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Developer Diary: Bloom Town, or Take the Subway, and Don't Get Hit by a Car!

Board Game: Bloom Town
Bloom Town is a tile-drafting and -laying, city-building game by Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen that debuted at SPIEL '19, a game for which I, Kirsten, am the developer.

My relationship with Bloom Town has been a dramatic but thrilling one! Asger and I met (virtually) late in 2018 when I sent my portfolio to him for writing work. While I didn't get that job, I enjoyed the process and appreciated the way Asger and Daniel worked, so in early March 2019 when I saw a tweet from Asger looking for a developer for an upcoming game, I jumped at the chance to participate (and learn from) that process once again. In late March, Asger messaged me with details about the game and the next steps towards making a decision. I replied with lots of enthusiasm and excitement — then, literally three hours later, I was driving home from my game night and got T-boned by a speeding car.

I told you it was dramatic!

Luckily for me, Asger's message said that things were going to be paused for a few weeks while they waited for confirmation on a few issues, so I had that time to recover from a major concussion and get my memory back before I heard the incredible news — I got the job!

Doing the development for Bloom Town was my first time working on a published game. It was my job to make sure the game worked, that it made sense. Ultimately a developer makes sure the nitty gritty of the game is resolved — everything from point values to choosing the perfect word with the rules editor — so that the designers' vision shines. I had so much fun and learned so much during the process!

From gallery of kirstdup
One of my first playtests with an early prototype

The first thing I did was read through the current rules and outline of the game, generating questions and highlighting key dynamics. It was clear from my first read of the rules that the core dynamic (and most interesting part of the game) is the push/pull of where best to place your building tiles for maximum scoring opportunities vs. where to place to get the next tile you want from the market. It was important that everything else in the game serve this core dynamic, either by heightening it or by not getting in its way.

While I always had various game elements in the back of my head, a few major areas demanded the most attention: scoring during the endgame, balancing points (for different building tiles), and streamlining the game for ease of learning and play.

We tested a lot of different rules for endgame scoring, rules that ranged from the generous to the downright nasty. The endgame scoring needed to make sense in the context of the rest of the game. How did the players score normally? What was the interaction between the players at different moments of the game? How do we balance risk vs. reward? Can endgame scoring help new players by giving them a strategy to work towards? Hopefully the endgame scoring works in the context of the rest of the game — I think it does!

Because the five building types all score differently, there was lots and lots (and lots!) of testing to balance those points. To be frank, the subways are probably the strongest tile — and you'll have to play the game to figure out why that might be — but that's all right. Meaningful and interesting decisions arise when elements of games have varying value at different moments during play. In this way, Bloom Town reminds me of Kingdomino as both games will see a runaway leader if you let people draft the strongest tile for their strategy.

From gallery of kirstdup
One of (many) attempts at a shops rescoring example for the rulebook

Lessons I learned/knew but was reminded of:

1. Who/what do players blame if they lose? Who/what gets the credit when a player wins? The answers to those questions will tell you important things about your game.

2. Interesting ideas come from thorough questions. Both the community scoring tiles that are shuffled into the tile stacks and the bonus token that can activate community scoring came from me asking Daniel and Asger whether the empty spaces on the town board were going to mean anything at the end of the game. That question gave Asger the idea for blank tiles that would be shuffled into the stacks. No blank tiles exist in the stacks in the final version of the game, but a large part of how the game works today came from testing and iterating the blank tile idea.

3. Sometimes the thing you love and is wonderful and works just doesn't belong in this game. Sometimes that'll happen three times in a week. Mourn the loss, and move on.

4. Sometimes when you give players a choice that they all love and use often, that choice needs to be removed. The choice was easy, a no-brainer, uninteresting.

5. The hardest part of designing a game is the last 10%. I think my notes for the last seven weeks of the development progress started with "It feels like we're really close". And every week it really did feel that way! And every week it wasn't.

That's not all, of course. I learned lots of other things about playtesting, design, the board game industry, and about how and why people play games. Every time I playtested Bloom Town, every time I smacked my head against the wall trying to solve a problem, every time I explained the rules, I learned something. As much as I was developing a game, I was learning — and that for me is the most interesting and satisfying part of design.

Board Game: Bloom Town
Components in the published game

Developing this game not only let me get my name on a box for the first time — what a surreal experience that is! — but Daniel and Asger also arranged for me to go to SPIEL '19 to demo the game at Sidekick Games' booth. This was the trip of a lifetime! I'm South African, and we don't have any board game conventions here. Not only was it my first ever convention, but I was there to teach people a game I had developed! Every moment was thrilling. Teaching Bloom Town and watching people play it, then buy it was truly humbling. I was also privileged to learn from Daniel, Asger, and Dan (our fantastic project manager) as they conducted meetings with distributors, manufacturers, publishers, and reviewers. I learned more about the board game industry in those four days than through years of listening to podcasts and reading articles.

Developing this game has been deeply rewarding and inspiring, and I'm grateful to Asger and Daniel for trusting and guiding me. Bloom Town is available exclusively through Walmart in the U.S. and will be available in Europe by the end of Q1 2020.

Kirsten du Preez

From gallery of W Eric Martin
From left: the author, Kieran Reid, Asger Harding Granerud, Daniel Skjold Pedersen, Dan Halstad
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