The Story of Espionage – Part One


The Story of Espionage – Part One

As I posted previously, Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show and I are designing a game we currently have named Espionage. We thought that it would be interesting to start a designer’s diary and Michael has done so on LMDS and I have added my comments. I will be copying our notes here as well. These will also be supplemented with the occasional conversation which Michael on his LMDS podcast. Please feel free to post your comments!

Here is the start of our designer’s diary as originally posted on the Little Metal Dog Show

Wherein Michael reveals a desire to create but an inability to see it through. However, good fortune is just around the corner…

The cat is out of the bag – I’m co-designing a board game alongside Mark Rivera from Boardgames in Blighty. I have no idea if it’ll be any good, but I thought it’d be nice to tell the story of what’s happening. Essentially a designer’s diary, I plan on putting regular-ish updates here on the site to keep you lot appraised of what’s happening. We’re actually a fair way into the design process but didn’t want to even announce anything until we had something tangible. The game has a working title of Espionage and – at the moment – is in the ‘nearly a fully working prototype’ stage. More information will be available soon, we promise! In the meantime, here’s part one of the diary.

The old cliche is that everyone has at least one book in them. Look into the world of board games and that changes slightly as everyone and their dog reckons they’re capable of creating something that they’re sure other people would enjoy playing. Of course, who am I to buck the trend? I’ve been playing games since I was a child and reckon I’ve got a decent enough handle on them. The only issue – a complete lack of experience, ideas and resources. Never stopped me before, mind.

Flash back to October 2010 and the BoardGameCamp event that took place in London. Prior to the day, organisers announced that there was to be a special strand – a design competition, the winners of which would have their game published. This was far from your normal print run though – the victorious game would actually be put on the back of the Christmas 2011 Selection Box released by Cadburys. For those of you outside the UK, the selection box is a long running tradition, a bunch of chocolate bars and sweets put in an oversized tray, boxed up and given to people as a filler gift. I recall playing simple roll and move games that were printed on them when I was young – far from the things I love to play now, admittedly, but they were a diversion and kept me and my brother entertained.

The question that hit me was would it be possible to cross the two parts of my life? Could a game be made that appealed to the market that selection boxes are aimed at? In other words, could I put together a game for kids that was a bit more that the usual throw-a-dice, move-a-piece you’d normally get on the back of the box? Well, no. I’m not that good working on my own, but if I had a group to work with… maybe we could do something.

After putting a shout out on twitter, a group was formed. Neil from Thru the Portal, Mark from Boardgames in Blighty, my friend Chris and myself would form a team to create something. We had no idea what would come from this meeting of minds, but there was little harm in finding out. After all, what did we have to lose? Come the day of BoardGameCamp, we were run through the rules along with everyone else. I all honesty, there were a lot more teams there than I expected. Perhaps the lure of the potential glory was more than I thought…

Ideas were bounced around, and after not very long we had a basic idea for a game – up to four elves would run around a board grabbing presents for Father Christmas to deliver. These were represented by tiles that would be randomized and placed face down on the board. Most were a single present, some were double (woooo!) and some were nasty surprises, allowing you to steal from another player – after all, what’s a game without a little nastiness? A couple of playtest games later and we were happy – we had achieved a decent enough ruleset that worked, a game that was easy to understand and set up, and a playtime that wasn’t too long but still felt substantial.

The only problem though? It didn’t look too great. None of us considered that it needed to look amazing to catch the judges eyes – after all, that was what an art department would do if we were lucky enough to win. We hoped that the quality would shine through and – strangely enough – it seemed to capture the attention of the playtesters. Come judging time, we knew we’d be happy enough if we even got a mention, but as the games were picked off one by one… well, we were getting more than hopeful. It was down to the last two and – our game was announced. Our little design team had come second. Not bad at all considering that none of us had ever tried such an endeavour previously.

Cadbury, bless ‘em, sent us all massive hampers of chocolate a few weeks later to say thanks.  Our game is officially theirs so we can’t say much more about it – secretly we’re all hoping they realise that it’s actually a work of genius and they’ll use it anyway – but the thought was always in the back of my mind. Is it a one off or could I make something that could potentially be published. Again, I dismissed the thought. I don’t work well on my own. Then, however, an email arrived.

“It’s Mark. I’ve had an idea for a game, but I think I need your help…

Mark’s Response to The Story of Espionage – Part One

Michael is right in saying that many of us gamers feel that we have at least one game design in our heads and I am no exception. I’ve had this idea for a game for quite a while really.

Creative ideas are funny things aren’t they? They come and go as little sparks that fire off and for a brief moment, enlightenment…

Then life intervenes and you carry on with the normalities of life, probably never giving much more thought to the sparks of enlightenment that flash through our day, except every once in a while something sticks and gnaws at you. and so it has been with a particular idea I’ve had for a game. I’d say its been about 2 years since the germ of my thoughts began around this game and I’ve mused about it on and off without much development although I seem to remember writing down a few thoughts about it once or twice but for the life of me, I have no idea what I did with them.

I’d not done much at all in the past in terms of game design although, funny enough, I just remembered that I did submit some initial drafts of a couple of war games based on battles from the American Civil War (along with an article on the SAS) to Ty Bomba when he started up Command Magazine. He came back with useful comments for developing the games and he bought the article but unfortunately, a relocation to England got in the way and I never got back to them. Shame really. Hmmm, I still may have the materials somewhere… I digress…

So anyway, as Michael notes, we met at Boardgamecamp last year. We had been in touch for a little while and it was great to meet up in person and yes, he was the catalyst for forming a team to do an on-the-spot game design and I’m really glad he did as it was a great and fun experience. I think the thought that our little game could get in front of over 1 million UK households was quite mind blowing and at the end of the event, I think we were quite satisfied at coming in 2nd place. The huge basket of Cadbury’s goodies went down very well too.

So, earlier this year, my thoughts around a board game design started to gear up a bit and I quickly realized that it would be useful to partner with someone to carry it forward. So who better than my friend, Michael Fox of the LMDS…

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