How I created a new board game

by carl on May 3, 2013

By the end of May, I will have submitted my new board game for production.

My game cards, my board, my box cover and my brochure are undergoing repeated editing and checking. My colors have to be exactly right.

Also, everything I submit to be printed in a computer file has to be in text, Adobe Illustrator or else in raster graphics. Translated from the geek, that’s “web graphics or printer’s graphics.”

In “You Know Who I Am,” Leonard Cohen sang, “I am the one who loves changing from nothing to one.”

That was me, starting from scratch to create a publishing enterprise and launching it with a new board game.

Here’s how I did it:

I came up with a concept, did a rough mockup and tested it almost immediately. I did the first test in April 2012 in Toronto during the 90th birthday celebration of my friend, Jo Vellacott, a Quaker historian who wrote Bertrand Russell and the Pacifists in the First World War.

My play testers were people from the 60s who had worked in the peace, co-operative and feminist movements. They were brutal, and as a result of their critiques, I changed not only many questions but one of the major mechanics of the game. Later, those who had not been active in the 60s play-tested the game, as did a bunch of teenagers on Cape Cod in November 2012. Still further changes were incorporated into the game.

Then I had to get a board to replace the rough sketch I had used for the first prototype. That meant choosing an artist. Fortunately, the choice wasn’t difficult. Steve Fick, a renowned fine artist and cartographer, was someone I had known for decades. When he agreed to do the board and the box cover, I was ecstatic. The board was really impressive, and after about three photo shoots, I had the box cover photo.

By this time, I had the 300 questions I would use. I had lived through the 60s, in Pennsylvania, Illinois and finally Ontario. From studying history at York University, I knew quite a bit about modern history – and I had lived through it.

I had not been a mere spectator to the 60s. In the early 1960s, marched in Cambridge, Maryland, protesting segregation. I was in Washington, D.C., in 1967 when Alan Ginsberg tried to levitate the Pentagon with Buddhist chants. (There, by the way, I saw my first hippies — I was happy to see them holding hands in a chain and chanting, “Peace, peace, peace,” separating the soldiers with guns from some angry Puerto Ricans shouting for independence for their island.)

As a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, I was active in the peace and civil rights movements. A friend of mine had gone to the Students for a Democratic Society National Council in Berkeley, California, over New Year’s 1967. His car from Chicago had arrived late, and he walked into a discussion on women’s liberation to hear one woman on her feet saying, “Sit down and shut up—the oppressors have no right to discuss how and when the oppressed will be liberated!” He had thought the proper response would have been to give them the floor, but some of his male colleagues continued to protest for their right to discuss women’s liberation.

In Toronto, I watched the opening of the high rise residence of Rochdale College, the alternative college that built a high-rise residence on the University of Toronto campus before the federal agency pulled their mortgage. I was a part-time Rochdale student learning to play the recorder, studying Herman Hesse’s writings and attending the “Teach Seminar” at Coach House Press led by the poet Dennis Lee, the author of Alligator Pie. Alas, constant problems with the physical residence – runaways from small Ontario towns and with drugs – left this utopian enterprise wide open for trouble it should have seen coming. The federal government mortgage agency pulled their mortgage and the building became the Senator David A. Croll Apartments for senior citizens. Who knows? Maybe some of those from the hippie heydays are residents today!

Since then, the rest of my life was history: a B.A. in Arts from York University, two years working in a bookstore, one year as an Ontario civil servant, three years as a journalist for the Etobicoke Gazette, 21 years in writing and administration for NGOs and nonprofits, nine years as a technical writer, one year with a public relations firm, and five more years as a freelance writer, editor and software staffer.

For nine of those years I was associate editor of Federations magazine for the Forum of Federations, where I assigned articles and copy edited the prose of professors into something that would interest and educate civil servants, political leaders and others. On the job at the Forum, I learned every step of the publication process.

In the early the early 2000s, my nonviolence training and NGO knowledge had paid off when, as a part-time volunteer, I helped organize and found Nonviolent Peaceforce. This worldwide organization has since trained and sent nonviolent peacekeepers into areas of tension and conflict in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, South Sudan and the Caucasus.

So writing most of the 300 questions was easy for me. When I finally ran out of steam near Question No. 282, I asked some friends for help (see “Roll the Credits” for the full list in the instruction brochure of my game when it arrives). I cut the questions down to 288 so that there would be six decks of 48, one for each region on the path: Canada, New England, Atlantic Coast, the Old South, The West and the Great Lakes states. The 48 cards in each deck had to have equal numbers of easy and difficult questions. The number of cards with of average difficulty could not be more than half a deck. There also had to be questions about something that happened in or to someone who lived or was born in each state or province in each region.

Finally, there had to be roughly equal groups of questions about each “scene” or topic: sex, drugs, rock ‘n’roll, politics+college and much more. Anyone who knows math can tell that getting this exact is impossible: too many unknowns and not enough equations. However, I came very close. Getting as many questions for Maine and Saskatchewan as for New York and California was the only metric I wasn’t able to meet.

Then there was money: I raised about $5000 for the game with my Indiegogo campaign, but I need more than several times that to fund my printing. Soon there will be a campaign of my own on this website for others to pre-order games in this first edition in a similar fashion.

Tell your friends and stay tuned for more.

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