost every card in the game and I introduced goal cards. I felt that players needed a sense of direction both for the entirety of the game and for the early rounds, so setting up objectives that reward fame points for specific strategies helped to guide the players, even those who deliberately avoided them.

With the new version of the game, I went to the second playtest event, where I had the chance to show it to three different publishers! Drawlab Entertainment was the first company that immediately liked my idea and soon we met again to further discuss the game and its potential. From the first moment, their level of enthusiasm for my game won me over, and after months of balancing and developing its core aspects we had managed to create an amazing game based on what I knew best: cinema. The game ended up in third place in the card games category, but I felt like a winner as I knew I had found the best home for my creation.




I hope you will enjoy Motion Pictures: Movies Out of Cardboard and keep enjoying it as we develop more content from the endless world of audiovisual productions.

Alexandros Kapidakis

Motion Pictures on display in the press room at SPIEL 2016
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