from Benjamin and Klaus Teuber
On the occasion of the Nuremberg International Toy Fair taking place at the end of January 2016, our new game “Smugglers” – the second game designed by my son Benjamin and me – will be released. As before, developing the game together was great fun, all the more so as we could once again work with uncommon game components. But now let’s look a bit further ahead. We’re currently working on a game that is by far our most elaborate project.
“Oh, you are professional game designers! I’m sure it’s great to sit around all day and play, that’s brilliant!”
People often react like this or in a similar way when we introduce ourselves as game designers. Many people believe that developing a game doesn’t require much work. The game designer simply writes his idea down on a piece of paper, sends it to a publisher, has the editors employed by the publisher do the rest of the work, and otherwise lazes around.
Our most recent project shows that this is not the case. The initial game concept was quite simple; however, we had to build a rather elaborate device in order to make our game concept work.
Our idea was to develop a magnetic racing game where two players sit opposite one another; a vertical board is placed between them. On one side of the board, a racetrack is depicted. A weak, disk-shaped magnet showing a racer is held in place and moved around by a strong magnet on the opposite side of the board (the side without racetrack).
One player is the navigator. On his side, he sees the racetrack and the disk-shaped magnet (moving magnet). The player sitting opposite him is the driver. He moves the moving magnet by means of a strong guiding magnet. The driver has the task of moving the moving magnet as fast as possible from the start of the racetrack to the finish, around bends and through chicanes. His problem: He doesn’t know in which direction to drive the racecar on the opposite side because he can’t see the racetrack.
This is where the navigator comes into play. He gives the driver indications in which direction to move the guiding magnet so that the racecar remains on the track and doesn’t collide with the guardrail. To this end, he points a finger in the desired direction and emphasizes his finger movements with comments and vivid gesticulations. “Up … up … faster … a bit further upward … down a bit … now straight ahead … farther … farther… stop, not that far …”
The racing team works up quite a sweat in the process because it not only wants to complete the task but also be faster than any of the other teams. The elapsed time is measured with an electronic timer. We designed the game for 3 or 4 players. At least once, each player should form a race team with another player. The fastest team wins. So far, so good. However, our concept confronted us with a big problem: Who decides whether a racecar has collided with the plotted guardrail? Decimillimeters could be crucial in this context – who would be able to distinguish such minute distances?
We were aware that the racing team and the non-active players would probably be at variance with each other, and disputes would be likely. It was one of the moments when a game designer puts his game concept on the back burner – unless he still can’t let it go of it entirely.
We didn’t let go of it, and that’s how the “black holes” were born. At first, we experimented with a board containing holes that was glued to another board without holes (see below). We placed the moving magnet on the board containing holes and moved it around by means of the guiding magnet on the other side. If the moving magnet came too close to a hole, it inevitably was drawn into that hole. In terms of our racing game, this meant that the racecar had collided with the guardrail and suffered an accident.
Unfortunately, this design had two serious disadvantages: For one thing, when moving the strong guiding magnet further, it sometimes pulled the weaker moving magnet out of the hole again, and for another, the moving magnet fell off the board uncontrolled when withdrawing the guiding magnet.
The breakthrough came when we cut real holes into the boards instead of just insinuating the holes. The final device consists of a plastic shell into which 4 small boards containing holes are inserted. These small boards can be aligned randomly, the result being a variable game board whose racetrack is always different. We designed the device in such a way that once the guiding magnet is withdrawn, the crashed moving magnet falls into a gap and then reappears in a collection tray at the bottom of the device. This makes it easy to recover the moving magnet and place it on the racetrack again. Of course, this costs the players valuable time.
That way, over the course of our development work a simple game board that stands vertically between two players became the elaborate game device depicted above.
In fall 2014, when we presented our first prototype to Kosmos, our game concept was received with enthusiasm, and the publication of the game was scheduled for the Nuremberg International Toy Fair 2017. That’s quite some time, but we definitely needed it to refine the device. Very soon we realized that it not only allowed us to play a racing game. The device was virtually inviting us to develop additional scenarios. All we had to do was to replace the four small boards containing holes with different ones. That way, we were able to create, for example, a game where a fire truck speeds through the city to fight fires. In another game, a pizza baker rushes from market stall to market stall to buy the ingredients for his latest creations. Afterwards, he must make sure to sell his freshly baked pizzas profitably to his customers.
Although each game is based on the same principle in that it requires a navigator and a driver, each game has a different feel and different rules. As a result, testing these games was much more laborious and time-consuming than testing regular games.
In addition, Kosmos needs a lot of time to determine how to produce the game at a reasonable cost. Crafting a prototype of the game device is one thing, being able to mass-produce it cost-effectively is quite another.
We now have finished developing the device and the first three games. In spite of that, we continue working on additional games whose themes and rules differ considerably from each other.
In January, we keenly await the first game device ready for production, and the Kosmos editorial team and we will thoroughly test it before it can go into production. As can be seen, hundreds of hours of work have already been invested in our new game. We used many of these hours to develop our ideas and put them to the test but also spent many hours building various prototypes and making their components attractive to the test groups.
If our game isn’t successful, one might think that we have wasted our time. Sure, that’s always the risk when you develop a game. But be it as it may, Benjamin and I will always remember how much fun we had developing a new and quite different game together.