In The Process, board game designers walk us through the process of creating their game from start to finish, and how following their path can help others along theirs.
Our process is pretty consistent across every design. Make it and break it as quickly as possible.
Beta Colony started over four years ago as a game about monks building temples in ancient Bagan. Turns out monks are not a theme that people immediately grab on to. It had a clever but very dry tile placement mechanic that still exists in a modified form in Beta Colony. Thanks to some great feedback from Unpub 4, we began working it to make it less dry and not as focused on the tile laying, but instead having that become the primary scoring/euro thing but with a whole new resource acquisition mechanic and focus.
We were working on a game called Space Vikings 2.0, which featured our “roldel.” (More below! And a random side note: Space Vikings 1.0 is now Wasteland Express Delivery Service!) We saw an opportunity to merge the good stuff from two active projects into one and did it.
We pitched it at Origins to Rio Grande Games and they went, “What about space?” That was funny since half its DNA was a space game, so we did. After a year of development, the game was better and comes out late 2018.
The Takeaway: Fail fast. I know that is a business-y buzzword, but it holds true for our design process. Get an idea into alpha test as quickly as possible. If it’s good, work at it. If it is not, move on to the next one.
Mechanically, it our first published use of what Ben and I call our “roldel” mechanic. The basis is simple: Use dice to move pawns around a rondel to select actions/cards/stuff. It is simple but fun and can be twisted in several ways. For Beta Colony, the start player rolls four dice and all players match that roll. Each turn, players use two dice to take an action—one die to move around the rondel, another to activate where you land. That was the basis for Beta Colony: Move around the rondel, gather resources, and use those resources to build tiles (colony buildings) on the planet. It is a relatively simple base goal. Granted, there are tile bonuses, special buildings, VP tracks, and more going on, but the base goal is simple.
That wasn’t always the case. Beta Colony suffered from design barnacles. Good ideas that worked and were even thematic, but only added length, not depth. We worked with the Rio Grande Games developer Ken Hill, to “Knizia” (i.e., streamline) Beta Colony into a 75-minute thematic euro with an engaging dice puzzle to solve each turn, and good, tight decisions.
The Takeaway: Knizia your designs. Find what the fun is, and more importantly, what is actually needed. Get rid of the rest.
If you follow Ben or me on Twitter, you know that our working protos are famously bland. We spend a good chunk of design working with black-and-white, pencil-covered, ugly protos. When we are finally ready to show it to anyone else, that proto turns into an alpha—which means art stolen from the google and DeviantArt, game icons from game-icons.net, laid out poorly by me in a graphic-design program that is worse but cheaper than InDesign or sometimes PowerPoint even.
Ben and I both have bit bins, so we dig into those for pieces. Tiles are full-page labels stuck to medium-weight Grafix chipboard and cut out with my awesome paper cutter. Pro Tip: Buy a good paper cutter. Unless you are an X-Acto Knife cyborg and can freehand everything, a good paper cutter is key.
Beta Colony has a very large board. Boards are hard. They can be made with chipboard using packing tape to act as the seam. Another option is to have it printed poster-size at Staples. I have done that once; it was expensive but looked great.
The Takeaway: Full-page labels make everything easier.
Make it and break it, be quick to fail, pick your buzzword. Make a proto as soon as there is a game to play and see if it works. If it does, play it 500 times. If after that it still works, then try and get someone that isn’t you to play it. That is difficult, so use conventions and designer meetups.
The Takeaway: Design with a partner. Blind testing is important, but the umpteen reps that happen before a game is ready for blind testing is invaluable.
Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback have over 15 published games to date, including Fleet, Piepmatz, and Wasteland Express Delivery Service, to name a few.
Cardboard Edison is supported by our patrons on Patreon.
ADVISERS: Rob Greanias, Peter C. Hayward
SENIOR INVENTORS: Steven Cole (Escape Velocity Games), John du Bois, Chris and Kathy Keane (The Drs. Keane), Joshua J. Mills, Marcel Perro, Behrooz "Bez" Shahriari, Shoot Again Games
JUNIOR INVENTORS: Ryan Abrams, Joshua Buergel, Luis Lara, Neil Roberts, Jay Treat
ASSOCIATES: Dark Forest Project, Stephen B. Davies, Marcus Howell, Thiago Jabuonski, Doug Levandowski, Nathan Miller, Mike Sette, Matt Wolfe