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Subject: Designer Diary Part Two rss

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James Wilson
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9
theme


The main development work for the game has been done with Dann May, Starling Games’ amazing in house artist and developer. I could spend a long time talking about just how great it has been to work with Dann—since day one, he, and all of the team at Starling Games, have been an absolute joy to collaborate with.

Our first development conversation revolved around the theme of the game. At the time, the game’s working title was Cities of Everland. It took place in a rather general fantasy setting populated with bird-folk, lion people, giant stone golems, etc. Though it avoided the clichéd tropes of dwarves, elves, and orcs, Dann felt like the game needed something more unique to really stand out in such a crowded market.

I agreed.

Thematically players were creating cities with buildings and citizens. That part of the theme was solid, and the cards were all very thematic, no problem. It was really the setting that needed something more.

Dann asked how I felt about a woodland setting with small critters constructing little cities among the giant trees of a forest. It would be similar to Redwall or Mouse Guard, but we would really focus on the sense of scale with the art and presentation (towering foliage in the background, buildings constructed out of natural resources found in the forest, charming and warm).

I immediately loved the idea, and Cities of Everland became Cities of Everwood (the name "Everdell" would come a little later).

Something we were keen on is that the art wouldn’t be dark and gritty, or cartoony and silly; the game was about creating a pleasant, somewhat idyllic little city. It needed to feel like the perfect little fairy tale world that you always wanted to escape into.

I set about finding all new art for the prototype to help us imagine the new setting, and renaming, and retheming cards to help push toward the direction of what we were trying to create.

For instance, a Lumberjack became a Barge Toad, a Beggar turned into a Postal Pigeon. Many of the cards remained the same conceptually, and just needed a new coat of paint, as it were. Like the King, who used to be a royal and somewhat fierce lion, now became a noble mouse.




The game also features Events, which are common goals that all players are racing to achieve first. These were somewhat general in theme (Fair, Discovery, Feast, Trial), and Dann wanted to see if we could make them more specific, and more in line with the setting. So we came up with An Evening of Fireworks, Capture of the Acorn Thieves, Croak Wart Cure, and more, which I will leave for you to discover.

All of this early thematic work was one of the most enjoyable parts of development. Dann has a fantastic sense of theme, and his ideas inspired me, which in turn inspired him. I think we’ve managed to put together a really charming world for players to enjoy.

With the bulk of the thematic work done, it was time to dive into playtesting.

10
play is work

One of the strangest and best aspects of game design is that your work involves playing. By this time, I had played the game nearly 200 times. The fact that I still enjoyed playing gave me hope that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

Since Dann lives in Australia and I live in Idaho, USA, meeting up to play the game in person was not going to be realistic. Tabletopia and Skype to the rescue!

Dann imported the prototype into Tabletopia, and we played our first game on a Thursday evening—a tradition that would continue for the next 7 months, all the way up to the Kickstarter.

It was great fun kicking around the game in a digital space, even though hilarity often ensued when a glitch would prevent us from seeing a card, or someone would accidentally pick up the entire deck into their hand. These problems are certainly unique to Tabletopia—but just think how funny such things would be in real life!

After our first playtest we discussed our goals for the game moving forward. Dann and I both felt like the game was pretty solid, but there were perhaps a few rough areas that we could improve on. I was quick to jump on the feedback and tune the prototype so we were ready for next week’s playtest session.

We wanted to build up the core set of the game as big as we could without fraying the balance. So we added in some more cards, more Events, and always, always I was looking to tweak any existing cards that I could, to better balance them, make them more thematic, whatever I felt like they needed.

The game was coming together very nicely.

One evening we had a chat about possible board layouts for the game. At this point, there wasn’t a board, just a series of tiles that served as placement areas for workers. This was done for my benefit during prototyping; it is much easier to just change something on one tile than to have to reprint out a whole board.

There was enough real estate in the tiles to warrant a board, but we didn’t want just any standard square board. Like everything with this game, we were looking for opportunities to elaborate on our forest critters theme.

We wanted to try to have a round board for the game; it just felt more organic and unique. The board would show a clearing in the forest with a little river flowing through it where critters were gathering the resources, and up near the top there would be a huge tree. Then Dann said something: “You know what we could do . . . nah, that’s probably too crazy.”

“Now you have to tell me,” I said.

“I was just thinking, maybe we could make it a 3D tree.”

I blinked.


Prototype image (not final)



11
art


The game was going to be art heavy. The core game had blossomed into having 48 unique card types, a board and various tiles, and of course a cover. We also had a small expansion with 10 more unique card types, and a promo pack with 6 more unique card types. This was going to be big.

We knew that it was going to take a really special artist to capture the feeling of this world. It needed to be charming without being childish, dreamy but not cartoony, realistic but not gritty. We also wanted everything to feel very cohesive, so that every piece of art felt like it was from the same world. Ideally, this would all be done by one single artist.

The hunt began early in development. Dann had a few ideas, and one in particular that he thought could pull it all off. He showed me some of the artist’s work and I was totally on board. “It will be expensive, though,” Dann said.

I want to take a moment here again just to highlight how great it has been working with Starling Games. Throughout the entire process, they have kept me involved in every detail, always wanting my opinion and approval. I know it doesn’t always happen this way with publishers, and I consider myself incredibly blessed that my first publishing experience has been so positive.

GenCon was coming up, and Dann wanted to have some prototypes on hand to show around. We ordered them through Game Crafter in time for the show. I have to say, it was a gleeful moment when my own prototype arrived on my doorstep. Sure, it was all prototype art and design, but there was something really cool about holding a real card in my hand.

Dann was off to GenCon while I stayed home. I received some quick updates from him, but it wasn’t until after he arrived back in Australia and we met up on Skype that he shared the big news. They had met with the artist, Andrew Bosley, and hired him to do the whole game. I sort of fell out of my chair. With projects this big, it is common for publishers to hire multiple artists, or to save money by having the same background for every character, etc. Not so with Andrew and Starling. This would be the complete package, full bleed, full detailed art on every card, substantial board, and a cover to WOW the world.

I felt humbled.


Perfectly captures the vision I had for Everdell!


Then Dann told me an interesting story about an encounter he had in an elevator.

12
what’s in a name?


“Hey, what do you have there?”

“Oh, this? It’s a prototype for an upcoming game we’re working on.”

“Oh cool. Did you guys get the license?”

“License?”

“Yeah, the license for Everwood.”

“Huh?”

“You know, the TV show.”

“There’s a TV show?”

So, apparently, unbeknownst to any of us working on the game, there was a TV show in the early 2000’s called Everwood. And apparently it was fairly popular.

So now what? We all liked the title “Everwood”, but just a simple Google search pulled up leagues of images and articles from this TV show. Ugh. What now?

It was back to the drawing board for names.

The goal was to find something that captured the feeling of the setting that we were trying to create. It is placed primarily in a wooded area, so having something to do with the woods . . . but the word “Ever” was nice as well, because it gave that sense of exploration and also hinted at long-term replayability, which the game has.

We mulled over possibilities for weeks, but finally in the end we settled on Everdell. Credit goes to Dann for coming up with the name. It maintains “Ever”, with a “dell” being a valley among trees. Plus, it has a charming ring to it, and when you see the amazing artwork and think of the critters and buildings populating this place, it just feels right.



This is Everdell.

13
fin!


In the early years of this design, before any contracts or deadlines, the possibilities for the game were literally endless. I could decide to chop out entire sections or add new rules and mechanics everywhere and anywhere (which I did, numerous times). Once a game has been signed and you have a solid release date fast approaching, you have to eventually make the declaration that the game is finished.

But “finished” in game design is a nebulous word at best, because game design is not like shaving your face. When all the shaving cream is gone and all the whiskers are trimmed, you are finished! With game design, you have the ability to suddenly produce new whiskers in new places, or if you like, a whole new face.

I like to tinker with things, to rearrange furniture, to look for ways to optimize and streamline. To his credit, developer Dann May was very patient and supportive along the way as I sent him dozens of minor card revisions. Mind you, both of us felt early on that the game was pretty solid, that there wasn’t a whole lot more work to be done, but I kept finding tiny things I thought I could improve.

Finally, I had to sit back and just say that it was done. I knew that I was viewing the game from a very unique aspect, having played it hundreds of times. In part, I think I was trying to keep the game growing with me, so I would try to introduce new little wrinkles or ideas. But no, I was assured by playtesters that the game was good, it’s good, James, just leave it alone now.

And so we decided that it was finished (With the caveat, of course, that anything could theoretically still be changed until we pushed print).

14
fun!


Well, Mr. Frodo, here we are, at the end of all things.

Though not as perilous as the journey to Mount Doom, my journey with this game design has certainly been an adventure ripe with surprises, disappointments, and thrills. I am very proud of the final design, and humbled by all the people who have helped to contribute to the game over the years, some in minor ways and others in major.

Starling Games has been a dream publisher to work with, and their vision and dedication to the game has been inspiring. Combine that with Andrew Bosley’s truly exceptional artwork, and I just feel incredibly blessed to have my name on the cover as the designer of this game.

Is Everdell a game for you? I’ll give you some reference points to help you decide.

Like worker placement? Yes.
Like tableau-building? Yes.
Like comboing cards? Yes.
Like easy-to-learn games with tons of replay value? Yes.
Like amazing art? Yes.
Like 3D trees? Yes.
Like to help first-time game designers afford braces for their kids? Yes.

Thank you, sincerely, seriously, for taking the time to read this diary. I hope you will check out the Kickstarter for Everdell January 9th, and I hope that you will back the game, but most of all, I hope that it will bring you many, many hours of enjoyment.

See you in Everdell. I'll be waiting for you at the Inn, and I'll buy you a cider while we play a game.

James A. Wilson-
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PJ B
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Glad I stumbled upon these designer diaries, the game sounds very interesting and looks great. Will be checking out the kickstarter. Best of luck.
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James Wilson
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Thanks PJ! See you tomorrow!
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Dirk Sietze
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The art looks amazing and the 3d gameboard is intriguing. I will definitely check out the kickstarter. The best of luck.
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James Wilson
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Thanks Dirk! The whole team took it to the next level with the presentation. That was the goal: to transport you into Everdell. See you tomorrow!
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Derek
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Definitely going to be backing day 1. Love what I've seen in the designer diaries thus far!
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James Wilson
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solace67 wrote:
Definitely going to be backing day 1. Love what I've seen in the designer diaries thus far!


Awesome, Derek! Thank you so much!
 
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James
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Definitely interested! The theme is engaging and the artwork looks great. Keep up the transparency, I love hearing about the story behind the game!

Will check the kickstarter tomorrow!
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James Wilson
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ghost604 wrote:
Definitely interested! The theme is engaging and the artwork looks great. Keep up the transparency, I love hearing about the story behind the game!

Will check the kickstarter tomorrow!


Hey, an Irish hobbit named James!? We must be related. Actually when we were doing some world-building work for Everdell, I mentioned that it should feel like the Shire. I think the team has captured that.

See you at the Inn (and yes, the cider does come in pints)!
 
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Pauline Searle
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Thanks do much for sharing this journey with us, such a great and unique read. I’ll be on kickstarter tomorrow to back you! What time?
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James
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Thank you for this humorous and insightful read!

I was intrigued by the cover when I saw it tiny on the front page so had to come see, and it's a glorious work of art. It sounds like the game will live up to it's beauty and I can't wait to see the full KS page.

Best of luck with the game! cool
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Like everyone here has said, you have a great story. It looks like a beautiful game. I'll definitely check it out.
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James Wilson
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Paupau wrote:
Thanks do much for sharing this journey with us, such a great and unique read. I’ll be on kickstarter tomorrow to back you! What time?


Thank you, Pauline, glad you enjoyed reading! We are hoping to have the Kickstarter live around 10 EST, about 1 hour from now. I'll save you a spot at the Inn.
 
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James Wilson
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Happyshopper wrote:
Thank you for this humorous and insightful read!

I was intrigued by the cover when I saw it tiny on the front page so had to come see, and it's a glorious work of art. It sounds like the game will live up to it's beauty and I can't wait to see the full KS page.

Best of luck with the game! cool


Hey look, another James! We could start a club.

Glad you enjoyed the diary and got some laughs from it.

I agree, Andrew Bosley's art is stunning. The full Kickstarter page is absolutely amazing and we can't wait to share it (the video is awesome).

See you soon!
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James Wilson
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adampsjol wrote:
Like everyone here has said, you have a great story. It looks like a beautiful game. I'll definitely check it out.


Thank you, Adam! It has certainly been an exciting and long journey.

See you at the Kickstarter!
 
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This looks wonderful. The game looks absolutely beautiful and really interesting. I'll be keeping an eye open for this on kickstarter. When does it go live?
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James Wilson
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NimbusAaron wrote:
This looks wonderful. The game looks absolutely beautiful and really interesting. I'll be keeping an eye open for this on kickstarter. When does it go live?


Thanks! The Kickstarter should be live very soon. Hard to get all of those critters to hold still long enough.
 
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James Wilson
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Kickstarter is live!: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesalute/everdell-a-b...
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Will Bracegirdle of Hardbottle
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...the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
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Backed! Gotta get your kids some braces! And all the other stuff.
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James Wilson
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davekuhns wrote:
Backed! Gotta get your kids some braces! And all the other stuff.


Ha ha! I thank you, and so does the orthodontist.
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Derry Salewski
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Everdell, Root . . . not gonna complain if adorable anthropomorphic woodland critters become the new lovecraft/zombies!
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Another excellent diary.

Thank you, again, for sharing with all of us.

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James Wilson
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scifiantihero wrote:
Everdell, Root . . . not gonna complain if adorable anthropomorphic woodland critters become the new lovecraft/zombies!

Sounds good to me!
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James Wilson
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Thanks, Shawn! I've been looking forward to the day when I could share this story. So humbling to have such huge support here already on day one.modest
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Will Bracegirdle of Hardbottle
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greycloak wrote:
scifiantihero wrote:
Everdell, Root . . . not gonna complain if adorable anthropomorphic woodland critters become the new lovecraft/zombies!

Sounds good to me!


Same here. Enough with the other two! I'm a Mouse Guard, Mice and Mystics, and Redwall fan so this is right up my alley thematically.

I liked the back story in the rulebook. Maybe some day a game about the journey to discover Everdell!
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