Bringing it Together – The Board Game as a Project

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Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the ninth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

This suite is based on the Five Levels of Communication through Game Development, my own personal board game development philosophy. However, I’ve brought in Carla Kopp from Weird Giraffe Games so that you can get two viewpoints instead of just one.

 

 

With various other developers, I’ve talked about all the different parts that go into making a board game: the core engine, the mechanics, rules, and storytelling / internal narrative.

Except that’s not really all, is it? These elements will give you a game in a box, but they won’t make a game with social impact. Games are more than just what’s in the box. Games are also the marketing used to promote them – the advertising and the footwork of the game developers who made them. Games are also the Kickstarter campaign and the stores they’re kept in. Games are the community that talks about them on forums and plays them at conventions. Games become everything that people claim that they are. I call this “external narrative.”

So how on earth do you bring all that together into a cohesive whole? There is only so much a game developer can do to influence player perception and much of it is not what you’d expect.

This question is why I’ve brought in Carla, who you might know from Super Hack Override & Stellar Leap, two tabletop games that have been successful on Kickstarter. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation via Facebook Messenger.

This guide comes in four parts:

  1. Who is Carla?
  2. The Forgotten Parts of Game Development
  3. Finding an Audience
  4. Parting Advice

 

Who is Carla?

 

Brandon: Thank you very much for agreeing to help me out on this post! Tell me a little about yourself and your projects.

Carla: I’m Carla Kopp and I’m a software engineer during the day. During most other times, I’m working on my game publishing company, Weird Giraffe Games. So far, we have two published games, Super Hack Override and Stellar Leap.

Carla: Super Hack Override is a fast-paced filler game for 2-6 players that plays in 10-20 minutes. In the game, you’re a hacker trying to hack into enough facilities to gain the attention of the Supreme Super Hacker, all while avoiding Hacker Jail and making sure no one else can hack faster than you can.

Carla: Stellar Leap is a space exploration game for 1-5 players with worker placement, variable player powers, and a strategic twist on dice rolling in about an hour. The Galaxy is determined by the players who can also choose to trigger galaxy-wide events that can change how the game works for everyone.

Carla: I’ll be Kickstarting my next game, Fire in the Library, soon! It’s a press-your-luck game with variable turn order in which players must try their best to rescue books and accumulate knowledge. Everyone starts with tools to help mitigate their luck or change the probabilities for their opponents and can gain more as the game goes on.

Carla: I have a few other games in the works as well, Drapple and Observance. Drapple is an abstract, tile-laying gardening game. Observance is a game of stargazing, engine building, and time management. There are a few more, but those are the most far along.

Brandon: My copy of Stellar Leap is still being manufactured at the time we’re doing this interview, but I’m looking forward to it. My brother and I have had a lot of fun with Super Hack Override!

Brandon: Respect to you and Nick for being able to put these games together as fast as you have. That’s a lot of work!

 

The Forgotten Parts of Game Development

 

Brandon: Games are big projects. What goes into making them that a lot of people forget about?

Carla: There’s a ton of work, but one thing I spend a lot of time on is updating all the game data in a spreadsheet, updating nandeck files, printing out new cards, and cutting them. Every iteration of each game has to be created somehow and there are A LOT of iterations – usually a new one after each playtest, especially in the beginning. I sometimes use blank cards or write on prototypes if I need to iterate quickly, but that typically only happens at conventions.

Carla: There’s making the review prototypes themselves. Stellar Leap took more than two weeks to put together 11 prototypes. This meant separating colors of cubes, chits, and meeples, counting them, putting them all into individual small bags. Cards from the Game Crafter are also in a random order, so I had to separate all of those and put them into different bags. I decided to make my own player boards out of foamboard and artboard. That meant printing out the board images on paper, gluing them to boards, waiting for them to dry, and cutting them all out. There were 5 boards for each game – 55 boards – and cutting each one wasn’t exactly easy or fast. There were a few other pieces to add in, but it definitely wasn’t a fun few weeks.

Brandon: The manual sorting of pieces can be an especially big one if you’re not expecting it. That’s really easy to forget.

Carla: Granted, it’s not necessary to do that level of effort; the reviewers could separate the cards themselves and not everything needs to be in its own bag. I could have done simple card stock for the boards. I’m just a bit of a perfectionist and want to make a good impression.

Carla: There’s also just all the logistics of it all. Games aren’t made by one person usually and definitely not in my case. I work with at least one artist per game, if not an illustrator, graphics designer, and even an artist specifically for meeples! Then there’s playtesters, manufacturers (many at first, until you make a decision on which one to go with), reviewers (I try to go with at least 10), interviewers (written, podcasts, and video), and people to talk to to set up demos. There are just so many people and events to coordinate and it definitely doesn’t magically fall into place.

Brandon: There’s a lot of truth to this. It’s common to juggle a lot of technologies and demands on your time. Even though I “work alone“, I don’t really. I have a freelance artist, a community of game developers to bounce ideas off of, play-testers both online and offline, reviewers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. You get the idea. I have dozens of spreadsheets for different things – people to talk to, marketing leads, game files, play-testing logs, you name it.

 

Artwork from the upcoming Fire in the Library.

 

Finding an Audience

 

Brandon: All this is behind the scenes. You have to think about what’s publicly visible, too. How do you find the right audience and spread the word?

Carla: Right now, my methods are really varied. I post frequently on all the progress I make on Twitter and occasionally Instagram. I make “work in progress” threads on Board Game Geek to talk about progress, then post to the appropriate Geek Lists during the Kickstarter. I post in a large variety of Facebook groups while progress is being made on art and other aspects of the game and usually ask questions, while also linking my Facebook page. During the Kickstarter, there are about 20 different groups I post to, depending on the game.

Carla: Always post in relevant groups, but try to make the post engaging. Whenever I demo or playtest, I make sure to get the email address of the person, so I can inform them when the Kickstarter starts. I also run a game night at the local cupcake store and get emails from the people that attend that. There’s also Reddit and I tend to stick to my local subreddit, as the board game subreddits tend to not approve of posting about your own games. I also try to go to as many conventions as I can and playtest as much as possible.

Carla: I also do a lot of interviews! Between written, video, and podcasts, I did 17 interviews during my last Kickstarter. Not only that, there’s also certain board gaming websites that take press releases. I’ve tried a variety of advertising, as well, but I’m definitely going to get farther away from that as traditional advertising doesn’t seem to work as well as I’d hope. I’ve run a few contests as well, but I’m not sure any of those have helped all that much. Contests might be good for unknown publishers, but I’m not exactly unknown at this point.

Brandon: That’s a ton of really good information and I have, in response, a few reactions. The first being that no matter what location you go to – Board Game Geek, Facebook, Reddit, or cons – you’re going to really specific places to spread the word of your games. Not only do you make engaging content, but you post it to specific groups, specific lists, and specific subreddits. It’s targeting. It’s smart business, and because attention is limited and constantly being sucked away, it’s polite, too.

Brandon: As for finding out which places are the best, well, I haven’t found a better way than experimenting – online and offline. Once you found places that work and people who were receptive to what you had to say, you always got their email and give them a place to go. That helps build a community, or at the very least, keep you organized. That’s where podcasts, video, interviews – even this very one – come in. It’s all outreach!

Brandon: This is what networking looks like…it’s talking to a lot of people. Both to spread your ideas and to make them better.

Brandon: Think I just had a marketing geek moment there.

Carla: Reviews are also so important! I have a list of reviewers that are great to work with, but you can’t just choose the ones you like, you have to choose ones that will like your game and increase your audience.

Brandon: Yes, you definitely need to reach out to reviewers for trust and visibility to your intended audience. I try to aim for professional ones with a well-targeted audience, even if they might say something I don’t like.

 

Parting Advice

 

Brandon: If there were one piece of advice you could give yourself before you started making games, what would it be?

Carla: Be prepared for a lot of work, learning, and growing as a person. It’s going to be hard, but you’ll be better for it and gain a ton of friends. It’s not an industry where you’ll earn a lot of money, but it does have a lot of heart.

Brandon: Amen to that. It’s a fun process and you meet a ton of people.

Brandon: Alright, that’s all I’ve got. Thank you very much! Good luck on Fire in the Library, I’m looking forward to it 🙂

Carla: Thank you! I’m looking forward to seeing Highways & Byways, as well!

 

 


 

Board games are big projects, so a lot goes on behind the scenes. Experts can make it look easy, but it isn’t. How you handle manufacturing, logistics, and marketing can all affect how your games are perceived. Those perceptions, in turn, become a part of your game – even if you don’t intend for them to.

Got any war stories from your game projects? Tell us about them in the comments below 🙂

 

18 New Year’s Resolutions for Board Game Devs

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

I’m a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. While choosing January 1 to start something that you’ve always wanted to do is completely arbitrary, it sure does work! In fact, at the beginning of this year, I set a resolution to create a new board game. Now, as of today (December 29, 2017), Highways & Byways is looking like it will be complete in the next couple of days.

 

The Highways & Byways prototype just showed up recently, in fact.

 

With that in mind, I want to help you come up with some New Year’s Resolutions of your own, ones specifically related to board game design. Never one to pass up on a delicious clickbait potential like “18 New Year’s Resolutions,” I’ve come up with, well, 18 of them. Pick a few that you like and see where it takes you!

 

1. Create your first board game.

If you’ve never created a board game or pursued a passion project, this is a great goal to start with. It’s straightforward and a lot of fun. You don’t have to publish it or market it or any of that. Just go out and make a great board game for fun. Card games count, too!

 

2. Play-test with game designers.

If you’re the kind of creator who has a few prototype board games in your closet somewhere, consider playing one of them with a few game designers. You can usually find them at Protospiel conventions or even local game stores or Meetup groups. You will learn a lot more about play-testing with game designers than you will even with avid board gamers. Designers notice totally different things and it’s a good experience to have.

 

3. Order a professional physical prototype of one of your board games.

Whether you’re making a board game for the first time in 2018 or you’re digging up an old prototype and polishing it to perfection, don’t underestimate sheer ecstasy of being able to hold your actual, physical, printed game. It’s a rush and websites like The Game Crafter and Board Games Maker make it very accessible.

 

4. Experiment with a theme or mechanics you’ve never used.

If you’re a more veteran board game designer, why not push yourself by trying something you’ve not tried before? If you’ve made light games, make a heavy game. If you’ve made heavy games, make a light game. If you’ve made board games, make a card game. Experimenting helps you grow your skills and it shows you new things that you might like!

 

5. Buy some board game art, even if it’s just one piece.

Similar to ordering a professional physical prototype, getting a talented artist to do a little work for your game can be a major motivator to keep going. My first game, War Co., truly became alive when I got the first art from James Masino.

 

6. Learn how to make more accessible board games.

“Accessible” is a loaded word in board gaming, but the basic concepts are simple: make games for as many people as you can. Try reading some articles on Meeple Like Us – they’re very informative and Dr. Michael Heron writes what could very easily be a dry academic subject with compelling intelligence and humor.

 

7. Launch a Kickstarter campaign.

This isn’t right for everyone, but Kickstarter can really help you start a business if you use it right. It’s a great way of gaining visibility, setting yourself up for long-term success, and – hello – earning money, too!

 

8. Get featured on a podcast or a blog.

One of the smartest things you can do in any business, especially the board game business, is make friends. Content creators such as podcasters and bloggers often enjoy working with guests. It’s mutually beneficial and it gets your name out there.

 

9. Build up one or more social media accounts on a site such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

You can read more about that in my article here: Setting Up Social Media as a Board Game Dev: A Primer Course.

 

10. Learn how to use Board Game Geek.

Board Game Geek is a thriving, lively community that neatly captures the general ethos of board gaming as a whole. It’s a great site to learn from, meet people, and promote your work. It’s also incredibly complex as a community and it takes some getting used to. The year 2018 is a good time to get started!

 

11. Learn how to use Reddit.

Much like Board Game Geek, Reddit is a complex community that takes some getting used to. There are some really good subreddits for board games such as /r/boardgames and /r/tabletopgamedesign. Might be good to look into next year!

 

12. Go to a board gaming convention.

While they are expensive and often require substantial time off from work, conventions can be a lot of fun. It’s worth going to one just for the experience, and if you’re really dedicated, it can be a fantastic networking event as well.

 

13. Launch a blog about board gaming.

I’m a fan of this one, though many would never be able to tell.

 

14. Build an email list.

Every product launch requires building an audience. That requires getting their attention, piquing their interest, and – as many people forget – giving them a place to go. Email lists are a very powerful tool for growing a small business, and Mailchimp lets you get your first 2,000 subscribers for free.

 

15. Start a Facebook group.

Facebook is, and has been, the biggest social media network for a long time. It’s not the trendiest, but the juggernaut of online connection. Groups are a great way of gathering like-minded individuals into one place to chat.

 

16. Learn how to sell.

Sales is a good skill to pick up for any industry. You can read more about it in my article A Crash Course on Selling Board Games.

 

17. Get one retailer to carry your game.

If you’ve got a game published but you sell it directly to customers, it can be a major moral victory to get your game carried in a single store. It doesn’t have to be Walmart or Target. Just try calling 10 or 15 stores within a couple of hours of you. See if they’ll buy five copies. This is actually a big part of my Byways outreach plan for Q1 2018, experimental though it may be for me.

 

18. Learn how to use advertising.

Advertising gets a bad rap, but it’s still one of the best ways to get eyeballs on your project. Learn how it works. I recommend using Facebook Ads and Google Ad Words to get started. Even if you fail, the insights you gain might tell you something about your audience.

 

That’s all I’ve got for you 🙂

I hope this gives you some good ideas. I want to see you win, and sometimes all you need is a goal.

Happy New Year!

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Highways & Byways is pretty much done. The play-testing I’ve done over the holidays has shown no major issues.
  • I hope to print review copies this week and start talking to reviewers while they’re being manufactured and shipped to me.

How to Test Your Storytelling Powers & Make People Connect with Your Board Games

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Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the eighth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

This suite is based on the Five Levels of Communication through Game Development, my own personal board game development philosophy. However, I’ve brought in Dylan Cromwell, the lead designer of Seize the Bean so that you can get two viewpoints instead of just one.

 

 

Just like last week’s article, we’re going to focus on what I call internal narrative. It is true that games speak to players through gameplay – the core engine, mechanics, and rules. However, when people think of storytelling in games, they think of theme, story, art, components, and even box design. The internal narrative covers everything about the game itself as a complete product minus the gameplay. That’s what we’re talking about today.

This guide comes in five parts:

  1. How do we play-test our storytelling?
  2. How do we make stories that resonate?
  3. How do we make art match the story?
  4. How do we make the physical experience match the story?
  5. Parting advice

 

How do we play-test our storytelling?

 

Brandon: We spoke a lot last week about how to tell stories in board games.

Brandon: One thing we agreed upon was the necessity of making sure gameplay and storytelling fit together perfectly.

Brandon: This is true even for games that aren’t considered thematic since even abstract games like chess have an intrinsic story to them.

Brandon: How do we play-test our board games to make sure our stories and our gameplay match each other?

Dylan: Wow, that’s a pretty intense question because there are certainly a lot of “right” answers. We could cover a whole series of articles just on the topic of proper and productive play-testing. I think one angle – epecially true for asymmetrical characters or seemingly unbalanced strategies, as is the case with Seize the Bean – is making sure you’re aware of at least a few of the player paths you expect or want to exist in the game.

Dylan: For example, the hipster customers in Seize the Bean have a simple, understandable mechanic that is directly tied to the theme and story: they make you raise your hype. Not allow you to, but make you. That means you’re drawing more customers into your line. This pushes the boundaries of what you can handle, resource-wise. So when it comes to the over-hyped café in real life that can’t handle the sudden explosion of business, you get that feeling in Seize the Bean if a player tries to go only for hipsters. Making sure this is working, though, requires myself and my co-designer, Andy Couch (as well as our game developers, Joder, Remigi, and Ninja), to actually implement that strategy during our weekly play-testing. We don’t look for every possible strategy. That’s not possible and it’s not our focus, but we do tackle the ones that make up the heart of the game.

 

 

Dylan: There are two other things which definitely take us into the realm of “basics of play-testing process,” but I think they are important to mention, especially when trying to convey thick theme and rich story.

Dylan: Those are accessibility and graphic design.

Dylan: We had to get text sizing right. Colors were backed up by easily identifiable symbols to make sure that all players could clearly see the information on the cards. The amount of people we’ve tested with who are color-blind or have sight issues definitely did not fit the statistic we’ve heard from manufacturers. If we didn’t make things accessible, they wouldn’t get to be immersed in the story as much.

Dylan: The second aspect is the general graphic design, especially when it comes to card effects or other mechanical symbols. We made the huge mistake of taking very verbose iconography to SPIEL17. We hoped people would “decode” the symbols themselves but actually everyone needed to have an explanation or look them up on a cheat sheet. If that’s the case, all of those 4 or 5 symbol strings can be reduced to a single symbol.

Dylan: This was massive because visual learners were totally shut out of the whole concept of upgrading their café with decorations since the verbal explanation went in one ear and out the other. It was made even worse because the cards were basically like hieroglyphics to them. They missed the benefit of doing so completely and therefore ignored this aspect of the game, eliminating this part of the story and experience for themselves.

Dylan: In summary: test a variety of strategies. Those are the stories your players will create. Test the accessibility because otherwise players can’t play those stories out. Test the graphics because otherwise players won’t play all parts of the game to discover those stories.

Brandon: A lot of the time you just have to test and test and test to make sure your mechanics and theme match up. You can then either change the theme or change the mechanics depending on what direction you’re going in. You can’t pursue everything – you and the team are wise to recognize that!

Brandon: Absolutely right that accessibility plays a huge role in making sure the story comes across. Failure to achieve a baseline level of accessibility can easily stop a story from resonating.

Brandon: Speaking of which…

 

How do we make stories that resonate?

 

Brandon: How do we make stories that resonate with others? I’m not just talking about making theme and mechanics consistent, I’m talking about making memorable stories.

Dylan: This is a great question and really applies to Seize the Bean. Not only does it claim to be about coffee, but it claims to be about Berlin, which is a pretty specific city. We ran into this early on: how will we make the theme and story universally relate-able enough that even people who don’t know Berlin can get into it?

Dylan: What we discovered was that it helps to find an overlap between your specific, unique story details and those that are more universally known. My previous example about hipsters is quite useful and another one would be tourists. Almost everyone can relate to a comical loathing of tourists, even though we’re all often tourists ourselves. The idea that serving a tourist in your shop might make other customers impatient and therefore leave or give you a bad review is pretty universally relate-able.

Dylan: Earlier on, we had our different customer groups bound to certain districts (neighborhoods) of Berlin. While this was super thematic it not only restricted our design massively, but it also ejected players who didn’t know those districts (and even some who did, when they did not agree with our categorization, such as loads of hipsters in Kreuzberg and loads of rebels in Friedrichshain). Once we removed the districts we had less design restriction and a much more accessible story for all players, not just those that know Berlin. For players who missed the districts we even found a way to include them, but I’ll let that be a surprise.

Dylan: Beyond making sure that your story is as universally relatable as possible, it’s also important to make it very unique. That’s the best way for it to be memorable. I think we’re all pretty tired of zombie games (except maybe Rahdo!), so another game about the rise of the dead is probably not going to be as memorable as a game about talking cabbages who are looking for apartments to rent. We discovered this early on with Seize the Bean, actually much to our surprise, that there weren’t that many games about coffee and especially not that many about running a café. This has helped the story of the game be more memorable as well, that it’s unique and doesn’t feel like a clone of another game.

Brandon: It’s a wise choice to focus on feelings and universal experiences instead of Berliner in-jokes.

Brandon: Similarly, I’m also making a game based on a specific location. I’ve had to strip Americana to its core feelings so I don’t alienate others. That means there’s no reliance on state names, an understanding of the country’s geography, or anything like that required to play. Likewise, I stuck to things just about everything can agree on: road trips are cool and we have nice scenery. All the other American in-jokes got the boot, now referenced only in low-key flavor text for those who pay attention.

 

 

Brandon: A good rule of thumb to make sure your stories work (whether or not you work on a game based on a particular region of the world)…

Brandon: Test with people around the world. If your basic messages work in America, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, China, and Japan, then you’ve probably made a story that is essentially human and not cultural in origin.

Brandon: (Testing through Tabletop Simulator makes this all a lot easier, by the way.)

 

How do we make art match the story?

 

Brandon: Before you ask for art and when you’re reviewing your artist’s work, how do you make sure your art supports the stories you’re trying to tell?

Dylan: Before you even ask for art, I think you need a discussion (internally with yourself or with your team if you have one) about what the art should convey; not literally, but what feeling, what mood. A lot of artists call the initial creation of this a type of assessment a “mood board.” It’s not that you have to visually make one, but get a sense of what would best represent your story. As I’ve said, Seize the Bean is meant to poke fun (respectfully) at all the wild diversity of Berlin, so having a cartoony, comical style would fit. Your game might need a more photo-realistic, painterly style, or even like War Co., a sci-fi, 3D style. Whatever it may be, nail that down and then go artist hunting.

Dylan: Once you find an artist (or a few), then it’s important to properly brief them about your work. We’ve learned this the hard way with Seize the Bean. Even though our artist, Mario Fernández García-Pulgar, has been a complete angel through all of our changes, we’ve definitely requested much more work of him than we needed to, due to asking for artwork far too early. This is a common mistake by first-time creators.

Dylan: When timing is right and your game is play-testing well and you’ve got your artist and they’ve seen your awesomely clear briefs, then reviewing their work makes sense. What I’ve found is that artists need space, but also benefit from a gentle nudge to challenge them a bit in how far they can take an idea. When I asked Mario for good and bad review tokens I simply had a thumbs up or thumbs down icon in mind. What he returned to me was brilliant: full on little comments from fake people!

 

 

Brandon: I’d recommend waiting until you have a working game and then picking an artist who you either a) know personally or b) whose portfolio fits your needs perfectly.

Dylan: This is great point, Brandon: having an existing relationship with the artist (actually, anyone on your team) is really helpful, especially if you plan to work remotely. For us, it was great for us because I had actually worked with Mario before on previous projects. And I already knew how he worked so we had a lot of trust. Trust is important because you should guide your artists but not control them. Listen closely when they aren’t feeling like an idea or direction is going to work. After all, that’s why you’ve hired them: for their expertise and creative vision.

Brandon: Artists love creative freedom. You give them flexible specs and watch them have fun. Correct a little as needed. I’ve seen great results by doing this.

Dylan: I always like to say it’s good to “let others surprise you” but great to “let them surprise themselves”.

Brandon: And yes, yes, yes, please listen to their feedback on visuals. That’s part of the benefit of hiring an artist. And this is so critical art is not only super important to feeling and storytelling, but it’s also a powerful marketing tool anyone can use.

Brandon: War Co. got sold on its art. Byways will probably be the same.

Dylan: Seize the Bean too, by far! And likely our next project for 2018, Towers of the Sun. All three of the artists on those two projects are just amazing. We’re very thankful to be working with them!

 

How do we make the physical experience match the story?

 

Brandon: So let’s say you have a great story that matches your gameplay. Let’s say you have great art, too. A lot of solid games nail these aspects but slip up on components.

Brandon: How do you make sure your storytelling works physically and not just visually or mentally?

Dylan: Honestly, that’s been the hardest and at the same time, the easiest part of Seize the Bean.

Dylan: Earlier versions were already wrapped in the idea of shop upgrades, coffee blends and various customers; those elements have always been there. But what I refer to as the game scope (whether or not you serve individual customers or a whole pile as a unit, whether you can have more than one shop, whether there is a big city map or a small image of a single café, etc) was unclear. While testing various game scopes and finally settling on the one we have, we noticed that 3D beans were awesome to play with but a pain to count in large quantities.

Dylan: Typically our scope didn’t require pay-out of beans in large quantities but it did often involve the initial purchase of them in large quantities. Therefore the physical, semi-dexterous mechanic (and component) of the scoop was born. As fun and silly as it feels playing with it, it solved a lot of serious physical issues early on. So in this sense, my business partner and fellow game developer, Josh Wilson (who was the one that dreamed up the idea of the scoop), identified the problem (too many things to physically count) and created a solution. The beauty here is the things (the beans) helped tell the story so removing them wasn’t ideal, and the solution he dreamed up also helped further tell the story so this was a win-win situation.

Dylan: Why do I say it was the hardest and the easiest? Well, adding in 3D components like beans and milk cartons and even our super realistic sugar cubes is easy. It’s also hard though because now that we’re going to Kickstarter on January 16th we’ll really require a critical mass of backers in order to fund those premium components. If not, we’ll need to find the best way to manufacture them more affordably, say with tokens. This won’t cripple the theme or story but it certainly won’t help tell it as richly. So that’s the danger of specialty components. Whenever you can, as creator, find a way to use economically sound components, you should.

Dylan: Another interesting physical bit of our process was card size.

Dylan: We wanted to get the feeling that a whole city of choices (customers, decorations and products) were out there on the table, but we didn’t want the players to need a huge ballroom table just to play.

Dylan: Therefore we actually looked to Feudalia for inspiration, and have been testing a 75x50mm card size that’s surprisingly worked out quite well for us.

Dylan: That’s something else to consider often; how can you modify the shape, size or other features of your components to better deliver your story? For us it was simple: get as much out on the table as we can, hah!

Brandon: It sounds like you’ve touched on the most important thing.

Brandon: Physical accessibility comes first. No matter how pretty it is, you have to make the game functional before anything else. Easy to use, easy to see, easy to count. Fail at any of these and your story gets lost in the shuffle.

Brandon: When you can add stylish stuff like beans, milk cartons, and sugar cubes without running up the manufacture price or losing accessibility, by all means, do it.

 

 

Brandon: The way you use parts is a lot more important than the parts you use. That’s why so many games are still using plain old plastic cubes, punch-out tokens, and so on. It works and it doesn’t hurt the gameplay experience.

Brandon: I will say, though: component upgrades make fantastic Kickstarter stretch goals.

 

Parting advice

 

Brandon: Okay, last question.

Brandon: If you go back to when you started in game design and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dylan: There’s too many, why only one!? Hahaha…

Dylan: …but I think above all: don’t forget to have fun.

Dylan: That’s why we’re all in this, after all, isn’t it?

Dylan: I would let my past self know it’s gonna be a long journey: no matter how well you play-test, how perfectly timed your art briefs hit the artist’s desk, how costly your bits and pieces are, how big and friendly your fanbase grows to be…you’re in for a looong ride, so enjoy it. Do whatever you gotta do to make it something you love every step of the way.

Dylan: That, and maayyyybe drink a little bit less coffee.

Brandon: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Brandon: As a coffee fan, I can’t back you on drinking less coffee, though.

Brandon: Thank you very much, I look forward to sharing this!

Dylan: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me on-board the Brandon Game Dev express! It was a pleasure to chat about War Co., Highways & Byways, and Seize the Bean!

 


 

Telling stories is one of the most essentially human instincts. Whether or not we mean to, we tell stories through games. It’s best to embrace storytelling no matter how thematic your game is and perfect its tone. Through art, physical components, and clever use of language, board games can transcend their parts and become rich experiences.

In next week’s article, I’ll be bringing a special guest to talk about bringing everything together for your board game project – mechanics, rules, stories, and business. What does a board game look like when everything finally comes together?

For now, please leave your questions and comments about storytelling in games below 🙂