After the idea of basing our board game on Muskoka, we wanted to create a game that would be true to the theme of what Muskoka is known for - camping and cottage life. The considerations of what to include came easily; Muskoka chairs, unique wildlife, adventurous activities, iconic landmarks and destinations. The bigger task was designing a game that would incorporate all these aspects, as well as creating playable mechanics and implementing a clear set of rules.
We defined the end objective, which was to make a fun and interactive game that used an element of strategy. The vision was to promote quality time with family and friends, something that would appeal to young and old alike. It was to be ideal for playing at the cottage or to recreate that northern feeling when back home. It became apparent, our game would be on the lighter and shorter side (meaning you could simply play again if time allowed, rather than requiring a big time commitment).
Drawing upon influence from one of my favourite games in recent times, Ticket to Ride, we set out with a map of Muskoka and main destinations depicted. We then added routes between destinations by land and lake to traverse, using a variety of modes of transport identifiable within Muskoka. To encourage movement around the board, we added the criteria of completing journeys of varying lengths. For example, all one-card length journeys are featured near Lake of Bays, therefore players at some point must venture to that area of the board as a requirement for victory. With the distribution of land vs lake cards being 2:1, we reflected that in our scoring system. The most attractive (and therefore hardest to obtain) route is the five-card lake journey along Georgian Bay, worth a game high 10 points.
The one aspect of Ticket to Ride that is missing in my opinion, which I enjoy in other eurogames such as Dominion, is the player interaction with action cards to further your game or to disadvantage others. With the creation of Rest & Relax cards (R&R cards) in our game, it opens the possibility of pushing your luck for advantages and take that gameplay to set others back. This is one of my favourite parts of the game, with such variety and expectation each time acquiring these cards, knowing that they will positively benefit your game…but by how much?
The process to finalize gameplay required a lot of trial and error, with outside feedback and input for refinement. My wife Brenna, whose previous blog talked about the playtesting process, had a cool idea to start the game whereby you first had to navigate traffic to enter the Muskokas (anyone who has ventured north on a weekend can attest to this). We created a whole mechanism around starting the game by rolling a 12-sided die, correlating to the time of day you would depart and subsequently starting location/cards.
Alicia’s dad, Dave, after playtesting gave us the valuable feedback that you want a quick entry into a light game. The fact it took a whole page for me to explain the starting process was a failure in my creating a viable simplistic mechanism and resulted in it being scrapped. That idea was not alone. We trialed a trade-in system for unwanted explore cards that didn’t make it, tried different values for acquiring R&R cards and added/removed/redefined a number of the R&R cards themselves. Even the name R&R at one point was instead the tongue-in-cheek Out & About…however this later instead became a card unto itself.
After many playthroughs, which meant sometimes playing with my wife and kids, sometimes dropping prototypes at friends and family during lockdowns for their feedback, sometimes simulating 6 player games solo, we have refined and created a game I’m really proud of. With this in mind, I will share what I have learned to be the three most important guiding principles in creating our game:
Most games consist of a combination of luck and skill. Luck is that random chance of an outcome, for instance rolling a certain number or having a particular card needed appear. Skill is a player’s ability to navigate or make moves that outsmart their opponents, this is where strategy plays its part. Some are heavily weighted towards one over the other by design, but an imbalance can often leave players feeling frustrated or inferior. Our game incorporates luck in terms of card collection and timing of board location, with skill required to strategize routes and complete journeys that will achieve all 3 stipulations for victory in the game.
I’m sure we have all experienced or been a part of one-sided contests. Watching sports where a team is so far ahead before halftime makes the remainder of the game almost unbearable. Therefore, for players to be engaged, they need to feel as though victory is achievable and attainable. We wanted everyone to think they had a chance, by creating some point cards that are hidden from other players like Catan and also a point card (in the inuksuk) that can change hands at any point to affect the leader in the game.
Ultimately, I believe the true test comes upon completion of the game…what is the likelihood and readiness to play it again? When playing one of the initial prototype playtests with my 7-year-old son, his desire to play again (despite lack of artwork or defined rulebook) led me to believe our game was viable. The experience was enjoyable, one that left him wanting more. My hope is you share this feeling when you play.
For an overview of how to play Muskoka: The Board Game, please follow this link to a video completed by A Meeple Family: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plEv83KaBww&t=1s