For past readers:
First of all, it’s been a long time since my last text on this blog. Simply put, over time I slowly lost the interest to write, and when I did, the quality was not up to my standards. Road Beer as the name suggests is about travelling – my muse.
I have become quite sedentary, here in Ho Chi Minh city.
So, my apologies to the people who’ve been following me since my first backpacking trip back in 2012, on the old Bière de Route blog, and have been waiting for news.
Now that apologies are out of the way, I’m here to announce that I’m back at the keyboard, but perhaps not for what you would expect from me.
As for new readers and followers who are streaming in from my Instagram and Twitter, curious about Minibots Arena, welcome to my blog. Feel free to explore the other topics! From this point on however, most of my writing energy will be devoted to this new project.
This first post is about my previous attempts at designing board games. While it’s not an absolute necessary read, it’ll offer you some information about me.
On to the board game stuff!
“Why did you decide to make a game?”, someone asked me recently. I didn’t really “decide” to make a game. It’s more like a need, an urge. It’s not my first attempt at creating one either. Here’s a bit of info about my nerdy past.
1ST GAME – POND HOCKEY.
Looking back to around 2008-2010 (my memory is hazy), I was knee-deep in Magic: The Gathering, Hockey pools, and starting to explore board games as well. I found myself wanting to play a Hockey board game but wasn’t interested in what was on the market at that time. I had found a Magic card editor program online and decided to try and make a card-based Hockey game. The idea was simple: Your offense stat must beat the other team goalie’s defense stat. The creatures were players and the instants were skills and actions like tackling and puck-handling.
The cards were funny to me, and there was a simple, working dynamic. However, I was over-protective of my game, and I quickly dumped the whole idea after a few chaotic playtests with my friends. In retrospect, I was lacking patience, a long-term vision, didn’t share the goal or idea beind the game, and perhaps some of my friends’ personalities weren’t compatible with playtesting (failing to see the game my way and immediately modifying the rules to suit their own vision of it).
A few lessons learned.
2ND GAME – RICE FARMING.
Let’s fast-forward to 2015. I am now motorbiking through Vietnam after having backpacked through the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and China through 2 separate trips. The South-East Asian coutryside is quite picturesque, with its limestone mountains and rice fields. I am falling in love with the country.
Carrying a copy of Carcassonne with me (it fits great in a Tupperware!), I played in numerous hostels and guesthouses (even on a boat!). During the long hours of solitude, my imagination was being stimulated again. During the night in my rooms, or during a coffee break, I found myself scribbling down notes and sketches for a Vietnam-flavored Agricola-meets-Carcassonne game. However, I have much more experience playing Magic: the Gathering than playing any pawn-placement games, so I found myself at a dead-end fairly quickly. The delicate balance of mechanics, learning and mastering, and fun factor was lost on me.
Not much was learned, but a seed had been planted.
3rd GAME – VILLAINS!
This must be 2016. After playing a few games of Arctic Scavenger – possibly my favorite board game ever – I became more determined than ever to make my own game. I sat down and tried to imagine what would the offspring of Marvel Legendary and Arctic Scavenger would look like.
The result was simply a cheap copy of Arctic Scavenger with a super-hero flavor, messy rules and a far-from-compelling game play. I tried the game out by myself and had a bit of fun. I brought it over to Canada during a visit and subjected my friends to it. I had gained experience in rule designing so they couldn’t exploit the system as easily as with the hockey game, but after one hour of play, very little fun had been had.
I still have the printed cards in my game designing drawer. Many things were learned!
4th GAME – WIZARD TOWER.
Moving forward to 2017. I’ve read a few Discworld novels. I’ve Skyped a few times with Marc, good friend and avid board games collector (currently being courted to join Minibots Arena as playtester and business adviser)é During a Skype session, talking about creating board games, I issued a challenge: we had 3 months to come up with a playable concept for a game based on a rule mechanic he had envisioned.
Marc – being a new father and having a thousand hobbies- didn’t have time to create anything substantial, but I did end up creating a game called “Wizard Tower”.
It had a board mat, player mats, cards, an enormous amount of dice (true to Marc’s original vision) and a flavor. The goal of the game was to build the highest Wizard Tower, using Golems as workers. Wacky spells were available from a common deck to help the Wizards achieve their goals faster and mess with each other.
The game went through a few playtests with some close friends of mine here in Vietnam – who were not regular board game players. We had some fun, but I suspect it was mostly due to the fact that we were simply friends hanging out together. However, they were more respectful of my vision and actually went along with the rules.
However, they were enjoying the game with the wrong mechanics – my core idea was largely being ignored. A player won without casting a single spell, only by focusing on the very basic worker placement mechanics. A wizards game where someone wins without using magic? Unthinkable!
After a few re-working of the rules and spell cards, the problem remained the same and I ended up scrapping the whole project. Back to the drawing board!
Perhaps it was a failure of mine to not capitalize on the mechanic that the players were having fun with. A lot of lessons were learned however.
5TH GAME – MINIBOTS ARENA (This is why we’re here).
Let’s do a quick Tarentino flashback back to 2016. I was travelling through Japan with my father. Being the generous man that he is, he ended up funding much more of the trip than I had anticipated (also because I had been an idiot with currency exchange). Trying to be a good son and a respectful travel partner, I didn’t go out drinking much and ended up spending a few hours a night just… thinking.
During that time, I felt compelled to update my life priorities and bucket list. Having checked the boxes of my younger self’s dreams – getting a bamboo tattoo in Thailand, Visiting Hiroshima castle, walking the Great Wall of China, moving to a different country, Motorbiking through Vietnam – I needed new goals to keep me moving. Two other, long-buried dreams from my teenager years came back to haunt me: creating my own t-shirt line (mưa gạo), and creating my own collectible figurines line. A more recent one added itself to the list as well: to create and publish my own board game.
Let’s move forward. We’re finally in 2018, back home in Ho Chi Minh city. My free time consists of playing video games, building Gunpla kits and watching Gundam anime.
More often than not, I would find myself staring at Warhammer 40K models online, longing for a complex board game with beautiful miniatures. However, I was horrified at the staggering prices! I watched some Let’s Plays and decided the game wasn’t for me. I’m a huge fan of the lore, the minis and the painting, but I can get my money’s worth in collectibles and time invested with Gunpla – which in turn ended up being a huge influence on Minibots Arena.
Late one night, while waiting for Fortnite to load the next game, I sketching absentmindedly on a notepad at the edge of my desk. A new habit forms: scribbling notes and badly designing collectible mini-figurines that could be collected by children and adults alike.
But how to sell them? After watching “The toys that made us”, a series on Netflix, I saw that back in the day, most toy lines were backed by a cartoon or some other gimmick. I mean, I started reading Spawn and got massively into comic books because the original Spawn toy line came with small sample comics of the characters you bought – my father had gotten me Tremor.
I decided that I would sell my figurines through a board game.
After watching a Gundam series where the protagonist visits Anaheim Electronics – a manufacturing company based on the moon that makes anything from mobile suits to spaceships, I started remembering the board game “Race for the Galaxy” and getting inspired to design a new game which would revolve around contractors looking to build the best mobile suit for clients, using Minibots to mine and work in factories. However, there was a spark missing, and I quickly hit a dead-end.
Later on that month, I tried watching a few episodes of Gundam Build Divers. Suddenly, a flash of inspiration hits. I quickly scribble down:
“In the far future, humanity has liberated itself from the shackles of work. Everything is automated. Now with more free time than ever (and a generous universal basic income), humans dedicate themselves fully to the pursuit of sports, art, and hobbies. One of these hobbies is rapidly becoming more and more popular: Minibot Combat! Players design and build their small robots to fight each other. Illegal, underground betting matches quickly see the day…”
That’s all I had written. However, simply writing down these lines and leaving the paper near my computer helped make the idea slowly grow inside my skull. I started researching 3D-printing, and recycled plastic. I looked at figurines customization and manufacturing. I thought about, what would be the future of war-gaming, if the fictitious technology of Gundam Build Divers (being able to scan your models and have them fight virtually) was truly available.
All this, a lot of coffee and a few talks with friends slowly led to a clear rule set, a hundred cards, tons of ideas, and hours of play-testing. Slowly, the idea of a toy line moved to the back seat to give room to a more definite board game.
For the 1st time in nearly 8 years, I’m confident in a game that spawned from my imagination. Sure, it needs a lot more work, but it’s fun. It’s working. I’m obsessed.
The idea of miniatures made of recycled plastic is still there, but for now, making the game fun has absolute top priority.
This was the first post of my Devlog. I hope you enjoyed it, even if nothing much was revealed about the game itself. I’m still putting my thoughts in order – a long and painful process for me that no amount of list-making can speed up – but I sincerely hope it shed a tiny bit of light on this new project of mine, or at least on my intentions.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. Better yet, follow me on Instagram and Twitter to get regular info. I’ve already started posting regularly and sharing the process of creating Minibots Arena.
Thanks for reading, and may your play-tests be fruitful.