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Streets Designer Diary Part 1: Origin of the Street Concept

I had this idea of a city building tile laying game where players build the city together, owning various buildings that benefit from being in the right location. Like if I own a restaurant next to your hotel, I might benefit from serving food to your guests. I imagined the turn sequence would be elegant like in Carcassonne, just place a building tile on your turn and that’s it. I thought the buildings could have this cool cartoony look, and that it could focus on human themes like hipster culture, tourism and parent friendly neighbourhoods rather than focusing on infrastructure like most city builders.

I started by mocking up the graphic designs of some building tiles that would score depending on their adjacency to other buildings. I’m a big believer in getting my hands dirty as soon as possible in a process, I get inspired and energized by making things. So I quickly put together a prototype in Tabletop Simulator and started playing the game, pretty much making up the rules while playing.

I had something that sort of worked. Players could choose when and where to buy and sell their buildings, all the while limited by their available pool of sale signs. There was a cool dynamic between the two resources, sale signs for claiming buildings and money as victory points. Something was missing though, there was very little tension between players, no shared focus, and no ending. I decided not to worry about it too much at this point. I had something else to think about, what would this game look like?

I knew that what made the most sense was drawing the buildings in bird’s-eye view, as that would match the logic of the game mechanics that were based on tile adjacency. I also wanted the game to have a similar aesthetic to Villagers, to appeal to the same crowd. So OK, that gave me a very specific challenge. How do I make buildings in bird’s-eye view that have the same appeal as the characters in Villagers? That turned out to be very hard to do. Buildings don’t look nice from above. What you get is mostly roofs. Buildings look their best when seen from a persons eye view, from the front. Perhaps I could do a cheat cartoony perspective, like they did in old school strategy games like Theme Park? That way the buildings would be drawn from the front, yet placed using a sort of bird’s-eye logic. And perhaps a white background like in Villagers? I made some simple sketches using that approach, and it seemed to work. It seemed natural to add a bit of road at the bottom of the buildings. They couldn’t just stand there on some grass, they would naturally be connected to a road. I didn’t know at that time that this would be the start of a major concept for the game.

I tried a version of this new visual style for the game in Tabletop Simulator. I noticed that when several of these building tiles were placed next to each other, they seemed to be part of the same street. This inspired what was at first a scoring condition for just some of the buildings, they would score based on what was in the same “street” rather than based on adjacency. Naturally, these “streets” would end when they met buildings oriented in a perpendicular direction. This opened for some interactive play, you could block other players to limit their scoring.

This street mechanic was quickly becoming the most interesting part of the game. Then the idea came to me. What if it was all about these Streets? What if the scoring of all the buildings related to their streets and they HAD to become enclosed to score. This would create a kind of focus and level of interaction that the game so far had lacked. The game could even be called Streets, a name matching the simplicity of Villagers. It was time to make a new game from scratch.

Coming up next: Streets designer diary part 2, the first versions of Streets.

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Streets, The Road to Kickstarter: Part 1

This is an account of the initial preparations for the Streets Kickstarter launch. Streets is a wonderful tile-laying game by designer & illustrator Haakon Gaarder. It is his follow-up to 2019’s Golden Geek award nominated card game, Villagers, also published by Sinister Fish Games.

Please note: throughout this post it may sound like I assume the Kickstarter campaign for Streets is going to fund successfully. For the purposes of planning, I have to assume that. But, I am NOT taking it as a given! First, we have to finalise Streets both as an enjoyable game design and as an economically viable retail product. Then we have to make it irresistible via the medium of a Kickstarter page, so whether it sinks or swims is down to Kickstarter backers. Prior to launch, success or failure is unpredictable, so we just have to do our best and see what transpires. Nothing is taken for granted – I just wanted to get that straight.

We received the Streets advance copies last week and they look great. There are a couple of easy to correct issues with the print on the box, but other than that, the components are awesome. We got samples of everything except the rulebook and whatever storage solution we end up with (more on that later). I’ve ordered a fancy lightbox so we can take really great photos of all the components. I wanted them looking their best before we show them off, and we will reveal all in the first week of August. If you sign up to our mailing list, you can follow along & get the first look at what we’ve got cooking!

Speaking of weeks – there are less than 6 of them to go before Kickstarter launch! With that in mind, Carly has been helping me get more organised. We have all our tasks mapped out in Trello and everything is currently well on track for our September 1st launch. It’s currently so well organised that I kind of feel like I’m not trying hard enough. I think that’s just me comparing it to my usual organised chaos way of doing things, so it will probably be fine. I’m feeling just the right level of stress to prioritise effectively and make sure things get done, so hopefully it stays that way. The alternative is me pacing around with my head in my hands, being overly dramatic about small problems, and nobody needs that.

Haakon is working hard on the Kickstarter video – the early version I’ve seen is pretty slick. He’s a professional animator so I expected nothing less! We’re close to finalising the voice-over script, which will then be professionally recorded so that Haakon can match the animation to it.

We have our Kickstarter preview videos booked in & prototypes shipped. I just heard that Rahdo received his copy today, and I’m really happy that he’ll be doing his trademark playthrough and “final thoughts” videos for us. Tom Heath aka Slickerdrips will be giving a video rundown of the game, as will the good folk at Tantrum House. We’ll also have a contribution from Jesse Anderson aka Quackalope who is fairly new on the scene but makes really high quality content and seems like a really nice guy to boot.

I might be able to squeeze in another preview or two, but we’re limited by time and the number of prototypes we have. It should be noted that I have not asked for reviews from anyone that I’m paying to make content. Generally, previews are paid for, and reviews are not. Paid content will be marked as such on the campaign page.

Haakon and I are currently working on the details of our stretch goal plan. I will post more about this once we have it 100% locked down. We’re trying to find a good balance of sensible and exciting, and I think we’re coming close to that. One thing is for sure – we will not be coming up with stretch goals on the fly during the campaign!

This morning, Carly & I ordered a bunch of equipment to enable us to do a basic two camera livestream, so we can do live gameplay videos and more. I have a horrible feeling that an expensive knock-on effect will be having to get a new laptop, but I’m hoping (perhaps beyond hope) that my 9 year old MacBook is up to the task! The plan is to do lots of streaming in the run-up and during the campaign. We’ll also be taking part in the Virtual UK Games Expo at the end of August, so we need to know what we’re doing by then!

One big issue I’ve been dealing with is shipping, and finding the best way to get Streets into people’s hands after the campaign. We would love to do it ourselves (as we did for Villagers, except faster!), but we can’t depend on having enough space, which means making other plans. To put it mildly, international shipping is unpredictable right now, and it’s way more expensive than doing it ourselves would be. Royal Mail, who we use for all our mail, has just massively increased prices for parcels due to the pandemic. All international destinations are subject to a virus surcharge, which is because mail carriers are having to use charter flights to move the worlds mail instead of relying on much cheaper passenger flights which are still mostly not flying.

Worst affected is the USA, where we expect the bulk of our pledges will go. The current US administration has for some reason doubled the cost for outside carriers (such as Royal Mail) to use the United States Postal Service for ‘final mile’ delivery, which means the cost for us to send to the US has doubled and in some cases tripled. Not good. Maybe if the administration changes in November, the extra fees might be reversed in 2021, but obviously we can’t count on that.

Luckily, our retail distributor in the US also does Kickstarter fulfilment, and we’ll be sending them a shipment of retail copies anyway (assuming the game funds of course!), so it makes sense for them to send out our US pledges. Believe it or not, this is STILL more expensive than it would have been for us to do it ourselves, but it’s the least bad option we have right now. I’m currently comparing prices from various other fulfilment companies and looking for the best solution. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that shipping is just plain expensive these days, and we are going to have to work in a subsidy to soften the blow, but I think we can get it to acceptable levels.

One big change we’re making from the Villagers campaign is that we are going to charge for shipping in the pledge manager, which will likely be months after the end of the campaign. I will put the best possible shipping estimates up on the campaign page, and there’s always the possibility of finding better prices in the meantime. Simply knowing how many copies of the game need to be sent out makes a huge difference to how we handle it, and what the final cost will be. We think this is the best way to protect ourselves and our backers against unforeseen circumstances, and we hope you agree. Something we learned from Villagers is that offering cheap do-it-yourself shipping can potentially result in disaster. We were lucky to avoid one, and we won’t risk it again.

As for things left to do, there’s plenty: we need to finalise the public release of the Tabletop Simulator files, shoot videos, write press releases, build the campaign page, set up the pledge manager, finalise stretch goals, do social media stuff, overhaul our customer support system, schedule more advertising, and a bunch more. We will not have time to get bored.

I mentioned the storage solution for Streets earlier, and we are not decided on it yet. As you may have noticed, the Streets box will be exactly the same size & format as Villagers, almost as if they were part of a series! We want the deluxe and retail versions to come in the same box, but there’s quite a difference in the volume and delivery format of the components – the deluxe version replaces ALL the retail version cardboard tokens & punchboards with bags (and probably a box) of wooden components. The upshot of all this *might* be that we end up with a very simple box insert, or no insert at all. I think that’s a reasonable price to pay for there being basically no air in the box (certainly in the deluxe edition), but do let me know what you think in the comments.

So we’re in the thick of it, but in a good way! I can really feel the excitement building in my bones, although that might just be too much coffee. Either way, I can’t wait to show you more of what we have planned!

Thanks so much for being with us so far.

Stay safe & speak soon,