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Designer Diary: Frogriders, or Leapfrogging from 1687 to the Present Day

Asger Harding Granerud
Denmark
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Tracking a game's origin back to 1687 is quite a feat as the game would be almost as old as what we call modern chess today. It is even rarer if we limit ourselves to games that are still played to this day. The game I'm referring to, and the game that inspired Frogriders was Peg Solitaire.

Before I'm beheaded by internet warriors, I am aware that Peg Solitaire is probably closer to a puzzle than a game, by any modern definition. However, I'll posit that at its core Peg Solitaire has a couple of features that makes it ideal to use as a template for a modern game. I firmly believe that Daniel Skjold Pedersen and I have expanded upon these core strengths of Peg Solitaire to make it a viable 2017 title. I hope you will agree, and if you want to learn why I believe so, read on!

•••


Frogriders is a 2-4 player family game for players aged 8+ that takes 20-30 minutes to play. Each player is a member of a different tribe of elves that also ride frogs. The game takes place around the elf's tribal pond, and represents a mock battle, reenacting the bold maneuvers of times past.

At its core, though, Frogriders is a straight forward abstract, with some modern mechanisms added: shared and hidden scoring, set collection, and light engine building. Its weight lends itself to a fast filler for the hardcore gamers (best at 2) and a full game experience especially for youngsters (best at 3-4). The gameplay is straightforward, and even if you can't spot the best move, you can always jump a frog and keep it.

The first time I remember seeing Frogriders was on a Thursday evening after bouldering (climbing), which is when Daniel and I had our weekly design session. He turned up with this new game called "Frog N Roll" and a very rough prototype. We went back and forth on the game for a couple of weeks, without any major breakthroughs. There were too many different card decks, and they weren't in use quite often enough, plus the game ended with some analysis paralysis because 95% of the scores were open.

Despite all of these initial troubles, we had a gut feeling we were on to something. We have a few playtesters in our family who aren't actual gamers like the vast majority of our testers. In general, when they get hooked on one of our early prototypes, despite all its flaws at that stage, we know we have to push through with it. For this game it was Daniel's cousin Martin Holst. For Flamme Rouge, it was my wife Malu — though it should be said that Malu asks more often for Frogriders than Flamme Rouge, with the finished copy on our shelves.


Different stages of the prototype board, as it evolved; making changes is faster if we stick with pen and paper


The next thing I remember was having a 70-80 minute car ride with Daniel in which we had decided to brainstorm solutions/changes. I can't remember exactly what was decided in this car, or more generally in the following weeks, but from there the game clearly had the identity it maintains today: a stripped back focus on set collection through the basic action of jumping the frogs.

We definitely cut away some of the different card decks, and we also introduced hidden objectives. This last part both helped reduce AP, as the score couldn't be calculated precisely at any given point, and created the "reveal" at the end, ensuring there is excitement in the wrap-up — and possibly even surprise winners! That was the right direction to go with Frogriders as it is now much more of a fast-flowing tactical game for families than a brain-burning experience for gamers.

In the first iterations of Frogriders, the direction you jumped in each turn also mattered, as did four zones on the board. The current version focuses your attention on your main goal much more clearly — which frog is best to collect this round, and how do I mess with everyone else — whereas the first ones simply had too many differing agendas fighting for your attention.


"The first evidence of the game can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV, and the specific date of 1687, with an engraving made that year by Claude Auguste Berey of Anne de Rohan-Chabot, Princess of Soubise, with the puzzle by her side. The August 1687 edition of the French literary magazine Mercure galant contains a description of the board, rules and sample problems. This is the first known reference to the game in print."


Earlier I claimed that Peg Solitaire had some features that were ripe for use in a modern board game. The features are the board and the basic move that removes a piece each turn. (There aren't many other features left...) As the board starts full of pieces, there are few legal moves and hence you are eased into the gameplay. A couple of turns into the game, the options explode, and each move creates numerous new options for the next player. Towards the end, however, the pieces become so scarce that legal moves start decreasing again, and you are likely looking for that one frog you need to complete your collection. It even becomes feasible to calculate a couple of moves ahead, if you're so inclined.

This simple core mechanism allows for three distinct phases when you play Frogriders. It naturally and gradually changes from opening game through midgame and onto endgame. Now I don't want to oversell this point as the game moves so quickly that you might miss these phases if you blink, but they are certainly there. On the first move, only four options are available; on the second, six moves; then eight, etc. It doesn't actually progress in a linear fashion, though, and then there is the tipping point. When you get into the endgame, the options start decreasing, and thinking ahead to influence how rapidly is certainly feasible.

When the basic action you're doing each turn is the same, it is important that the game evolves in other ways to keep it interesting and varied, and Frogriders (in my opinion) achieves that without introducing extra rules to force the issue. I also think it is a huge plus for a family game that when you're trying the game for the first time, the options up front are quite limited.

One of the things Daniel and I are most proud of with Frogriders is the pace at which it plays. Of course there might be gamers out there for whom analysis paralysis becomes an issue, but we haven't quite experienced it yet. When we pitched the design to publishers at SPIEL 2015, we played a three-player game in all the meetings where we showed it, despite having only 30 minutes AND showing other games. The first review that was live on BGG also shows this well as it has both a brief rules explanation, a two-player playthrough, and a mini-review in under 15 minutes!


We don't linger on making changes — cross it out, replace it, and move on. Pretty is for published!


Frogriders is published by Eggertspiele, and the game wouldn't have been anywhere near as polished without the work of their excellent lead developer Viktor Kobilke and illustrator Alexander Jung. They did an outstanding job on both the illustrations and the graphic user interface, and we are proud to work with these talented people on new projects. Of course, the ever fantastic Stronghold Games is the U.S. publisher.

Asger Harding Granerud
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