In November of 2017, I wrapped up development on the second game in our Shot & Shell Battle Series, a treatment of the Battle of the Alma River in the Crimean War. The Heights of Alma would be my second bite at that particular apple, it having served as the subject of my first published game, 2012's Blood on the Alma.
That development process started by getting my debut game back on the table. I hadn't played it in over four years, and remembered bits of it only dimly. As I started to push the counters around the map, I remembered more of it. While there were some bits that were clunky, some things that I would've done differently in retrospect, a lot of it was quite charming, a lot of it worked the way that I intended it to. It was a little like catching up with an old friend that you had lost touch with; slowly, you start to remember what you liked about them way back when.
The analogy breaks down a little, of course, when I radically redesigned the game to work in the context of the Shot & Shell ruleset; one generally doesn't get to take apart old friends and put them back together again in new and devious ways. We slotted the new game to be released in either the second or third quarter of 2018. We're now rapidly approaching the end of the year, and the game has yet to hit your table. So what gives?
What gave is that we had a whole bunch of games that we accepted for publication and that we were eager to get out into the world. Our backlog was such that if we accepted no new games for publication, and just published the ones we're already committed to, we would have enough games to last about fifteen months. That would mean, of course, at least a few of those games wouldn't be released until more than a year after the contract was signed. We prefer a much quicker turnaround time, and so as a result, we deprioritized some of my own designs in favor of those by outside designers. Which is why (expansions to Table Battles aside) we've released a grand total of two of my games this year, the most recent being the second Supply Lines game in May. We've got two more coming - This Guilty Land in November, and The Soo Line in December - but some projects that were planned to come out this year have been pushed into 2019 so that we can try to make good on our commitments to other designers in a more timely fashion.
And among those titles was The Heights of Alma. Now that we've pushed some of those other games out the door, and now that our production queue only stretches out about nine months instead of fifteen, we've started finding slots for my delayed designs, with the Alma game scheduled for early next year. With that in mind, I spent some time trying to find where the heck I had stashed the prototype - I'm not the most organized person in the world, unfortunately - and, at last having done so, I cleared off the dining room table and started pushing counters around. It was the first time I had played the thing in nearly a year.
And just like my experience with revisiting its predecessor, I went into it half-remembering the game I had designed. I had to re-read both the core S&S rules as well as the rules specific to that game, and I had to wonder why it was that I did this thing or that one. Then, a turn or two in, I remember why I did those things, and why, that was rather clever of me to do that. Everything snaps into view, and I remember why I liked the design in the first place. Looking at the design almost a year later, I see things I didn't before. Little things, minor things. Quality of life improvements, as it were. Ways to subtly shift - no, not shift; nudge - ways to subtly nudge the balance, just a little, into a preferred direction. Things I wouldn't have necessarily noticed if the game had been released in the Spring of 2018.Time is tremendously important to anyone working in a creative field. Usually this means finding time to do the work. When I had a day job, I had to scramble to steal precious hours and minutes on nights and weekends to write rules, make prototypes, and conduct playtests. And that time is important! But just as important - maybe more so - is having the time to set something aside and to come back to it later, to put some distance between you and that old friend so that you can reconnect with it, see it anew and afresh.
Wise words, Tom. I often get sidetracked on designs and return to them some time later; sometimes I’m reminded of how clever I was a year ago, and often I will come back to the design with a new idea derived from whatever I was working on in the interim.
Stealing time from anything and everything to get the creative thing done – I hear you there too. But I don’t think I could do as you have done; you are brave guys and I am glad you are making it work so well.