Frozen is known around Ganymede’s Girls as a member of the admin team and as the webmaster of the community’s official website, but you can now add “resident board game designer” to her list of official titles. She recently published her first game, Walking Doggos, a trick taking card game where, as a lazy dog walker, you try your best to do the very least. The Ganymede’s Girls Blog Team had the opportunity to chat with Frozen about her love for board games and what it takes to design your own game from scratch.
How did you get the idea for Walking Doggos?
The seed that eventually grew into Walking Doggos all started because I was talking to a friend about what a game about losing might look like — specifically a game where losing wasn’t just winning with a lower score, but instead where the goal had to feel like you were making decisions that put you in a worse position in the game, all while still being fun and challenging to play. I eventually came up with the idea of a trick taking game, such as Hearts, Spades, or Euchre, where the goal was not to win tricks. From there it was a matter of balancing the game into something that was fun, interesting, and thematic.
What was your process for designing a game from scratch?
My process for designing a game from scratch tends to be taking a mechanic and playing off of it or turning it on its head somehow. With Walking Doggos, I borrowed the blind hand mechanic from Hanabi and Bomb Squad, but made the game competitive rather than cooperative; this changed the clue giving aspects into trying to give the least useful, but still truthful, clues to your opponents. For my next game that’s really early in development, I want to play with the idea of cards that have different abilities depending on if they’re in your hand, an opponent’s hand or if they’re facing you or not.
How long did it take to finish Walking Doggos and what are some interesting challenges that you ran into during the design process?
The hardest challenge was trying to balance how much a player would learn about their hand. The clues you could give players changed several times over the past two years, as well as the number of clues given and the number of cards in hand. The very first version of the game I got to the table had a fatal flaw. Once all the cards were dealt out, you could use process of elimination to know exactly what cards were in your hand. My game group and I all realized this the moment we looked at each others’ hands. Once we added the dead hand, which added more unknowns, the game started to become playable.
There was also a problem in that sometimes you’d draw a really bad hand, and I had to come up with ways to mitigate that so that players felt like they had some control over the random aspects.
It’s been about two years from the initial thoughts of wanting to design a game based on losing to putting it up on The Game Crafter. Play testing was a huge part of that. I constantly tried to introduce the game to new groups and replay it with people who played earlier versions.
With so many types of good dogs out there, how did you pick out which breeds to feature in the game art?
The most important factor was to have a variety of fairly obvious size differences. Since size of breed is the most important factor of a card, I needed that to be as intuitive as possible. They also had to be very different looking, to make it easy to distinguish and identify. Lastly, the breeds needed to be common enough for a majority of people to be able to name.
The first and most important breed to include was the Beagle, because I have a Beagle/wirehaired terrier mix. From there I went with Corgi and Shiba Inu because they’re both very big in internet culture. Originally the Pug was a Dachshund, but a Pug stands out more from an art perspective. Great Dane was just because it’s the biggest breed I could think of. I also considered including a Saint Bernard, but ultimately the final decision came down to the art a friend of mine found on Pixabay.
The art is so cute!
I get so many compliments on the art that I wish I could take credit for it. The very first play tested version just had photos of dogs with numbers written on them as the cards. I started making my own custom art, but I am so not an artist. By the time I was about to post my version of the artwork, one of my friends beat me to the punch with the version you see today.
What was the first game that you played that really got you into board games as a hobby?
Starcraft the Board Game. I bought it because I really liked Starcraft and it looked neat but was way heavier of a game than I had any right to be playing for a first designer board game. From there I got really into Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan and started spreading out my collection from there.
I didn’t know there was a Starcraft board game!
It’s super rare and expensive now.
What’s your favorite board game of all time?
That’s a really tough thing to answer, because I have so many favorites that are favorites for different reason. My gut tells me Mage Knight or Terra Mystica, but I get Terra Mystica to the table way more often so I’ll go with that one.
I’m pretty new to board games as a hobby myself, so I’m not familiar with a lot of them still. What do you like about Terra Mystica?
Terra Mystica is a game that has everything I liked about Settlers of Catan, while removing everything I hate about it. The theme is that you’re all different fantasy races trying to terraform the world to fit your preferred habitat. You build out a civilization by first building dwellings, and upgrading those to trading posts, and upgrading again to either strongholds or temples, and upgrading a temple to a sanctuary. You connect all your buildings with sea travel and bridges. I really liked the city building features of Settlers of Catan, and upgrading buildings into better buildings, so Terra Mystica is that and more. What Terra Mystica lacks is a trading mechanic, and that’s the part of Catan that I like the least.
Oh, yes. I have played Catan before and my friends call it “the destroyer of friendships.” Maybe it’s just my friend group, but a lot of times the game devolves into trying to sabotage each other more than it is actually trying to get victory points. There’s also that luck involved with Catan where a lot of your success depends on if you got to pick a good location or not and that can be frustrating.
There’s definitely a lot of luck to Catan, and one of the things that I really like about Terra Mystica is that there’s no luck. Its victory conditions are entirely based around your own decisions, and how you best build near and around your friends. You can’t really hurt your friends, other than building where they might have wanted to build next.
Do you have any new games in the works for the future?
Unfortunately what I’ve already said is really all that’s in my mind right now. It’s a card game where each card has a different ability depending on whether it’s in your hand, an opponent’s hand, or whether you can see what it is or not. The theme I’m considering right now is a political theme about trying to get elected in the primaries. There’s a pool of points, that are voters, and each player tries to collect points by playing cards in different ways.
Do you have any advice for aspiring board game designers?
Read design blogs. Follow other designers, especially those that make your favorite games. Play lots of games. Think of what you’d do differently, or how different mechanics or concepts within the game might have come to be.
Where can we find Walking Doggos online?
Walking Doggos is currently on sale at The Game Crafter. Links to that as well as the BoardGameGeek page for the game are all available at walkingdoggos.com.