Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The games I design passes two different phase.
The first one is the born of the idea. This, as said in a precedent post, should come from an already played game.
The second one is the devolopment of this idea.

Usually there are more ideas than games. And that's fine because should be impossible to fit all the ideas in a good game.
I use two different medias to annotate an idea: an excercise book and a word processor.
I prefer a big excercise book with small squares. Small squares are useful to draw some draft schema.
As word processor I'm using Google Doc mainly because I can easly share my ideas to playtesters or friends.
I have to admit that I tend to share a document mainly for the rules instead of the ideas....
The idea so written will never remain the same one. But writing the idea is a way to focus on the idea itself.
The idea is the source for the second phase.

The second phase is more long and harder to achive. Infact if this second phase will successfully end I have a game that can be played. This is what I called the development of the idea. It should be also called prototyping.
It is nice to note that in the software engineering field the prototyping is one of the phase on the software production lifecyle. So there is a good parallel between making computer programs and making a boardgame. We can assume the during this phase the game is in alfa testing (it is a software term).

The main task during prototyping is the test.
Usually I iterate through the following steps:
1. I prepare or modify a prototype
2. I test it for myself
3. The game was not good? I quit! I consider this idea not good enough!
4. Something to change? Come back to point 1.
5. Is the development of the idea good enough?
6. I prepare a better prototype.
7. I test it with real players. I also send the prototype to players who are not from my gaming group
8. There is some good feedback so that it can be changes somethin? I come back to point 1.
9. If I am really soddisfied I can consider the development phase finished.

There are a lot to discuss about these points, and I will in future posts.
What I want to highlight now is that there are 2 loops on this phase.
The first is on point 3 and the second on point 8. Both let the process go back to point 1.
But point 1. is to prepare a new prototype, with some relevant changes in order to test these changes.

Sometimes you don't really need to change the prototype, but only some rules (if you consider rules part of the prototype, you can say that each time you change a rule, you just change the prototype!).

When I first start with a prototype I try to quick create one. Usually I re-use pieces from other games (there are some boxes on my collection almost empty :-). I have some "preferred" pieces. For instance as score track I tend to use the one from Carcassonne! If I need some colored cards I use them from my Il Principe or I uses some very common Land Cards from Magic the Gathering (they are freely provided by my friend Stefano Rampazzo who owns the boardgame shop Tempus Fugit).
Because of the proto should be transformed several times, and maybe it will be dismissed because of the idea wasn't good enough, it is a waste of time to prepare a very detailed prototype.
Moreover in the first steps I will be the only one who test the game: I have my ideas in my mind (and in my excercise book) so I should survive to a collage of pieces as prototype!

In point 6., before to try the game with real players, I try to have a better proto. This means trying to have not an abstract game, but with a theme (maybe a not definitive one). Anyway I try to focus to have a pretty good playable proto.
This is important, in my opinion, because I want to be sure that problems that will come out can be assign to the game mechanics itself and not to a poor rappresentation of the game.
Again Google Images is coming in help. You just need to search for a "sheep picture" in order to have several good symbols for your Catan like prototype.
Sometime I re-uses artwork from other games (not only mine). I remember I tested Fantasy Pub before the publishing to the Bruno Faidutti's gathering many years ago! And I used some pictures from a Bruno's game! He came close to the table and said smiling: "I think I know this wizard!".

So the proto is improved in two different ways:
- the changes of mechanics and rules that must be naturally followed by the change of proto;
- the improvement of the pictures, symbols, components of the proto itself.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What does development means?

Sometimes I am asked how the ideas for a boardgame comes in my mind.
My answer is that the idea is not the most important thing in order to design a boardgame.
The most difficult and time consuming activity to goal a good boardgame is the playtesting phase.

It requires a lot of time and tuning of the initial "idea".
I call this phase the development of the idea.
This term is sometimes used for person who is working inside a publisher company and who is responsable of the final release of the game. Probably the most known developer is Stefan Bruek from Alea. I think the german term is "Redaktion".

There are 2 different meaning for development:
- the development of the playing of the game, that is the development of the idea, the mechanism, the theme;
- the phisic development of the boardgame in order to have a published product, that means the decision on the artwork, on the components, on the package, on the rules.

Stefan Bruek job is doing both activities: he first evalute the prototypes, then try to develop with the author the mechanics, the flow of the game. Then when the game concept is ok, he manages the production aspect.

When I design a game for Mind the Move, I did the same job (helped by my wife Barbara) with the difference that I am the author too!

As several players already have noticed my games are a good mix of mechanism already seen in other games. So I can answer to the initial question "where comes ideas comes in mind?" with a more precise answers: "playing other games!".

But after that the development phase starts... And that's the hardest part of this nice hobby!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The begin of this idea...

I started my idea to develop the electronic version of boardgames late in 2000.
I was not yet a boardgame author, so I was trying to approach the boardgame world using my software development knowledge.

I live in Padua that is only 30 minutes far from Venice where I knew Venice Connection have his office. So I send an email trying to approach VC team with the idea to develop freely a game they published. I was answered by Leo Colovini who invite me to meet him.
We talked a bit about this (rather new for me) world.

Internet for online games were still not so popular in 2000, but I already had the chance to play Quake and Unreal online using a flat internet connection. I also discovered the Microsoft Zone portal and played a lot to Backgammon (this game also gave me some idea to desing my Fantasy Pub).
I explained to Leo my idea of an online portal where to play boardgame, following the same model made by Microsoft Zone.
He instead had a different view of the boardgame on the computer: he like the idea to play against an artificial player moved by the computer. He show me his Cartagena, but I had no more time and interest in that project.... even if the idea still remained in my mind...

At the moment there are several online portals where you can play boardgames.
These are mainly grouped in two categories: Play By Mail (PBM) and Play in real time.

The most famous for playing in real time is surely Brettspielwelt where a lot of good boardgames are implemented. Days of Wonder has also several games they have published that can be played online. There are some interesting sites where you can play chess as at 64squar.

There are also several portals where you can play by mail, like for instance the one implemented by my friend MaBi MaBiWeb . Another is Boardgamegeek where there you can play Euprhat & Tigris and some other games. Another one is Yucata , but there are many others..

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Graph theory and City interconnections

Yesterday I had an idea about how to use my programming knwoledge for building boardgame prototype.
It's several days I am thinking to one new prototype idea. It is one of the many so I really don't know if it is good or not.
To understand if an idea is good enought to be a real boardgame, I just need to playtest it.
But before to playtest it I need a real protoype.
And to build a prototype is something that can become boring.
Some board are easy to use. Think about a square grid, similar to a chessboard. You just can type in even in a normal word processor using a table and print it.
If you need an hexagonal board you just need more work to do, and you can uses something like PowerPoint or Illustrator.
The clever thing of a protoype is that it doesn't remain as it is thought at first glance. It evolves, it changes. Sometime it is dismissed because the idea was not so good.

So one of the main problem for me is how to optimize my time. I have few time (even thought it is almost all my spare time) for boardgame developments, so optimizing my time is something essential.
One of the first think I learned is to use software for drawing my prototypes. It is easy to keep track of the modifications, and it is easy to print a new board or a new set of cards.
You just need some starting effort and then you can easly change stuffs inside, print a new version and use it.
It is easier than drawing with a pencil even because you can easly print with color instead of painting with colored pastels.

But sometimes you just need a complex board, like the one I am thinking in these days: a graph.
It mathematics there is a subset of knowledge that is called Graph Theory. It is used for modelling a city map for insteance (GPS devides are provided with software who manages a "graph" of streets).
Some games that are using a board with graphs?
Ticket to Ride for instance: cities are the nodes, rail tracks are the edges that connects the nodes.
In Hermagor there is a graph of cities and roads too.

So how to design a graph that can be easly changed?
It is easy to understand that you maybe need more nodes (more cities) or more interconnected edges (more streets).
Sometimes on the edges there is a value. In Ticket to Ride the number of trains that needs to connect two different cities are different and represents the distance between them.

In my idea I need some values on the edges and also a color! And I have no idea of the number of nodes or edges I need! It will come from playtests.

The solution should come from a small computer program that can manage these stuffs.
If I can have a kind of empty blackboard where I can add and delete nodes and edges should be fine enough!
I also need to save the graph in order to load it for changes.
I should easly adding a color and a value to both edges and nodes.
I should also adding a random functionality in order to change values and colors randomly.

Such a kind of program can be useful to other boardgame authors.

I found an already made program for the graph editor. It is freely downloadable from here. I will check if it is good for this purpose.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Welcome to Boardgame development

Hi everyone.
2008 is already started and for this year I have a lot of expectetions and projects in my mind...
Nothing new so far.
But ideas remains ideas if you do not develop in things.
This blog is one of the idea that I want to start in order to become a real thing!

What this blog is about?
As the title says I want to talk about boardgame development.
But there are 2 ways in which I intend "development".
The first is about to develop a real boardgame. In this field I had already some success because I have published for Mind the Move, Amigo, Rio Grande, Tilsit, QuinedWhiteGoblin some boardgames.

The second is about to develop a video boardgame. Beacuse of I am a software engineer with almost 9 years of experience in software development, I should be able to develop the electronic version of boardgames.

Let's see if I will be able to find time to write in this blog for this 2008 and more....