I have found that gamers are sometimes interested in seeing how a design evolved over time, in a more detailed way than I can cover in a designer diary. Hence, I sometimes create prototype histories for my games, that concentrate on a game’s mechanical development instead of the overall story of how the game came to be. In this article I won’t go over every minor variation I made over the course of the game, but will instead just try to sum up each major revision. TRIGGER WARNING – This article contains bad prototype art.
The first prototype of the game that became Kitara arose out of my efforts to turn my card game Armorica into a board game, and the first prototype had a lot more in common with Armorica than the final product does. I originally intended the game to be one of my Celtic Nations games (along with Armorica, Cambria and Hibernia) and so I set the game in the Celtic Iberian Peninsula.
If my splashing my name all over the prototype seems a little egotistical, keep in mind that when you give a publisher a prototype, you never know exactly where it is going to end up; might as well help them remember it is yours. At least that was my thinking at the time. You can see that the map already has 3 kinds of regions, with the functions that they have in the final version: farmland to allow retention of cards, mines that generate VP, and mountains that are impossible.
At the beginning of their turns, players draft 1 card from a card row, just as in Armorica and in the final version of Kitara.
The top row of icons (in this prototype, triskelions) give players the ability to reach further into the card row to choose their cards. The second row of icons (men) provided pawns for the game board -although in this early version there was only 1 type of pawn. The third row of icons [horses] provided movement points, rather than movement actions as in Kitara. The fourth row provided combat points that broke ties for a number of pawns in battle, an element that is no longer part of the game. The fifth row provided victory points, as in Armorica and the final form of Kitara.
The cards came in different colors (and had different tribe names), because this version retained the core scoring mechanic of Armorica. Players needed to create contiguous sets of different colors in their card displays, which scored in the familiar triangular progression you see in lots of games. You can see the scoring scale on the game board. The company I was originally pitching this game to, Sandstorm, was very fond of putting rule guides on the game board, so I did that on the prototype. This version of the game had just 1 board for all player counts, and did not have designated start spaces for the players.
When Sandstorm went out of business, I didn’t have a publisher for this design anymore. In the process of shopping it to other publishers, and making modifications according to their wishes, I developed a dice-based (rather than card-based) version of the game which was quite different and ended up becoming my forthcoming game Lost Empires, coming in 2021 from Sand Castle games. That game had become so different from the original, that I decided to return to the card based design and modify it still further so that the two games would be entirely distinct from one another. At this point I was negotiating with MyWitty games about publishing, and I was redeveloping the game with a generic fantasy theme for them.
While the map is now an Island, I think I was trying to make it look vaguely like Numenara, the actual board geography is the same. You can see that I have now added designated start spaces to the board to help balance the game with different numbers of players. However, at this time the game still had balance issues with different player counts, and used a lot of special rules for the 2 player version which did not work terribly well. At that point in my game career, I would never have imagined that a publisher would let me have a different board for each player count.
To make the game really different from Lost Empires, I decided to divide the game pawns into 3 different types. “Men” pawns in farmland territories and allow the player to retain cards. “Dwarf” pawns would generate VP when in the hill-mines, and “Ogres” would prevent loss of VP from engaging in combat.
I was changing the deck a lot during play testing, so I did not make graphically-intensive decks while I was working on this round of prototypes. I just used a dingbat font to clearly align the pawn icons with the pawns themselves. If you are wondering why I used camel pawns to designate the dwarves, it was because camel pawns was all I had in sufficient numbers (along with discs and standard meeples) to make multiple prototypes with. At this point in the game’s development, cards only provided 1 type of pawn. The game still had the color-set scoring mechanics, but the number of colors had been reduced to 3 to make this scoring less prominent in the game. It was also in this phase of prototyping that I switched the game from using movement points (where 1 point just moves a single pawn) to movement actions (which move an entire group). This further differentiated the game from Lost Empires.
MyWitty also went out of business without publishing the game. A couple of years later I came very close to publishing the game with another publisher who I won’t name, since they are still in business. They considered a couple of different themes I didn’t like very much, but I never generated new prototypes based on those themes. As I did redevelopment during contract negotiations with them, I just kept using the generic fantasy theming, and didn’t generate any new maps. They wanted me to have 2 alternate decks that the game could be played with, for a variety of gameplay, so I generated a new deck.
In the alternate deck I created, players could get different types of pawns from the same card. This deck turned out to be more popular with my play testers than the original deck, so this became the main deck; the original deck became the alternate deck. Those symbols in the fourth row were for a set collection mechanic I played with for a while, in place of the original color set mechanic. Throughout these prototypes, the set collection mechanics never quite fit. It was too hard to prioritize taking a card that would improve your set, when there were so many other considerations.
Ultimately, I wasn’t happy with some of the development plans the aforementioned prospective publisher had for the game, and so we did not sign a contract. A short time later, IELLO signed the game and I created a new prototype for them. This prototype was the last I created for the game. I drew this game map when we knew we wanted the game to have an Afro-Fantasy setting, but before we had settled on the Kitara setting. I started out looking at West African history and mythology, hence the names on this map (I won’t name the specific setting I was considering, because I may want to use it in a future project). The idea to make the impassable regions lakes rather than mountains came from the IELLO team. IELLO also asked me to develop separate boards for each player count, to improve the balance and to let the 2-player game be played with just 1 special rule. This was a wonderful luxury for me as a designer. Below you see the first iteration of the 3-player only board. The number of regions on each map grew a little, because the IELLO team wanted to make card retention a little easier.
At some point in the development of this prototype, I got rid of the card set scoring entirely, and just make all cards worth 2VP at the end of the game.
IELLO also asked me to add some secret points to the game. All versions of the game up to this point suffered a little from what I call the “Vinci effect,” the scoring track often gives the impression that the first player is winning, just because they have had an extra turn, and having some secret points would fix that problem. I modified the mechanics of the Ogre pawns in the old game (which protected you from losing 3VP when you fight) to the Hero pawn mechanic of Kitara, wherein you get to draw a secret token worth 2-5 VP when you fight. Over the course of a couple of prototypes, we played with different variants of this mechanic. The final form, in which you only keep the single highest token each turn won out, because it increased the player’s sense of efficacy over the randomizer. The secret points made the end of the game more consistently exciting.
IELLO also wanted an alternate deck, one that would reduce the pressure on players to support their cards each turn. In Armorica, some cards have to be fed, some feed themselves, and some feed other cards; I went back to those mechanics and added an icon that made some cards self-sustaining. In the end, the two newer decks were used in the game, and the original deck was excluded. However, it may eventually come back as part of an expansion, or as a promotional item.
The Final Product – Kitara!
From that point on, I didn’t make any more prototypes, and the remaining development was all done with Miguel Coimbra’s beautiful version of the game. If you’ve ever wondered how much art really adds to the experience of a game, just compare all of my prototypes with Miguel’s final product.
The specifics of the final theming process are something I addressed in the designer diary, so I won’t go into that here. I think the beauty and richness of the finished game speaks for itself.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy Kitara!
Design: Eric Vogel / Illustrations: Miguel Coimbra
Age 10+ / 2 to 4 players