The Clever Abstract in Cat’s Pajamas - A Designer’s Diary by Scott Brady
Shortly after I signed my first game, Hues and Cues, in late August of 2019, I began thinking “what’s next”? Abstract games have always been my favorite. Like most, I grew up on Chess, Checkers, and Chinese Checkers. As an adult I own and enjoy the entire GIPF series, Tak, Onitama, Santorini and countless more.
I began thinking about mechanics I had never seen used in a published abstract game before. I got to thinking about meteors dropping from the sky and hitting the ground. The result would be a crater. I imagined a piece striking the board and pushing any pieces away by the force of impact. I ran through at least a dozen variations of theme and mechanics over the next two months before settling down with a played piece simply pushing all adjacent pieces - unless there was a piece next to it that prevented its movement. But I left it without a theme.
Building the Game
Now that I had decided on a base mechanic to build the game around, the real work began. Board size was something I fought with a lot. I really wanted to allow the pieces to fall off the edge of the board (instead of clogging it up), and a larger board made that happen rarely. A six-by-six square grid was my final selection, and I was leaning towards seven pieces for each player (I had narrowed it down to two players at this time). Multiple playtests showed that seven was too few as players ran out of pieces too soon. One more was added, and I found that the eighth piece only got played around 10% of the time. This is when placing 8-on-the-board became an alternate win condition (in addition to three-in-a-row).
The idea of cats jumping on a bed came to me from the commercial which shows a salesman balancing a glass of wine on a mattress to demonstrate how their product wouldn’t cause it to spill when jumped on. This theme fit perfectly. Cats will spook when startled, so having them jump away when another cat lands was thematic. Going over the edge, off the bed, and then returning also fit the theme.
I struggled with a new name for an evening or two before landing (pun intended) on Pounce House. I took one of the wooden boards and recovered it with a printout of a duvet and surrounded the edges with crape paper to simulate a bed skirt. Scott Morris offered to test out his new 3D printer by manufacturing cats to replace the glass beads. When they arrived I hand-painted them in traditional cat colors (black and orange) and had a more interesting prototype to share!
It wasn’t until Fall of 2021, at our favorite convention, Geekway to the West, that I started showing it again. I had chatted with Curt (of Smirk & Dagger) beforehand and encouraged him to come to the show. My ulterior motive was to show him a couple other projects I was working on and get his honest opinions. As we were chatting about life, games and more, I pulled my only prototype out of my bag and began explaining the minor changes and the new theme.
I think he was hooked right there and then, but if you know Curt, don’t play poker with him. He doesn’t project until he’s sure. He asked to take the prototype home to test. I sheepishly agreed, knowing it was my only example. It was only a few weeks later when he called to tell me he wanted to move forward with it immediately!
In the succeeding months, Curt took the prototype to PAX Unplugged and other gatherings to gauge consumer interest. It was at one of these shows that the discussion about the name came up. Pounce House was good, but Curt thought he had come up with something better. He showed me his idea for a name and a mockup of a box, and I was sold. I learned from Hues and Cues (formerly Guess Hue) not to hold onto a name too tightly. Publishers know the market better than designers, and if he thought boop. would get people talking better than Pounce House, who was I to argue?!
The next few months I didn’t have to do a whole lot of work on boop. other than to peek at the progress Curt was making on the design of the box, the rulebook and the quilt! Yes, instead of a crape paper ruffle, boop. would include an actual stitched quilt as the board in every box!
The last stages before production were to preview Smirk & Laughter’s handmade prototypes at trade shows such as GAMA Expo. I was in attendance and we (Curt and I) were blown away by the retailer excitement. Preorders were pouring in. In fact, boop. had become the most preordered game in the company’s history.
Because of this, the production run was more than doubled and was now the largest first print run Curt had ever ordered.
We hope with the adorable theme, your customers will give it a try. Once they do, they’ll realize there’s a lot of depth and strategy to the underlying abstract game. With the short play time and simple ruleset, it’ll be a popular choice this holiday season and beyond.
Scott Brady has a career background in the printing/manufacturing industry followed by 15+ years of writing about board games for SahmReviews.com. These two passions resulted in the creation of the award-winning game, Hues and Cues. boop. is his second published game, with more on the horizon.