In the first of a series of Game Design Retrospectives here at PHG, Isaac Vega has shared his thoughts on the design process as well as a number of prototype images from early in the design of City of Remnants that I've interspersed throughout the interview. Without further ado, here's Isaac Vega:
1) Where and when did you first come up with the idea for the game?
When City of Remnants first entered my mind, I had already been thinking about the mechanics in games I enjoyed. I knew right away that I wanted to do something with gangs. The idea of building up my forces and using them to take over different parts of a city just sounded incredibly fun to me. I also didn't want combat to be the same old chuck-the-dice-and-hope-for-the-best kind of game. I wanted a little more depth to it. After letting the idea mull in my head for a while, I decided to share the concept with Colby. He loved the idea and encouraged me to drop what I was doing to work on what would eventually, after lots of hard work, become City of Remnants.
That was all the motivation I needed. As soon as I could, I began designing the game. After a few days of working diligently at home, the first copy of City of Remnants was born. Of course, it wasn't even close to where it needed to be. I spent the next two years changing and testing the game to get it to the point where it was finally ready for release. But if it wasn't for that random conversation, I am not sure if or when City of Remnants would have ever existed.
2) What games inspired you in designing this game?
Dominion was definitely my inspiration for the deck building aspect of City of Remnants. Puerto Rico was also another huge influence when it came to action selection and development building. I am sure there are other games that inspired me as well during the development process, but those two are by far the two biggest games that inspired me. They also happen to be two of the first games I played when I entered the board gaming world.
3) What was your favorite/least favorite part of the design process?
My favorite part is creating that first prototype. There is so much hope and excitement when you start on a new game. I love coming up with ideas and trying out things I have never seen before.
My least favorite part occurs when you get to about the 4th round of edits. This is the point in game design where you know you have something good; in fact, you know it will be great if you can just get it done! But there is one final thing before you can take the game into the final rounds of playtesting. This is different for every game, but I think most designers experience this point where you know something is just off. It is frustrating to say in the least, but it is necessary to find that last essential piece of the puzzle. I have witnessed other designers shelf their games at this point, which is a depressing thought. However, working through it is all the more glorious because the reward is right around the corner.
4) What challenges did you encounter during the design process?
It's important to understand that City of Remnants is my first published game. Everything I have learned about game design is directly from working on it. It has, for the most part, been a self-learning process. Overdesigning my prototype was something that I struggled with. I really wanted to impress people so I spent tons of time (and money) trying to make the game look aesthetically pleasing instead of focusing solely on the game play. This resulted in a lot of wasted time in printing, cutting, designing, and repeating over and over again. When it comes to game design, I have to constantly remind myself that it's okay to grab some sticker paper, a pen, and just go crazy. As long as the game is playable, it doesn't need to have the most appealing looks. That is what the graphic designer and artist are for. That is not to say that you shouldn't have a vision of where the game should go, but I think overdoing it was a major challenge for me when I should have concentrated on making the game fun first.
Another thing that I struggled with was playtesting. It was hard for me to ask people to play my game. I never wanted to make anyone feel like they were being forced to play my game. Luckily, I have a great support group and I was even able to expand my friendships through this hobby. This has allowed me to have a great number of people play my game while not burning anyone out. It is still something I struggle with, but a game can't get to where it needs to be without playtesting. With this in mind, I learned that it was crucial get the game in front of as many people as possible.
5) What surprises did you encounter during the design process?
The work! I had no idea how much work goes into designing a game. It is a much longer process than I anticipated. I think most people tend to believe that anyone can design a game. But the process is definitely not for everyone. It is something you have to love doing. I am lucky to say that it is something I love doing. The more I work at game design, the more driven I am to design games. It takes perseverance and it can be a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun.
6) What did it feel like to see the finished product?
Surreal, nerve-racking, mesmerizing, exciting. Tons of emotions all at once. It was so cool to see it finally come together, but there's a great deal of anxiety that comes paired with it all because now it's done, it's out there. I just hope people will love it as much as I do.
7) How closely did the finished product match your original vision for the game?
Overall, I would say that City of Remnants really stuck to the core of what I wanted, a great game with lots of decision making that makes you feel like you're building up a gang that's your own. Of course, there were lots of changes. Originally, there were no dice which means the battle mechanic changed quite a bit. The available actions shifted from 5 to 7 many times. The original theme for the game was set to take place in the real world, but obviously that changed as well. With design comes change, but it is always for the better.
8) What would you do differently if you were to redesign this game from scratch?
I think there are a ton of things that any designer could rethink and redesign now that the product is out on the market. Players will always bring things to your attention that you may not have thought of. But in the end, I don't have any regrets. I am proud of the product I have created and am excited to see where it goes. I don't think that there is anything in the game that I can't explore and play with by releasing expansions.
9) What are the biggest lessons that you learned?
Keep going, keep going, keep going! Never stop. If you believe in it, you have to put the work into it. The difference between an idea in your head and product in stores is perseverance. Not everything is going to work as smoothly as you would like, but you never know what the future has in store if you give up.
10) What aspects of the process do you most anticipate/dread in designing future games?
I am a little bit obsessed with designing, so I am always anticipating my next idea around the corner. Each idea has its own hurdles to deal with, but they are all exciting. I guess the biggest dread is releasing a product that is just not embraced by the market. I really want to make this a successful career and in order to make that a reality I have to provide the market with great designs. It can be nerve racking, but I want to do my best to provide the hobby with something to embrace and stand behind.
11) Any other comments or thoughts on the design process?
Designing is a blast, but it is not for everyone. Work your butt off and be able to absorb as much as you can from your playtesters. Learn how to edit yourself and the voices around you. Keep focus on what you want to accomplish with your design. Play games and learn from other veterans in the industry. Jump on every opportunity that comes your way, and always look for ways to improve.
I was very lucky to get to where I am and there is still a long way to go, but I am grateful for it every day. Remember to be gracious to those that are around you. Board games are all about having fun with the people you choose to share them with. Designing a game is no different. Have fun and enjoy the process. If you have that, then designing games will always be worth it.
Here are some prototype game pieces, courtesy of Isaac:
Thanks for reading, and look out for more Game Design Retrospectives with the other Plaid Hat Games!