It is now day 3 of my Indiegogo campaign for Sock Monsters, my new card game. Yes: it is a card game, the kind that you need to actually hold in your hands, shuffle and play. Turns out, that after many years of designing digital games and products, there is still so much to learn when approaching a traditional table top game in a box.

 

Sock Monsters

Will our Indiegogo campaign succeed? Only the gods of crowdfunding can say at this point in time. But for me, designing the game and creating a tangible product is a small success in and of itself. It was a very long journey, which Rotem, my partner, and I took. Along the way, we learned several things. Here is the list of insights:

1. Identity: The Story Is The Game, But It’s Not Yet a Brand

Several years ago, Rotem and I created g!animo as a side project. G!animo started as a fun activity for parents and preschoolers. We have 4 different children’s stories, which are not given as a book or a video. Instead, we designed wall-decals from a synthetic fabric, which can be used repeatedly for years. Parents and kids could spend quality time decorating walls with these stories and invent new adventures.

The feedbacks were awesome, the decals were amazing. No one made a purchase.

We carried on with our lives, but we did revisit this failure, trying to figure out  what went wrong. After many tests and experiment, surveys and consultations, we realized what was the problem: It wasn’t the product or the pricing, it wasn’t the audience targeting, nor was it the marketing budget. Here is the problem with wall decals: Parent will decorate their kid’s room with either images from big brands (Disney) or beautiful, unbranded imagery (rainbows and butterflies). No one would consider using our unknown story images.

The solution was, apparently, under our noses the whole time: game design is a major part of our lives for many years. Rotem is a creative director who created animations for games by major publishers (Ubisoft, Activision, EA, among others). I was a product manager in gaming companies, created games for the web, TV and many cross-platform games. I also teach game design for over a decade. So, why shouldn’t we simply play with our g!animo stories?

Games do not need a movie, a story or a brand, to make players love them. Where wall-decals are perceived by customers as a derivative and not as a valid product, games are the “real thing”.

Creating a game started so naturally, I didn’t even realize I have started to design a game. In between trying to raise funds for my deceased startup, to preparing for a new semester at the Holon Institute of Technology, I found myself starting to doodle some ideas out of the first g!animo story, Sock Monsters.

In my notebook, things started to take shape: all kinds of objects which the monsters may run into along their journey to the land of Draweria, where socks are laid in pairs, as far as the eye can see.

It didn’t take long to realize that this journey doesn’t need a game board or dice, no digital hopping platform or a joystick: all the game needed was cards and hands.

2. The Rules System Needs to Be Natural for The Game

Back in those almost forgotten days of mid-2017, I got hooked on a Deck Building game. Hero Realm has a really great flow and great economics to it. Without realizing it, I started creating a game dynamic which was massively influenced by this genre. This game didn’t even get out of my notebook. As i sat down with my Playtester No.1 (known affectionately as Offspring No.3), the deck-building set of rules got the thumbs down: failure to address the target audience.

Then, Tester #1, aka my daughter, asked to play Sleeping Queens. I love this game. One of the key advantages of this game, is that you only need to play it once to learn it. We tested other games which have the same principles: Exploding Kittens, Old Maid, Go Fish and even Cards Against Humanity (just the grownups).

Within a short period, a systems was formed, of several card types: Sock Monsters, Socks in various colours, attack and defence cards. It took many playtests with hand drawn cards to calculate the number of monsters required for five players. We also had to figure how many sock colours we should include and how many socks per colour, how many attack and defence cards and how many cards should be inside the deck.

game design notebook

It was important to balance all the elements in the game, and to balance the game components against the desired duration of the game.

3. Sometimes, Simplification is Complicated

Having made all of the calculations, we printed out our first prototype for external playtesting: five sheets of heavy paper, 15 cards in each sheet, for cutting. We also included some black cards, in case we will find that we need a new mechanic, to introduce an interesting complication. We printed a cut the sheets to create several testing decks.

It took several dozens of playtests to realize that we don’t have enough monster characters. We had only 8, and we needed 10 to make the game work for 2 to five players.  We also thought that we needed some new attacks, because the game didn’t feel complicated enough.

Here is the deal: when you are looking to complicate things, you may actually complicate things.

Two new attacks and two new defences, added more than just cards to the game: they turned the game from a 15 minute game, into a game which doesn’t want to end. Not only were cards and time added to the game: we managed to add some confusion to the flow.

4. There is More To The Product Than Just Game Design

At this point, we realized that the game is really going to happen. We needed to start planning the game’s manufacture and distribution. Should we publish it ourselves, or should we find a publisher? Where is the market? What will be the final graphic design? What do we need to know about box design?

Within few weeks we already have the final card design, and we started to receive quotes from manufacturers and fulfillment centers. Eventually, we decided to start our project on Indiegogo. Oh, and we created two new sock monsters: Dino and Bimbi.

 

Tester No.1 started running the playtests for us. She recruited her classmates, children from after school activities and kids from the neighbourhood. We managed to expand the circle of testers, but our main focus now was in receiving quotes, creating connections with suppliers, taking some online courses for crowdfunding, comparing between Indiegogo and Kickstarter and running scenarios on a spreadsheet.

Finalizing the graphic design of both cards and box, we printed the final prototype locally. It added a new feel to the blind playtests: players didn’t know that the game was still in pre-production. The game felt more real than ever.

playing Sock Monsters card game

It took over 200 playtests to stop counting how many playtests we ran. We found more problems in the dynamics of the game even after completing the final design. The card game went through further simplification. We got rid of two more game mechanics, added chameleon cards and finalized the game with a 50 cards deck, a booklet and the box.

5. But You Cannot Control The Timing

Our crowdfunding project was supposed to launch in November 2017. Luckily for us, every partner and supplier we wanted to work with, was sucked into the Christmas frenzy, so we needed to postpone. Luckily, because we definitely needed the additional time to find out that there is so much more to learn.

Game design notebook

 

We used the time to build a list of subscribers, to start a social campaign, to try and introduce the Sock Monsters card game to the world. 3 days ago, after all of the hard work and expecting more hard work to come, we took the plunge. Will it pay off? Will we be able to raise the funds and ship a game to paying customers? Will find out in the next month.

 

Posted by Samuel Miller

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