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Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants» Forums » General

Subject: Designer Diary: Problem Picnic, by Scott Almes rss

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Scott Almes
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Hello everyone! It’s your favorite neighborhood designer here to talk to you about my game, Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants. With our Kickstarter campaign off and running, I wanted to take a chance and detail the creation of the game, and highlight some of the cool mechanics in the game.

IN THE BEGINNING…
I am a gaming omnivore. I play and love all types of games. But, I have a particular love for games that combine dexterity and strategy. Some of my favorites include Castle Crush, Safranito, and Mord im Arosa. These games highlight the best of strategy games and dexterity games. Strategy games, as we all love, award clever play and good decision making, but heavier ones can turn people away and – let’s face it – people don’t like a lot of rules. Dexterity games tend to have super simple rules and a board presence that can really lure people to the table, but they tend to be light on strategy. This genre of games takes the best of both worlds: you get simple rules, strategy, a game that lures all your friends to the table, and something that’s just super fun to play.

The problem? There isn’t enough of them! I was overcome with a designer to add a fresh new game into this genre. Especially since this genre is a staple for playing games with my family.

...THEN CAME DICE
Dice are fun to roll. There is no argument there. Can you say they aren’t fun to roll? No. You can’t. I appreciate you trying, but in the end dice are just fun to roll. For this game, I wanted to take this fun element of dice rolling and put more of a dexterity element to it. I wanted a game where it was just as important WHERE you rolled a dice as WHAT you rolled.

As the game started to form, it was themed around Castles. (As you know, this will get replaced with a much better theme later on) Pieces of a castle were set in the middle of the table and players rolled dice to compete for these pieces. If you landed on a card, you were in line to win it. However, if multiple people were on a card then the highest number would earn it. This resulted in a very subtle bidding mechanic. When do you use your bigger dice? Do you use your d12 now? What about your small d6 that gets knocked out of the way really easily? If somebody rolled high on a d6, is it worth trying your d12 to beat it? What if you get knocked out of the way during the round?

This simple mechanic of rolling dice on cards resulted in a super fun mechanic. It was interactive, full of decisions, but easy to learn. It had layers. Perfect for a family game. From the very beginning as this game formed everyone was built around this. It was fun and very satisfying.

I also have to note the special sauce for this mechanic: when you collect a card, the dice you used to collect that card is set aside. So, this forces you to try not to use too many dice to win a card. Piling all of your dice on a card is a decidedly bad idea, because you’ll be left with very little the next round. Now, your dice are a resource, and that turned out great.

Of course, at this point, I still had a gameplay: I had no freaking idea what to do with the castle pieces once you got them. In other words, the entire second part of the game was a broken, un-fun mess. But at least the dice rolling and card collecting was fun, right?

FAILURES IN SET COLLECTION
So, I had an awesome mechanic to collect these castle pieces, but I had no idea what to do with them. I got the ‘collecting’ down, but I needed to figure out what to do with the ‘set’ part. And I’ll tell you what, dear reader, I came up with some fabulously bad ideas during this stage.

My first idea was to have castles that would attack one another. You had to collect catapults, walls and turrets. Your goal was to collect enough walls to defend yourself against enemy catapults, and then turrets also had to be protected and scored lots of points. Catapults could be different strength, and at the end of the game players would spend time comparing numbers against their neighbors to see their attack and defense values. If you couldn’t defend, you had to discard cards. This was boring and anticlimactic.

The next idea was a bit Knizia inspired. I’m a huge Reiner Knizia fan, and love how he approaches scoring. So, I tried some tricks inspired by the good doctor. This card type only scored if you had a majority. If you had the least of this you lost points. You only score if you have exactly two of these. This was also terrible. Since cards came out in waves, it was really hard to plan ahead. It was also easy to avoid bad cards. And it didn’t feel right for the game. This scoring mechanic was scratched.

Then, for some reason, I got the inspiration that solved the problem. What if you actually built a castle?

FINDING A FRIEND IN TILE LAYING
The answer to the set collection problem turned out to be in arranging the castle itself. When you collected these pieces, I now had players actually building a castle. You had points for the shape you made you castle. Plus, you built as you go. So after each collection round you added a little bit each time. There was no longer a boring 5 minutes at the end of the game as everyone arranged things. You went right to scoring!

And, scoring is where another mechanic I wanted to highlight is. In this game, there is a default score card in each game: it covers the three colors and three card types. If you get majority in one of these, you earn points. Then, there is a number of other special score cards that come out. This details different arrangements. If you fulfill those cards, you get even more points! Each card here is different, which keeps the game very fresh each game.

I felt very smart and pleased with my scoring mechanic. Having different scoring cards every round was really fun and fresh. But, the publisher trumped my good idea. After I signed the game, my good publisher would later make this mechanic even better by randomly assigning score tokens to each of these cards. Which meant that the values of different colors and types changed each game. As an added bonus, it make it easier to count points. If you won a card, then you took the token. I’m a bit ashamed I didn’t think of it myself, but I’m fortunate to have publishers that only improve the game. I personally love this addition!

CASTLES TO PICNICS
I was really happy where this game was, and it was fortunate enough to get contacted by Helaina from Kids Table Board Gaming. They were looking for a new game – and were looking for a game the exact weight and size at my castle game. I’d been impressed by how their game Food Fighters turned out, and I’d worked with her husband Josh on several projects in the past. So, I happily shared the game, and to my delight they liked it!

Well, liked most of it. They wanted to change the theme. Which, for me as a designer… I could not have cared less about in this case. The castle theme was functional, but I was by no means attached to it. Some games are theme first. My game The Great Dinosaur Rush was theme first – you can’t change that one. And my game Best Treehouse Ever – theme all the way, can’t change it. But this game? What I liked was the dice rolling, the scoring mechanic, and the puzzle of putting something together. If I listed the top 10 things I loved about the game the fact that it was about castles wouldn’t even make the list.

Then they proposed a theme. Well, not only proposed a theme, but showed me sample artwork. They wanted to theme the game around ants stealing food from a picnic and taking it back to their ant hill.

It was a perfect match. The theme enhanced everything about the game. It allowed us to add theme to the game. Instead of normal dice, we were now going to have dice that had little ants on them. Now the theme is in my top 3 reasons why I like the game. It was a great development choice, and I was thrilled by it. It’s a wonderful feeling when a designer and a publisher see eye to eye and make the final product even better.

AND NOW WE’RE ON KICKSTARTER!

And that’s how this fun little family game came to be. It’s one that I feel is just so fun for everyone. It can be played by kids or with adults. The strategy of selecting the correct food items and the dexterity fun of rolling the dice is timeless.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this designer diary! Feel free to ask any questions about the design, or the game. And, if you are so inclined, I do encourage you to visit the kickstarter page. We’re offering the game at a great price, with incredibly low shipping, and I think it’s a game that most gamers and families will have a lot of fun with!

Til’ the next time!
-Scott

P.S. The campaign is here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1111322876/problem-picn...
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What a fantastic designer diary. You are ultra talented my friend (I feel like I can call you that at this point), and I am so glad we are working together.

Go team!
 
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