What does it take to make a board game? To many, the answer is simple; design, iterate, playtest. For us at Crafty Lupine Publishing, however, the answer got a lot muddier! My name is Jonathan Hansen and me and my two closest friends began working on Gordian Layers over ten years ago. It all started one day, shortly after our high-school graduation, my best friend Jack decided we should try creating a card game together. Separately, you see, we had made a handful of games, obsessed with getting our group of friends to try them. Many of them got quite popular with them, which egged us on to try bigger and bigger games. With high-school over and our futures uncertain, however, we would wind up using the project to keep our friendships strong and to stay in touch over life’s many crazy adventures.
So, how did we get from then to now, with a product finally here on kickstarter? And what on earth took so long? That is what I will chronicle for you all now and over the next few days;
Part 1 - The Early Years (200X-2010)
We were still kids then.
All throughout middle school and high school, me and my friends played card games of all types. Between the lot of us, there probably wasn’t a single game created in the 1990s and onward that we wouldn’t have tried. A lot of those game flopped but some of them really captured our imaginations and inspired me to create my own. I was not the only one in my group that felt this way, and those of us who had the calling set out to create our own magic moment to share across the table.
We started with a vague design concept of party based conflict and time travel. A player’s team was made up of exactly 3 characters and the decks were filled with monsters and events to throw at your opponent. The combat was vaguely similar to the cult classic video game Chrono Trigger, which also features a time traveling theme. Knowing two random nobodies in the United States would never get the rights to a beloved IP owned by a company in Japan no less, we decided to completely retheme everything.
First came the hours and hours and hours of story writing. That was one of the things Jack and I were best at, talking for hours about what ifs and building something off each other’s comments. We took a creative writing course one time the theme changed from time travel to multiple dimensions, and the stories actually made sense! We had a deep fleshed-out universe that needed a card game built around it. We would find out that would be easier said than done.
Around the time of the Great Recession in 2008, we were both waist deep in college with no clear path to continue. He was now living six hours south and I was busy trying to build a life for myself around the really expensive Chicago housing around the Illinois Institute of Art of which I was attending. The Recession put an end to all that education nonesense! After losing our places in the colleges we were attended, it got tough to think of following our dreams when we were so young, jobless and trying to live off of $20 a month with no hot water or electricity. There is not another stress quite like that. We both wound up unable to continue and found ourselves back at home and feeling sorry for ourselves.
With a lot more free time on our hands, we decided to pick up designing our game (already named Gordian Layers at this point) after the couple of years putting it on the back burner in favor of college. This is when we first introduced our project to our close friends.
We spent hours building this game through the program Magic Set Editor and using a little known program called Lackey CCG to play over the large distance and used the templates there to create everything. After cutting and sleeving the hundreds of pieces of paper and shoving them into sleeves, we finally forced our friends to play with pity and bribes. The result was well, a positive one though the excitement was mostly there because we couldn’t stop explaining the universe the game existed in. At the end of the day, the mechanics and rules felt slapped on.
One of these friends, Daniel, just happened to be highly competitive in the Magic: the Gathering scene. He took to our game real quick and the three of us decided it would be best to include him in the long term as he provided a perspective we didn’t have. I was in love with combos and control, while Jack championed quirky aggressive playstyles. With Daniel on board, we now had someone who looked at our game with a pragmatic “but will it blend?” attitude. Not to mention we finally had someone who could break ties between us!
With Daniel in tow, we finally had a team that would be able to create something that wasn’t overly balanced but broken in just the right ways. However, life would find a way to tear us apart once more, and the impossible challenge of unraveling our Layers would become insurmountable before long…
By: Jonathan Hansen
The story continues in Part 2: The Many Designs of Gordian Layers