If you wish to make a board game from scratch, you must first invent the universe… didn’t someone say something like that? If you were to take on the task to build the universe, there seems to be such a daunting task, and this applies even if you were only speaking about a universe in a space themed board game. Space, being so vast with unimaginable numbers of galaxies, I would not even know where to start. So, I took the chance to speak to Jim, creator of Mission to Planet Hexx, who built his own universe with his game on space exploration.
Jim was happy to share with me his journey developing this retro sci-fi themed card game. I had a great time learning about his inspiration for the game’s development and the challenges during development stages. Jim spent tons of time when creating the board game’s universe as well as developing mechanics that work cohesively with the space theme. If you are into board game development or space exploration, I hope you can learn from his journey. Please support Mission to Planet Hexx, which is currently LIVE on Kickstarter!
Mission to Planet Hexx is a retro-sci-fi themed, map-building, dice-rolling card game. Players use a hand of six hex-shaped cards to build a map of space and planets, and play events that affect the game. As the map is built, players roll and move their spaceships around the galaxy, collecting data which is then used to upload hex cards to their “mission files”. The first player to complete his/her Mission File wins the game.
This is a light game with complexity that comes from the possible interactions between the hex cards. There are elements similar to Magic the Gathering in this game, on top of similarities to other map building games.
What was your inspiration for this theme?
When I started, I had no idea what I was doing. I had only played Magic the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons and limited other games. I just knew I wanted to create a space travel game that allowed players to do lots of different things as they traveled around the universe. I also knew that I wanted it to be a map building game, because I love maps and puzzles.
I was inspired by retro sci-fi themes and movies/films, the idea of the future that we had during the 1950s and 1960s, (Forbidden Planet, The Jetsons, Star Trek: TOS, War of the Worlds, etc…). I was originally going to include a time travel element, because I was a big fan of Doctor Who when this all started, but it seemed best to keep it simpler than that.
How were you able to bring this world to life?
I created a multi-page document of the game in a single afternoon, naming all the rules and cards and their powers. I just imagined all of these goofy names out of the ether. I always say that my muse was with me that day. I like alliteration, and I wanted the names to sound silly and be fun to say. I was determined that the game be light in tone but have some strategy, so that players could relax while playing it but also stay engaged.
Before I had my current professional artist, I had to create all of my own artwork, (which I did on MS Paint) and I recommend to new game designers that they do not invent a game that needs 100+ pieces of art(!). I needed distinct art though because I knew that the game needed visual cueing to help the players recognize planets and spaces without having to read them every time.
It was extremely fun to create all of the people, places, and things of Mission to Planet Hexx. There is way more backstory going on every card than will ever see the light of day. Your space cadet character is a recent graduate of the space academy, which is the “familiar” entity, but the cards also introduce us to the enigmatic Empire of Tween, the distant and mysterious Planet Hexx. and other colorful, eccentric worlds and beings.
What game mechanics convey the theme?
I’m fond of saying that the game is a literal exploration of the universe, one Planet or Space at a time. I am thrilled with the way the board/map made of Planets and Spaces worked out. It sort of grew organically out of actual physics and what we envision futuristic space travel to be like. For example, Planets can’t be next to each other but Spaces can be played anywhere; you travel through any Space but have to stop on Planets. The way the map is built also automatically built in replayability, since “it’s never the same game (or game board) twice”.
I get some kudos from parents for creating an exploration game without any overt combat, although it can get very competitive, and there are many ways to go after other players if you so desire.
I am also into heavily theming the individual cards as hard as I can, so that they sort of “do what they say on the label”. The outer space junkyard and archaeological planet let you go digging for things in the deck, computer damage cards make you lose data, the parallel universe card has one player mimic another’s actions, and more.
The data cubes came about as a result of looking for some kind of counter that was small, affordable, and that looked like part of a computer. The generic names I originally used, Treasure and Cluster, ultimately became Data and Mission File, as I got tighter with my naming conventions as they related to the game name and themes.
Unpredictability of Space Exploration:
Another gameplay mechanic, that doesn’t necessarily appeal to all gamers, is my inclusion of randomness as a way to convey the hazards and uncertainty of space exploration. As a novice cadet, taking risks should be a regular part of your job description, and I tried to make sure that the rewards the game gives you create moments of excitement that mimic being in that situation.
What was the biggest challenge during the development of this game?
I think that one of the hardest things to do is to get your idea in front of people who can constructively tear it apart and help you think about it in new ways. Firstly, it’s often hard to find those people and secondly, you have to be able to take critique. One of the first things I discovered about myself was that I had a hard time handling what I perceived to be negative comments about my game, initially anyway. I eventually made a rule that I would give myself twenty-four hours to process critique. After that, I would keep what I thought was useful and throw the rest out.
After completing the first few playtests with friends comes the challenge of getting your game in front of an even wider audience of strangers. That means going to conventions and trying to get people’s attention. The one really lucky thing for me is that there are a lot of resources available to me in my home state of Massachusetts. There are dozens of game conventions year round, within driving distance of my home, and having a mega-convention like PAX East less than an hour away, is a big bonus.
Another big challenge was making a physical copy. I printed and cut out at least ten sets of about 150 hex-shaped cards before I discovered the Game Crafter and got them to do it for me. I experimented with different dice, beads, party favors and more to create my first prototype.
What are your plans to expand this universe?
Developing the base game was the hard part, but now that I have a universe-building game with set rules that are fairly robust, expanding on it has been pretty easy. It shares many qualities with collectible card games and it is customizable within itself.
Like every good space epic, this game is a trilogy. The art is actually already 95% complete for the first planned expansion, a ninety card add-on set called Beyond Mission to Planet Hexx, and the third set has been designed but is extremely rough at this stage. It is a stand-alone 120 card set called Mission to Planet Hexx: Frontiers.
The one promise I made to myself is that the other sets would add something to the game and not just be more of the same. Beyond’s theme is to “go bigger” and Frontiers is the space equivalent of the Wild West. I am very happy with the direction in which Beyond is going presently, so fingers crossed that it continues to develop and that our initial Kickstarter campaign is a success.
Social Media Information
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- Kickstarter:Mission to Planet Hexx
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