Kasper Lapp shares his experience and inspirations for designing Gods Love Dinosaurs, a tile placement and food chain management game available now!
I have never played the game Silk. But I heard Shut Up & Sit Down review the game, and they really liked the moments when the monster ate worms ("Nom, nom, nom!").
That made me want to make a game where animals eat other animals, too. This turned into an idea of making an "ecosystem manager" – a game where you have to keep the balance between populations of animals in an ecosystem.
I decided to use dominos to build the eco system. My aim became to make "Kingdomino, but where your kingdom comes alive."
(I have a special relationship with Kingdomino, because it won the Spiel des Jahres the same year Magic Maze was nominated, but that's another story).
I chose the first animals that came to mind for the ecosystem. Rats, rabbits and frogs are all at the bottom of the food chain, which are all eaten by tigers and eagles. I chose them because… well, those animals are just cool. But what would eat tigers and eagles? I was stumped, so I tried to think of the absolute coolest animal. Dinosaurs, of course!
I had never imagined that all the animals I chose would make it to the final game, but I think that the fact that these animals don't really make sense with each other in a zoological sense has a certain charm to it. And it fits what ended up being the narrative: crazy gods building ecosystems.
The goal I wanted players to have in this game was to keep a fine balance in their ecosystems, but how do you measure this balance in a simple way? I realized that a balanced ecosystem is one that allows a lot of top predators (dinosaurs) to live. If, for example, there were too few tigers and eagles, the dinosaurs would starve. But if there were too many tigers and eagles, they would eat all the prey and end up starving, ultimately making the dinosaurs starve as well.
Initially, points were given based on how many dinosaurs you had alive in your ecosystem at specific moments of the game. Later, I changed it so you get a point each time a dinosaur ate a tiger or eagle – because that meant that points were tied directly to the most exciting moments of the game: When your dinosaurs come ravaging down from the mountains to eat (I don't think dinosaurs actually only lived in mountains, but again, it just seemed cool).
During the game, players will draft tiles with two different (or similar) terrains and often a new animal on one of those. That didn't change during the design process, except that I changed the spaces to hexagons instead of squares. That made the placement of tiles less frustrating. It can be surprisingly hard to keep similar area types together using square dominos, but it became a lot easier with hexagons. In Kingdomino, keeping area types together is a central part of the challenge, but in Gods Love Dinosaurs the challenge lies elsewhere, so I wanted to make that part easier for the players.
The most important development of the game was the flow. In the first version, the game consisted of a set amount of rounds. In each round, players were presented with tiles and picked one each to add to their ecosystem, then a card was drawn that dictated which animals would move (for example, "rabbits and tigers").
There were two problems with this. First of all, it was often quite obvious what tile would be best for your eco system. Second, you didn’t get any chance to plan ahead, since you wouldn’t know which animals were going to move.
Even though the game didn't really work, the playtesters obviously enjoyed the "eating moments" of the game a lot, so I knew the game had potential and set out to fix those two problems.
First, I tried less random movements: you now knew ahead of time that the rabbits were going to multiply soon, or that the dinosaur would have to eat in a few turns. But you still didn't have any control over it and it still didn't solve the fact that your best choice of tile during drafting was often too obvious.
I needed more reasons for players to want one tile instead of another. And then it came to me - I could perhaps solve both my problems at once by introducing 5 columns of tiles, one for each animal (except for dinosaurs). Whenever the last tile in a column was taken, that type of animal would move.
Suddenly, there was a lot more to think about when choosing tiles. It might still be obvious which tile would be best for your ecosystem, but what if it was in the wrong column? Players now had to balance the choice between "which tile is best" and "which animal should move." Problem one was solved! At the same time, players now had control over which animals ended up moving – instead of it being decided by random card draws. Problem two was solved as well!
I love the moments when a rule change suddenly makes a game "click." This was one of those moments. The rest of the design process was just about getting the details right, and it ended up being my fastest idea-to-contract-proposal process yet (three and a half months).
Pandasaurus Games did an amazing job with the visuals and made ani-meeples for all the animals, so I can't wait to get my own copy. Place your order for Gods Love Dinosaurs today!