Diary #26 – Curveball


Back in August, I wrote about a new board game idea based on the whole of human history. Since then, Dawn of Gnome has refused to leave me alone, and there’s a problem: I think it’s better than Master of Olympus (at least, its rules and manufacturing requirements are much simpler). I’m not alone in having reservations about Olympus:

“There were two different rules for the same thing.”

“There was no way to plan your strategy.”

“There was nothing to do.”

The art of the board game designer lies in responding to this sort of feedback – Dawn of Gnome is that response.

I recently persuaded some friends to have a go: they enjoyed the first round enough to dive in for more. So far so good, but the real surprise came at the end of the evening when they asked if they could take the game away to continue playtesting. This was a first for me – what if they forgot the rules, got things wrong or, worst of all, stopped enjoying it? I convinced myself to let the game go: it wasn’t bloated, complex Olympus, and a more mature game warranted a more mature attitude.

Nikk had spent the second game destroying other people’s cities instead of founding his own. The strategy paid off but he almost got wiped out as a result – was this down to a flaw in the game’s mechanics? A few weeks later, he still had not found the optimum strategy (another thumbs up!) and was keen to play one more time.

I watched Nikk and the other experienced members of the group playtest the whole game in half an hour (“I feel like I’m being graded”, “Well, I am a teacher”). We found issues with the Exploration and Oil Discovery mechanics: both too slow, random and complex. I asked what features they’d like me to put in an expansion pack, and was surprised by their suggestions of things to move out of the main game. Such observant playtesters are in short supply.

So has Olympus gone down the drain, taking eight years of work with it? Not at all: Dawn of Gnome is the perfect springboard for my big project, and I will chop and change it as necessary to ensure maximum impact on the gaming community. Next stop: the board game bash at Meeple Mayhem on the 16th of March. Watch this space.


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