I’m making a board game, and I run this blog, so I thought I could combine the two to write this blog post about making a board game.
I don’t know why I thought making a board game would be a good idea, but it seemed the most do-able project in my project lineup, aside from what I was already doing. In hindsight, this might not have been the case, but I think that making a board game might be one of the more rewarding things I’ll be doing for a bit, because it has immediate and highly tangible results. I like being near the end of a project and looking over the things I made and saying “Yes, I made these”. (Which, with the smallest number of games being 1000, might put me in a little over my head, but that’s a good thing.)
I’d say I started about a year and half ago. I’d graduated from high school two years early, and no longer had a chess partner (one of the few benefits of my forced interaction with people my age) and I wasn’t planning to go to college for a while. So I was just looking online a lot and drawing a bunch of comics, which I still consider my primary occupation. I had gotten on the fringes of the board game world when I had been looking up chess variants and other abstract strategy games (which I still love but getting only one other person to play them is kinda awkward). I decided to dive full into board games and got some of the most recommended beginner games (Pandemic) and some not so recommended games (Diplomacy). Quickly I discovered that while I was thinking about board games a lot, I didn’t have much time to play them. (My poker group was still a poker group and not the mini-gaming-group it is today. So I made up a bunch of designs for board games. The first was one I made for my mother’s birthday, which will show up later. But the main one was a historical game inspired by the Roman Empire. I had been learning quite a lot about the Romans (another hobby), and really wanted a game that captured the feeling of a late republican setting, which I found to my dismay during research was not available, at least how I wanted it.
So in the summer of 2013 I quickly made a prototype of my Roman game (Original code name) which at the time was really just cobbled together from other games that I’d played (Battlestar Galactica, Pandemic, Risk), seen (Eight Minute Empire, Cosmic Encounter), or had an idea of making (The board specifically was cannibalized from a Roman conquest game I still have plans for, although the boards are now quite different and will only get more so with development). I played it a few times with my family and friends, to which to response was a general “meh”. But I took “meh” on a first time prototype (a seriously bad one filled with inconstancies, spelling errors, and having almost no artwork for a very thematic game) by a guy who had absolutely no idea what he was doing as a sign that I had something good to work with here.
So I spent the next few months working on the game on and off. I had to stop several times because of important dates in my not-at-all lucrative comics business, and I tried building websites with no advertising plan in a small town. I heavily refined the game’s mechanics (mechanisms for snobs), wrote down actual rules, moved into a workable office space, made a good-looking board, and was just about to make better looking cards in January. I declared that I would playtest the game and have a Kickstarter launched by the end of February. My body’s immediate response to that plan was a month’s worth of migraines. At the middle of March I barely had the artwork done, so I decided to just order a prototype and see what information I could dig up. I did get to re-introduce the game to my friends, whose response went from “meh” to “man this is really cool!”. Unfortunately after that I got hit with a very bad cold and didn’t do my research (i.e. Why there isn’t a preview of my game by some well-watched game reviewers, etc.). But I did get a wonderful prototype at the end of it. Which I made a video about.
I went with the Game Crafter (www.thegamecrafter.com) to make my prototype for several reasons. The first and foremost is that it is very well known, and generally the most well-known producers make the most money and can afford to have the little touches it takes to make a high-quality product. Also, I considered the possibility of the planned Kickstarter failing, and me simply publishing the game through the already-uploaded files on the Game Crafter website, a proposition that seems less and less attractive, but might end up being the case if things go particularly badly. For these two reasons that are highly intertwined, I used the Game Crafter and only took a tiny glance at other platforms I could use for prototyping. I think, though, with the quality of components I got that I made the right decision.
I got several copies of the game, one of which is still wrapped and one is currently with me, being played by friends who now really like the game (of course it has negotiation elements, which can leave a sour taste in people’s mouths if played too much or in too long a game). I also got some other people to play-test it, to which to response was (and from my friends as well) “this is good, but the rules need some work”, which is what that phase of the process is for, so I can’t say it was a failure.
With this little bit of information in hand I dove in to the “Looking for a Manufacturer” phase which will be covered in the next post. I know I didn’t cover everything there is to cover here and I hope to cover some of the details more in-depth in later posts. If there is any particular part of the process you’d like to know about please leave a comment and I’ll move that closer to the top of my “to get done” list.