One of the most interesting parts of working on boardgames is the physical nature of it all. Computers and notebooks are certainly a mainstay of the work we do here at Randover Games, but it is the actual hands-on testing with prototypes that makes it feel truly unique. In light of some comments and questions found on Reddit recently, I thought I would put a few thoughts down.
We first started working on Proelium in February of 2013, and it wasn’t long until we were neck deep in the physical creation of it all. At the time, Proelium was a vastly different version of itself, one hardly recognizable today. We originally envisioned it as a physical game of skill where people would fight against each other to see who could kill a monster first, using marbles, and a board mixed somewhere between Tic-Tac-Toe and Chinese Checkers.
The physical nature of this early game turned out to be a complete disaster to fabricate, seeing as we didn’t have the tools or space to do any proper work. While the specific details of these minor adventures will have to wait for another post, what we stumbled on while making pieces to go along with the board ended up changing everything.
After the initial tests left us with windless sails, we took a small hiatus from working on the game. Almost a year later, we picked back up where we left off and approached it from a new perspective. We weren’t going to make a competitive physical skill game anymore, now were were going to make a cooperative game with more traditional boardgame mechanics.
Once we removed the physical component, the hard part was finding a succinct way to let players target specific areas of the monster without instantly breaking the game. We talked about dice, and we talked about player sheets, but it was that original card that finally made things click: we would let each weapon shine, by letting the traits of the weapons dictate the way attacks would be targeted.
This revelation turned out to be one of the rare, but precious, times in a creative venture when ideas and discoveries were bountiful and they all seem to work. We could hardly get through five minutes without another spark of inspiration or instantly agreed upon declaration. If you’ve ever mired through the tedium of fine tuning something, you will know how freeing these moments can be.
We spent our evenings in Excel, carefully laying out templates and creating cards, and within days we had printed prototypes to work with. My handwriting is horrible, as seen above, so computer based fabrication was a necessity for us, but it turned out to be very beneficial. Our iterative process was fast and fluid, letting us keep high quality records of changes in versioned Excel files, instead of a giant stack of cards.
Over the entirety of 2014, our weapon card designs advanced steadily, with our prototypes becoming more and more complex. On prototype three, we enlisted the help of our character artist, Holly Hansel, letting us bridge the gap between functional prototype and true card design. Then, for prototype five, I broke down, bought Photoshop, and taught myself how to use it.
I’m not sure how many more iterations we will go through before we finally consider this particular card “done,” As with most creative ventures, it may never truly feel finished to me. When I have more time, I will continue to pull the curtain back on the many changes and steps we’ve gone through to make Proelium the game it is today, but for now, I hope this gives an interesting look in that nature of boardgame prototyping, or at least how we do it here at Randover.