What follows below is a journal entry from Phil Orbanes, the designer:
I began work on CirKis during the 2008 Christmas holiday. It was my goal to create an exceptional piece-placement game for Winning Moves Germany and Winning Moves France. I pondered the challenge for a few days and set forth three goals. (I’ve trained myself to start with “the end in mind.”)
1. Goal One: the new game should have a circular playing surface, or a surface approximating a circle.
2. Goal Two: it should be called “CirKus” to suggest its circular nature.
3. Goal Three: the game should employ the circle and star shapes comprising the Winning Moves corporate symbol, which I designed fourteen years ago, to further the connection to our company.
These three goals, if achieved, would make CirKis commercially viable and also closely associated with Winning Moves.
The notion of a circular board was vital in my judgment because there have been many games (Blokus being the latest of note) employing square-gridded boards upon which are placed “ominos’ (pieces covering one of more contiguous squares on the grid). The idea of developing a circular game immediately brought to mind the word “circus.” I changed its spelling to ‘Cir Kus” but eventually settled on “Cir Kis.”
The Winning Moves corporate symbol’s “star inside a circle” became my source of inspiration for the board’s design. It struck me that completing stars and circles on a grid would be novel and should constitute the means to score the game. The circular shape of the playing piece offered another benefit. Since the perimeter of the board would be “square” to fill out a square package, the available corner areas enabled scoring tracks and storage compartments to be included.
I settled on the above just before Christmas vacation. On December 26th, I entered the first sketches of the new game in my notebook.
After these handmade sketches, I switched to Adobe Photoshop to perfect my designs.
Early in my career, I was involved in the creation of many military simulation games (“wargames”). Most employed a grid composed of hexagons (originated by the RAND Corporation and quickly adopted by most commercial wargame companies). I also innovated a grid using “staggered” squares and another composed of octagons and diamonds. These latter grids didn’t apply to my vision for CirKis, but the honeycomb pattern of hexagons offered a starting point for a grid with circles (each hexagon being surrounded by six others, approximating a circle). During my days at home, I began by rendering a hexagonal grid in Photoshop, just to have a starting point for game play.
I added a circle inside of each hexagon, to give the illusion of a field of small circles (and quickly realized I wouldn’t need the surrounding hexagons at all). I now had a honeycomb grid of spaces, each one “orbited” by six others. I also styled some pieces comprising one or more adjacent circles. This design had merit, but I discarded it for two reasons: it looked like “Blokus with circles” and its pieces were abstract and not really appealing. Further, a star typically has five points, and if I were to build stars with this grid, they’d each have six.
Then came the breakthrough.
After putting aside the hex/circle grid, I rendered a precise star in Photoshop and drew radial lines from its center through the star’s ten perimeter angles. I found that I’d formed a decagon. A decagon, at least, approximates a circle in appearance. So I had a star within a “circle,” ala the Winning Moves symbol. I then divided the central star into its five natural “arrow” shapes and the decagon into ten “wedge” spaces and then balanced their relative sizes. Photoshop’s “ruler measuring tools” feature confirmed that the wedges had sides angled at 72 degrees. This excited me because aligning five of these around a central point creates a 360-degree “circle.” I now had stars and circles each composed of five spaces.
I felt I was onto something and, by multiplying these shapes in Photoshop, I began to fill in a larger gird with ten circles and five more stars. (I figured that sixteen such “scoring shapes” would be sufficient for a fast-playing four-player game.) I spaced these to look pleasing. At this moment, I was not particularly concerned about the nature of the spaces that might link these scoring shapes. I would have been happy if I needed additional types of spaces to do so. But after trial and error in Photoshop, I found I need only one more shape (“the “sliver”), in addition to the “arrow” and “wedge” spaces, as I was calling them. The resultant grid inexorably took form. When I finished, I was very pleased by its symmetry and proportion. (In fact, its mathematical qualities suggested it likely complied with some theory I had stumbled upon, unaware.)
The game’s playing pieces would need to comprise one or more arrows and wedges; its object would be to place them in such a way as to score points by dominating each circle or star upon its completion. But before I continued with game play, I seriously considered putting aside this design and starting over.
While the shapes I rendered in Photoshop formed perfect stars, my circles were in fact decagons. And since there were to be more circles on the board than stars, “seeing” them amidst all the spaces was paramount for enjoyable game play. I decided to try another approach. This time, I replaced two of the angular sides on each space with an arc, yielding “two angled sides plus an arc.” This concept created perfect circles but somewhat abstract arrows. Nonetheless, I liked its appearance very much.
Which direction to adopt?
A compromise broke the deadlock. I reverted to the first “all angles” design and–in similar fashion to what I had done with the original hexagonal idea–placed a circle inside of each decagonal shape. This innovation provided easy-to-see circles and crisp angular stars (to which were added attention-getting added radial lines, like an asterisk).
Game play came quickly. Each of four players would have a common set of colored pieces. Players would take turns placing pieces according to one golden rule: each piece placed must touch the last piece played (“follow the leader”). To provide added strategy, I devised situations where a free turn could be earned. Consumer playtesting fixed the points awarded for dominating a shape (10 pts.) and a bonus for completing a shape (5). The scoring tracks surrounded the decagon grid had enough peg holes to score from zero to forty, in five-point increments. Winning by being first to score forty points turned out to promote suspenseful, rather quick game play (highly desired nowadays).
In January, Mr. Per Hoel–a designer skilled in 3-D renderings for model making purposes– was hired to render both my angular and the curved designs. After one more “reality check,” I decided to continue with the angular-plus-circles design. I provided Mr. Hoel with a 2-D guide drawing of the finished game unit, which included the anticipated storage compartments surrounding the decagon, and a “continuously curved” outer wall to further the image of CirKis being circular, not rectangular.
After Mr. Hoel’s numerical control programs were received, models were built and tested, then injection molding tooling begun. Tooling was initiated in March, 2009. Packaging was soon designed at Winning Moves. The game design was complete!