Dice Forge, the latest game from Libellud, will, at last, be hitting game store shelves in June. Two years have passed since the first prototype was produced. This publishing project has been an adventure with multiple twists in the tale! Libellud have kindly shared the following article with us, reflecting on their journey of producing another brilliant board game!
We suggest reading the following article if you are unfamiliar with the game mechanics: https://www.asmodee.us/en/games/dice-forge/
Inspired by components
In 2013, Lego stopped producing board games and their characteristic dice with clip-on interchangeable sides. These dice had tickled the imaginations of game designers, with many convinced there was something to be made of the concept. But no prototypes had emerged.
Régis Bonnessée, who designed Dice Forge and manages Libellud, decided to order some Lego dice in 2014. He wanted to design a game based on these unconventional components. His natural inclination was to use the dice for resource management, a game mechanic that he relishes and which features in all his games.
After a few weeks of brainstorming, he designed an initial prototype in November 2014 and immediately began play-testing. This prototype embodied the basic principle behind Dice Forge: players upgrade their dice to develop their position. The dice let you collect resources, which could then be used to either buy “buildings” to score points or buy die sides to develop your game engine.
The game was an instant hit among Libellud’s play-testing community! At the time, the game featured six different resources and 29 “building” cards with a variety of effects. The more we played (and we played a lot!), the more we liked the game, which quickly established itself as a crowd favourite. The “removable die-side” mechanic stimulated our creative instincts and encouraged us to test lots of effects.
In February 2015, with the flagship Cannes games festival fast approaching, Régis decided it was time to show his prototype to board gaming professionals and hobbyists. We loved the game, we were feeling confident… and totally unprepared to have our hopes crushed!
The 2015 Cannes games festival – First pivot
Régis presented the prototype during the “Off” after-party at the 2015 Cannes International Games Festival. Many players were intrigued by this game, with its novel components. The concept was appealing: it’s not every day that you see a game where players can customise their dice mid-game! However, Régis quickly noticed that players, including hobbyists accustomed to complex games, were swamped by the mass of information to be assimilated: too many resources, too many cards, too many effects, too many die-sides, etc.
Six different resources (not counting victory points), 29 cards with different effects, 17 die-sides and the ability to play multiple actions per turn was a lot to take on board! Although the feedback from boardgaming fans and professionals was very polite, Régis sensed that the game had become too complicated relative to his initial intention. The game was complexified by a combination of game mechanics and ergonomic factors, which weighed down the game without necessarily adding true depth of gameplay.
After Cannes, it was back to square one! We knew we had an interesting concept but it didn’t match what we wanted to do with it, namely design a gateway game with broad appeal that would offer depth of gameplay without being complicated, and would be easy to learn but not overly simplistic. Measured against these criteria, the game was too complex, but how could it be simplified and made easier to learn without sacrificing its essence?
It was at this point that Régis let Libellud’s game designers get their eager hands on the prototype. The team took spent months tweaking every aspect of the game with the aim of making it more attractive and immediately fun to play. The new, leaner Dice Forge had only 3 resources, 15 cards (some with similar effects) and a limit of two actions per turn.
We thought we had come up with a version simple enough to appeal to a very broad audience. The feedback from our playtesters was very positive and supported this assumption. By October 2015, we had what we considered to be a stable final version of the game and began planning for a launch in 2016. At least that’s what we thought…
Early 2016 – Creeping doubts
Over the following weeks, our attention was focused on other aspects of the game, such as the theme, the artwork and manufacturing issues. During that period, we simply didn’t have time to play it any more! When the time came to test the game ergonomics, we started playing again, and with the benefit of hindsight became aware of a number of quite significant problems. Clearly, we had succeeded in making the game easy to learn, but we began to wonder whether we had made it too simplistic…
Initial responses to the game were still very positive, but might that not be mainly due to the novelty factor of the custom dice? By reducing the number of effects on the cards, had we unwittingly decreased the game’s replay value and long-term appeal?
We began to have doubts and despite the imminent production launch and the artwork already being produced by Biboun, we decided to play it safe and take our time. The game designers rolled up their sleeves again with the aim of presenting a stable version to visitors to the 2016 International Games Festival… only a month later!
Many card effects are variations on similar principles (offering greater or smaller rewards depending on their cost). We added a little diversity without altering the whole game, as we wanted to keep the play balance stable. We had a slightly more varied but still easy to learn version in time for Cannes.
The festival in Cannes marked a turning point. We used a system of questionnaires to gather quantifiable data from players, as well as noting their general impressions. The 332 opinions collected from players continued strongly positive feedback but also revealed some aspects that would benefit from further development. Although most opinions were positive, some players appeared underwhelmed with regard to the expectations surrounding the game.
The game was simple, easy to learn and flowed smoothly, exactly as we hoped. Unsurprisingly, players loved the “customise your dice” feature. And yet our fears were confirmed: the game lacked tension and depth, which could adversely affect its replay value. Without this large-scale feedback from the boardgaming community, it would have been trickier to confirm our suspicions. We are very grateful to everyone who took the time to play the game and give us their feedback in Cannes or at other festivals
Drawing on all these inputs, we went back and tweaked the game some more, still with the goal of releasing a version that met our requirements: Dice Forge was easy to learn; we now had to enrich the possible choices and create more tension during the game. After being “too complicated” and then “too simple”, the challenge was to strike the right balance. We spent the three months following the 2016 Cannes International Games Festival striving to achieve that balance.
But the adventure didn’t end there! We will tell you the rest of the story in the second part of this article, to be published shortly.