Becoming a Genius #1 - Starting from Scratch

Since it's the most logical place to start, let's backtrack to my first week on board, and talk a little bit about how John, Amanda, (the other new member of the Genius Games team) and I hammered Translation: An RNA Worker Placement Game into Peptide: A Protein Building Game.

From left to right, the Genius Games team: John, Amanda, and Andrew posing in the PixelPop Festival demo room.

First of all, it would be useful for you lovely readers to know that Peptide is an open-draft card game with some resource-management elements. It is larger in scale and scope than Linkage: A DNA Card Game, but the biological process we are aping in Peptide is also more complex. After shuffling through a handful of playable prototype games that John had already built, we settled on developing the RNA translation game for two main reasons: Linkage is about DNA Transcription, and RNA Translation is the follow-up process biologically, and it was the most fleshed-out game concept. However, the very first time I saw the game that Peptide would become, it was very different. It had a board, meeples, and supported two fewer players. We ran through numerous times in all kinds of scenarios, trying to essentially put a square peg into a round hole and ‘fix’ the game as it was.

The original game board for what Peptide: A Protein Building Game would eventually become. 

I think this was simply a case of fresh perspective paying dividends, and how working in a team setting can change everything. When you’ve put in the time and effort to design a game board and rules to support it, you’re less likely to try to solve problems by dismantling what you’ve built. Basically, I had no real attachment to the concept as it was, so the easiest solution was to breaking the game down into its most basic form. Taking all of the game board locations and their functions, Translation the board game became Peptide the card game. Cards are quick and easy for any designer to create and iterate on, but we found right away that we were onto something. Rather than weighted resource collection, the game morphed into a face-up card draft and felt more interactive as a result. Organelles from the board still provided similar functions in their new card forms, but new dynamics emerged as we ‘stole’ cards from each other. Also, we quickly found that the game could handle more players cleanly, whereas the worker placement version would have capped at four. This was actually important for financial reasons as well as gameplay reasons. Obviously, it costs drastically more to print and distribute a board game versus a card game. A game board alone can add several dollars to manufacturing costs, let alone all the additional components and costs that go along with having a board (meeples, tokens, artwork, etc.). Scaling back to a card game means our Kickstarter funding goal can be lower, and therefore we’ll have a higher chance to succeed! Takeaway #1: When a game you’re developing isn’t coming together how you want it to, don’t be afraid to strip it down to its core and rebuild. Takeaway #2: For Kickstarter, start small and build up. It mitigates some risk, and lets you chalk up some successes to earn credibility. -Andrew