Shawn Macleod
United States
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I believe it was late 2011 or early 2012 when I started to get heavily involved in play testing board games. Most of the games I play tested were either euro style or civilization (4X style) games. This was largely in part due to my good friend Daniel Hammond who was very active in the civilization style board game forums on BoardGameGeek. Coincidentally, I was also playing a lot of 4X style games such as Jim Krohn’s, Space Empires: 4X and’s, Nations and Eclipse. The latter were also play testing projects I was a part of during this time.

Needless to say, I love 4X and civilization style board games. I love how these games require me to quickly understand how other players think. By considering how others at the table think, and how I think – I feel more energized, more engaged, and more creative. Win or lose I walk away with a completely satisfying experience. Unfortunately, these types of games typically take a couple hours to play and at least 30 minutes to teach. Additionally, the game play complexity and learning curve associated with these games make it difficult to introduce to new players and almost impossible to play with new entrants to the hobby. I wanted to share the excitement of a 4X gameplay experience with my family and casual gaming friends, but I could not find a game that both me and my target audience found both enjoyable and satisfying.

The desire for a 4X style game that provided a satisfying experience for both experienced gamers and the hobby’s new entrants was the forcing factor behind designing Helios Expanse. To accomplish this goal, I developed the following “tablets of stone” for the design.

1. Easy to teach; teachable in less than 5 minutes

2. Create a 4X gameplay experience that plays in less than 60 minutes

3. Simple, but tactical player choices turn to turn

4. Meaningful player interaction that preserves the game play tension typically associated with a 4X play experience

5. Gameplay will reward aggression, but will not punish those that do not engage in conflict

Item No. 5 on my “tablets of stone” led me to wanting a “Cold War” like state of tension in the game. I did not want large-scale fighting directly between two or more players, but rather each player’s struggle for dominance would be expressed via regional wars around the galaxy, espionage, and technological competitions. In the beginning, I struggled to find an underlying storyline for this “Cold War” like game until I was fascinated by the 2014 epic science fiction film, Interstellar. I was so fascinated with Interstellar that the working title of my project went from, “Shawn’s unnamed 4X Game” to “Interstellar”.

The film Interstellar is set in a future where a failing Earth puts humanity on the brink of extinction, and an intrepid team of NASA scientists, engineers and pilots attempt to find a new habitable planet, via interstellar travel. Many of the core elements of the Interstellar plot were expanded upon to help create the storyboard behind the design of Helios Expanse. I envisioned that society was very technologically advanced; a failing Milky Way galaxy was putting humanity on the brink of extinction; and the discovery of a wormhole via interstellar travel was a means to transition humanity (and each superpower’s civilization/culture) to new habitable planets. I combined these elements with my desire for a “Cold War” like state of tension to create a storyboard for a design that drives tensions and conflicts among superpowers.

Once the main elements of the game design were finished, game developer Julie Ahern took my story board and created the final theme, story, superpowers, and universes behind Helios Expanse. I believe she did an outstanding job. Reading her flavor text gives me goosebumps.

I plan to provide more specific details regarding the design in my next diary entry. If you like what you’ve read so far please consider supporting our Kickstarter project,


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