CyberHack – Designing a Board Game

Introduction

Before it became apparent for me that my company, The Engine, wasn’t going anywhere and I started making board games for myself, I had already begun work on a few table top games. Among those were CyberHack. I even considered it a possibility that some board games could help pave the way/pay the way for The Engine. A ridiculous idea! It’s not like board games are an easier road to success! But it had become an idea with us that it was possible. That was a serious nail in the coffin, because it cost us even more time. It wasn’t entirely our idea, though, but that’s in the past.

CyberHack test 2008
It’s apparent that it’s an early version because one of the red pieces are missing at this point in the test.

CyberHack – Designing a Board Game: The Idea

But how did the idea for CyberHack come about? It’s one of the rare times when such a memory is actually quite clear. I was reading William Gibson in my comfy reading chair. Exactly which of his books, I can’t remember, but it was either Neuromancer or one of the later in the series. And suddenly almost the entire idea for the game appeared clearly in my mind.

I made some quick notes and sketches, and soon I even designed the first layout of the board. The size of the board—the number of connected dots on each side—remains the same to this day.

The basic idea of the game is two players trying to hack each other’s Nexuses (the larger pyramids) using gateways (the button shaped pieces (they are actually coloured wooden buttons))—the first player hacking the other player successfully wins the game. There are also special pieces like Firewalls and Nodes—and of course the VAR (Viral Attack Rutines). The VARs are controlled by both players in turn.

How the Game Design Progressed

As I have a (bad) habit of doing, I used a lot of time on making the pieces; the player colours in green and yellow, and the VAR-pieces in black and red. Making pyramid shaped pieces is a pain in the … as … as the picture clearly shows. After using a lot of time on this—even though I had no idea about how many pieces were needed or anything else for that matter—I finally got around to testing the game.

And lo and behold! It was perfect from the very first … Okay, I’m lying a little bit here. But actually only a few—but important—rules were changed. Only one major concept were corrected a little bit. That was quite honestly amazing. We tested and tested with the same results.

Then I had to look at the general design. The concept is a sci-fi setting in the classic futuristic (for the times) cyber worlds of Gibson and other writers like him. Quite generally these cyber settings are more complicated than reality, because one has to navigate them in a seemingly physical way—instead of simply using code written on a keyboard or by thought-patterns via a cerebral connection to a thingymajig … thing … on the thing … You know what I mean. We’ve all seen the movies, like Johnny Mnemonic, where people might have implants and harddisks in their brain, but still put on gloves and VR-shit to navigate a virtual something and other to do stuff. That’s just too complicated to make sense—except in the movies and books. It’s just like when they use complex 3D models in Ocean’s Eleven to plan their over-the-top crazy-ass crimes! How much time was just wasted designing a model that is only used for a short presentation—and who the hell made the model? And it is less practical than just using a drawing …

But I digress … The style is a futuristic setting of the cyber ilk. So strong colours and the pyramids—always the pyramids—they just love pyramids in those sci-fi-flicks. Virtual pyramids, mind you.

Current version of the board for CyberHack
Current version of the board for CyberHack

The picture shows two red and two black dots—they were moved around after the first few initial tests—and the behaviour of the VARs were corrected a bit, and the number of necessary pieces were ascertained. That were basically the changes made concerning gameplay and game design. That’s actually quite amazing.

The Box for CyberHack

When the idea came for the box, I’m not sure, but I remember that I wanted something special. It should catch the attention of potential buyers but it should also be useful.

The game box for CyberHack
The game box for CyberHack

The box is the board itself, the ends are used for the pieces while playing. It has magnetic strips to hold it together.

It’s not entirely practical when it comes to storage, but I like that it somehow expresses the sci-fi feel that’s intended.

Fastaval

Fastaval is the most important role-playing, board-gaming, etc. event in Denmark, and serious board game designers have their games tested here. I brought CyberHack along back in 2010 and had it tested—not as a part of the program, though (if there was game testing on the program in 2010?). It fared well, and I was happy. I received some great feedback!

The Dos and Don’ts of Publishing

Then, some time later, I tried to get it published, and that’s when it went down hill.

I knew a company that I thought would be a great choice for me—simply because I knew them … That wasn’t the case. I don’t need to go into that in detail, because that’s not really the point.

The point is that as a game designer, you have to understand and know the market you’re trying to reach. And if you’re looking for someone to publish your game, you have to know something about them.

  • What type of games do they publish? Is your game close enough, not close enough, or even too close to their current line of games? They want something that matches their line of games, but they don’t want something that competes with one of their existing products.
  • How many games do they publish? If they publish a single game a year, getting their attention may be quite a challenge—especially if they also design their own games!
  • Do not, ever, present a non-disclosure agreement to a publisher! I don’t even want to go into this—look it up.

You should also have a basic understanding of and idea about:

  • What are your options when it comes to copyrights and money?
  • What is it you want to achieve?

Do you want to earn a lot of money and be famous? Then you should probably consider doing something else. When you’re new in the field of game design, selling your idea for a tiny percentage of the sales is quite common and a great way to get something “out there”. Also, don’t try to protect your idea to the point of the absurd. If no-one is to know about your game, you have already lost 😉

Read up on what you need to know and do. It differs depending on which part of the world you live in. I didn’t read up until much later and, blimey, did I learn the hard way?

So CyberHack is still unpublished. For two reasons: I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at the time and later I couldn’t/didn’t take the time to prioritise getting it done. The first part has changed and I hope to change the last part in the near future. I need time (which is money, as we all know so very well) and a bit of quiet to get it to the next level. And it will happen. But I just need to do some other things first. I’ll write about that later.

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