Cartoona did not start its life as most board games do. Traditionally, a game designer has an idea for a mechanic, or a set of mechanics that are built upon, and a theme is layered on top. More rarely, the theme comes first with mechanics developed to fit.
With Cartoona the art came first. So it's already odd man out.
I've been painting my whimsical creatures for over 20 years now, and it's this experience from which the game was born. Sure, I could probably theme it with zombies, or Cthulhu, or vampires, or dragons and have a built-in audience millions of times greater than fans of my paintings. But the idea came from my art, and so it's with my art that the project will live or die.
Sometime in 1993, I started creating odd creature paintings which garnered some attention, so I continued. This led to a lot of mural work in the Southeast along with a few sold out gallery shows, including one with the late, great Howard Finster. I became prolific, sometimes producing 50 paintings or more in week long creative spurts. I made a living on my art by selling it at reasonable prices and making up for it with volume.
Eventually my creatures became second nature to me. I could draw one without thinking about it, I just put together different body part shapes to create a brand new one every time. The possibilities became endless.
It became an obsession, but selling art is hard. And raising a family on the economic ups and downs of an artist's income leaves you with a constant feeling that you could slip through the cracks at any moment.
So I got a real job in technology.
One thing I hear constantly from friends, customers, and even complete strangers is, "you need to do a children's book" or "you need to do a cartoon". And while I think my characters would work for a children's book or a cartoon, the way I do my work does not lend itself to these mediums.
Books and films requires stories. Only then does an artist illustrate them. I simply don't paint that way. I start with a blank canvas and create some new creature every time without thinking about it. The creatures themselves are the story, they have never been characters within a plot line. Each painting is just a snapshot. The back story is for the viewer to decide.
Storytelling with words is an art. But I tell stories with lines.
I've thought about how I could bring my creatures to life for a long time, and a board game was always in the back of my mind. But I knew it couldn't just be any mechanic with my art layered on top. The mechanic had to capture the creative process in some way. I wanted the player to feel the way I do after I finish a drawing, to look down after completing one and say "hello my little friend, welcome to Earth".
I've always loved games, from playing Risk and Monopoly with my family as a child, to discovering D&D and Avalon Hill as a teenager, but no game ever struck me as easily transferable to my art.
Then I played Carcassonne.
A light went off in my head immediately. I could put my creature part alphabet on tiles and let players create their own odd animals by simply placing them together! The critters would come to life randomly in the same way they do when I draw them. I was electrified with excitement from that point forward and have been obsessed with making this project happen ever since. To the delight of my children and the nervous acceptance of my wife.
At first I had my kids and their friends just use the blocks as toys. They would sit and put together new creatures and laugh, completely engulfed in the experience.
I knew I was on to something. But it had to be more than this, I needed rules, I had to turn a toy into a real game.
It was obvious that the game could not be played like Carcassonne, so after working through adding a point value to the tiles we discovered that it was both fun and challenging to try and build creatures of a single color. We came to the conclusion that single color creatures would be worth double the points and the basic game was born. A simple draw two, play one, discard one game that was fast, fun and worthy of publishing on its own.
But it took many iterations and changes to get the balance right. Tiles had to be thrown out. And we had to add dual color tiles and more heads and bodies that helped a players finish creatures more quickly. We soon had the perfect balance for a light, tile-laying game.
And with the help of some geeks with serious math skills we determined that with the 94 individual tiles in the game 29,362,939 unique creatures could be built. That's almost 30 MILLION creatures in the box! More than you could do in a lifetime!
After the basic game was locked down, we still felt we could do more, the basic game is fun, but there was limited player interaction, so we started adding cards. We went through hundreds. Some we kept and most we threw out. It added a whole new dimension to the game, and we quickly learned that the attack and defend element of cards made for a more interactive, heavier weight game. To be good at Cartoona you need to understand how many tiles and cards of each type are in the decks, what has been played, and be disciplined in what you play. It's more important to learn when not to play something. Seemingly good tactical decisions can many times be poor longer term strategic decisions.
It's much more strategic than the colorful artwork reveals.
We worked and tweaked, and tweaked and worked, and then started taking the game into play testing. Friends and family first, then outside groups of both gamers and non-gamers.
We updated things based on feedback and made a couple items optional. We also created a children's version and a solitaire version of the game that could be played with the same tiles. We now have something unique that appeals to both families and gamers, young and old.
But that begged the question? How do you bring a game to market?
This started a ball rolling and led to research on board game manufacturing, marketing, Kickstarter and the board game industry in general. We are still learning, but jumped in without looking back.
I posted a mock-up of what I thought was a great box for my game. Only to have a Brazilian graphic designer named Luis Francisco Baroni Coutinho, who has already worked on games like Flash Point: Fire Rescue, The Resistance, and Triumvirate, take my images and create a box image that blew me away. He did this without be asked, or paid. I hired him on the spot to help me do most of the graphic work for Cartoona.
We now have a finished game, with prototypes printed by Print And Play Productions who I also found on Board Game Geek. We have launched our Kickstarter project, which sits at 17% funded as I write this just four days in.
I believe we have a true "gateway" game in Cartoona and I continue to meet amazing people who are willing to help. The community is like none I've encountered before, and whether Cartoona makes it to market or not, the experience was worth every minute spent on the journey.
You can check out the project at www.Cartoona.net and watch its progression.
And after you do, kick back with these songs. They'll always be the Cartoona soundtrack to me.
Songs To Invent A Board Game With
1. Take It With Me - Tom Waits
2. Glosoli - Sigur Ros
3. Karma Police - Radiohead
4. Holocene - Bon Iver
5. I Don't Want Love - The Antlers
6. The Words That Maketh Murder - P.J. Harvey
7. I Was There - The War On Drugs
8. Admiral Fell Promises - Sun Kil Moon
9. Home - Engineers
10. Cherry-Coloured Funk - Cocteau Twins
11. Rock N' Roll Suicide - David Bowie
12. Monkey Gone To Heaven - Pixies
13. There She Goes, My Beautiful World - Nick Cave
14. Heroin - Lou Reed
15. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - The Smiths
15. 1/1 - Brian Eno
Follow what Robert is listening to on Twitter.