Some of you know that I have a new noodle for a board game. Its working title is Take the Money and Run. Now, it’s been a while since I actually designed a board for a board game past the back-of-the-napkin sketch stage, and certainly the first time that I’ve done so using today’s modern digital tools.I know that the board will go through several revisions as I playtest the game, so I didn’t want to spend too much time polishing up any layout. In fact, I wanted to make a very simply layout that I wouldn’t get attached to and wouldn’t have a moment of hesitation when I needed to write on the board, to either mark up a change, or doodle an idea, or pencil in approximate starting spots. I didn’t even want something as well-put-together as a Cheapass game board. I aim to design TTMAR very specifically from the mechanics first, which is not the way my ideas usually flow. I therefore know that the theme I have in mind now may or may not change with the game, and didn’t want to obtain cutesy albeit well-themed clip art or fonts.

I currently envision the board as three concentric tracks- fundamentally, TTMAR is a resource-magagement race game. I want players to progress from the outer track to a middle track, to the inner track, with the goal in the center. (Yes, this is mildy inspired by the Talisman board layout.) Since I want this game to play well with a varying number of players, I started with sixty spaces on the outside track- Those who like math or the Mayans may know that sixty is the first number that is evenly divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6; the Wikipedia has a good deal more information on this cool number. “Plays with 2-6″ is a good label to have, I think. I chose 28 spaces for the middle track and twelve for the inner track, by taking half the spaces of the previous ring and rounding down to the first number divisible by four. We’ll see how it works.
TTMAR-1aI made my first two mockups using Inkscape, an Open Source and cross-platform vector graphics editor. This means that not only is it free, but it will run on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Plus it’s vector graphics, which scales really well and looks very sharp. I couldn’t figure out how to take a simple shape and repeat it sixty times without making my eyes bleed by doing it manually, so I improvised with polygons and stars. Regardless of the appropriateness of this board layout, I really like this first image. Cat says it’s Jungian, so make of that what you will. Trying to plan what to use for markers, I realize that those common glass stones everyone uses for tokens or markers simply won’t fit in the spaces as done. I also squeezed the tracks a bit closer together.
TTMAR-1b I made this next image by simply transforming the circle to fit in the full frame of the page. This image, when printed out onto tabloid (11″ x 17″), is the board used for the first two-player playtest between Cat and myself. I inked the 12-, 3-, 6-, and 9 o’clock positions as a visual aid and penciled in starting positions and inter-ring paths. I’d say these first two versions took the space of a couple of hours to produce, including choosing an app to do the art in- but I wasn’t working solely on these images all the time. Call it an hour and a half, max.

Cat won the first game- it took maybe twenty minutes, including middle-of-game discussion. I recall a very important playtest guideline- make sure that you playtest rules as written, rather than house-ruling problems away in the middle. You’ve got to give the rules a complete chance in order to understand what happens and why. This is a hard line to toe- we humans are all fiddlers at heart.
TTMAR-2I hit the intertron to find a better means of making the paths as I envisioned, and found a how-do-I-make-cogwheel-shapes blog post that helped me to do exactly what I needed in Adobe Illustrator. (In a nutshell, you use the Rotation tool on a selection, then alt-click the center of focus, choose copy.) This speedy methodology resulted in this second version mockup, shown here. Now that I had a better idea of what I wanted to do, the layout and design learning curve became apparent- producing this layout took about a half-hour. I like this a lot more, since you’ve got less ambiguous spaces for tokens now. These spaces are also smaller than in previous versions because I realised that I’d included a rule that prevents tokens from sharing a space- it’s never going to happen in this version. I’ve also shaded in the four compass directions in the image, again as a visual aid. Even though I now had an idea where to place the paths between rings and where to place starting pieces, I’ve left it off this image on purpose; I know that I need to physically fiddle in order for things to make sense to me. Tonight’s playtest will use this layout streched onto tabloid.
TTMAR-fjlBased on an IM conversation, an architect friend who wishes to remain Hieronymous (you know who you are) threw this mockup together in a CAD program in less than ten minutes. This proves that someone who knows their tools well is a valuable asset in game design! I like the design – much more cabalistic – but I think the interleaved spaces offer too many opportunities for confusion during playtest. Also, I’m not 100% sure that I’ll stick with these numbers or this layout, but it does showcase the difficulty of using the number of spaces that I ‘m starting with.
I have a rules sheet, already the second revision after one playtest. I’m ready for tonight’s playtest with more than two players.

3 Responses to “Evolutionary board design”

  1. I’m looking forward to playtesting this tonight. It looks very interesting.

  2. Hey, that looks neat. I’m a total sucker for game boards that have that mandala-like concentric circle look, and mechanics to match. Looking forward to playtesting this tonight.

    Inkscape is awesome – it’s what I used to put together the fancy prototype board and counters for Hive.

    I’ve also used Flash for doing this kind of thing, especially when I want to dynamically try out a bunch of different configurations. Math is delicious, but those who don’t agree will find this route odious, but it’s a great boon when you’re trying to figure out which configuration will work best for a board with way too many circles, spots, and connections for a game with twenty-four players. Viddy:

    Madness! Which is exactly why it languishes in the dusty corners of unlinkiness…

  3. Looks sweet Mischa, bring it!

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