Mary Russell

I'm a better designer now than I was six years and thirty games ago, and there are a lot of reasons for that. I've had a lot of practice, for one thing. There's a greater awareness and following for my designs these days, which means more people are playing them, which means I'm getting more feedback from gamers and other designers, and I'm able to turn around and use that feedback as I continue to press on. There's a huge difference between designing in a vacuum and designing in and for an active and engaged community, and it shows. It's also encouraged me to take greater and greater risks with my designs, pushing them further away from "normal", with all the good and bad that implies, but in that I'm more consciously doing "my own thing", I think I am a better designer for it.

But I think the single most important reason why I've gotten better is that I've become more and more aware of practical considerations. For example, there are 176 five-eighth inch counters on a single sheet, and 88 on a half-sheet. Each half has five blocks of sixteen counters and one block of eight on pretty much every five-eighth countersheet template I've ever seen, including the one used by Hollandspiele.

This dictates the number of counters in the game. If my design calls for ninety counters, likely I'm going to cut two of them. If my design calls for 145, I'm going to find a way to add thirty-one little squares of cardboard to it in order to fill the sheet. Though I don't really even make these changes, adding or subtracting the counters to get to a magic number, because these days from the start I design the game around that number. 

It goes further, though. As I said, the counters on each half-sheet are arranged in five blocks of sixteen and one of eight. While laser-cutting like we use is more precise than die-cutting, in both cases neither is going to be perfect every time, and even well-cut counters are going to be a fraction of a millimeter off to the right or the left. If you have two background colors in the same block, one's likely to spill over slightly onto another. That can be a minor annoyance or a major issue depending on the game and whether information is open or hidden. Once we started publishing the games in addition to designing and developing them, we became much more aware of this problem, and started factoring it into my design process.

So now, I design games with the intention of the counters conforming to these blocks of sixteen and eight whenever possible. Now, that doesn't mean that I distort the order of battle to fit that. If there were only fifteen, a sixteenth doesn't appear out of the air; instead, I plop in a blank counter with the same background color. And if there are eighteen brigades for this side, then by George, there will be sixteen in one block and two will have to find a home somewhere else. When that happens, I try to leave room for "transitional" counters - empty, non-gaming pieces that allow me to bridge the gap safely from one group of counters to the next.

Does this stuff really matter? Yes and no. No, because none of this is going to make a design interesting or compelling. Yes, because the intended final form of a board game is a physical one, which will be subject to physical limitations and the vagaries of production. It's far easier and smoother to design a game with that in mind than to scramble to make alterations and compromises later.

1 comment

  • It’s similar to the way that great musical composers wrote music that took advantage of what particular instruments did especially well.

    Eric Brosius

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