Getting started – The stars aligned.

It all started around six months ago. My daughter, Grace came home from an afternoon at her grandparents, and with a huge grin on her face she unveiled her creation, a beautiful handmade board game in all it’s wonderful paint splattered glory. It was a beautiful space game, simple in design with snakes and ladders mechanics, she’d even made her own space ships to blast around the board.

At the same time, I’d not long been made redundant from work as a designer and was busy working on a children’s book. I thought the illustrations really worked, they where vibrant and engaging and had a real warmth to them. The images left me wanting to know more about the characters and the world they lived in. The story however, just wasn’t as forthcoming, I was struggling and the whole project was in danger of being side-lined.

The two ideas clicked together, almost like an epiphany, why not recycle and redevelop my book imagery and turn it into a board game?

I’ve been a lover of board games for years, I was the geek at school with an original copy of Hero Quest, I spent all my pocket money in Games Workshop stores and on Fighting Fantasy game books. I continued this love of games into my adulthood and then into parenthood. My children aren’t interested in the games I like, well… They are but they’re far too complicated or to adult in theme to play. I started doing my research and found that there’s a gap in the market. There where very few entry level board games designed to really engage children, games that could light a flame and encourage them to fall in love with the whole concept of social gaming. Don’t get me wrong, there are games out there but overall, the game market seems to go from Mousetrap, Snakes and Ladders and Ludo and then moves straight onto more adult, complicated games.

Keeping it simple.

My objective was to keep the game simple but to ramp up the game mechanics so it was engaging, challenging but still easy to understand. The book I was illustrating was about a puffin who went on a boat journey discovering new islands, so with those assets in mind it was an easy leap to develop it into a delivery game. I didn’t want to stop there, it had to be more engaging that deliver cargo A to point B. If I know one thing about children, it’s that you need to keep their attention and that you need to engage them on more than one basic level. It also had to be a relatively quick game, as a parent I’d much prefer to play a couple of short, 20-30-minute games than a monopoly type game with grumpy, overtired children after three hours of gameplay. It had to be a game that starts with the quote “Shall we get that great game out and have a quick play?”.

I developed the mechanics of the game further, the player controls a character in a boat, so the boat will need looking after. As you make a delivery the boat get’s lighter and faster. If you damage your boat, you take on water and the boat becomes slower. The next mechanic where simple event spaces, landing on one of these spaces meant picking an event card. I developed a dozen cards which either help or hinder the player, these range from whirlpools and coral reefs that block areas of the map, to friendly airmail pelicans who will deliver one of your parcels for a price.

Finally, to cap it off I needed a currency (fish of course) and shops. This enabled the players to buy items that could counteract certain events, these range from a compass to help you in the right direction, should you come across a whirlpool to a dolphin whistle which allows you to call a dolphin to guide you across the coral reef.

OK, so I had my basic idea, I had some graphics from my book, it was time to start creating the game. I’ve always been an all or nothing designer. I rarely create roughs, roughs are ideas in my head and I generally know where they’re going. So, I started created what would be the final art from the off-set. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach, it’s just the way I work when I’m my own boss on a project, I much prefer some finished art by the end of a day that 100 rough sketches and I was confident in the direction it was all heading.

It’s all about community.

You may think you have a great idea but it’s nothing without feedback, it’s nothing without help and clarification and I started to engage the Board game communities from the very start.

I can’t understate the importance of this! For me, I was new to the concept of designing games and I was doing the entire project completely on my own. The board game communities have been nothing short of amazing. Not only have they been constructive about my work, but it’s enabled me to establish followers who want the game. I’ve had help and feedback at every turn. This has been important on two levels: First, I’ve been given a wealth of knowledge that’s helped me improve the game, it’s given me ideas and inspiration. Secondly, this is a tough gig, especially when you’re running solo on a project like this. The communities have inspired me, encouraged me and pushed me to completion. The communities are the reason I decide to push myself and do that extra hour, late in the evening. For this I’m eternally grateful, thank you!

Prototyping.

I’d taken quite a gamble by this point, I’d not actually prototyped the game on any level. The game idea was in my head and all the artwork was complete, it was time to move it from it’s digital format to print. I went to a local professional printer and had three copies ran off on the heaviest, best card they had in stock. After a few days of cutting, cropping and pasting I had my first live copies of the game. I can’t explain the feeling of seeing your first game in the flesh, I felt like Frankenstein, “it’s alive!”

This feeling was very short lived, I proudly went to my parent’s home, enlisted the help of my parents and brother and had our first playthrough. It worked overall but it was obvious that things where missing or that certain aspects of the game didn’t fit in it’s current form. There was only one shop for example and you needed to travel across the board to buy items which could help you. By the time you travelled to the shop and bought what you needed you may as well have just found another route to your objective. Disappointing, yes but invaluable information was gleamed at this point.  I sat down with friends, family and strangers and played it dozens more times, each time learning where to cut things, how to streamline, what needed adding and how to improve. Time for print number two. I reworked the broken assets and implemented everything I’d leant, this time it was far closer.

Play, play and play again.

This is now my firm belief as to how to make a good game. I now had a working prototype, all the assets and cards where there. Time to play it to death. Time to play it with the target audience. This allowed me to fine tune the last parts of the gameplay, to add or remove cards that made it easier or harder on the player, to make it challenging but still easy enough to enjoy.

I’m happy to report that the quote “can we have one more game” has become the norm while testing!

So now it’s ready…. What next?

At this point I had the option of two routes… I’d developed a following and could go straight to kickstarter for funding. This was my initial idea although I don’t mind admitting I’m a little daunted by the concept. I’m fine with design, illustration, developing a user experience and even the marketing side of creating a game. My concern was “am I up for the whole business end?” The campaign, the production, fulfilment and shipping. All this was new to me and in honesty, I lack the confidence and knowledge required to take this route. That’s not to say I won’t, but during my interactions with the game communities, I may have found another route…

I’ve been fortunate enough to be pro-actively engaged with by several game board publishers, I’m hugely grateful for their support and interest and today, three prototypes of the game are winging their way across the globe in the hope that they find a home. The journey isn’t over yet, they may say “no” for starters!  I’m sure this is just the start but I’m a big step closer to getting this game on people’s tables around the world.

So that’s where I’m up to. I thought I’d share my experience, my achievements and my mistakes. I’m not suggesting this is the route to take, there are things I’d do differently, things I will do differently when I develop future games.

A final thanks.

I’d like to end this with a thank you. That goes to Jerry Hawthorne, creator of Mice and Mystics and Stuffed Fables. Earlier on in this project I solicited him for help and feedback. He had nothing to gain from this but went out of his way to help me and encourage me with this project. When someone like Jerry tells you “I think you have something special here” you sit up and listen. It’s those words and that encouragement that has pushed me to where I am. Thanks Jerry!

Finally I’d like to thank Rick Kelsall, I’ve known Rick almost all my life and the guy’s a genius with musical composition. He’s been kind enough to develop a theme tune to accompany future promotional videos. Have a listen here . He’s captured the essence of the game perfectly!

About the Author:

Tris Rossin is an illustrator and designer with 20 years in the industry. He has a background in educational design as well as commercial illustration.

If you’re interested in working with Tris on your own project, email info@vectorart.gallery.

It’s signed!

Happy to announce a partnership with creator Tristam Rossin on two of his games! Skybound Games will be publishing Pebble Rock Delivery Service and Squire’s Quest! PRDS is a family weight “pick up and deliver” with the cutest art and world. Squire’s Quest is a dungeon diving adventure game for everyone in the family.

We are very excited to partner with Tristam on these two games. Be on the lookout in 2020 for these titles!

James Hudson


Owner at Druid City Games. Senior Director of Tabletop Games at Skybound Entertainment

To find out more and follow the progress of this game, follow my facebook page here.