The Harvest Festival is about to begin and players are competing to earn the most honour for their artistic display of lanterns. The winner will be the person who can create the most awe-inspiring displays and win the hearts of the people. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a simple tile-laying game for 2-4 players that takes only about 30 minutes to play. It’s fun and addicting and surprisingly mature for a first design.
Lanterns really came out of nowhere last year. Designer Chris Chung took a little tile placement game and blew everyone away with it, winning a Mensa Select Award for 2015. Although Lanterns is Chung’s first published game he’s been designing for over three years.
“I didn’t get into board game designing on purpose. I had grown up with the classic games that everyone can name off from heart, and I dabbled in a little bit of Texas Hold’em when it was on its big wave during my high school years, but it wasn’t until a dream that I had played a game at a local game store that I had designed and published. I was playing with friends and family and they all loved it, and next thing I remember was waking up feeling inspired,” said Chung.
“I wrote down everything I could remember about the game: Wizards, warriors, spells, demons; the game had every fantasy buff’s fancy. The game had everything from head-to-head combat, rock-paper-scissors-like battle systems, action points, FLAVOUR TEXT! And I thought it was the best thing ever. I even missed out on a bit of school and wanted to focus on the game.”
Chung’s first game didn’t go exactly as planned. It was a classic case of a young designer trying to cram too much into their game. He presented it at Hammercon in 2012 and it didn’t go exactly as planned. “As soon as that convention finished, I was done with the game forever. It was not the same game I had dreamt about playing, and I did not find it fun anymore.”
However, one really good thing to come out of that attempt was meeting with members of the Game Artisans of Canada (GAC), who gave him direction and a community to share ideas with. “One thing remained consistent: Sen-Foong Lim, Daryl Andrews, Stephen Sauer to name a few, they all told me to create something within reach, to try out lighter games, and so I took their advice to heart. I never tried to design anything like it at all and probably will not for the foreseeable future.”
The design for Lanterns was much simpler, in fact it took him only two days to come up with the core idea. “I was attending a prototype game jam amongst many other game designers, especially in video games, and the challenge was to create a game in 48 hours. It didn’t have to be fun or playable, but I placed high expectations for myself to create something unique and exciting,” said Chung.
“The game was originally called Blossom and each player placed one Flower tile on their turn to the table. Tiles had to be touching but they did not have to match, though you did get bonus points for matching. You then collect the Flower card that faces you from the tile you played, and everyone around the table got a Flower card that faced them from that particular tile. You then collected these Flower cards in combinations to trade in for Bouquet points: four of a kind, three pairs, or seven unique.” The gameplay remains incredibly similar in the final iteration and although end game conditions and scoring evolved through play testing, the core has always remained the same.
Play testing is the core of any successful design and Toronto is full of opportunities to get your game played. Both Snakes & Lattes Board Game Cafe and 401 Games have regular Designer Nights and the members of GAC are a huge support in the community. “The Game Artisans have been such an great support network for me, whether its through play testing one of my ideas in progress and getting feedback, or play testing their games and giving feedback, I have grown up as a more complete person with the help of these designers, said Chung. “I consider all these folks great friends of mine and I always look forward to seeing them in person whenever we get together.”
“The mission of Snakes & Lattes Designer Night is to provide a forum for new and established designers to get feedback on their games,” said Mikhail Honoridez, who runs the event. “Anytime someone wants to come and get feedback on something they’re working on, that’s what we’re here for.”
Some other success stories of games play tested at Snakes Designers Night include The Walled City by Stephen Sauer and Daryl Andrews, Loud About by Jeff Lai, and Cauldron by Artem Safarov.
These kind of community driven events are invaluable to designers. Having experienced gamers willing to play your prototypes and provide feedback can be the difference between getting something published or not. It’s not always easy to move from the play testing phase into the completion phase of game design. “A design is complete when I feel like I have exhausted the game to its fullest potential. I feel comfortable knowing that my play tests went over quite well, and then I get it ready for the next steps,” said Chung.
Chung has a lot of up coming projects on the go under his moniker Flash Forward Games.
“Crookstown, which is a take-that game where players assign crooks to vaults to steal loot but these crooks will be constantly jockeying for position that sometimes it’ll be hard to steal anything!
Kado, which is an ode to Mahjong, my family’s pastime. The game feels and plays like Mahjong but with a few modifications. It may not see the light of day but it was a fun exercise to try and hopefully someone will take a look at it.
Full Metal Contact, a two player Rock’ em Sock’ em Robots-meets-Street-Fighter game where players customize robots with deadly weapons and compete in the finals to see who can come out on top.
Valencia, which is a heavy Euro strategy game set in the Golden Age of Valencia. Players will be assigning workers to collect silk and various goods to export on ships to gain income.”
It’s incredible to see notes on scrapes of paper and simple incomplete prototypes turn into fully published games. It’s easy to tell when a game hasn’t been play tested enough and that is the art of incubation; the steps you need to take from the spark of an idea to a fully realized vision. Toronto is lucky to have so many venues for the incubation process and GAC to help designers achieve their goals.