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Designer Diary: Creating Games in Time 'n' Space

Tobias Stapelfeldt
Germany
Lüneburg
Unspecified
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The idea of Time 'n' Space dates back to 2003. In this ancient world (in terms of the Internet) I was interested in all forms of new, unpublished game mechanisms. Sand timers in games were mainly used for giving you some time to be done with things, so I tried to flip this around and make the players wait to do things. In 2003, the first browser games were published that made you to wait a specific amount of time in real life to complete your actions. That idea was the key ingredient I needed to create a board game.

The first step was simple: You had two spaceships represented by two sand timers of your color that flew around the game board to pick up and deliver goods. The creation of the goods was very different than today: Each time you reached a production field on your way, you had to roll a colored die, which produced a good on a moon of that color anywhere on the board. That was fun, but boring after a while.

I was fascinated by the potential feeling that a game with worker placement would come to life, with you seeing them "work" in real-time. After that, I started to build prototypes in which sand timers were placed as workers to prepare the action, with that action being fulfilled when time was up.


The space theme was there from the beginning, and you placed robots to mine, build, develop, etc. I constructed a complex "build your planet" game with a circular board. After many steps of tuning, the game became Space Dealer, which was published by eggertspiele in 2006.

The game was very successful, but it polarized gamers at Spiel 2006. A lot of them liked the idea of playing a complex building game in thirty minutes and had a great time. Some were afraid of cheating and the difficulties of controlling the other players: Have all the rules been checked? What do you make of mistakes while the sand timers are running? The most discussed subject was the components themselves: What do you do with imprecise sand timers? Some of the sand timers weren't produced well, so we created an exchange program. If the difference between sand timers was only a few seconds – yes, we had many people measuring their sand timers and writing the times on them – we gave them a rule to compensate for the difference: pairing the fastest timer with the slowest, the next fastest with the next slowest, and so on. All the feedback showed us that the game was very much liked, but some aspects were not perfect.

In 2007 we provided the Space Dealer: All-Zeit expansion with new buildings and some replacement cards. Because of the modularized system, you could play Space Dealer (ideally only with those experienced with the game) with up to eight players by using two core games. Add in two expansions, and the room was busy as hell for half an hour. Thus it was understandable that you'd lose some gamers who would vow not to play again because you needed a chaotic version of yourself to dive into it fully.


In 2011 we thought about doing a reprint because the fascination with the game was still there, and after it sold out, we received a lot of mail asking us to republish it. Before doing a reprint, though, I headed back to the original idea in order to address some points: The game took longer to prepare than to play; interaction between players was not very high; and because of the building rules, it was a little crowded on the table.

I wanted to bring the game back to the original point. After painfully cutting away all elements that weren't necessary, I suddenly found a way to increase the interaction: A player should talk about what somebody can deliver to him – that is, he must have the possibility of deciding what to order from the other players. In Space Dealer the demands were placed automatically because they were printed on your buildings, an idea of which I was very proud as they came up dynamically during gameplay – but the rule needed to go.


After experimenting for a couple of days, I came up with an evil dilemma: You place your orders directly on the same fields where you place your sand timers, so the more that you lure other players to your demands, the fewer actions you have available from which to choose. For this to work, though, I needed a strong way to interest a player in luring other players. The solution was simple: If you want victory points for fulfilling, for example, green deliveries, you had to make all of your own green orders available to the other players by the end of the game. The timing problems resulting from these rules make for a very nice tension during the game.

The finished game of Time 'n' Space has exactly as many rules as it needs. At eggertspiele we needed another two years for polishing everything and balancing the game. I am thankful for the work Peter Eggert and Viktor Schulz have done. Together with the beautiful art of Marc Margielsky, the space theme that was there from the beginning has still survived.

I was also very happy when I heard that Stronghold Games would be doing the North American publication. Working on a game for this long and getting this international interest from a big player like Stronghold Games makes me very proud. Thank you for trusting my idea.

Tobias Stapelfeldt

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