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Subject: Designer Diary - A 5 Years Journey rss

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Daniel Danzer
Germany
Stuttgart
southwest
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Sudden Inspiration ...
September 2011, I walk into our kitchen, thinking about nothing special. Then within a split of a second, an idea for a game hits my mind, combining a couple of elements:

1. Square tiles like in ordinary "Memo”-games, but with different colors on both sides, so both sides would be equally "valid".

2. Players turn one tile around, placing them adjacently to other colors and score both the color of the placed tile and of the adjacent tiles - like in Totemo, but in 2D.

3. A Knizia-like scoring track: at the end, the color you scored least during the game would be your final score, so players would be forced to score all colours equally.

"Wow!" I thought - a game invented in a second. Well, not really, as it turned out.

The next regular meeting of game designers around Stuttgart ahead, I created a quick prototype. 30 tiles with all possible combinations of the six colors in the “rainbow” color wheel. Trying to play this it became clear, these were way too many combinations, impossible to remember, impossible to play at all. Oops.

Starting Development: The Chickens' Masquerade

First step: radical reduction. I tried to reduce the tiles to black and white and two different patterns, so there were only 6 tiles (all combinations of 4 things). This was again - no game. The solution had to be somewhere in between then. Surprise!

Here Doris Danzer came in and we started our intensive collaboration regarding games. We discussed, played around, tried several ways to solve the core issue, and after a couple of weeks ended up with the 6 classical "rainbow colours" and one of two “neighbored” colors on the back. A red tile could be purple or orange on the back, an orange one red or yellow. Defining “front sides” and “back sides” there were 12 tiles now, which was perfect for the game we had in mind.
Gameplay was easy (it seemed): Pick up one tile, turn it around, place it adjacent to a tile of the same color or the two neighboring colors, score a point for the placed tile and all adjacent ones, move your color tokens forward accordingly.

Most important: the game was not pure memory anymore, but a deduction element became part of the gameplay. Kids could do more "memory", grown-ups change to a more deductive way of playing. We loved that - and it worked with playtesters, too. Kids loved to find out, how they could tell the color of the bottom side of a tile without having seen it before!

Looking for a pasted-on theme we came up with “masquerading”. And with families as the target group I picked up Doris Matthäus` "Zoch chicken" and changed them into chickens of different colors, celebrating a “masked ball” on their farm ... silly, but fun to look at.


One of the first prototypes - the additional color die was dismissed again soon.

In November 2011 I tested this first version at the Spielemesse Stuttgart with passers-by, mostly families with kids attracted by the colorful pictures. Each and every of these “non-gamers” liked it and asked where they could buy it. A mother who played it three times in a row with her two girls (age 7 and 9) and her mother wanted the prototype graphics to make a copy for herself. It seemed we were on the right track.

"Ch-ch-ch-changes - turn and face the strange"
(David Bowie)
We realized one main issue: Because each player had his own score track, there was too little interaction. So we created a single track for all players with tokens jumping over each other - which was way better. Also, the “theme” was, of course, ultra-thin, but we liked the „masquerade“ part for the deduction: "Who is who?" We changed it into "Halloween Party" with kids on one side and monsters/vampire, etc. on the back.



This was much better and we started to show the game to publishers at Göttingen and other occasions. One main issue was: It didn’t feel like a “party” and seemed to heavy for children (which was not our experience, though!).

In this phase I tried a lot of different designs for the art - completely abstract, paintings and their fake counterparts ... interestingly, it didn't work with pure "form and colour". As a player you just didn't remember, what you have seen at which spot. You needed people to do so.

Then I came across „Kaplan & Masson“, a comic series by Convard/Thibert and we had a perfectly matching theme: Undercover secret agents. Now the deduction element made sense, and the theme was not promising a party, but rather the kind of game it really was.


Starting situation


The agents - "photoshopped" to match their colors - some "Blake & Mortimer" art added, too.


The game started to live on its own and telling us what to do. Several changes had to be made for more flexibility and different gameplay situations: The main central area to place tiles around was split into tiles, so the start depends on which tiles are already there and which are missing.

2013/2014 this version went from publisher to publisher on its quest for being published. A whole year it was at a larger publisher with a split opinion: two editors liked it, two were not convinced - in the end, the two who liked it left the company. So, this was that. Quite some publishers were interested, but one main concern was still the “too high” entry threshold for a family game.

Making it “easy”:
Several tweaks were needed to make the game feel more "easy" without changing the core idea:

- Players were not forced anymore to flip a tile they picked up, but it became optional. Often a strict rule what to do makes things more easy, but here it felt like a restriction, so we dropped the mandatory flipping.

- We added two small spaces with the two possible backside colors on each tile.

- For scoring, we replaced the fixed row of numbers at the bottom of the score track with randomly distributed score markers. Collected face-down they added a slight surprise factor at the final scoring and deleting some calculating AP. These tokens also offered clear goals during gameplay – some high valued markers are easier to get than others.

- The different shapes of wooden markers for each player we used so far were changed to colored discs - each player got his “home country” and color. This helped a lot in "understanding" the score track situation.

-Jokers were added (making it easier) as well as “arch enemies” – the special color for each player to score double (a "focus").



Finish

Playtests went better and better with all kinds of players – so, thanks to all editors for their critical remarks.
In 2015, things started to gain momentum. Matthias Nagy (Frosted Games) liked the game a lot, and we said YES. The advantage to work with a small publisher was also to be steadily involved into the process. I contacted many illustrators because I wanted someone who could capture a bit of the “ligne claire” comic style, and in the end we luckily found Juan García González (whose art for Luna Llena: Full Moon I adore!). To work with him was absolutely great and intense. E-mails with versions and new versions were sent back and forth ...


The very first set of sketches by Juan.

At Essen 2015 we could show a prototype with a first version of his art and playing with colorblind gamers made clear, that our decision to add symbols for each color worked fine. Matthias again “streamlined” some unnecessary rules complications, Klemens Franz and Andrea Kattnig from atelier198 did the graphic design, and now we are ready for Essen 2016.


Katharine McKenzie at Essen 2015.



Prototype art by Juan - the headquarters combined to a "single office" - but all over the world.
Photo by
Peter Dringautzki
Germany
Berlin
Berlin
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End of a Journey

5 years - a long way for a simple game? In my eyes each creation – theatre production, screenplay, film, painting, sculpture, music, story or board game – runs through its own “hero’s journey”. And during development it starts to live on its own, telling you what it needs to fulfill its unique process. The creator only helps the creation to breathe.
There is no such thing as a “simple game”, development-wise. Maybe, sometimes, some lucky mind stumbles across something that works more or less immediately. Much more common there is no shortcut to find the best solution for simple rules – just because of the plethora of possibilities. We have another game in the pipeline, with much more simplistic rules and gameplay, which was started in 2010 and still without a publisher to end its “hero’s journey” with many more detours and dead ends than “Undercover”.

But for the time being - see you at Essen.




The final agents


The final headquarters





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Peter Dringautzki
Germany
Berlin
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Hey Daniel,

thanks for the great read and the road from inception to the final stage. Also the note to make things easier aka streamlining it is a very needed one to make it more user friendly. Also reading about the understanding with the countries was good to know, makes sense and cool to read about it. Still reading about the Halloween party idea and that it failed is a bit sad. But the game in the end I played last Essen was very cool and even more cool for adding the symbols they do help a lot!


There might be a small typo in the "Making it “easy”" section:
- Players were not forced anymore to flip a tile they picked up, but it became optional. Often a strict rulke


Last but not least thanks for the mention

Have a great week(end) and see you in 10 weeks?!
Peat
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Daniel Danzer
Germany
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We will meet for sure. I will not hang out all day at the very booth, but often enough.
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