For those of us who love everything equine, horses and games make a great entertainment combination. Creating a horse-themed card game is hard work and requires a lot of careful consideration. This article talks about the early days of discovery for the developers at Funleague Games as they embarked upon the journey of designing their very first card game called “Perfect Stride: Cross-Country!” Naturally, as with many things, the game started out as an idea. We wanted to create a fun horse game that was fanciful and stylized, yet still stayed somewhat true to the experience of riding a horse. Representing the idea of racing at high speed across country on horseback through a card game presented its share of challenges. We experimented with a lot of ideas and several times we experienced moments of “aha! This is it!” and away we’d go full-steam…only to discover a problem. The gameplay logistics were the main sticking points. We were cutting some new ground with this card game; it wasn’t closely based on any other specific game so we didn’t have a tried-and-true template to work from. Rather, we referenced bits and pieces of gameplay elements from other games we’d played and from our own vision of how we thought things should work considering the experience we were trying to emulate. Two other resources that have definitely been invaluable are Board Game Geek and Board Game Designer’s Forum. Thanks to everyone there who has posted such excellent info! Here are some examples of things we had a tough time figuring out: Our card game is essentially a race across country on horseback. You jump obstacles along the way…how do you represent that? Do you use tiles? Do you lay the cards out all at once, or one at a time? Face-up? Face-down? That kind of thing. Another element we struggled with was how the rider order was represented during the course of the race.
If you were in first, but then dropped back to third, how would you know? We tried a bunch of things such as using charts, placing a token amongst the jump cards, etc. After a lot of trial and error, we eventually figured out a system that wasn’t confusing (unlike our earlier versions). We also struggled with trying to inject some strategy into the gameplay. We definitely didn’t want this game to be all about “luck of the draw”. We wanted the players to have to evaluate each situation and choose a best course of action. Strategy does add depth to a game, but on the flip side of this, a bit of chance can really spice things up and keep you wondering as you draw that next card. As this was a racing game, we didn’t want the players to get too bogged down pondering their options. That would detract from the idea that you were all moving at high speed over terrain in a dash for the finish line. Those were just some of the many things we needed to figure out as we developed our initial idea into something fun, functional and richly thematic. After emerging from the idea phase, we entered a stage of development where we needed to examine more practical business considerations: How big should the deck be?
That has proven to depend upon a few things such as number of players, how many variables we were prepared to deal with, printing costs and art costs. We wanted the deck to have substance, yet still maintain some kind of control on the budget.
What should we price the game at?
Now that one is ongoing. Naturally we need to make some sort of profit as a reward for our hard efforts and the main way to estimate what kind of pricing is involved is by breaking down the “per-unit costs”. For example, we make an initial assumption that the first print run might be about 5000 copies. Therefore, we would get a printing quote for 5000 copies of the game. And then add to that the cost for artwork creation. And legal fees. And advertising. That sort of thing. Add all those costs together, and divide by 5000. That will be our per-unit cost.
How should we package and present the game?
We need to look at a couple of key things here. One is; what kind of presentation will be most appealing to people? We want the theme to be immediately recognizable and we want to convey the message that this is a quality game. A game where it’s a high-calibre entertainment experience made of durable materials that will be a pleasure to handle. The other consideration is how much will the packaging and materials cost? Printing/manufacturing costs are arguably THE most expensive part of creating a board or card game. And the quotes will vary widely with each print shop we approach.
A board or card game is a creative product. It’s art and entertainment, meets commerce. There’s intellectual property, copyright, trademarks and other basic business considerations. We recognize that it’s a good idea to protect our hard work and ensure that all communication is organized and in writing. Legal stuff is not only about protecting what’s ours; it’s also about being clear about obligations when engaging in business with another party. When it comes to hiring artists to create artwork for a game, copyright ownership is one of the biggest key factors. It’s important to ensure clarity about who owns the art. Paying an artist to create artwork doesn’t necessarily mean we actually own it. It’s essential to have an “Artist Agreement” in place. This is a legal document that details the rights and obligations between Funleague Games and the artist. Artists work hard to do what they do best (we know this firsthand…Jeff and I are both professional artists) and naturally will want to be clear about all the details involving the work they do.
What kind of art style am I looking for?
This is an important thing to figure out, but it can be a tough one. The style of art is heavily influenced by the style of the hired artist(s) working on your project. It’s important to choose carefully who will be creating the visuals for the game. Arguably good art will sell more copies of a bad game than bad art on a good game. People like things to look “cool” or “beautiful”. Make sure you deliver in spades in this area by having a strong vision for what your game should look like and by only hiring artists who have an art style compatible with that vision. Art style should also take into consideration the target market your game is aimed at. In the case of Perfect Stride: Cross-Country!, I’m going for a style that is distinct from other games on the market. I also want the style to be inclusive and appealing to the full range of my target audience. For example, I need to avoid an art style that is too “young” as my target audience are people ages 7 and up. I want to feature artwork that has a fun innocence to it, but at the same time possesses enough refinement to appeal to a more mature audience.
Who’s our audience?
This is important right out of the gate (now there’s a theme-appropriate expression . Even at the earliest design phase it’s important to know our demographic. For example, if we designed a game to include a lot of deep and subtle complexities or tons of arithmetic, chances are that kids under 7 years of age could find the game too difficult. As for Perfect Stride: Cross-Country!, I feel that this will be a game that can be enjoyed by almost everybody, but the primary audience will likely be people who love horses. And as there is an element of strategy to the game, the very young may struggle with some of the gameplay concepts.
This is SOOOOoooo important. If Jeff and I never bother to get the word out about our really cool game, how are we going to sell it? Entire books (and even university degrees) are devoted to the topic of marketing, but suffice it to say it’s important that we learn a little bit about how to promote our product. Not only will we not sell any (or very few) copies, but so many people will never get the chance to enjoy a super-fun horse-themed experience! As our game is very strongly based on a specific theme (or niche) one of the first things we’ll do is seek to get the word out at places where the horse-loving public like to visit such as horse-themed websites, tack shops, equestrian magazines, etc.
As you can see, we have our work cut out for us, but the creation of