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Designer Diary: Five Fable Games, or What Was I Thinking? I Am a Stupid Idiot — So Much Work!

Friedemann Friese
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I am used to being involved in time-consuming and exhausting projects (and even to finishing them): I did 504, for example, and I had a five-year project called "Freitag", but...

After finishing Fabled Fruit, which already was more work than expected (because it is "only" a 25-minute game, but needed 59 different card actions to be designed), I was ready for the three games I had in the pipeline for SPIEL '17. But Fabled Fruit became a big success and the fable concept cried for more, so I moved the planned projects to 2018 and had the idea for the "Fast Forward" line: Fable games without a rulebook that can be learned while playing.

But this concept needed to be started as a series with at least three games at once. (IMO)

The main problem with fable games: Testing is more difficult. You have to play the same game several times in a row with the same group, and you cannot recreate the effect of a surprising change with the same group. You need a lot more different gaming groups.

Classical games you can test a few times, make some changes, test again, and so on. With fable games, it is difficult to see how a small change in the first game might influence the game five games later. You have to test this change a lot more — and I do not want to lose all my testing players (a.k.a. friends).

But "Fast Forward" is awesome!!!

The inspiration came to me one evening while playing Dead Man's Draw. I was a bit exhausted from the day and just wanted to start to play. I said to my gaming group, "Just start this one, it is easy enough to be learned while playing. Starting player, please turn the top card face up." Without realizing it, we were suddenly in the middle of a game. Afterwards I was thinking that games should be designed that way — and having the fable concept, I could start with a very simplistic idea and from game to game add more "game" to that idea.

Starting was kind of easy. I designed a mixture of Dead Man's Draw and Diamant. The first test was amazing: My gamers played the game nine times in a row and did not want to stop playing (but had to because of some minor changes I needed to do). But I needed to promise them that they could continue to play it during the next game session exactly where they stopped.

So after that start, I needed two more "Fast Forward" games to have the series of three titles I wanted to release. The first of these two new games became FEAR, and the other did not progress any further than being an idea in my computer; it was never tested. But I already had two games in the pipeline! I then had an inspiration to make a game about "capturing the flag" and this turned out to become FORTRESS, which is not about capturing a flag anymore, but if you know where it came from, you can still see that connection.

Thus, three "Fast Forward" games were developed. I was happy.

But there was a problem with the three games: One of them was weak. The first one and FEAR were creating very similar experiences of the three, but FEAR was better. I managed to look at it as objectively as possible and accepted that I needed to not publish the first one. There are too many press-your-luck games, and the game was not better than Dead Man's Draw, so it was removed from the line. It was early in 2017 and once more I had only two "Fast Forward" games. I was about to accept releasing only two games when I got the idea for FLEE, which is completely different from the other two and very appealing. It had to be done.




Now, I am happy to have three very different "Fast Forward" games, all three connected by one great concept. The easy game FEAR is very good to learn the "Fast Forward" concept, and a great game to play with the complete family and casual gamers. And FORTRESS is the next step, more complex without being complicated, a game with a lot of great surprises. And finally FLEE, a game in which you really have to focus to solve the cooperative puzzle. This game feels a bit like an escape room — a really difficult escape room!

But I said five fable games, not only three...

The series of three fable "Fast Forward" games seemed not to be enough, three games to be tested hundreds of times in ever-changing game groups. But the game starting it all was still successful, so I needed to expand Fabled Fruit. One gamer in our group played it a lot with his daughter and after finishing, they demanded more. Why not? Let‘s make an expansion!

In theory, Fabled Fruit is easy to expand; you need only to add more locations, but I already designed 59 different locations and I ran a bit out of ideas — and the end game of Fabled Fruit was designed to be a real end game, with no chance to "open" that again to continue with more locations. That said, giving gamers only twenty new locations to play a separate set of games of Fabled Fruit was boring.

Adding limes to the game was the central idea. Green fruits, very good. Now every fabled juice card must be paid for with at least one lime. At the start of each game, limes are not shuffled with the other fruit cards and must be acquired differently. Adding these new location cards after the second half of the normal Fabled Fruit locations was the connection to the base game.

Twenty new locations meant that you could play 8-10 consecutive games to finish this new campaign. Thus, this has the same problem as with all fable games: A single game itself is short, about half an hour, but the campaign is loooong. You need about three hours to play it once.

Keep smiling, it could be worse!

I smiled and it got worse. The annual question came up: How to expand Power Grid this year. Easy, just make a fable campaign for Power Grid, a campaign with only three consecutive games (with fifteen cards to be revealed during the three games) could not be too difficult, right?

But the Power Grid base games each have two maps (classic or deluxe both use similar regions of the world: Europe (or Germany) or North America (or USA)), so why not develop three games per map with two separate sets of fifteen cards? Let's see: 3 games per map and 2 maps = 6 games to play. A single game of Power Grid in this campaign is played in two hours (a bit longer than normal because you're changing the rules while playing), so I needed to test two new prototypes with six hours of playing time each...

At least I was happy that our sixth release for 2017, the solitaire game Finished!, was already finished as of April 2016. No further testing of that game!

Finished! is a game in the vein of a classic "patience" game like Klondike, just a game about sorting a deck of 48 cards with a twist, played with a cycling deck. Discarded cards are placed under the deck to be drawn again later. After seven cycles, you need to have sorted the complete deck. The name of the prototype was "Bubblesort: The Game". It is not an implementation of the well-known bubblesort algorithm, but you sort cards in bubbles of at least three cards.

Now, all six titles are in print, so new topics on my schedule include work on the new games for 2018 and some plans to be realized for the 25th anniversary of my company, 2F-Spiele.

The most important thing for now: I like the resulting games and expansions, and whoever wants to play them all needs only 25 hours net playing time.

-> It's your turn now.

Friedemann Friese
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