One more :)

Designing the game is not 8 hours job

I don't know how other designers work. I don't know if I am a freak among designers or I am a clasical example. But I want to tell you how it looks. How it looked with Robinson. I spent last year on the Island. Really...


For me 2012 was year of Robinson Crusoe because for the last 12 months I only read adventure books. I really mean it. I read a lot of Julius Verne novels. I read all novels I could find about castaways. I read all books about survival I could find. I read also comic books and I – certainly – watched all movies I could find that were about deserted Island or castaways.

I read about tens of ways of making fire. I read about building shelter from almost nothing. I read how to find water, I read how to find north without compas, I read everything I could. I am – with no doubt – one of the most educated persons on this planet... in terms of castaways...

If, by any chance, you are on the deserted Island, just call me. I will teach you how to survive. You don't need to worry.


For me 2012 was year of Robinson Crusoe because every single weekend of this year I had prototype of the game set up in our living room. Our home was literally paralyzed by Robinson. The game is big, it covered nearly whole table in our living room (I have to say – we have a big table). Because of Robinson we had mess on that table for every single weekend of 2012. I played it all the time, every single weekend, I drove my wife crazy with this tokens, cards, notes, dice with all that stuff that was living with us this year.

It was like part of our furniture. We had sofa, we had table, we had chairs and we had Robinson. It was part of our everyday life.


2012 was year of Robinson Crusoe for my whole family. Kids have grown – it is a year of time! - and they saw and hear all the time about Robinson. They discovered this story. They played prototype with me. They played live Robinson all the time. They built real shelter in our garden (ok, I helped them a little), they spent countless hours in our garden hunting imaginary beasts, strengthening the roof or searching for treasures. With no doubt, if in 20 years I ask my kids about summer 2012, they will tell 'It was time of Robinson'.

2012 was year of Robinson Crusoe because it really touched our every day life. We spent holidays this year by the sea and of course I had Robinson with me. Game was with us all the time. Sometimes it touched our life in a funny way. I remember one Sunday few weeks ago. I was a little bit late for a dinner, I entered the room, all kids were already eating and there was no plate for me on the table. I asked: 'Hey, what about me? I don't eat?!'

And I heared answer from 10 years old Nina: 'You know, it is like in Robinson. There is never enought food... Today you get 2 wounds'

Woow. That was accurate...


Next week I am in Essen. My adventure with Robinson ends. I finally leave the Island. I am finally free. I spent here whole year of my life. It was great but I that's enough. It is time for you to visit the Island. I strongly recommend. This is a great adventure.

The Lesson

[This is third and last one article that was inspired by my visit in Czech this spring and playing Robinson with Vlaada. That would be good if you read previous ones (they are here on my blog) so you know what the story is all about so far.]

The game ended badly. One of characters is dead. It is game over and it is game over in bad style. They had no chances. They weren't even close. It wasn't a good game.

'You were unlucky. Too many bad events. It's adventure game, sometimes you have luck, sometimes you don't...' I say. Vlaada is searching throught decks of cards. 'There are good and bad events in all of those decks?' he asks pointing four decks of cards.


'You can't have good events, here, Ignacy' he says.

Did I just hear him saying the thing he just said?

'Are you kidding?! You've just lost because of lack of good events!'

'There can not be good events in those decks. You have to get rid of them. You don't control the game at this moment. Ignacy, you – as an author – have to have control over your game.'

OK, I have to admit it - at that very moment I wasn't sure what he was talkin' about. Remove good events? Why? Have control? How?!

I have, however, courage to ask. So I asked Vlaada to explain me. And he did.

'How many good and bad events you designed in that deck?' he asked pointing Event deck.

'There are 40 good events and 60 bad events.' I answered. 'Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed IslandStatistically you will have 3 bad and 2 good events in first part of the game and then again 3 bad and 2 good events in the second part of the game.'

'You have to get rid of all good events. Ignacy you don't control it. This is bad. You can't design game that you don't control.'

Still no idea what he is talkin' about. And still have courage to ask and learn.

'Vlaada I don't get it.'

He took one of my sheets of paper and my pen. 'Look' he said. 'During set up you take five cards from this deck, right? You say that statisticaly there should be 3 bad and 2 good cards and that this is an avarage difficulty level, but...' and he starter to write.

'There may be:
5 bad, 0 good
4 bad, 1 good
3 bad, 2 good
2 bad, 1 good
1 bad, 0...'

'I get it.' I said.

'You want game to be difficult, you want game to throw at players 3 bad events and you want the game to help them twice. That is your dream configuration. But math is cruel. There will be games like ours today, with 4 bad events and only one good. There will be even games with 0 bad and 5 good events. Players will play it, will have 5 good events, finish the game without smallest effort and then they will write on BGG that game is easy like piece of cake and boring and they don't recommend it.'

'You are right.'

'You need to control the game. Now it is rollercoaster. You have no idea what will happen. It may be extremely easy. It may be extremely hard. Your intended configuration of 3/2 is only one of many possibilities. What about others? You have to remove all good events. You have to make it 5 bad events, 0 good events and then set difficulty of the game.'

'Math sucks' I said.

If I were Vlaada, I'd say that Robinson sucks but Vlaada is a nice person. He didn't say that.

Conclusion? I had to take some about 120 events from 5 different decks and throw them to the bin. I needed to take control over my game and to do so, I had to trash 40% of cards I was designing over last 4 months.

I did it. Without a blink of an eye.

The Lesson? Few, actually.

Vlaada knows math.

Math is a bitch.

Game designers need to have courage to throw ideas to the bin and start right from the beginnig.

That what game design is - no mercy.

Are you designing game? You better have Vlaada Chvatil in your testing group!, part 2

I give Merry car keys. 'You drive. I work.' I say and I sit in the back seat. I have Robinson prototype all in blood and tears after Vlaada's comments. My beloved game was hurt and wounded. I had it right next to me. I also had sheets of paper and pencil. And I had three hours of car drive to Poland.

I came to Czech to present my great game. I going back with game torn into pieces. Oh, yes, I am pissed off.

So we are going home. Merry is driving. My daughter Lena is singing. I am working.


The problem – if player gets wound and as a consequence he looses skill, he is unable to fight back and get out of troubles. But on the other hand, if player gets wound and there are no consequences, he is not afraid of getting wounds. And this sucks.

I look at the notes from last night, new rules I designed in the hotel room. 'It is step in good direction...' said Vlaada. 'Good direction'... I'll show you 'step in good direction'...

I torn it all into pieces. I don't want good direction. I want: 'Ignacy, this is brillant'.

Did I mention I may be a little bit angry that day? Just a little.

I took clean sheet of paper. I wrote: WOUNDS. CONEQENCES. LOOSING SKILLS.

I crossed out LOOSING SKILLS.

WOUNDS. CONSEQUENCES. I need new approach. I need new point of view. Merry is driving. Lena is singing. I am working. And I am really pissed off.


It always starts from a story. So I am sitting in the car and I am trying to imagine myself on the Island. I am trying to imagine that I got hurt. I am trying to imagine what is happening...

I am unhappy. I am scared. I am complaining. I want rest of team mates know that I got wounded so they know I won't be able to work as hard as I wish. They are sad, demotivated, morale drops down. I am complaining...

Morale drops down. Hmm... Interesting. When player gets wound morale drops down. That is a new point of view.

There may be track of morale. It would show if players are motivated or not. It is one track for all. If one player gets wound, it affects this track. All group suffers. He is complaining. He is crying. He is hurt and wounded. Morale of team goes down...

Oh, yes! I got it! Merry is driving. Lena is singing. I am pissed off but I am getting close to start being happy.


So what we have here? Solution fits the story – which is always very important for me – if player gets wound and another wound and another one at some point he starts to complain demotivating the whole group. I can imagine it. It works with the theme, with group of people on deserted Island. Spirit of the team. One for all, all for one.

What else we have? If player gets wounded, he doesn't loose any skills. I disconnected skills and wounds. You have skills till the very end, no matter how wounded you are. So when player is in trouble, if he gets wounded, game is not kicking him down. He is still capable to fight back.

What else? If player gets wounded whole group suffers. It means that he doesn't want to be hurt because all players will have troubles but on the other hand if he suffers, he can still play and act and don't feel like being next to the game. He is not having this bad feeling of being excluded from the group. He is in the game till the very end.

The problem solved. Certainly, at that moment in the car I did have no idea how morale of team would work, but it was just small detail, right? The thing – shifting wound penalty from one player to whole group was the most important.


Few hours later I found something more. I can differentiate characters. Explorer will have only one level of complaining. He can gets six wounds in a row and he will say no single complain. He is explorer. He used to be in much worse shit. The cook? My dear, cook is moaning pig, he complains after he gets three wounds, and then he complains after two wounds and then again, two wounds and again he is grumbling. You better have food for cook, if he is hungry, he will get 2 wounds and then will lament like a slaughtered calf.

It is fun. It – in very simple way – help diverse characters. And it help feel the character, feel the theme, feel the story. One characters will decrease morale often, other not. Ones are moaning pigs, other are tough like John McClane. This is simple and this is fun. This is good.


When we arrived home I was relaxed. My game was repaired. Vlaada pointed problems in my game, I managed to solve some of them during way home and now my game was much better than 3 days before. When I reached home I turn my laptop, open BGG and sent geek mail to Vlaada. I was eager to once again thank him for his help. And very eager to tell him that problem is already solved.

Well, what can I say... I may not look like Bruce Willis. But when I am pissed of I am getting better. Just like John McClane...

Are you designing game? You better have Vlaada Chvatil in your testing group!

Czech Republic is close, so when friend of mine recommended me this small Czech convention that took place 3 hours car drive from Gliwice I didn't think too long. I took my wife, my daughter, I took Robinson and off we go! It was March or April, spring time, great time for nice weekend in Czech. This is a beautiful country as I heard!

Certainly, I didn't see much of Czech country. I didn't see Czech at all. I spent two days in games room playing Robinson Crusoe and Convoy. But my wife said country was nice. She went for a small trip when I was playing...

Anyway, at some point when I was looking for new players to play test Robinson, Vlaada Chvatil appeared in the room. One of players asked him to join test game. Vlaada looked at me, looked at Robinson and said: „OK, let's play.” We began.

The game was hard. Players quickly got wounded. Few times they were very unlucky. Because of wounds they started to loose their character's skills (when you got some level of wounds, you were loosing skills) and they looked like in despair. Since 4th turn Vlaada started to complain.

'We are going to die. We won't make it'

I was in good mood. The game was tough, they really needed to fight hard to survive on the island. I liked it. 'Stop complaining, fight. Do your best!' I told Vlaada.

5th round. They got another couple of wounds and again lost some of character's skills. 'We gonna die next round' said Vlaada.

'Stop doing that!' I said. 'You need to fight. You need to do your best. You need to survive. Think, try to find solution.' I insisted.

'I do. But there is no solution. Game will kill us next round.'

Other players weren't demotivated as much as Vlaada, they saw chances, they tried. Vlaada gave up. He saw that the end is close.

6th round. They are dead. Vlaada is right. They didn't make it.


'You should try harder.' I said.

'Game has bad construction. We had no chances.' Vlaada answered. He was thinking, watching cards, character boards, dices. 'If I may suggest... Well, in my opinion you have problem here Ignacy. When players got wounded, they loose skills. This is bad.' he said.

'Are you kidding? This is awesome! It's like Die hard! You got wounded, you are bleeding, you have broken leg, you feel pain all over your body, but you can not give up, you need to fight!' That was exactly what I wanted. You got wounded, you loose skills, you have to try harder. 'It is like Bruce Willis, right? Wounded, bleeding but still fighting back!'

'Ignacy, it ain't a movie. It is a boardgame.' Vlaada replied. I don't know if Vlaada likes Die Hard, but at that very moment, he didn't look like he was a big fan of John McClane.

'Vlaada, c'mon! It's like in Die Hard movie! You know, Bruce Willis in torn shirt, lots of blood and fight till the very end. Bruce Willis never gives up. That is the feeling I want to have here in Robinson. I want you bleeding, suffering but still fighting for survive!'

'It's a boardgame. You are designer. Not director. Remember?'


'There is a serious problem here.' Vlaada said. 'When you get few wounds, you loose level of wounds and you loose skills of your character.'

'Yes, this represent that you are tired, hurt and you loose your abilities...'

'Take the story aside for a moment. Focus on problem. You get wounds when you are in troubles. When situation gets tough. Whey you have problem. But the game is not helping. It is knocking you down. You got wound, you are in troubles and what is more, game takes your skill away. It is double hit. You need tools to get away from problems. But here in Robinson when you are in troubles, game takes away your tools. You get the point?'

'Yep.' I may be John's McClane's fan, but I am not an idiot... 'But if character gets wound and there are no consequences, getting wound will not be problem! I need players to be afraid of wounds!'

'It doesn't work. This mechanism is bad. You are in troubles. You get wound and at the same moment you loose tools to scramble out of this shit. This is bad.'

He was right. He just took whole 'wound mechanism' and throw it to the bin.

I hate when people are right.

I took my prototype. I went to the room.

No, I was not crying. True John McClane's fans don't cry.


That night I didn't sleep well. To be honest I didn't sleep at all. Well, maybe two or three hours. Let's face it - if Vlaada Chvatil says that your game has a problem, you don't sleep. Right?

I spent few hours rewriting rules. Tried to find solution. I wanted players to be afraid of getting wounds but on the other hand I understood what Vlaada said about taking skills away. I changed levels of wounds that take away character's skills. I changed skills, now when you loose them you don't suffer as much. After few hours I had new set of skills, new levels and I was sure that now, when players got wounded, they will still have chance to fight back. But still, getting wound was bad, was something that players will try to avoid.

I caught Vlaada on breakfast. 'Got minute for me after breakfast?' I asked. 'Yes. Actually I wanted to talk with you. I was thinking about the game last night.'

I showed him my notes. I showed him how I changed levels and skills. I showed him how I changed wound rules and consequences of wounds.

'Is it ok? This is what you were talkin' yesterday?' I asked.

'Well... It is step in right direction' he said.

For all of you who don't get it – 'step in good direction' is polite way of saying 'Man, it sucks. Try harder.'

We talked about other problems of Robinson for an hour. Then I packed Robinson, Convoy, my wife Merry and my daughter and we drove back to Poland. My prototype was devastated.

So here is my advice for all of you - think twice when you decide to take prototype to Czech next time...

To be continued...

Why I needed three years to discover Frozen City?

In 2010 I designed 51st State. I was proud as a hell. It was a great game. I got great reviews, I got few nominations for awards, I saw people playing it on many conventions and having great time with it!I believed I designed perfect card game.

Year later I discovered that 51st State is not a perfect game. Year later I designed direct interaction rules for 51st State and that's how The New Era hit the market. With direct agression 51st State was just awesome. I believed I designed perfect card game.

Year later I discovered that The New Era is not a perfect game. Year later I designed Frozen City and Production dice and thats how Winter hit the market. With Frozen City, Production dice 51st State was just awesome. I believed I finally designed perfect card game...



Leaders? Players who played 51st State were complaining about them a lot. They are powerfull and player who have them have huge advance. If you are draw a Leader you are in better position that your opponent. Many gamers compained. 'Leaders suck.', 'Leaders are unbalanced.', 'I play without Leaders!'

This is bad.

OK, let's take a moment to look at the problem. Leaders are bad or distrbution of Leaders is bad?

I take all Contact cards and all Leaders put aside. I put them on special board called Frozen City. Every player can send ther a worker whenever he wants to have a new Leader. It is no longer random draw. It is no longer huge advance. Everybody can have Leader if he wants to. It is simple. It is obvious. Why it didn't work that way since the vry beginnning?

The question? Why I am such a moron? Why I needed three years to discover it?


It is first round. You play Merchants or Mutants and you have – almost – no chance to attach Location. Incorporating new Location cost you two irons, at the beginning you don't have them. And no chance to have them. You play first round and you know you will not play a Location on the table.

This is bad.

It is last round, you have six or seven Locations with Action icon. Each of them needs a Worker, but you produce only 3 workers. Pitty. You were developing for an hour and now you are stuck. Half of your Locations will not work. It sucks.

This is bad.

In 51st State production is constant – every single round you get 3 Workers and 1 Resource but players needs aren't constant. At the beginning they need iron to build Locations, then they need redevelopement tokens to change Locations, then they need hell of a Workers to make many Actions... Why not make Production phase different in every round? Why not make Production phase follow players needs? Why not give them additional Iron at the beginning of the game and additional worker at the end?

The question? Why I am such a moron? Why I needed three years to discover it?

Every year, when I finish my new design I am 100% sure that this is a perfect game. I see no flaws. I see no points where it could be improved. I see it as a brillant piece of work.

And year after year I learn something new. Every year I discover new stuff. Every year it turns out that I can do better.

Today I am happy to announce – without false modesty - that Winter is a perfect card game.

But to be honest I have a hunch I may want to change this statement next year...