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Subject: Designer Diary by Jason Slingerland rss

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Marc Specter
United States
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About a year ago, I set out to make a game inspired by games that have one simple core mechanic that makes them work. I was shooting for simple, yet diabolical in its decisions, something like Parade.

From there, I started working on what would become Unreal Estate with the idea of making a game about a river. In fact, the whole game was based on the title, The River Mighty. That inspired me to make a game where each turn, cards flowed across the table like a river and then landed in a lake or pool of some kind.

It seemed to me that drafting cards would be the best fit for that theme as you would pull cards out of the river before they flowed to the lake at the end. Then, I came up with matching the cards you drafted with the leftover cards in the lake.

The game played fine at that point but oddly even though it was born out of theme, the theme itself still felt disconnected and boring.

After that I struggled to find a retheme that would fit the game and make it feel like it was a better match and also liven up the game a bit. I went through all sorts of bad ideas that mostly focused on the idea of a river or a road. It wasn’t until I saw a posting for the Greater Than Games contest, Game Mechanic: The Game that I really found my footing.

Wanting to enter the contest, I looked back at my designs in progress and found, The River Mighty. Its primary mechanic was drafting. So Drafting: The Drafting Game was born. The game became about building a city. The idea was you were a hipster city planner who wanted to build the most unique city possible. This felt very much like the mechanics being justified by the theme because of the way scoring works.

To score a card, you play it from your hand and the points scored are equal to the value of the card, multiplied by the number of matching cards in the Scrap Pile (which was the new name for the lake). So the more times a Building was sent to the Scrap Pile the more it was worth.

Needless to say, I didn’t win the contest but it didn’t matter, I had found my game. I retitled it as Hip City.

I was lucky enough to be able to pitch it to Marc Specter of the Grand Gamers Guild and he really loved it from the first demo. He then suggested that we make it about building a fantasy city instead of a modern day city.

We were concerned about it sticking out and being unique and not just another fantasy game that might get lost in the shuffle on Kickstarter. It occurred to us to ask Corinne Roberts, a mutual friend and unparalleled water color artist to sign on board. She agreed and has since brought an amazing life to the game.

The last thing I added to the game were special cards. The game comes with over 12 of them and each time you play you randomly shuffle in 6 of them. They come up during gameplay and allow you to break the rules. These card suddenly added a ton of replay value to the game and made it really take the shape that is has today.

My absolute favorite thing about the game is that when playing with new players, somewhere around turn 4 they get this look on their face that says to me. “Now I get it. Crap, we are going to need to play this again, I can do better.” That realization always makes me feel like I did something really right with the game!

Unreal Estate is on Kickstarter for 10 more days!
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