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Making a Board Game – Part 1: From Cartographer to Game Designer

Working as a cartographer over the last couple of years has opened me up to lots of worlds. Fantasy realms and sci-fi settings that are story driven, and full of detail, have generally been my domain. This has included dungeons, tombs, settlements and worlds. Within the last category I arrived at creating a series of land hex tiles showing villages, towns and cities, fields, forests and mountains.

I was pleased with how they turned out, and how they were received on Twitter, and it was only a small step to cut them out and mount them on card. This resulted in something more substantial, an actual game component that seemed to be demanding rules and additional components. Now this is, I guess, a stage that many people find themselves at. An opportunity presenting itself and where to take it? So I took a step back and over the following few months just let the concept grow in my mind.

One thing I knew was I wasn’t keen on creating a complex game. I am personally interested in simple mechanics creating historical outcomes, installing a heritage in a game. I like games that are easy to jump into and the rules only take a fifteen minutes to explain, but games that evolve from the decisions made by the player and not completely from random chance.

The Six Original Tiles for Expansionist
To change or evolve a tile, you would need to have it effected by something. How could this happen? I considered cards and counters but I saw that I could remain loyal to the map making quality of the hex tiles. After all, that is my background. So rather than playing a counter on the tile I wanted to put more maps on the tile. I saw that if I use a stacking mechanism I could up and downgrade a location by adding or removing tiles. This became the core concept of the game; the stacking of tiles.
But what could cause the upgrading of the tile. I conceived of a tile that could go between the land upgrades and the broke this down into six triangles. These naturally came to symbolise events, six tiles per level that could be placed individually. When that tile level is full you can up or down grade depending on the triangle tiles. What did this mean?

I could see that there could be positive or negative events on the progress of a settlement and some that could ultimately see it pass into history or climb to the heights of a city. Green and red, positive and negative tiles that can be drawn, collected, placed and ultimately provide another mechanism that drives the game forward. I set about designing the triangle tiles that I now call Event Tiles.
A stacking system and a tile drawing system that once put in place creates a beautiful tableau map that also has a three dimensional element, that indicates the most impressive settlements. I began to write the rules and finished making a prototype. The process was becoming very real especially seeing I could now test the game with my family and friends. I made some adjustments, rewrote the rules and gave it a name: Expansionist.
But there was much to come still. In the next post I’ll talk more about the wrestle with graphics.

Don't forget you can support the Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/drmgames/expansionist-a-table-top-game-for-pioneers

Thanks again guys,

Toby Lancaster

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