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Designer Diary: Briefcase – A Timeline of Events

Vangelis Bagiartakis
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The article below was written by Sotiris Tsantilas, one of Briefcase's designers. I helped him with the translation into English and am posting it here on his behalf:

When Konstantinos Kokkinis, co-designer of Drum Roll and one of the founders of Artipia Games, suggested that we – that is, me and Nikos Sakaloglou, a.k.a. Nick – write a designer diary about Briefcase, I immediately said, "Great idea, I'm in!" However, it soon became apparent that writing such a diary would not be an easy task. And that's because when a work of art – which is what I consider a board game to be – is designed by two people, it is hard to distinguish how each person contributed, especially when the contributions are products of brainstorming between the designers, with help from friends during the first playtests. That said, I'll do my best to give a timeline of the events from the game's initial concept up to its final form, but from my point of view. Hopefully, Nick will correct me if I'm wrong somewhere.

March 2010: Initial Idea

The morning after pulling an all-nighter at a Greek Guild meeting and quite tired from heavy economic games, I was thinking that it would be interesting if there were a compact economic game featuring resource management about running an enterprise, a game that would last about an hour (but without lacking in depth) and that would offer multiple paths to victory. Okay, the initial concept didn't seem difficult to implement: The players place their workers in turn, they give coins, they buy available companies, they buy resources, they use them on their companies, they produce other resources, they sell them, and they try to reach maximum gain.

However, something was missing. Originality! The process above not only was common in other games, it was also kind of boring: Coins again, calculations, one more coin here, one coin less there... How nice would it be if we could make an economic game without coins!

So far I hadn't discussed anything with Nick.

April 2010: Enlightenment

Good ideas come suddenly but when they do you recognize them instantly. You almost get to hear them: The sound of all the gears clicking in place like a lock for which you finally found the right combination. DECK-BUILDING! No coins and no placement of workers. A decision deck where the Buy card replaces the coins, while the products of the companies add more decision cards to the deck. The better business deals you make, the more you improve your deck, increasing your options later.

I made about twenty handwritten cards and called Nick to my place for coffee. When he saw my game, he said that it was a very good idea and he was interested in working on it with me. However, even though the core mechanism was there, the game was dry and barely playable. There was also a part in it that Nick didn't like at all. The available companies would appear randomly which, in conjunction with the random appearance of resources, created a feeling of chaos. Nick suggested having the players select companies and placing them in front of them, available to everyone.

Also, having only one ability available the game seemed to lack variety and depth, so we agreed that Nick would take all the initial cards and try to come up with new ideas and new types of companies, along with new abilities for them. Two days later I received an email from him with fifteen new companies, each with its own ability.

Things had begun to get interesting!

May 2010: The First Playtest

Along with Nick, Manos and Theodore, we had our first playtest game. The resources were small pieces of paper with smiley faces to indicate personnel and hand-drawn small squares (white, shaded or black) for the rest of the resources. Although we had rushed a lot to build it and the game was still in a primitive form, we managed to finish a game (in which I think Theodore won) that left everyone excited. Since both of our new players were experienced gamers, their enthusiasm showed us that we were on the right track!

June-July 2010: First Steps in Developing Briefcase

The first problem we had to face regarded the buying of resources. The initial design had only one deck with all the resources shuffled into it. However, it was frustrating at times to have Buy decision cards in your hand but not see the resource you wanted to come up. Moreover, how could the obstacle cards be used somehow in the game?

We tried many things but the idea we finally settled on was to have all the resources available, each in its own stack. Okay, but if everyone had the necessary Buy cards in hand, where would the competition for the resources be? The answer came almost immediately: By using two cards of the same type, a player would be able to block a resource (that is, make it unavailable for purchase), thus creating scarcity. We had just hit two birds with one stone! Not only had we solved our problem, we had also found a way to use the Obstacle cards which up to that point had only been used to hamper the deck-building.

August-December 2010 : Completing Briefcase

During the next months, Nick continued to come up with new great abilities for the companies. I remember that I rejected most of them because I wanted the game to be as simple as possible. Luckily Nick would insist, and in the end we would always end up including them. Seeing the game now in its final form (with almost thirty different abilities), I realize that its depth, the multiple paths to victory, and the replayability would not be there without that variety in abilities.

Central Bank game board

It was about that time that we had the idea of the Central Bank. Nick was the one who came up with it and it made the endgame much more interesting, adding another strategy in the mix.

February 2011: Greek Guild's Second Boardgame Design Contest

Briefcase, in a near-completed form more or less the way it is today, took part in the Greek Guild's 2nd Boardgame Design Contest. After a close battle with Drum Roll, Briefcase took second place.


March 2011-Today

From that point on, things took their way. The feedback we had from all the playtest sessions that followed (more than a hundred) was very positive and led us to where we are today: Artipia Games, after last year's Drum Roll, will publish Briefcase in the following months. The work they have done on it is remarkable, and I strongly believe that the end result will be the best possible.

One of thirty different Companies included in the game

Conclusion

In my opinion, what defined the whole design process of Briefcase was the incredible cooperation we had with Nick and the ease with which we would solve problems when they arose. Every time we had a difficulty, one of us would say "Okay, we change this and we do it that way" and it would work perfectly, much better than we had initially designed it. Were we lucky? Perhaps...

I like to believe it was the good vibes of Briefcase...

Sotiris Tsantilas

If Briefcase seems like a game you might enjoy, take a look at the ongoing funding campaign at IndieGoGo. Not only will you be helping Artipia Games fund its production, you will also get exclusive promos that will not be available anywhere else!

Designers Sotiris and Nick at the Greek Guild's Second Boardgame Design Contest
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