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Designer Diary: HUNGER: The Show

Michał Ozon
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Hello, everyone! We at PHALANX fell in love with HUNGER: The Show from the first play. This fast-paced family/filler game with a catchy story and rich player interaction debuted at the UK Games Expo in June 2017 ahead of being featured at SPIEL '17 in October, and I have asked Pim Thunborg to write a few words about the design and publishing process from the author's perspective. I hope this may be inspiring for all of you who dream about publishing their first board game!



As a board game designer, you often get struck by game ideas many times a day. You see a game mechanism that maybe you can build a game around, or a real life happening that you think can be remodeled into a board game. From that start, it often takes months or years before you have a core game ready. Of course, some of the starting ideas may still be part of the game, but a lot has changed.

None of this was true for HUNGER...

The main idea for HUNGER came right out of the blue. In just one thought, 90% of what is still the core mechanism and the game was clear. This is absolutely unique and maybe a part of why this game has been so highly appreciated by the playtesters. It was right from the start.

But of course, there is a lot of testing and remaking to make a great game. This will be shown in this board game diary.

2015-03-21: A New Game Is Born
I had worked for over a year on a board game that I still haven't finished — then the idea hit me: a game on a desolate island where you have to predict what the other players will do to be successful. Simultaneous actions. No tactic is stronger than another. No advanced rules. No downtime. The game was born.

My first working name for the game was the inappropriate "HYSTD — I hope you starve to death", which I already knew was soon going to be changed.

2015-03-23: The First Artwork
After two days, my first artwork and the rules were finished. All I needed was some free clip art, and I had a start.

The first card artwork, showing the action and the areas

2015-03-24: Working Process
The following month was full of playtesting and mathematical Excel sheets. I think I wrote nine versions of the rules in the first month, mostly to balance the amount of food a player should start with versus the food you got when you collected food or stole from the other players. From the beginning, the game was solely about being the player who survived the longest, that is, being the last player who still had food.

The first prototype of HUNGER

2015-04-04: A New Name
I scrapped the initial name I had, and the new name was no less than "HUNGER", which remained the name of the game.

The name was born

2015-05-24: LinCon Board Game Convention
I visited one of the bigger board game conventions in Sweden: LinCon. The game was something of a success from the start, and a lot of players liked it because the gameplay was fast and smooth and the game mechanism was intuitive. One skilled illustrator, Patrik Hultén, liked the game so much that he promised to illustrate some new art for the game. After the convention, I felt that I really had something going here. Maybe I had the hit I had always dreamt about.

Playtesters at LinCon 2015; illustrator Patrik Hultén is on the right

2015-07: New Artwork
Patrik Hultén illustrated new artwork for the cards that truly lifted the game. You shouldn't underestimate the importance of a good-looking game. The first impression is important, even if you are only trying to impress a publisher or test players.

New artwork for the actions: hunt, collect fruits, fish, guard, and steal

2015-08-12: Making Contacts for SPIEL
I was convinced that I had a game that was good enough for publishers to want to publish, so I contacted some publishers before SPIEL and booked meetings with them.

The info sheet that I sent out to land meetings

2015-10-08: SPIEL in Essen
I had mixed feelings after my six meetings at SPIEL. I got a lot of positive feedback, but no one wanted the game. They felt that something was missing. It was too streamlined, which I think is a rather uncommon problem in the world of board game design. Often, they have too many mechanisms, too many things going on, etc. But this time there weren't enough things going on. To play only not to starve was too morbid, and the game needed at least one more dimension.

A little crowded at SPIEL

2015-11: Thinking and Not Enough Playtesting
I was still convinced that I had a game that was something special. I just had to kick it up to the next level. I started to try a lot of new mechanisms. Here are some of the ideas:

Building pacts: Failure

Make the game last three rounds and try to build a raft during this time: Failure

Add coconuts if an action failed: Success (and still in the game)

During the period of experimentation, I also sent the game out to publishers, which afterwards I regretted. The game was not stable, and I should have playtested it more before sending it out. From being too streamlined, it got too complicated. The smooth play experience was lost, and that was the most important part to save to get the game really good. You can't add mechanisms that slow down a fast-paced game because that ruins the game.

After a lot of thinking and more playtesting, we got back to the core and added a new action that didn't impact the fast pace but still gave more dimension to the game. We added the raft. Instead of playing until just one player has any food left, a player can also win by building a raft. We had to take away something, and the fishing action was the one that got removed. Finally, we had found something that saved the fast-paced feeling but still added a new dimension. The game and I got new life.

New action: looking for raft pieces

2016-05-04: LinCon Again
For this convention, I arranged the first Swedish championship for HUNGER. (It was also the first ever HUNGER tournament, but why not make it the Swedish championship?) Again, I got very positive feedback from the playtesters and I felt that I had finally got it. Patrik Hultén also did some complimentary illustration with the tokens, etc. I did more adjustments after the feedback and was proud of what HUNGER had become.

The first and hopefully not last Swedish championship for HUNGER

2016-06-06: Contacting Publishers
Now it's time to show some numbers of the work so far, and I want to point out that this is a simple game:

• 38 versions of the rules
• 4 bigger changes to the game mechanism and core mechanism
• 142 different versions of the sets of cards, tokens, and game board
• Hundreds of mails
• 2 journeys to Essen and 6 conventions in Sweden for playtesting
• Many, many, many hours of cutting prototypes

I felt ready to contact more publishers and sent this message:

Hi, my name is Pim and I want to show you my game Hunger.

Hunger is a fantastic family game or a perfect filler game. For 2-6 players ▪ Ages 7 and above ▪ 20 minutes. After a few years of developing I have made something I'm proud of, and I really want to share with you. I hope you will enjoy it.

The story: You are stranded on a desolate isle, unfortunately not with your best friends. Your goal is to build a raft and get as far away from the island as possible. And you really don't care what happens to the others as long as you get furthest away from the island. But you need to find wood and rope to build the raft, and collect food to stay alive. You have a few tins of food to start with, but you will soon be very hungry. You can collect fruit or hunt chickens to get more, or why not just borrow some from your friends, obviously without their permission.

Mechanic: This is what makes the game so broadly appreciated both of gamers but also non-gamers, families and children. It's fun, fast, smooth and have no downtime, with a lot of player interactions. The players simultaneously choose what action they will do and on which area of the island they will do the action. It's somewhat similar to stone, scissor, and paper but with more depth. To success, the players have to predict what the other players will do, but it's not enough with that. To win you have to collect most parts for the raft, but if you put too much focus on that you will start to starve. So the player has to balance these two needs to success through the game. If you play a lot of games, the best player will win most of them, but in a single game, a 6 year old can beat anyone, which makes it fun for everyone.

The unique: I have done a lot of playtesting with non-gamers, families and game groups and on conventions. And really, everybody likes it. It is a great game for everybody's bookshelf and I really believe that Hunger will be a hit.

More information: The link will show both the rules, info-sheet and also a full complete P&P version, if you want to know what it looks likes. The other link is to my youtube site where you can look at an introduction to the game. You are also welcome to visit my website for more information.

If you have any questions, want a prototype or want to meet me, you are welcome to contact me. I will come to Essen (2016-10-13 – 2016-10-16).

2016-06-20: Yoo-hoo Moment
Suddenly, a mail from PHALANX, the mail all game designers are waiting for:

Dear Joakim,
We like your game and want to publish Hunger!
What are your business terms?

2016-08-20: Contract
Some more discussions and finally...

Happy me holding a board game contract

2016-10-21: Changes in the Rules
After a meeting with the publisher in Essen and a lot of mail discussions and after PHALANX's own playtesting, an illustrator is suggested. No less than Robert Adler. We discuss both big and small subjects about the game: Are we going to keep the theme or change it? The following themes were discussed: The Lost series, Robinson Crusoe, vampires, etc. In the end, PHALANX chose HUNGER: The Television Show.

We also talked about changing game mechanisms like adding variable player powers, secret agendas, different scenarios, and a lot more.

2017-02-01: BoardGameGeek
Now was the time to submit the game to the BGG database. I had to submit myself as the designer as weell. There was also a first vision of the box.

The nice game designer badge on BGG

First vision of the box

2017-02-01: Making Retailers Interested
The game was shown at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg, Germany with good results. PHALANX also added two new rules after more playtesting:

• Events that may bring the end of the game early from the 6th to the 11th round, while making a mess on the island. This works really great as players now have to work for both food and raft parts from the very beginning of the game.
• Different player powers to create some differences between the characters.

Playtesting kit at the time

2017-03-02: Box and Rules
More artwork is coming up, along with discussion about the box and proofreading the rules and info text...

Different box designs, none of which survived to the end

I learned that the release would be at the UK Games Expo, which took place June 2-4, 2017. It felt so great that my game would finally be released.

The final concept

2017-06-02: UK Games Expo
Release party, with more to come!

Thanks for reading!

Pim Thunborg
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