Designer Notes

First Step: A Card Game

As a game designer, I never want to repeat myself. Yes, SiegeStones was a crazy hit, and it would probably have made sense to do another abstract strategy.

However, I felt like I'd already done that, and I wanted to make a card game. We had several different options that we were working with. The front-runner was actually a pirates game, but then everyone and their brother came out with a pirate game, so we back-burnered it.

In fact, Calaboose actually started out as a zoo game.

Did you say "Zoo" Game?

Seems ridiculous, doesn't it? I'd worked out the mechanic and thought that it would work with animals - a whole circle of life thing. It didn't. Kids were horrified by the animals eating each other, and adults weren't interested in playing a game based on animals.

Sticking With It

When a designer hits a road block like that, it can be tempting to throw in the towel and move on to the next design. However, I really liked the way the mechanic worked. When we were testing it (before adding the zoo theme), it tested very well. Even though the cards didn't have names, and it was only a subset of the cards in the final game, people really enjoyed it. The system has a couple of great advantages:

  1. The strategy truly is fluid. You have to adapt as you play and that makes for a real fun challenge.
  2. Players can affect each other - giving it that "gotcha!" thrill that so many people like.
  3. It involves multiple people on almost every turn. There is very little sitting and waiting for other people to take their turn - and I love that.

Wild West

So, what do you do if you have a game that you love with a theme that everyone else hates? Turn to the Big 5 Themes to see if any of them work: Pirates, Cowboys, Robots, Ninjas, and SuperHeroes.

In this case, the Wild West rocked. In fact, it improved the game dramatically, not just because of the color and humor, but because of the additional ideas it inspired.

Getting it Done

After a very extensive artist search (Billy Matter, the guy that did the work on SiegeStones and Ice Lake, wasn't available), I found David Hile of Hile Illustration.

His style of art really seemed to mesh with what we were trying to do. We wanted a stylish game that adults could enjoy without being embarrassed, but also something that was fun and lighthearted. David and his associate Beth Balogh were key parts of the final process. They added a lot to the game.

The Quotes

Most of the quotes come from me, and some from comments during playtesting. Beth helped me refine them to fit within our graphic design. The thing I love about the quotes is that they make more and more sense the more you play the game. Sure, they're fun lighthearted bits to chuckle over. As you play, however, you'll realize that most of the quotes make a comment about how the card is used in the game. They work on two levels, and I really love that.

The Acknowledgements

A game like this (or any other) doesn't come about without extensive playtesting and contributions from other people. It was extremely frustrating for me when I discovered that the instructions fit exactly on one page, and that in order to include the playtester list in the game, we'd have to add another page and increase the price.

So, I had to leave their names out of the instructions.

However, this is a place where I can actually give them the credit that is their due.

Thanks to: June Matthews, Tad Simmons, Peter Popovich, Jimmy Willis, Billy Matter, Steve & Tricia Niedergeses, Theresa & George, and Peggy & Ber Matthews.