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Designer Diary: Black Angel

sébastien dujardin
Belgium
Frasnes-lez-Buissenal
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Microbadge: Troyes fanMicrobadge: Tournay fanMicrobadge: Ginkgopolis fanMicrobadge: Deus fanMicrobadge: Solenia fan
Board Game: Black Angel
After the release of The Ladies of Troyes in 2012, the three of us — Xavier Georges, Alain Orban, and myself, Sébastien Dujardin — did not want to stop our collaboration on games that had lasted for four years to that point, instead continuing our collaboration on a new design.

Unlike with Troyes (originating from Xavier) and Tournay (originating from Sébastien), we started from a blank page — and what's better than brainstorming to see where we wanted to go? Everyone exposed their ideas, with Xavier at one point proposing to play a game in space. It was a desire that we all shared, so we quickly decided to opt for this theme.

From gallery of sebduj
One of our test sessions

From gallery of sebduj
First prototype of the Black Angel board, hand drawn by Xavier

Regarding mechanisms, we had nothing specific in mind except that we wanted a system with dice to perform actions, but unrelated to Troyes (at that time). For the first prototype, which was called "Far Star" at the time, each player had small robots that carried the dice all over the ship to do the various actions possible. It was so difficult that we quickly came back down to Earth! We made a lot of groping at various designs and, finally, we returned to a system that is close to Troyes for the management of dice and Tournay for other elements of the game.

The approach we followed was clearly a hybrid: We started with the Troyes mechanisms and the theme of space travel that we all liked, then we wanted to find out where this theme was going to lead us.

From gallery of sebduj
Prototype

From gallery of sebduj
Advanced prototype

Apart from the mobile dice mentioned above, we had versions of the game in which we had three types of ships moving in space: the hunters, the exploration vessels, and the transport/trade vessels. The ravagers were also in space, so there were many vessels.

Then we removed all the ships and returned to having a single ship in space. For the Black Angel itself, at one point it was moving in all directions in space, with new hexagonal tiles appearing with each movement. There were also different scenarios and game materials for each game.

The space strips appeared very late in the development of the game. The same is true for the dice. We were inspired by Troyes, and after various attempts, we opted for a purer system, with the choice of a single die whose value represents a number of possible activations. Renaud, the project manager at Pearl Games since 2016, had the good idea to use only custom dice from 0 to 3, a very important choice for readability. This has simplified the management of the dice but certainly not the management of the choices.

From gallery of sebduj
Prototype dice

From gallery of sebduj
One of the game scenarios

Board Game: Solenia
Between the first idea and the release of the game, seven years passed. The game was mechanically finalized in late 2017, and the release of Black Angel was shifted in order to be able to get Solenia out first. For the development of the game, in calendar time, it took a little more than five years. We had no timeline — just a desire to make the best game possible without having a stress on the result. We knew we would work on the game until all three of us were satisfied! It could have taken seven years more, but fortunately at the end of 2017 we all felt that the game was perfectly in line with our expectations as creators and especially players!

Regarding the production of the game, we had two challenges to take up. The quantity of material forced us to optimize costs while keeping the quality. When one is an author and a publisher, the constraints of manufacturing and the choice of material always have an impact on the game that is produced and this is true from the beginning of the design, whether we like it or not! This is one of the reasons we dropped the idea of including scenarios in the base box.

This was also the first time we used figurines at Pearl Games. (Solenia was released prior to Black Angel, but the production plans for it came afterwards.) Fortunately, we have been able to count on a formidable partner (3DZeBlate) for the realization in 3D of the models for the prototype. We were also able to count on the enormous talent of Ian O'Toole, who in addition to illustrating the game created the models in three dimensions. The manufacturer then ensured, with a few round trips, to provide us with exemplary work with a high-quality ABS plastic. The most important thing is that the robots fit perfectly in their ships! Black Angel is the job of a whole team!

By the way, the main ship was created entirely by Ian from the name of the game and a poster we sent him to set up the graphic style. The name of the game came after Sébastien discovered the Texan psychedelic rock band The Black Angels.

From gallery of sebduj
Prototype of the Black Angel figs

From gallery of sebduj
Prototype of the robot figs

The release of Black Angel at Gen Con 2019 was for us a wonderful first American experience. This allowed us to set the game well on course, and it was also well received in Essen.

From gallery of sebduj
Black Angel release at Gen Con 2019

A second production of the game is in progress, and the release is scheduled for early 2020. We have many ideas for extensions and possible scenarios for Black Angel, and we hope to be able to offer them in the future if the game continues to please you!

This was our first designer diary, and we hope you enjoyed it!

Sébastien, Xavier & Alain

From gallery of sebduj
Sébastien, Ian, Alain, and Xavier at SPIEL '19
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