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Subject: Designer's Diary rss

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Tomas Uhlir
Czech Republic
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First Snow was designed specifically for the 2017 9-card Nanogame PnP Design Contest.

When I stumbled upon the contest for the first time, I was intrigued by the idea of designing a board game with only 9 cards and up to 9 tokens and dice. Since I am a big fan of games like Agricola, Through the Ages and similar heavy eurogames, I set myself a challenge to attend a contest with a game of at least a bit similar feel but in a smaller scale.

Theme

I thought about a different themes and settings for the game, including zeppelin and airship traders operating in a world of floating islands or something similar to the Little Prince's planets from Antoine de Saint- Exupéry. But at the end I decided to go with the Inuit setting.

I wanted to design an Inuit "building and resource management" game for some time already. But the problem with Inuits is that they don't "build" stuff with their nomadic way of life. How would you like to design a strategic building game without anything to build... Finally thanks to the contest limitations it all fell into their places. You represent an Inuit boy trying to survive the whole winter alone in the land to prove his manhood, while the food and cold should be your main concern.

some of the sketches from the early development:





Components

I needed to get as much as possible from the available components. Using both sides of the 9 cards was obvious, but it still haven't been enough. So I divided the land cards in halves to give the players even more possibilities how to combine them. (With only 6 cards, you can build 120 different locations!) It developed into an interesting worker placement mechanism.


This way the players should form a completely different landscape every round:




I don't like dice in games very much. But because of the contest limitations, I had to use them in the best way I could. At least I restricted myself not to use them for rolling. So I came with three different ways how to incorporate them:

- Player order
Each player uses two dice as the camps ("workers") to occupy the selected land cards. The land cards have numbers (1-6) on them and when a player picks a card, he sets his die to the appropriate number. Those numbers determine the player order for the next round.

- Polar bear (uncertainty and bluffing aspect)
Each player has one white die representing the polar bear. At the start of the round he secretly sets his die to a number of a land card, where he would like to send the bear. When his opponent picks the card with the corresponding number, he is in a trouble...

- Keeping score
The last two dice are used for keeping score to leave the "scoring track" small and simple.

I came up with 7 different resources and 5 different tools, which can players craft. That's 13 different things to mark and keep track of.


But I can use only 9 cubes... So I gave each player an "inventory card" with all the available items and 4 cubes. This way I restricted him to carry only four items at once. But on top of that, the players can use all the resources on their current location. So they have to fit in their inventory only the items, which they want to carry between the locations.

The tools had to be kept simple because there is not enough space for any description on the cards. So most of the tools simply allow the players to use some specific resources from the land cards. This gives a nice diversity in a way of which land cards the players want and the components could be kept language independent. To add even more complexity and depth, the tools wear out every round and you have to repair them to keep them in a good condition.


The game has been experimental for me in another aspect. I wanted to learn how to paint completely in Photoshop and First Snow offered a perfect opportunity to try it. With only 9 cards it seamed to be bearable, but at the end, it turned out to be quite time consuming. Although, there is still a lot to improve, I am quite satisfied with the outcome.

Mechanisms

I like how are the used mechanisms linked together to form the overall feel of the game. I consider the following to be the most interesting and innovative:

Quote:
Building the landscape
You put the land cards next to each other in a row, forming a different landscape every round. The cards are double sided, they start with their “summer” side up and as the game progresses they get flipped to their “winter” side.
Two adjecent cards complete a location between them. So with only 6 cards, you can build 120 different locations!
Forming the landscape is not only visualy appealing, but it gives you a lot of variety and interesting choices.

Quote:
Tight inventory
While being on a landscape, you can use all the available resources, but if you would like to use them later, you have to store them in your inventory. You can carry only 4 items at once. Even the tolls you craft take place in your inventory. So having a lots of usefull tools restricts you in some other way.
Since you have only four cubes to mark the carried items, the rule is quite self-explanatory.

Quote:
Player order
The changing player order is neatly bound with the chosen land cards. Each card has its own number which simply determines the player order for the next round. So you have to constantly balance the current usefulness of the card with its number.


Playtesting

It has been quite difficult to playtest the game solo because of the "bluffing" mechanism provided by the bear. So at first I tried to get as much as possible tests with my close friends. At this stage the game came through 3 larger changes, each of them with a new prototype.

When the rules settled quite well and the prototype became more presentable, it came the time for blind playtesting. I sent the plain rules (text only) to some other friends to try the game without me explaining it and I presented the game on some of the Czech websites dedicated to boargames. I even prepared an online version in Tabletopia.

Game in progress:


But more importantly I found a local board game "club" and visited one of their regular sessions with some of my prototypes. (At that moment, I worked on 4 board games in a various stage of development.) I was quite surprised with their enthusiasm to test my games. To my great delight, some of them became a real hit. First Snow has been especially appreciated for its portability and the unexpected complexity for such a small game.

Later, I presented First Snow on the Czech boardgame designers gathering (organised by CBG) and again I was really happy with the response. I got some interesting suggestions, which I would like to explore after the contest.



As I know, about 20-30 different people tried the game so far (15.4.2017) and about 30-40 games have been played.

Conclusion

I learned a lots of new skills thanks to the contest (Tabletopia, painting in Photoshop, a lot about playtesting, rules writing and proofreading...) and I met many great people (BGG PnP games and contests community, lots of other designers, playtesters and important contacts among the board game area).

I have got a few recommendations and offers to publish the game along the way but at the moment I prefer it to stay free print & play to allow more people to try it and to get even more feedback.

So I would be really glad for your feedback as well. You have a chance to improve the game even further. The more people try it, the better.
I believe that some of the used mechanisms could provide a good base for even a more serious "big-box" game, but even the same game, only slightly improved without the contest limitations could be a way to go...

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Lithuania
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Lovely graphic design!
Good job & thanks for inspiring share thumbsup
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Jonathan Rojas
Peru
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Could you make a short video explaining the rules? It would really help gamers to understand quicker the mechanics and strategy on this game. Thanks!
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Tomas Uhlir
Czech Republic
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johnnyjrojas wrote:
Could you make a short video explaining the rules? It would really help gamers to understand quicker the mechanics and strategy on this game. Thanks!

I would love to. In fact I already thought about it.
Unfortunately I am not very skilled in videomaking area and I don't have appropriate tools. I hoped that someone more experienced could grab the opportunity and make the video in a more professional way. I could offer my full cooperation and all the help needed.
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