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