It’s Saturday, 11 pm, we are in a car, driving back home from meet up with fans in Bielsko Biała. It was an epic 6 hours evening with more than 50 fans showing up. I am dead tired.
I hear notification sound on Marek’s phone. He checks his messages. He says: ‘It’s from my friend. They just finished L.A. Crime.’
‘Ah, he asks me to not tell you that. He knows you’ll be pissed off.’
It’s 11 pm. I am dead tired. I am pissed off. Great Saturday night.
For the past few weeks in our weekly YouTube show called PlanszowkiTV (BoardgamesTV) I asked fans to relish L.A. Crimes. ‘Don’t you dare to open the box and finish it in a one damn weekend. Play once a week. Stretch it to the one month experience.’
Because I knew it – the moment they finish it, they’ll ask for the next campaign. And man, I am so not ready for that.
A few weeks ago I recorded a special video called 7 steps to design a Case. Let me tell you about these steps today. It’s a little bit more than seven, to be honest. Let me walk you through the whole process.
- It all starts with the script. That’s what we get from the writer, Przemysław Rymer in the base game and Mateusz Zaród in the LA Crimes expansion. It takes a few months for the writer to come with a good story. The script for L.A. Crimes was about 80 pages long. It covers the main plot, all characters, and their motives, it details all moments and fragments when the plot connects with the real world events and facts so we can use ‘Breaking the 4th wall’ mechanism. It’s a thick book full of facts about crime.
It’s the first step.
- Then it’s time to chop it into pieces. It’s time to make the game out of it. It’s this fascinating phase of building the mind map, putting all pieces of information on the whiteboard and slowly plan connections between them. Players will find this clue in that location, they will learn about this guy here, and that person will tell them about that thing. 80 pages long script cut into small pieces of clues players could find to deduct the whole story.
It’s a madman job and it takes a few long weeks to translate the main plot into exactly 36 double-sided cards. It’s the second step.
- Then you write the base version of cards. These are very simple, almost no fluff whatsoever, they read like: “You step into Laboratory. You find out that fingerprints match to John Smith.” or “You talk with Stephen and you learn that he loves to promote his products and that he moved to Florida 3 months ago.”
I run a few test games of such Case to see if the mind map more or less works. If not, I tweak. If yes, we just finished step three.
- We write all the text. It’s massive work. In the game, we have 36 double-sided cards and then we have Antares website with all the autopsy reports, police reports, police files on suspects, and all kind of additional papers and files. It’s a ton of writing. We showed it in one of our vlogs, the whole text from the base game of Detective is a huge 600 pages long novel. We wrote the amount of text that equals the first book in the Game of Thrones series. While playing players see only the friction of the material. You see about half of the deck and you see half of the Antares files.
Writing these cards is quite a challenge. Many of you made fun of the base game because of all the references to lunch breaks and salads. I smiled every time I read these jokes. Each card is a small story. Each one is like a postcard from the place. In the base game, we worked hard to help you imagine the scene. All these rush at work, hustle, lunch breaks with quick salad were on purpose. We planned the whole environment before sat to writing. Every time you visit PD Richmond, there is a hell going on. Every time you visit Laboratory, you are welcomed with silence, white, clean environment. Each time you work at your desk, you use high tech hardware.
Cards in L.A. Crimes are a little bit shorter, players asked to lower a bit the fluff part, but still, that’s a lot of text to come up with. After another few weeks of work, we have our deck!
- Playtesting is fun. Our groups get the Case and play it. As you can imagine, in the first version, it all is one big mess. Mistaken dates. Mistaken names. Clues are hidden too deep. Other clues are too obvious. Links and numbers to other cards are wrong. Files in the Antares are not ready.
This is one big mess.
We record every test game and then I listen and make notes. I listened to every damn test game of Detective. As for now, I guess it’s hundreds of hours of material. I listen to how players debate, how they think, what conclusions they get after reading each card. And I make notes and edit over and over again. We print cards again, a new test, a new group, new notes, new edits, new print and it goes over and over for weeks. First I playtest with my employes, then with other groups. Every group gets a better and better version, more polished, more intriguing and challenging. And finally, we have it. The Case is ready. Weeks passed.
- We translate it into English. On average it was 2 weeks per case. It’s done by translation company, we outsource it (with a small exception for the first case in L.A. Crimes). It takes time, but it is time for us to take a breath. As soon as we have the translation, we read it carefully, sentence after sentence checking if no clue was missing during the process. It always is. Every time there is this one tiny thing here and there, that got lost in translation. We fix it. We are ready to move on.
- Native speakers. There are two different series of editing the Case. The first one, the obvious one is native speaking editors fix all the tiny language problems in the text. Even though we try to hire the best translators, there are always some sentences that require polishing. We are lucky that Luke Otfinowski, who is leading editor for Detective speaks Polish. He was born in Poland and moved to the US when he was a kid. That allows us to have the best translation possible, Luke reads Polish cards – as they were originally written – and compares with the English version. He is in close contact with me and we have a ton of Skype conferences discussing different paragraphs. The language is polished and smooth and yet, no clue gets missing.
- At the same time, there is another part of editing going on. It’s Vinny and few other friends (including real police investigator!) who are for us of golden value. It’s a step for checking all the cultural references. They tweaks all small details that make no sense for American readers. The action of the game takes place in the US, but it is written in Poland. Hence, sometimes we are wrong. Without too many spoilers, for instance, in L.A. Crimes in one of the Cases, there is a scene in the hospital, and we had to rewrite the whole card and develop brand new clue, because apparently procedures in Polish and American hospitals are different and what we came up with as a clue, would never actually happen in the US. Vinny and rest of the team were especially important with L.A. Crimes campaign that takes place in 1986. Back then I was 10 years old and lived in Poland under Russian occupation. I know no sh** about America in 80′ and even though I spent countless hours doing research for the campaign, Vinny was just on point tweaking cards and adding cool references. His: “I remember this football player, it was the main news on TV back then.” were funny, but at the same time extremely valuable.
- Finally, our DTP department is ready to go. We have final text on all game components, in the meantime, our artwork department prepared all art pieces, layout, cardboard pieces, box and now only put the text on cards. I won’t tell you how hard it is to find photos of people who look like it’s 1986. I guess you can imagine.
These stock photos galleries you all heard about don’t offer photos of people who look perfect as a Non Player Character in the game set in September 1986.
Anyway, my artwork department nailed it and the whole game is full of original photos from 80.
Back to work. Everything is ready, we have cards in PDF, we do another run reading everything over and over again, checking for every tiny mistake. I cannot look at these cards at that moment. I read them too many times. I am sick of it, but this is the last moment to catch any mistake.
- It goes to print. I can have a few weeks of break. And then I must come back to the Case and start promotion of the whole thing – for instance, write an article like this one.
L.A. Crimes got released in Polish, German and English this week worldwide. French, Italian, Czech and other editions will follow up soon. I wish you a great time with the campaign. We spent months designing it and working on it. We had a blast, even though it was really hard work.
I have one message to you today though – Don’t you dare to finish the whole thing in one weekend.
Don’t even think about it.