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Designer Diary: Wanted: Rich or Dead

BoardgameNews - 5 horas 39 minutos atrás

by Dariusz Kułak

Hello! My name is Dariusz Kułak, and I am the designer of Wanted: Rich or Dead, a Western-themed party game scheduled to debut from Galakta at SPIEL '17. I wish to tell you a little about my newest game and how I created it.

Actually, despite being a quick and easy game, Wanted: Rich or Dead (as it came to be known) took a long time to design. Its first version left my drawer over four years ago in 2013! Considering that people like Uwe Rosenberg manage to create, say, A Feast for Odin — a game the size of a giant — in half that time or less, I guess I should be ashamed of myself.

Anyway, the first version of the game was called "Acreage", and it was supposed to be a rather simple strategic game of Small World weight. Different races controlled by players would fight for resources, land, and food. The thing that would make this title stand out was its theme: birds, with tomtits that specialized in quick food collection, combat-oriented grackles, and the sparrows who are builders extraordinaire. Most of the mechanisms were based on action cards being played simultaneously and used to create paths to resources, build nests and storages, or expand to new territories. However, a hexagonal board and units with unique statistics resulted in many similarities with Neuroshima Hex!, and in the end I stopped on an early-prototype level.




Some time later, one of the Polish game publishers proposed that I create a strategic game that would consist of only 55 cards. Although it seemed like a tough task, I returned to the idea of "Acreage" and started making serious cuts. After some time, I was left with a number of areas presented on cards, simultaneous actions, and a deck of items providing certain bonuses.

I also created a more sophisticated background to strengthen the theme; the game was still about birds, but they turned into bird gangs trying to prepare for the coming winter by gathering sunflower seeds. Each bird species became a different organized crime group such as Yakuza or Cosa Nostra. I even drew my own art so that playtesters would be immersed even deeper in this brutal world of bird-eat-bird. (Plus, it's quite hard to find gangster bird artwork...) In this way, "In Your beak!" (more commonly known as "Birdies") was born.





In "Birdies", each player controlled one of five different bird gangs. Five areas were placed on the table, and players simultaneously played one of six action cards to move their pawn to a certain area. If a player was alone, they got their resources. Otherwise, a quarrel had to be settled. It can't be simpler than that, right?

The things that people liked were very quick gameplay, practically no downtime, and a light, amusing theme. One of the unique mechanisms was based on the birds getting "fat" with sunflower seeds; the more a player had, the weaker they became, which is the opposite of a snowball effect. By doing this, players who were short on victory points at the beginning could quickly catch up with the leaders. Effectively, this led to an exciting game finale as everyone had a strong chance to win. The playtesters liked it very much, and I knew the development was going well. At some point I even added a neutral bird, a kind of a swallow "Robin Hood" controlled by the poorest player. That bird could steal seeds from rich birds to give them to the poor, which resulted in even more balance.




Lots of playtesting later, "Birdies" was ready for production. However, at that point serious problems with my publisher started. Not to dwell on the past, but the company that ordered the game chose not to produce it after all, so I had to look for a publisher the usual way — by sending the game wherever I could.

At some point, another company (which also refused to cooperate with me on this project) stated that the bird theme is too narrow and the target group too small and I couldn't hope to publish the game with anyone until I changed it. I had to consider some other ideas for the setting, and after giving it some thought I chose to go for the Old West.

I did not have to change much, to be frank: seeds were replaced by cash, birds with gunslingers… The original mechanisms were perfect for accommodating a game about robbers! But I did not feel like it would be enough, so I changed the statistics to introduce a four-sided die. What's more, instead of using the same set of action cards for all players, I made each player deck unique. As a result, each bandit had a unique feel and strategy. Additionally, I removed the "Robin Hood" part and exchanged "getting fat" with "getting burdened by cash". Then I prepared a nice-looking prototype and got to playtesting. That is how Wanted was created.





The playtesters immediately got to like the game. Some of them even compared it to a better and less random BANG!, which is a great review to hear considering that both games have the same setting and BANG! is a worldwide bestseller.

Anyway, because of the changes, I had to balance the game yet once again hoping that some publishing opportunity would present itself so that my toil would not be wasted. It seems I must have drawn a lucky hand then as Galakta announced its yearly prototype competition. A few weeks later, I was ready to send Wanted to them along with all necessary materials…suddenly realizing that I was meeting the deadline with only one day to spare! I got lucky again as maybe three weeks later I got a call from their lead developer asking for a meeting. I felt that something big was coming! By the way, I won the competition in my category, which tells something.




The meeting was more than fruitful. Aside from some minor changes, we reached a conclusion that the very unintuitive D4 die should be changed to a D3 (which meant more balancing and tackling numbers), then we were ready to send the game to a wider group. The game was scheduled for the 2017 SPIEL game fair in Essen, which meant we had about half a year left to work with it.

While I was perfecting the game, Galakta was working on game components. It came as a great surprise that the game originally based on 55 cards swelled to much bigger dimensions. First, the great comic book artist Rafał Szłapa was hired to prepare the front cover and the characters. Michał Lechowski was responsible for items and the general layout, and together they created a really impressive piece of work. Second, the game attained its 3D aspect with thick cardboard buildings and stagecoach tiles. Finally, the dice were custom made to feature bullets and resemble in color real dice used in the Wild West, while the pawns actually started to look like cowboys!

With some cards left on the printing sheet thanks to various changes, I could design a mini-expansion with a completely new building and action cards. The final touch was the title — Wanted: Rich or Dead — and a short background story to make the characters more believable, then we were ready to go.





As you can see, my game has undergone lots of changes, both its rules and its graphic design. I am more than satisfied with the final result, and I am already thinking of some bigger expansion, perhaps adding new players, new characters, new buildings… Just get the game and experience for yourself how much fun it brings. I hope you will have as much good time playing as I had designing. Visit Galakta's stand during SPIEL '17 at 2:B130 to check it out!

Dariusz Kułak
Categorias: Notícias

SPIEL '17 Preview: Cuckooo!, or A Blackjack to the Head

BoardgameNews - Sexta, 20/10/2017 - 19:00

by W. Eric Martin

Every day with every play I relearn the folly of thinking that you can play a game once and understand how it works, especially when you make small rule errors that destroy the effect the designer intended to create. Even if you manage to avoid making such errors in the first place, the second play is almost always better than the first simply because you start the game already embedded in the experience.

The latest game to retransmit this lesson is Cuckooo! from József Dorsonczky and Mind Fitness Games, a card game that will debut at SPIEL '17. I've loved Dorsonczky's Six Making and Hack Trick, both two-player-only games that reward heady thinking and outreading your opponent.

Cuckooo! is for 3-5 players, and your goal each round is to come as close to 21 as you can without going over that total — but don't mistake this game for a Blackjack variant as the two games share only that magic number and nothing more. Each round, you'll sum the numbers on one of the two owl cards in front of you, 0-2 sparrow cards that you play from your hand, and possibly a cuckoo tile that you were forced to take from the table. That cuckoo is your nemesis, but if you literally play your cards right, sometimes the cuckoo can turn out to be your savior.

The game uses a unique deck seven-color deck in which one color has sparrow cards numbered 1-8, another 2-8, another 3-8, and so on up to the seventh color with cards 7 and 8. With four players, you strip out the 8s, and with three you also remove the 7s; this ensures that you deal the cards at the start of the round, each player has exactly seven cards, and you know all the sparrow cards in play. You also start with two randomly dealt owl cards, with these going from 7 to 18. A number of cuckoo tiles equal to the number of players are revealed at random, with these tiles being numbered 1-6.

After looking over your hand, you pass three cards of your choice to the player on your right and collect three cards passed to you. What will you want to pass? You'll have no idea until you've played a few rounds, so just roll with it and learn as you go.

Whoever has the highest card in the longest suit places this card in a discard row, then the player to their left takes the first turn, and on your turn you can:

• Discard a sparrow face down in front of you as part of our flock; you can have at most two sparrows in your flock.

• Discard a sparrow card to the discard row as long as it matches the number or color of the most recently discarded card in this row.

• Discard your entire hand, but only if you cannot discard a card into the discard row; place these cards face up by the cuckoo tiles, then add the highest-valued cuckoo tile to your flock.


Components

Once only one player has cards in hand, this player takes one final action, then everyone reveals their hidden sparrows, discards one of their owls, and sums the value of their flock. Why does this matter? Because you then reveal the topmost card of the magpie deck, an eight-card deck in which cards numbered 17-20 appear twice. If you fail to sum higher than the magpie, then you're out of the round and score nothing; sum higher than 21 and you also get the boot. But if you beat the magpie without going over 21, then you get a share of the magpie's loot, which is 5-7 silver coins depending on the number of players. Anyone who hit 21 exactly gets a special gold coin in addition to some (or all) of the loot.

You then reshuffle the sparrow cards and play three more rounds, with each player drafting a new owl before the round begins. After four rounds, anyone who has collected four gold coins — i.e., hit 21 each time — wins the game immediately. If no one has, then you convert gold coins to silver, and whoever has the highest total wins.

Like Dorsonczky's other designs, gameplay in Cuckooo! is easy to understand, but having some idea of what to do is not. You want to pass cards to your right-hand neighbor that might help you discard cards to the central row so that you can avoid taking a cuckoo, or maybe you want to void your hand of a color so that you can't play and can instead grab a cuckoo, or you want to do a little of both to leave yourself options. I've played only twice on a review copy sent by Mind Fitness Games, both times with three players, so I have no idea for sure right now. Your choices will depend on the cards you hold, the owls in front of you, and the cuckoos — in other words, on everything that's present in the game. Take the entirety of the game, evaluate it, then do the right thing. Good luck!


Artwork on the seven suits

One small error on my part nearly destroyed the game. I missed initially that you had to take the highest-valued cuckoo tile when you discarded your hand, so in the first two rounds of our initial game, we were placing down lots of sparrows, then discarding and grabbing the cuckoo tile we wanted, the one that would boost us to 21. Easy-peasy, but also wrong. (I also overlooked the last player rule, giving them the opportunity to play as they wished, which again made things far too easy.)

Once we started playing with the correct rule — a teensy change from what I initially thought was correct — the game improved a hundredfold and all three of us were tense throughout the round. Suddenly you had to balance all of your plays. Which cuckoo will you collect, if you collect one at all? Which owl will you use? Which sparrows in hand might combine with which cuckoos and which owls to get you to the magic total of 21?

Every time you commit a sparrow to your flock, you're boosting your sum on a one-way path, possibly cutting off future discard possibilities since you have only seven cards in hand, which means you're voiding colors and numbers fairly quickly. You want to time the plays so that you can pocket the sparrows you need and grab the cuckoo you want, but you can't discard your hand if you have discardable cards in it, so what did you give the RHO? Which cards have they played, and which do they still have in hand — except they might have played one to their own flock, which means you can't rely on them to play that pink 3 so that you can discard the pink 4 and stay in the round longer to grab the lower-valued cuckoo since you have owls 16 and 18, so now what?!


Optional action tokens

In our second game, which started immediately after the first, we made smarter plays, paying more attention to which numbers are present in each suit so that you can try to finesse your hand exactly as you need, so that you can discard in the central row and try to influence what others do so that you can hit the next play you want to make. Such plans didn't always pan out, but we now knew the game enough to attempt such things, which is a plus.

We also used the optional action tokens in this second game. When you draft an owl, you take a token as well, and these give you options such as picking up cards passed to you before deciding what you'll pass, or swapping two owls (ideally to stick others with high numbers as those seem to give you little leeway), or looking at magpies to see the target number for the next two rounds. These small tweaks don't make a huge difference in the gameplay, which is all about the challenge you face when you stare at those cards and wonder what you're going to do this time...


Your turn — do something
Categorias: Notícias

Churchill Review by Katie’s Game Corner

ConsimWorld - Sexta, 20/10/2017 - 13:31
Categorias: Notícias

Designer Diary: Space Freaks

BoardgameNews - Sexta, 20/10/2017 - 13:00

by max wikstrom

My name is Max Wikström, and apart from being a game designer in the Toadkings company, for my day job I work as a freelance set- and lighting-designer for the theater. I've found that the creative processes involved in both jobs complement each other.

As a player, I have enjoyed a wide variety of games from Stratego to Diplomacy, from Chess to M:TG. One of my big favorites was Diplomacy, with which I competed in the European Championships during the mid-1990s. I also have a thirty-year history of active game mastering with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (with modified first version rules). I have had the same group of players since the late 1980s.

My latest game is called Space Freaks, and it will be published in Q4 2017 by Lautapelit.fi and Stronghold Games. It is a 2-4 player tactical combat/skirmish-style board game with a strong sci-fi theme mixed with absurdist humor. Thematically, it might be something like the lovechild of Monty Python and Judge Dredd. One game takes around 60-90 minutes of intensive, fast-moving combat.

Space Freaks is a game with lots of possibilities and a huge variety of "right" decisions. One of the best things is that you can really feel the presence of your enemy from the beginning to the end. Good timing is also crucial when it comes to activating the special equipment and weapons supplied by your team sponsor.




In Space Freaks, each player becomes a coach for a team sponsored by one of four galactic mega-corporations. You first design the perfect freak and clone it into a 3-Freak team, then lead them into the Arena of Annihilation for six rounds of thrilling battle. When your freaks die — and they will die — new ones spawn again in the arena. The team that scores the most points by completing missions, occupying landing-zones, or destroying enemy freaks and bases wins. The coach of the winning team becomes a celebrity (or even a living legend) throughout the galaxy.

Aside from me, the core team for Space Freaks' design and development has been my fellow Toadkings: Markku Laine (who also brings his skills as a graphic designer), Saku Tuominen, and Kare Jantunen. Harri Tarkka has been responsible for the characterful illustrations.





How It All Started, and How the Idea Metamorphosed During the Process

From the first ideas to the ready product is a long journey. The original idea was sparked as early as 2014. It is a very important part of a designing process to have your head open for changes and be ready to re-create the game after each test session.

I got the idea for a board game in a science-fiction setting that combined tactical combat with paranoia. Each player would have secretly built a team of three units, comprised of combinations of troopers, defenders, mechanics or medics. Each team (working for a galactic mega-corporation) would have been locked into the closed surroundings of a space station, abandoned mine, or starship, with rooms, corridors and other places of interest. The goal of the game would have been to first escape the compound, and there might have been different ways to succeed in that.

MarkkuThe part involving paranoia would have been the threats secretly given to the players. This idea remained a component for quite some time, but ended up becoming the mission cards in the final version. This would have made interaction — e.g., the act of trading favors, support, or healing — with other players the key element of the game building a level of paranoia or fear.

After two months of imagining the basic mechanisms of the game, I ended up re-locating the action to an alien planet with a hexagonal grid system, with each player starting from one corner of the map. This open field concept took the design in the direction toward a tactical combat game.

In early 2015, I asked my good friend and fellow Toadking Markku Laine to act as both game and graphic designer, and together we made the first prototype map of Space Freaks / Arena of Annihilation…


First proto map from early 2015

SakuThe Power of a Collective Process

After building up ideas for the prototype, e.g., the map, player game-pieces, markers, and a long list of ideas for blank cards/tokens, I assembled the design group of Markku, Saku, and Kare to attend the first testing/development meeting in February 2015.

Saku is a fellow Toadking and godfather to my four-year-old son Edvin. Saku and I had enjoyed drawing fearsome monsters together in our primary school days. Later came designing games and playing in each other's role-play groups (which is still on-going today and entering its fourth decade).

Markku is also a long-time friend (and also in Saku's D&D group) and a game/graphic designer for Toadkings. Markku did a great job upgrading the graphics of our prototypes throughout the entire design process.

Kare and I have played all sorts of games together over the years, from Machiavelli to Magic: The Gathering. Kare took care of the early versions of the game rules. He is also a master player in Go (four dan Europe).


Mega-corporation icons

The first meeting was a real, creative success, and by the end of the day, we had settled on the idea of a unit (what would later become a Freak) being built up from different body parts and cloned into a three-unit team. We decided that quest cards (later mission cards) could also be played to an opponent, forcing them to take actions in your favor. (In this early version, you would have accrued movement penalties for having more than three quests undone.) We looked into action cards (later sponsor cards) providing special equipment and extra powers. Planetary cards that changed the conditions for the duration of a game round later became Arena-Master cards.


Planetary card proto, Arena Master card final

At this early stage of development, a player could build walls and turrets to defend their base, which in itself was also a turret. The base could have been destroyed and resulted in the player dropping from the game. A player had five pieces of wall at their disposal, two of which contained hidden explosives and two turrets. The game designing process can be very rewarding when abstract ideas start to take shape and slowly the first playable version emerges.


Early player board and quest cards

At first there was no working title, but I knew that it would end up being sci-fi themed. Because of the emphasis being placed on the amassing of body parts, I felt that the look should utilize absurdist humor, while still being a game of serious, tactical combat in the skirmish-style.

I often think of sci-fi having a heavy and sombre feeling to it with its black and dark-blue backgrounds, austere faces, and massive warships. I like that world, too, but I wanted to do something different.




At this initial stage of a game's design, when everything is still makeshift models and a huge pile of messy notes, the most important thing for me is that I get an intuitive feeling of how the game should play out and feel as a ready product. This driving force is essential if one is to endure the very long and often nerve-wracking process of seeing the project to its conclusion because there is always ten times more work than you could have imagined.

Testing, Testing, Testing…

Throughout 2015 and early 2016, the team met twice per month. The evening usually started off by playing the latest version and making notes. We would then make quick changes to the prototype and play through again with more note-taking. After the meeting, I would take the prototype home and spend many long nights cultivating the next version, with Markku upgrading the graphics in tandem.

I feel that one really important facet of game-design is to develop the prototype continuously along the rest of the work. It is such an integral and vital part of the game because it serves as a user-interface for the player. The continuous updating can also help you to know which elements to discard. Some ideas just can't be realized.
As a designer, you go deep into the mechanisms and begin to form strong opinions as you work through the game in your mind's eye. You begin to know all the details by heart. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to test every detail, and patiently make notes for improvements because conflicts arise when a change clashes with other existing rules.

Here are some of the ideas that didn't make it to the final cut:

• The map included a 10x10 grid that allowed for rolling two ten-sided dice that produced a random location for vehicle parts, droid parts, weapon upgrades, independent alien marauders, planetary events, wormholes, and so on. This was quite fun for a time, but the random effect was too strong.

• Collecting ancient/alien tech-tokens either dropped by destroyed aliens/droids or generated from planetary cards could temporarily upgrade your unit range, damage, or movement. What's more, combining three tokens of the same type allowed for the creation of an ultimate body part for your units. Reducing the amount of components ended up taking priority.




• For a long time there were two different kinds of armor: AF ("armor far") that was used against all damage originating from over "range 3", and AC ("armor close") that was used against all damage "range 1-3". We opted for a simplified "armor" statistic, which in turn resulted in the re-balancing of nearly all body parts.

• The penalty of losing movement for having more than three quest cards tabled was interesting when players could play cards to each other (adding paranoia). Forcing opponents to take actions in chosen directions worked well, but it also created a "kingmaker" problem.

• There were also independent aliens/droids that spawned in random locations, always attacking or moving toward the closest target, but again this proved too chaotic.

• More complex "major" quests were allotted to each player secretly at the start of the game that rewarded 5 victory points when completed. These gave the game an added secrecy (and to some extent an extra tactical layer), but we already had four different types of cards.

Development

One of the hardest things in game design is to find an overall balance between the gameplay and the conditions for winning. I wanted to make a game that could be won through skillful play, wherein the random events create an element of surprise, enlivening the replay value.

During testing, we pondered different ways to score victory points, and eventually we discovered the Landing Zone in the middle of the game board. This is a simple, "king-of-the-castle" mechanism that I haven't seen in many other board games. We already had the system to score victory points from mission cards, or from destroying another player's units, but now you could also score points by having units standing in the four, central hexagons at end of your turn. This increased the movement in gameplay, giving players a new direction to move and score points by entering the more open areas of the game board. Damaging other players' home bases became the fourth way of scoring victory points, opening up a huge array of choices to develop one's own tactics in Space Freaks. One final (and fifth) way to score in the end of each player's turn was still to come at this point...




As a player, you don't actually have time to build a game engine within the six rounds of Space Freaks, but you do have a vast amount of choices from unit creation, to the timing in which your cards are revealed, and with choosing tactics and opponents.

The Structure of a Player's Turn

During your turn, first put one of your three mission cards into play, then shoot with your turrets (if applicable). Next, activate your freaks one by one, and during each freak's turn, move the number of hexagons indicated on your leg card. (Some head cards and sponsor cards provide even more movement.) During any part of that movement, you can use your right-hand card weapon to launch one attack. You are also able to use a higher quality weapon from your sponsor cards instead and use any number of non-weapon sponsor cards. Always indicate which freak is using which equipment. At the end of your turn, build more structures if so desired, and finally your dead freaks re-spawn to the Home Base zone.




The player turn has been structured in this way pretty much since the outset. This singular mechanism has always worked very well, and I have been particularly happy that it does not require any dice.



Upgrading the prototype in January 2017

For the system of icons and player boards, we fashioned tens of versions. The challenge was to create as clear a player-interface as possible, and it was hard going. The player board needed to hold a lot of information, starting with the freak template, followed by three freak hit-point totals, plus information regarding all icons. It also needed to include the stats for aliens, droids, turrets, bunkers and the effects of laboratories and healing centers. As the concept developed, we also wanted to display the mega-corporations' names and logos together with some adverts, to flesh out Space Freaks' theme in what is otherwise a rather rule-oriented player board.


Sketch of Arena 2 in November 2016

Player Choices

As a player, you have a wide variety of choices to make each turn. There are many different tactics to consider and always room to create new ones. Most important is to follow the moves of your competitors, and to find your own way to hoard as many victory points as possible during your grueling six rounds.

The head card and freak template naturally dictate much of your game tactics, be they via brute force or stealth, but here are some examples of tactics that have been successfully applied during our test games:

The Second Wind: Play passively during the early game and collect resources from your sponsors, then during the last rounds, time your sprint to the finish.

One-eyed: Secure your home base defenses before beginning a full-frontal assault against one, disadvantaged opponent. Score as many points as possible from that direction.

Unleash Chaos: Forgo your home base, then at the appropriate moment, deploy all freaks (equipped with as effective sponsor cards as possible) behind enemy lines on suicide missions.

Ambush: Protect your freaks with bunkers or turrets or behind rocks, then make surprise attacks on wounded opponents.

Space Freaks Illustrated

When the list of corrections regarding the games mechanisms became short enough, it seemed obvious to begin working on the production design in more detail and get the game into its box.

I contacted illustrator Harri Tarkka in March 2016, and we met up for lunch. I wanted to gauge his interest in the sci-fi genre that I had in mind for Space Freaks. Initially, I suspected that he might have been interested, but when I saw his first sketches of the head dards I was totally convinced that he was our man.

Having a good artistic connection with an illustrator is such a vital part of a game's success. When you get installments of great looking artwork, it motivates you to work on the other aspects of the project. A game's visual setting is such a vital part of making its theme strong and believable.


Zapper, Force Field Generator, Jet Pac and Alien Scythe

In Space Freaks the amount of art and graphic design is huge: 18 head cards, 5 right arms, 6 left arms, 6 torsos, 6 legs, 20 equipment and weapon illustrations for sponsor cards, 35 arena master card illustrations, 27 mission card illustrations, comic strip, box cover and lots, lots more…


Comic strip from the rulebook

Cards in Space Freaks

We have many different cards in Space Freaks. Developing the three decks of sponsor cards, mission cards, and arena master cards was a really big part of the whole game-design process. One of the most time-consuming parts was keeping track of the card details, their synergy and the deck sizes.


Sponsor cards

Here are some cards that didn't make it to the final version of the sponsor deck:

Control alien or droid: Gave a player the power to control another player's alien or droid unit. This card was rejected because one couldn't rely on it tactically.

Counter action: Could counter another player's sponsor card equipment. Playing a trump card during another player's turn seemed to go against the game's mechanisms.

Scout droid: Could spy and look through another player's sponsor cards. This was a fun idea but we found it to be too weak in practice.

Stun pistol and stun grenade: Was a mechanism that froze a freak unit (or even multiple units within grenade range), but it ended up being over-powered and boring, while upsetting the game's balance.


Arena master cards

Here are some cards that didn't make it to the final version of the arena master deck:

Time portal and Accelerate time: These cards altered the amount of game rounds.

Energy conflux: Droids and turrets were stunned for one round, and new structures could not be built.

Putrid fog: Vision (and therefore weapon range) dropped to two hexagons. Freaks that were constructed around a melee template gained too high advantage.

Alien virus: Healing centers did not function for one round. Again this was too weak in practice.


Mission cards

Here are some cards that didn't make it to the final version of the mission deck:

Build turrets and bunkers: At some point we wanted more structures on the game board, but when we changed the cost of building it became obsolete.

Use wormhole: Originally there were more wormholes in play, but still this was too situational to function as a mission.

Annihilate mission (version 2): There was a special mission that gave the possibility of acquiring multiple sponsor cards when you killed different opponents' freaks.

Box Cover

Excluding the game itself, perhaps the most important marketing element of a board game is the box. How does one attract your target audience? How do you deliberately attempt to tell a book by its cover?

Harri had already sketched the body parts and many of the card illustrations, so we were already in-sync artistically when it came time to plan the box's design. At this point, we were also getting input from our experienced publisher, which added yet another layer to the process.

It was quite obvious that we would need at least one freak unit on the cover. I wanted to have a neutral (i.e., human) head for the cover-freak because choosing one of the other head designs might have created a false impression (e.g.; a robot head implies a game about robots).




During this time we were also developing the 3D models of the plastic figures, and I came up with the idea of the astronaut helmet to create the generic impression of a freak's head. Eighteen different heads simply wouldn't have been possible. We used the same concept with the box cover, where the broken helmet depicts a concealed head underneath.

One eureka moment for me was when Harri showed me the first color designs containing a beautiful, pink sky together with a warm, brownish landscape. I had decided earlier not to use the classic deep-blue or black surroundings typically associated with sci-fi. I really think Harri did a tremendous job!




3D Design

I was sure from the start that our game would require plastic figures, and that is always an expensive and complex process. First, one has to convince the publisher that figures are the only solution, then one has to create a solid design that works.




HarriWe worked on a lot of retro-space, reference material and designed the freak unit, alien and droid with Harri. Then we got help from our fellow Toadking, Sami Saramäki, who created the 3D models and gave them their finishing touches. I wanted the spirit of the figures to be a combination of both serious and humorous elements at the same time.




Ropecon 2016

As the gameplay of Space Freaks started to become more and more fluent, it became obvious that we needed others to help test our game and give feedback. We had a middle-term goal to present the game at Helsinki's 2016 Ropecon, with which we were familiar, knowing that there would be many eager testers.

We went with prepared leaflets that posed ten questions about Space Freaks gameplay, and we were lucky to get more than fifty completed forms containing valuable feedback. There were questions about overall game mechanisms, game balance and space for comment on particular cards, the game board, and game components. We had had people from outside of our core group trying out the game before Ropecon, but it is always great to make first contact with random players.




It was really a pleasure to again witness the enthusiasm of the gamer community, and how they are ready to take part in somebody else's design process by contributing long answers to questions and imparting their firsthand impressions.

After Ropecon, we had three development rounds to upgrade both the game and all three of the existing prototypes, which we then passed on to blind testers Maja Stanislawska and Jouni Ilola. With a project of this size, it is really a challenge to create an accurate prototype, one in which the rules and components are so clear that strangers are capable of testing the game fully without assistance.

Approaching Our Publisher, Lautapelit

May 2016 was the point when we had our first, boxed version of Space Freaks ready, so I asked Toni Niittymäki from Lautapelit for a meeting and test-play.

It is always exiting to meet with a publisher and present the prototype of your new game — but when is the best time to do that? How ready should one be with the project really?

I don't know if there's a correct answer, but I do believe that if one intuitively has the feeling that the gameplay is fluent, and that one can answer questions off the top of one's head about the game dynamics, then one is practically there. It also helps to have a picture about what kind of features might interest the publisher.

We signed a contract with Lautapelit in late 2016 to release Space Freaks at SPIEL '17, and I am delighted to say that again our co-operation has been most supportive and creative. It is just wonderful to work with a publisher who shares the same love towards our common goal, and it was through Lautapelit that we also secured a respected American publisher, Stronghold Games, to participate with Space Freaks. Awesome!

Blind Testing

Blind testing is a vital part of the game-design process and should be done as often as possible. In hindsight, we could have undertaken even further blind testing, but we nonetheless ended up making important changes from the resulting feedback. I particularly want to give special thanks to Jyrki Castrén for his thorough, fine-combing through all of the game's details and his sharp observations. Here are some corrections that were applied after blind testing:

• Strike icons were added to right-hand weapon cards, and also to sponsor card weapons, in order to clarify that there are two, different damage types.

• The regeneration head card had a +2 hit point per round instead of a +2 heal per round; this would have been a troublesome mistake.

• Alien and droid statistics were slightly different on the player boards than in the rulebook. (Player boards were also missing Strike icons.) This would have created a lot of confusion.




The Space Freaks Universe and the Arena-Master Character

MikkoFleshing out the back story for Space Freaks was interesting. Having so much else on my plate, I was fortunate to receive help from my fellow Toadking, Mikko Punakallio, and good friend Benjamin Vary who is a native, English speaker.

In a matter of weeks in late 2016, we created the background for the mega-corporations and the Arena-Master — a living trophy attached to his body in the form of Myron Musclehead. The Arena-Master is a kind of combined referee come Godfather of the Arena of Annihilation, calling the shots for each unique round while mascot Myron carps away.

Initially, I jotted down some basic ideas for absurdist mega-corporations, purposely choosing lots of cliché elements because they are precisely the ones that lend themselves most easily to humor.

I wanted there to be an independent droid corporation called the Ion Brotherhood, an alien swarm called Zeraxis, and an old, corrupt empire of humans called the Talar Barony. Originally, the fourth faction was a military corporation, but then I was happy to receive an idea from our publisher to use one of the Eclipse races, the Orion Hegemony. Mikko then developed more ideas for the next versions.

For the Orion Hegemony background, it was fun to inject some humorous, personal touches not only about us the game designers, but also relating to our publisher — namely, inside jokes pertaining to aging, fanatical geeks.

I then wanted to make the front side of the player boards a bit lighter graphically, so I created corresponding products for each corporation to be used as adverts. Each corporation also got a team-name:





Chilling at the Publisher

We had the great opportunity to further our test-play at invitation-only game evenings hosted by our publisher. The honest, constructive, and at times tough feedback made for some valuable changes to the game's balance. Here are some of the last improvements made to the Space Freaks rules:

• Adding +1 movement point to each leg card was instrumental in speeding up gameplay.
• Creating "last dash" victory points, awarded for running to opponents' home base zones during your last turn, added another tactical level to the endgame.
• One of the bunkers was omitted from gameplay while the remaining bunker was strengthened, now with the additional possibility for your dead units to spawn inside it.
• Scrapped the rule whereby the X-ray gun wouldn't be affected by retaliation power.
• The overall game-round total was reduced by one, but the game was still long enough to enable a player to win from behind.




Finalizing the Rulebook

Lastly, one crucial component of game design is to create a rulebook that's clear and easy to use. I want to thank our publisher for giving us the opportunity to work with Paul Grogan (Gaming Rules!) who finalized our rules' phrasing and structure. Over a six-week period, there was continuous updating of rules and card texts via email and Skype, resulting in a huge improvement.

Production Design

The production design element of Space Freaks contained more detailed decision-making than could have been imagined. Very often, the publisher handles this stage, but I wanted Toadkings to be involved as much as possible. It could be argued that the last 10% of the project is actually 90% of the work. Ultimately it took a small team: Markku Laine (Toadkings’ graphic designer), Jere Kasanen (Lautapelit), and myself. Here are just some examples of the many elements that fall under production design:

• The layout of the rulebook was a huge undertaking. Innumerable versions spread over different page amounts.
• Examining the available sizes for wooden components, then the Pantone colors for both wooden and plastic components.




• Upon settling on the orange-brown color for the game board, we opted for non-primary colors for the mega-corporations and their accessories.
• Finalizing the graphic design details for all the cards in their different decks. For example, which card printing/cutting techniques might best apply to cards of a particular size.
• Designing an economical layout for the punchboards.
• The design of the back of the box with its various texts and sample pictures/photographs.




Looking back, I can honestly say that despite all of the hard work, the result was immensely satisfying.

It has been a great ride to create this board game, and I'll be spending most of the SPIEL '17 festival at booth number 3:L116 answering your questions and holding test games with my colleagues Kare Jantunen and Saku Tuominen. Illustrator Harri Tarkka will also accompany us some of the time. I look forward to seeing you all!

Let's get to the Arena of Annihilation and freak out!

Max Wikström


There are 19440 possible combinations of a finished freak
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