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Designer Diary: How Vegetables Became Animals, or My Happy Farm

Oleksandr Nevskiy
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At the start of summer 2011, Oleg Sidorenko and I had the idea of creating a game which could display the life of a small farm in a light and accessible form. We wanted to show the seasonality of labor and the dependence of crop ripening with the seasons. Different crops have different terms of ripening, and we wanted to make this process take place with the players.

In order to give sense to the process of growing the crop, it was necessary to come up with a deserved reward – that is, a logical calculation of victory points. Just growing this or that crop was dry and boring, and we wanted something deeper and more unusual. There was also the idea of competition between players in the quality of their harvest: some kind of County Fair, in which each farmer would be praised for his "longest squash" – but a seed's transformation into "better" or "less better" crops appeared too accidental (via a deck of events) and we didn't like that. In addition, the question arose about displaying a larger number of different crops of one kind, not just the worst and the best. All of this seemed to be too overloaded and not very interesting.

After that, we decided to abandon the competition for quality and instead try to arrange a competition for different combinations of fruit. Right at this time, we got the idea for which different fruit combinations might be needed – and in such a roundabout way the animals were born, animals which must be fed, and the feeding process of the game reminded us of our childhood.

We don't know whether the following game is known outside the Soviet Union:

Each player draws on the top of a sheet of paper the head of a person/animal/fish, then folds the sheet so that the next player cannot see the image. Then the next player draws the body and folds the sheet again. The last player draws the legs or tail or anything else. In such a way the "animals" appear, and it's very funny...

In this way, the general concept of My Happy Farm occurred and the game immediately started up with a large number of animals, including dogs, cats and even mice. One of the first prototypes even included a human: "Uncle Nick" (a cousin of the farmer, elbow-bender). We treated it as some kind of model tryout for the game in which we had to leave just the right animals we would need for a good game. (Many of our friends regretted Uncle Nick leaving the game as he was a favorite.) The game process appeared quite logical and interesting. We just needed to bring this model to the perfection of balance and replayability. And so the week of tests began...

Artist Margitich Mihail, aka Monkey, made us a test copy of the game components. Almost immediately we decided to reduce the number of animals. Uncle Nick left first, while the pig remained a favorite among the animals as it eats everything, acting like a wild card. During the evolution of the game, we tried different mathematical models: something changed, something added, something cut off completely. Finally, half of the initial number of animals left our farm, and the game mechanisms turned out simple, logical, and dynamic.

A beta-version of the "farm" was made by Monkey in the style of Android, with players feeding the "animal-robots" with screw nuts, letting them drink lubricating oil – but we abandoned this style; that's another game!

At the same time, while working on the project StalkerQuest, we met with the artist Leonid Androschuk and he agreed to draw images for My Happy Farm in a cartoon style.

Весела Ферма was presented to the public by the Ukrainian publisher IGAMES for the first time at the Ukrainian Boardgaming Festival 2011 in August and received the award for "Best Game Art" and a nomination for "Best Game of the Exhibition". While we liked Leonid's style at once – and the game design of the first edition hasn't changed since being released in Ukraine and Russia – we have made some changes to the art which will appear in future editions. We hope players will like our new art.

After the Ukrainian Boardgaming Festival, we clarified some details of the game mechanisms, decided on the game components, and printed the game. At that same festival, our "farm" was sighted by the largest Russian publisher, Hobby World, and in February 2012 Счастливая ферма appeared on the shelves of Russian stores. A few months later, we signed an agreement for an English-language edition of My Happy Farm from publisher 5th Street Games, which is running a Kickstarter campaign for the game through mid-June 2012.

Also, after the Igrosfera 2012 (Ukrainian Game Fair), Hobby World said that it wants an expansion for My Happy Farm, as this game has found ready sales...

Oleksandr Nevskiy
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