How to Create a Board Game in 48h

Sertão Games recently participated in the Virada Geek event, where a lot of people got together to spend all night long playing games, surfing the internet and discussing nerd stuff. Taking part in the event was not part of a plan, but we were offered the opportunity to have a booth on site and grabbed it.

The event was 3 days ahead of us, and we started our popular brainstorming section to discuss what to do during the event. The first idea was to move our “office” there and create some assets for one of our upcoming games on site, showing the crowd how our development process works.

But then, on the following day (48h ahead of the event), our lead designer Wan suggested we could assemble a board prototype of our most beloved project: a turn-based strategy game, set in the Sertão (hinderlands) region of Brazil, during the Cangaço movement, when several armed groups dominated the region, until the formal government managed to put an end to it around the late 1930’s.

We decided it was a good idea and set to work immediately. We had an early 3D prototype with turn-based path-finding and movement implemented, plus part of the game design already set, such as character’s attributes and some balancing numbers, but nothing ready for a gameplay section yet. To create a paper-based board prototype, we had to divide the team into the following tasks:

  • Drawing sketches for the characters, obstacles and scene objects (such as wells, rocks, houses, cactuses, etc);
  • Scanning, image-processing, aligning and printing the sketches in thick paper sheets;
  • Hand-painting, glueing, cutting and assembling the paper pieces;
  • Writing the game rules;
  • Ordering Sertão Games-branded T-shirts, putting a poll-form together, organizing the schedule, plus sharing stuff on social networks to create a buzz prior to the event.

Here’s a picture where part of the team is working on some of these tasks:

Sertão Games team working on the board game prototype

Sertão Games team working on the board game prototype. The hexagonal game map can be spotted in the middle of the table.

The paper pieces (part 1 – sketches)

We had a very important decision to do the sketches by hand (instead of using Adobe Illustrator), so we could have them finished faster. Of course we wanted to have a nicely crafted prototype, but it didn’t have to be an art piece just yet, so this is how the sketches  for the props looked like, just after scanning:

Cactus and well sketches

Cactus and well sketches

Other objects. All sketches were hand-drawn.

Other objects. All sketches were hand-drawn.

For the characters, Wan worked on a base model and used variations to create the 3 types of unit we wanted. We decided that the two teams would share the same unit types for the prototype, and a different color would differentiate them. Having only three different characters made it easier to finish the sketches on photoshop, such as the following image shows:

The "snipper" cangaceiro after being cleaned up in photoshop

The "snipper" cangaceiro after being cleaned up in photoshop

The paper pieces (part 2 – coloring and assembling)

In the end, the sheets contained mirrored printings of 12 characters and 15 doubled-sided objects, plus 20 flat figures for terrain modifiers, totaling 74 figures to paint by hand with color pencils! It took two people and 10 hours of work to finish all the coloring. The results, however, would payoff during the play-test sections. This is how the sheets looked like during the coloring process:

Character Sheets after all coloring is done, by hand... Hard work!

Character Sheets after all coloring is done, by hand... Hard work!

Colored sheet with other props. My wife Cintia helped with some of the coloring here.

Colored sheet with other props. My wife Cintia helped with some of the coloring here.

Given that no one can really trust a printer tray, assembling the vertical pieces meant the mirrored figures had to be aligned by hand against a strong light source (thick paper, remember), and glued together. Since we only had one set of colored sheets, this was a very delicate part of the process.

After being glued, the sheets were put to dry under some books, in order to keep them flat. We decided that some of the figures would have miniature buckets in their bases to keep small colored pebbles, representing health, resources and other attributes. The now cut vertical pieces were glued to cardboard hexagons, together with the mini-buckets were needed:

Cactus and other props assembled and positioned on the hexagonal game board

Cactus and other props assembled and positioned on the hexagonal game board

The complete board, with some of the characters in place

The complete board, with some of the characters in place

The game rules (not the rules themselves, but how I wrote them)

The team had already discussed some early game design for this particular game, but it was far from done, and we haven’t even implemented a prototype of it before, so the ideas weren’t tested yet. During the brainstorming two days before the event, we decided for very simple rules for two players, involving three game modes, one resource (water), two terrain modifiers (elevations and water courses), movement and attack (with reaction).

But even these very simple rule system took 6 pages, and we were a little afraid the gameplay was too complex for a crowded place, with loud music and several other distractions. To make it worse, the mini-buckets were very nice, but it meant that all attack interactions involved counting pebbles, emptying the bucket and filling it again. We were really not expecting this to be a first time hit.

I was assigned with the writing (plus a lot of other stuff), and the rules were done in about 1 hour, since I had already studied several similar games and the set of rules was more or less set in my mind before starting to type. It seems the basic set of rules are good, given that we only had to do two minor balancing modifications to the character attribute table after the first matches to make the game more fluid.

The reception

We got to the event early, and our booth was set before anybody could get in. This was a nice move from our part, and many of the early attendants showed up to check out what was that board game assembled in the middle of a PC-infected arena. The design of the pieces also caught the attention of the public, and showing pictures of those who were playing our game in the projector was also nice:

This is how the play sections looked like.

This is how the play sections looked like.

People having fun...

People having fun...

The feedback was AWESOME, and we’d like to thank to the organizers and the player who gave a lot of nice suggestions. A couple of game modes and features that were experimented with were evidently fun and we really plan to include them in the final game.

Board prototyping "roolz"...

Board prototyping "roolz"...

The board prototyping was a complete success (and yes, the paper pieces survived intact – we’ll keep this particular prototype for ourselves now) and we strongly recommend this type of experience. We even managed to finish most of the work the night before the event, giving some time for extra polish and preparation.

We’re so excited about this that we’re even thinking in releasing a board version of the game. If it proves not feasible for a commercial release, we promise to make the game rules public, together with the paper sheets in PDF, so anybody can set up a board. Of course we’ll also have the 3D version of this game, and it will be even more awesome.

As mentioned in the previous post, we’re also working on an bug-themed game for tablet devices, and we’ll be giving updates on these two. Stay tunned.

Sertão Games Team (from left to right): Erick, Jader, Wan, Diogo and Alan.

Sertão Games Team (from left to right): Erick, Jader, Wan, Diogo and Alan.

See you soon…

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