January, 2013

Now that I think about it, I really have been playing board games my whole life, more or less. My dad introduced me to all kinda of games when I was little. Chess, checkers, backgammon, cribbage, 5 card draw poker, Klondike solitaire, blackjack, Parcheesi, Monopoly, Risk, Mille Bornes, Scrabble, Yahtzee...  and probably a dozen more I'm not thinking of. He often liked to complain (in a good way) that as I got older, he had a harder time winning against me.

Growing up, my friends introduced me to more new games. Magic: the Gathering, Talisman, Nuclear War, Illuminati, HeroQuest, Magic Realms, Hacker, Give Me the Brain!, The Great Dalmuti, Cosmic Encounter, and so on.

So I guess it makes sense that I'd end up building my own someday.

I lost interest in board games temporarily when I moved away to go to college. But a few years ago, some friends got me back into it. And I realized what I had been missing. The games had gotten a lot more varied, a lot more complex, and a lot higher quality since I had been 'away'. New ways to play, new challenges. I was hooked again.

I was just coming down off of a wonderfully long holiday vacation. (Not often I get two weeks off in a row.)  I had spent a good chunk of that time doing chores around the house, stuff that I'd been putting off for too long. Some of that work went to cleaning out old junk. One piece of old stuff in particular was a notebook from one of my grade school classes. On the inside cover, I noticed a doodle I had drawn long ago, a four square pattern of red-yellow-green-blue with various symbols in each square. I didn't think much of it at the time, just put it away and kept cleaning.

It wasn't until a couple of week later that the inspiration hit me. And I mean the word "hit" pseudo-literally. Not that an actual object collided with me, but that's about what it felt like; there was an audible 'thump' as my own personal muse decided to slap me on the back of the head and say "make this, stupid". I had been playing a lot of the board game Seasons then, so the idea that came to me was similar to that, though different in many respects. And that idea wanted out. Felt like my brain was going to explode with all the possibilities; I had to get the idea fixed in some sort of medium before it decided to dig its way out of my head and run off on its own.

What followed was a flurry of prototype component purchasing. Note card paper. Label paper. Circle punches. Plastic chips. Colored markers. Card sleeves.
And dice, lots of dice. Numbered dice. Blank dice. Colored dice. Six sided, eight sided, ten sided.

My first card prototypes were made using GIMP. Printed, cut out with scissors, sleeved with old game cards. Simple things, really; large colored dots in the middle (benefit), small colored dots at the top (cost), and text at the top with really imaginative names like 'red' and 'double red'.

My first dice were blanks with tiny rectangular sticky labels with colored dots drawn on them. Each player started with a pool of 6 six-sided dice, and chose four to roll at the beginning of their turn. Kind of Yahtzee style, where you had a number of 'rerolls' before you were stuck with what you rolled. A player used the rolled dots to 'buy' one or more cards, and cards went onto the player's board to give more dots on future turns. A player could also 'upgrade' the dice, exchanging a six-sided for an eight-sided, or an eight-sided for ten-sided; the 'extra' sides on the dice had special bonus powers.

The cards were arranged on a 'treadmill'. Old, unpurchased cards got cycled off one end while new cards came in on the other.
The cards all had point values on them; simply add up your cards at the end of the game to see who won.

I managed to get some friends to play this first prototype. The game was clunky, no question. Expensive cards would appear at the beginning of the game, when nobody could buy them. Some cards were worthless, others too strong. Some of the dice powers were worthless. (One die had an additional reroll power; I lost count of the number of times someone would reroll and get the same side again.)

But even in those initial playtests, the spark was there. Somewhere, buried underneath all of the confusion, was a tiny kernel of fun. That people wanted to play again (after lots of fixes, of course), said that the game had potential.

Fix. Test. Fix. Test. Fix. Test.

Amidst the fixes, I determined that the game needed a theme. Looking for inspiration, I remembered that old school notebook. The red square had a depiction of a flexed arm (muscle). The yellow one had a lightning bolt (power). Green had a four-leaf clover (luck). Blue had a book (knowledge). I juggled those concepts around until I came up with the four 'currencies' (work, money, influence, knowledge), applied a business-ish theme to the game, gave names to the cards, and gave each player a 'character' that corresponded to a color.

And Facets was born. :)



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