Dev Diary - The History of Honey/Giant's Causeway
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
I want to start talking a little bit about the games that we have in various stages of development:
Giant’s Causeway (which will be renamed, but this name reflects the current theme) is one of the first 2 games I started designing and currently planned to have a Kickstarter campaign by an amazing publisher soon.
Floating Islands is far from my second design, but it spun off of the first theming attempt for Giant’s Causeway (then called Honey).
Fools and Prospectors is a small game that I’ve gone back and forth on what to do with.
Lily Pads is a children’s strategy game that I have recently started pitching.
Finally, Forest Friends is the first game that my wife has decided to lead the design for.
Today’s post will cover the history of Giant’s Causeway, where it came from, how it’s changed, and where it’s going.
The prima ludum of our current work, Giant’s Causeway has been a part of my life for the last four years, since shortly after I started playing these kinds of games. The genesis of Giant’s Causeway goes back to two games – one physical, one digital.
Ingenious is a fairly popular game by one of my favorite designers, Reiner Knizia, about building long strings of matching tiles on a board. At the time, I had never heard of this game. Instead, I had a game, also designed by Reiner Knizia, called Ingenious Challenges, which simplifies the concept into 3 small games. Of those, the one that sparked my imagination the most when looking for board games variants that I could create was the card game.
The game had 2 images on each card and required that matches be made based on either image. I liked this idea but wanted something that would let you match based on one image then require that you use the other image the next time it was matched. To do that, I imagined a system where the cards had 1 color on each side instead of 2 colors on the same side. You could lay them down, then flip them over when they’re matched.
Of course, drawing cards that have both sides useful was then an issue. How can you draw without knowing what you were drawing, and how can you hide what you have from your opponent? This problem was too challenging, and I moved on.
Around this time, I started thinking about a phone game I had loved called Flowerz. In Flowerz, you are given a garden and a line of flowers. Each flower has to be placed in a square on the garden in the order they come in. You are given the ability to see a couple of the upcoming flowers, but not many. When you have 3 flowers in a line that are the same color, they disappear. In later levels, these flowers start being 2-colored. Matching with the first color turns the flower into one of the second color.
This seemed like an interesting idea that would let me incorporate some of what I had imagined previously, but it would probably work better with tiles than cards. I quickly decided that I didn’t want a square board, as the matching options are just too limited. Hexes seemed appropriate, so I drew my first board.
I tried to play with the ingenious tiles, but they didn’t have separate colors on each side. I tried to play with paper, but it was a terrible experience. Finally, I ordered my first prototype pieces.
I quickly found my first issue. I had made the pieces with now clear front of back, allowing players to choose the side to use when placing pieces. This was great, but how do you know which pieces have been matched before and can be removed?
I dropped the allowance to decide which side is matched first, made a visual change and ordered my second set of pieces – flat art and a honey texture.
The images were not as clearly different when playing as they seemed to be in my artwork.
I made a change to flowers and honey and ordered a third set.
Now not only did I have a clear set (and a decent amount of money gone), a theme had started presenting itself to me. The board was shaped like a hive, and the images turned from flowers to honey. The name of my game would be… Hive Mined. That’s a weird name that would stick until people convinced me that it conflicted too much with another game, Hive.
Over the next year or so I put very little work into the game. I had some major health problems, and when I did do design work, there was always a more exciting project I could work on.
But in 2017, things started to change. I had an idea I was working on for a worker bee game, and I was inspired to pull out my other bee game during my downtime. Maybe I could connect the 2 somehow? Then, shortly after I felt I had a solid solo game and began clearing up the rules for my multiplayer version, BGG’s yearly solo game design contest began.
Very nervous about actually letting someone outside of my house see my design, I entered my game. I quickly changed the artwork to something clean and elegant, and changed the name to Honey. I got third best abstract and third best new designer. Finally my wife decided that maybe the game wouldn’t suck like most of my other early design attempts (my other bee game, which I eventually abandoned for various reasons, is the only game up to that point that she remotely enjoyed).
The next year would be filled with development, designing numerous variants, our first external playtests, and our first ever convention visits. Before our first convention, though, I needed to get my prototypes looking good. I was very happy with the tile design, but I couldn’t come up with an elegant board that made me happy, so I hired someone to help. In the few days between accepting to have her draw up an example, we went from wanting something completely abstract to wanting so see a steampunk-with-bright-colors concept.
Sugarpunk (The Pitch)
We fell in love with the design, hired a new artist to design the bees and hired her to create a board and tiles. Honey was now a Sugarpunk game about robot bees delivering nectar to a floating power plant and collecting the honey byproduct that it produced.
A few more mostly positive playtests later, and it was time to pitch the game.
GenCon saw my first few pitches, and, even though no one picked it up, the interest level and playtest feedback left me confident. After GenCon, I started emailing people. Most of them didn’t email back, but 2, one my wife loved and one I loved, wanted a prototype.
An email – “we aren’t looking for your type of game right now.”
I was disappointed and started looking into (as I had considered a couple of times before) a plan to self-publish.
Then, on the day after my birthday, while heading out for a hike, I got an email from the publisher I had preferred. They wanted to chat. Apparently, they had played my game a couple of times and wanted to make sure they were playing it right. They enjoyed the game and were planning to play it some more that weekend. It was a great conversation that got me really excited. Not only was I having an amazing birthday trip, but it was topped off with some great news, even if they didn’t wind up signing the game.
That weekend, while watching a movie in the theater, I got another call. They were doing tests with my favorite designer, needed to clarify a rule on the variant, and he wanted to let me know how much he liked it.
A couple of weeks later, I woke up to the email I had been waiting for. A week after that, on Thanksgiving day, I got the contract. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t care what the contract said. I just wanted it to get signed (I did some due diligence, though, and worked with them on a few clarifications and adjustments, just in case).
Over the year and a half since that contract was signed, we went down to a single variant (one with the simplest scoring), added in some bonuses for different types of matches, added a major element that hiked up the strategy (as opposed to the mostly tactical game it was before), and cleaned everything up quite a bit. The first developer I worked with focused heavily on making the game as strategic as possible, turning it into a very serious-feeling strategy game. Then we worked on dialing it back a little to make it more approachable.
A few months ago, we started questioning the theme. The market has been flooded recently by bee themed games, and our twist wasn’t really enough to set us apart. The only issue was, Shanna and I weren’t sure if we could decide on a theme that would excite us nearly as much as the Sugarpunk one had. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, a suggestion was made that settled everything for us.
Shanna and I are fairly obsessed with Ireland, and one of the first major landmarks we visited there on our first visit was the Giant’s Causeway. The folklore behind it is also a great representation of some of our favorite aspects of the country, especially their humor.
Now, we’ve worked out a thematic story that fits the game much better than the Honey story every did, and we’re working on a good name, the completion of some interesting product design, new artwork, and, soon, a Kickstarter.
Sometimes it feels so far away, and I get tired of telling people, “Just a little bit longer,” when they ask when they can buy the game. But it’s getting there, and the wait has absolutely been worth it.