Last week we published an article about Libellud’s journey of producing another brilliant board game: Dice Forge! This week we are delighted to share the second part of their story. We hope you enjoy reading about the game’s development process and are as excited about the release in June as we are!
You can read “Behind the Dice (Part 1)” here.
We suggest reading the following article if you are unfamiliar with the game mechanics: https://www.asmodee.us/en/games/dice-forge/
Our first article on the “Making of Dice Forge” (which you can read here: lien) left off just after the 2016 Cannes International Games Festival. The game had been quite warmly received by players, but we had noticed a number of issues that needed to be fixed. In early March, development work resumed, with a clear brief: keep the game easy to learn but make it richer and more diverse.
We focused our efforts on the issues detected before Cannes and confirmed by players: a lack of interaction, depth and tension. While taking care not to lose sight of our goals, we kept an open mind to all potential development options.
During this period, we explored and subsequently abandoned multiple avenues, including different effects on each card in a stack (shuffled at the start of the game), random card placement, “objective” cards and auction phases. Basically, if we had an idea, we tested it. In most cases, we found that adding elements made the game more complicated without adding real depth, or introduced too much randomness (in addition to the inherently random nature of dice).
As we created successive versions of the game, they began to become fine-tuned. Little by little, we found the improvement routes we had been searching for. We introduced more interaction, among other things by adding a “Copy” die-side that lets a player copy a die-side on another player’s die. We introduced cards that require the other players to reroll (and either lose resources or generate additional resources for the active player). We also created a “cursed” die-side that can be given to another player, who will never be able to remove it. The idea was to introduce a form of interaction that was not necessarily direct, and the least aggressive possible: we did not want to make this a confrontational game.
The idea of defining a basic set of cards for first-time play also emerged. This set of cards had to be easy to understand while still offering meaningful choices. This enabled us to provide alternative cards with new effects, with the game offering greater diversity and replay value as a result.
To counterbalance the inherent randomness of the dice, certain cards provide “permanent” effects. These effects can be activated once per turn to adjust the die results and obtain the necessary resources to perform the desired action. Other cards give one-time bonuses that can be kept until the time is right to use them to maximum effect.
After making this slew of changes, we had a version with which we were satisfied, and moved on to a phase of “quantitative” testing, to balance the card costs. This was the most exciting time for the game designers: manually recording every action by every player in an Excel spreadsheet, along with the points scored. The project’s lead game designer also had great fun sitting alone at a table, play-testing every conceivable strategy… Fortunately, that didn’t drive him totally insane, and it helped us to check that no particular tactic was more effective than the alternatives.
In August, we approved the final version of the game… from a mechanics perspective at least! We still had to write the rules and finalise the graphical work, which had changed almost as much as the mechanics.
Dice Forge – Box Cover Metamorphosis
To give an idea of the scale of the changes made to the game’ artwork, what better example than the cover, which reflects the various directions adopted during the development process.
Originally, for the version presented at the 2016 Cannes festival, we wanted an action-centered, story-telling box cover, something dynamic that would give players the epic feel of an adventure. Hence the decision to put the spotlight on the heroes. This cover was also very colourful, as were the other game components.
The cover art by Biboun, the game’s illustrator, reflected what we wanted the game to project. At the time, the box was the same format as Loony Quest, in keeping with our goal of producing a gateway game in a “small” box.
Around this time, a number of game components were added, removed or modified. We also integrated the box and storage inserts into the game design and hence the theme. We quickly came up with the idea of a box made of stone, reminiscent of a Greek temple.
With a “stone” box, our colourful, dynamic cover art appeared mismatched with the game’s subject and graphical direction. We asked the illustrator to work on a new cover, to restore consistency with the other components. We still wanted to depict the heroes and creatures locked in an epic struggle, but henceforth etched in stone. The cover would provide a snapshot of what players do during the game. It would also be a good way of illustrating the game’s depth.
The typeface also changed around that time. We kept certain rounded characters, but a few letters were slimmed down. The aim was to give the typeface a more mature, serious side.
Biboun once again had to change the style, but his work was still fantastic. Nevertheless, our instincts told us that this cover was not what was needed for the game. Numerous game components were shown in this version (more than in the first cover), but they were all concentrated in one small area of the artwork. The stone effect resembled what we wanted but was not really colourful enough. Although still not quite what we were looking for, we were getting closer!
We wanted the cover art to suggest easily-learned game mechanics, something simple that nevertheless hinted at a certain depth of gameplay. We settled on the game’s main resources: sun shards and moon shards. We decided to merge the two types of shard (red and blue), resulting in a single, purple gem with a different shape.
The box, designed in three dimensions, projected into the real world, resembling a block of quarried stone. We also wanted to show the hero and his die, which is visible in the centre of the gem, itself embedded in the stone. The sides of the box are engraved, giving it a precious look. The text colour was changed to purple.
The final choice of box cover projects the blend of simplicity and depth that we had been aiming for from the start. It suggests epic fantasy without showing it, and depicts the die and game resources together.
The game’s component and artwork evolved throughout the development process. So far, every aspect of Dice Forge’s creation had turned into an adventure, and the production phase would be no exception!
Production – The adventure continues!
One of Dice Forge’s distinguishing features is its use of dice with removable sides. Throughout much of the development process, we used Lego dice in our prototypes. However, when we had decided to publish the game, we had to address the production issue. We quickly abandoned the idea of using Lego dice, as the mold had been destroyed and making a new one posed numerous problems. As no factories sold this type of component, we came to the conclusion that we would have to design the dice ourselves.
Obtaining a satisfactory result was a time-consuming process. We submitted an initial proposition to our manufacturing partner as a sketch. The plant produced a prototype die based on this idea. In this initial model, each die-side was attached by a single stud. After a few uses, the sides tended to become loose and fall off the die. Sure, the idea was to change the die-sides… but only when the players decide to!
Back to the drawing board! As we worked on a new design, we had two main requirements: have four anchor points on each side; and enable a die-side to be used as a lever to pry other sides off the die. We wanted everything to remain securely attached to the die, while enabling die-sides to be removed easily with no need for additional components. The new model was much more successful, and after making a few adjustments we approved the final version of the dice that will be in the boxes hitting store shelves at the end of June!
You may have seen these dice at the 2017 Cannes International Games Festival. As in previous years, this event was a milestone for the game. This time, we presented the final version of Dice Forge, even though the components were still printed and cut in-house. All four tables were occupied non-stop throughout the festival, either by people who had already tried the game and wanted to see how it had changed, or by visitors not yet familiar with Dice Forge.
We were delighted to see this stream of players of all ages and gaming tastes striving to control the luck of the dice. This time, we were satisfied with the balance struck between the game’s accessibility, the simplicity of its rules, the depth of gameplay and the variety of possible strategies.
Thanks to your amazing enthusiasm, we left Cannes 2017 with stars in our eyes! Unfortunately, we still have a few manufacturing-related details to sort out, which will require discussions with the factory to approve the final points before production can be launched. We must all try to be patient until the games arrive at the end of June. In the meantime, you will still be able to play Dice Forge at upcoming festivals in Toulouse and Strasbourg.
Dice Forge hits stores in June 2017… And the adventure continues!
In a few short weeks, Dice Forge will be arriving in your favourite store. For Libellud, this sets the seal on years of hard work resulting in a game that meets our expectations! We are also delighted to see it available to the general public at long last. But the adventure doesn’t end here! We all feature in the next chapter together! There are even rumours of championships in the autumn, after you have had all summer to practice! The divine dice beckon… 😉