Friday, June 16

Board Game Design and Publishing: 1

Part of the raison d'ĂȘtre of this blog is to recount my experiences of designing and publishing board games. However, the content has been sadly light on this front recently, so I'm going to try to remedy that over the next few weeks with a series of posts recounting the recent history of Border Reivers. They will be interspersed with other posts, but hopefully will form a fairly coherent history of the project.

I'll start this series off with a longer term history to get things up to speed, and then in the next installment start the recent history which is almost entirely to do with self-publishing rather than design.

Border Reivers was conceived during my Christmas holidays in 2002. As I've said before, I had recently played a game of Mighty Empires that had lasted 36 hours without getting anywhere. I liked the concept of the game (fantasy empire-building) I just didn't have whole weekends free to play games like that. For many years I had been developing bits of computer games in my spare time but I was getting frustrated by the amount of effort required to finish a computer game (professional ones take teams of tens of people a couple of years to complete). So I thought I'd try to create a board game for a change.

It carried with it the exciting (but at that point unlikely and remote) chance I might actually finish a project I had started, since it is definitely possible to design a board game by yourself - the vast majority are one person jobs. I'll not go into too much detail about the design effort as it was two years ago now and I've forgotten much of the detail. More on that when I get back to designing my second effort Codename: Dollyo after Border Reivers is out of the door.

Initially I had a concept (which is essentially still in the game) and I started playing the game against myself just scribbling the board onto a sheet of paper, using pieces from Settlers and Carcassonne. I also use coins and glass beads in the early stages. Once the balance of the early elements was sorted out (i.e. it wasn't completely broken) I started inflicting it on my friends and family. I got loads of really good feedback in those early stages which led me to simplify things a great deal, and add the cards (after a suggestion from The Wife). I'm definitely from the start complex and simplify school of board design.

As things started to settle down, and I got a feeling for what was working and what wasn't, the game continued to evolve. During this phase I created several versions of the cards (using Microsoft Publisher and a local printing shop) which I cut out with craft knife and cutting mat, and the prototype army, town, city, tower, castle and mountain range pieces which I sculpted from FIMO. The towns and cities were discs made by rolling the FIMO out flat and then cutting round 2p and 1p coins, the others were little sculptures. At this stage I was interested in making an attractive and interesting prototype to play while I solidified the rules - I had no consideration of minimising production costs. I also went through several incarnations of the tiles, initially badly painted foamboard, working up towards the pencil crayoned thick card ones I'm using at the minute, which are also laminated for reducing wear and tear. During this phase the rules were mostly in my head, with a few notes scribbled down in a notebook.

Once the design was nearly finished I started considering reducing the production costs, as I was looking into getting a few copies made for friends. I replaced four small decks of cards in the players' colours with a single deck, I reduced the number of pieces and tiles the game contained and generally looked to economise. By designing the tiles as double-sided I'd already made things difficult for myself, and over the last few years I have often considered various ways to make the tiles cheaper - but sadly I keep coming back to the double-sided version. I also wrote the rules up in a little booklet, again using Microsoft Publisher.

Once I considered Border Reivers complete, I stopped pushing my friends to play it with me, and I moved on to other things. Border Reivers got shelved, I started designing Dollyo and a couple of other games, and then moved away from my gaming chums. Recently, I decided to go for it again with Border Reivers and at that point I started looking into publishing it myself.

Why not tout it to real publishers and try to get it published professionally? I guess, as much as anything, I relish the challenge of getting the game published as cheaply as possible while maintaining what I consider to be an acceptable quality. I look forward to seeing not only my name in print, but a game that I made in every sense of the word. I look forward to introducing it personally to other gamers, getting their feedback and hopefully selling enough to cover my costs. But mainly I guess it's just down to needing an obsessive hobby :-)

Since the renewed effort on Border Reivers I have made only very small changes (re-tooling the rules on a couple of cards after realising they were pointless!), but other than that the rules are now finished. Before I do the final print run I need to do some blind playtesting where I give the game and rules to some people who've not played it before to see how clear the rules are and to get some last minute feedback on the game as it stands. It'll not be too late to make some slight changes to the rules at that point - hopefully that's all it will need.

The next installment will discuss how I started to go about publishing the game.

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