Category Archives: Design Diary

Inspirations, themes, prototyping, and play testing

Where Did That Idea Come From?

Design Diary by Barb Hirschfelder

My favorite moment in any creative endeavor is when inspiration strikes with a swift WHAM! And then there’s a new and intriguing idea in my brain that, over the coming days, weeks, and months, I can coax and craft into full form.

Here’s one of those moments: I am listening to a board-game-themed podcast during my daily morning routine. I am literally in the shower, which is probably why I mishear the following. The podcasters are discussing what they had played that week. Someone mentions the game Bruxelles 1893 by designer Etienne Espreman. I mistakenly hear Truffles 1893. Immediately I imagine a game in which players manage a group of pigs trained to dig up truffles in their many varieties and sell the harvested fungi to local restaurants, and I think, “Hey, I want to play that game!”

Needless to say, a few minutes later, it became clear that Bruxelles 1893 does not feature in any way fungi that grow underground—or pigs of any kind. (Bruxelles 1893 is about 19th century architects working in the Art Nouveau style.) But, hey, the fire was lit; I wanted to play the game that I had imagined. So what else could I do but design it myself. It seemed natural to use the deck-building mechanism and to give players the role of restaurant owners who must develop a menu of interesting truffles recipes, train the best chefs, and hire a farmer who can handle a herd of pesky truffles pigs.

Why pesky? Well, after a bit of online research, it became clear that pigs are especially adept at hunting down and digging up the highly prized tubers, but they are also prone to occasionally eating what they find. So that became one of the key conflicts of the game—the constant threat that one of a player’s pig cards will eat the desired truffles card instead of harvesting it.

Truffles has been a fun game to design and playtest. Most any game with pigs will tend to have a humorous tone. (By the way, players can also purchase and train truffles dogs, who will not eat any of the truffles they find.) Plus, using a strong theme like this can provide handy strategies for tweaking weak spots in the game. One problem with many deck-building games, for example, is drawing a hand of cards that do not combo well with each other. In Truffles, specifically, a pig card is relatively useless if the player does not also draw a truffles card. So that is one problem I was mulling over when, during one playtest session, several playtesters requested more interaction between players.

Keeping the theme in mind, it struck me I needed a “too many pigs” mechanic, which allows players with more than 1 pig card in their hand to steal a truffles card from either another player or the central supply. Eventually, “too many pigs” also inspired “too many chefs” (who steal recipes), “too many farmers” (who steal pigs), and “too many truffles” (who steal chefs). Don’t worry. The poor victim gets to draw an extra card as compensation.

Here’s another moment of inspiration: I am walking across the Santa Fe College campus enjoying the beautiful spring weather in Gainesville, Florida. The crepe myrtles are beginning to bloom, and the birds are active. If I listen closely I can hear the call of a peacock from the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo. Looking skyward I notice a buzzard gliding overhead. The silhouette of the buzzard from underneath reminds me of a T-shaped Tetris piece, with the buzzard’s tail making up the bottom part of the T. And then I think of how other birds—such as sandhill cranes—have the opposite shape, meaning the crane’s head and neck make up the bottom part of the T.

Sounds like an interesting game to me! Probably tile placement…. I think I’ll call it Flocks.

Prototype of Truffles: A Deck-Building Game for Gourmands
Prototype of Truffles: A Deck-Building Game for Gourmands
Prototype of Flocks
Prototype of Flocks

It All Started with Three Dogs

Design Diary by Barb Hirschfelder

What were we thinking? We had never owned more than one dog at a time before. Now we were contemplating adding a third to our pack of dogs. We already had two, Angel and Truffles. How hard would it be to raise another at the same time? After all, they’re small dogs, mini dachshunds, still puppies.

And that’s how Chloe’s Snowy Baby came to our house, and we welcomed the adventure with open arms–more rough-housing during play time, more potty trips outside, and insanity trying to control three dog leashes with only two hands.

One morning I thought, “That would be an interesting race game.” Imagine that each player is trying to get a pack of dogs to walk in an orderly and civilized fashion from one end of the dog park to the other. There could be different sized tiles representing various breeds of dogs, maybe with each breed having a distinct personality trait that would influence their movement somehow. But your pack wouldn’t always behave in predictable ways, so there would be dice of different colors matching the tiles. By the next morning, I had a prototype drawn in pencil on card stock. But that would not be the last iteration of the game. Oh, and I had a name: Bark in the Park.

I grew up playing games. Risk, Hearts, and Scrabble were the go-to games in my family. Two hundred miles away, my future-husband, Carl, was playing Monopoly, Samba, and Cribbage with his large family. Both of us, being the oldest kids, were frequently called upon to join the adults or to teach games to our younger siblings.

When Carl and I met at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky, we most enjoyed playing Scrabble or Samba together. (Carl usually won.) After we got married, we even created an exploration-type game based on a map of the college campus. Every few years, I would cobble together another game–one was a zoo game, another was a gardening game. In those years, the technology available was rather primitive. I didn’t have a laser printer or graphic design program. And no one had Internet access. So the first prototype was hand-drawn, and the first prototype was usually the last prototype.

Now I have a color laser printer, a solid working knowledge of MS Word and Illustrator, and high-speed Internet access. With my Mac laptop, I can get creative in any room in the house. I am thankful to have online access to royalty-free clip art and illustrations to add flavor and consistency. I probably over-rely on Wikipedia when researching my themes.

Working on Bark in the Park, I learned how much easier it is nowadays to quickly build a prototype so that we can start playtesting as soon as possible. And making changes can be virtually instantaneous with a few Sharpie markers and some label paper.

I also learned that the ideas are unending. In the past two years, I have generated ideas for more than 50 games and created prototypes of most of those ideas. Dogs are featured in 5 of those games, which is a topic for a future post.

Saturdays are the best days at our house, when we get to spend time together and play games, with the three girls–Angel, Truffles, and Chloe–curled up at our feet.

A newer prototype of Bark in the Park
A newer prototype of Bark in the Park