Zombies Keep Out Developer Diary One

Today I’ll be giving you a bit of insight into the design and development of the newest Bodgers game—Zombies Keep Out. Before I get to it, though, I’m going to take a bit of a detour to set the stage with an explanation of game design versus game development.

Some folks use the terms game design and game development interchangeably, but there are important differences between design work and development work. Entire books could be devoted to this subject, but it’s really fairly simple. Any new product begins with a big-picture idea—what is this going to be, what will it look like, and what should it do? Only once those ideas are firmly established can efforts to turn that idea into a reality truly move forward.

TV Shows like Face Off or Project Runway are a great showcase of this progression for movie makeup and fashion, respectively, and even some commercials give a pretty clear picture of how this works in the automotive or technological industries. Creating an initial plan is all well and good, but implementing that plan can be a real challenge with plenty of hurdles to overcome. It may even be necessary to go back and revise the original plan based on what you learn during its implementation.

When it comes to game rules, game design is that critical first step toward creatively shaping the overall plan, and game development turns that plan into a reality through a lot of hard work and patience. All too often the work on my computer screen more closely resembles an accountant’s balance sheets than hot new artwork for WARMACHINE models.

But we’re here today to talk about some bodgers of the zombie-bashing variety.

Zombies Keep Out grew out of a discussion with Business Director Will Shick. We talked about wanting to create a cooperative Bodgers game, since all previous Bodgers Games had the players frantically competing against each other rather than working together. We also wanted game mechanics that focused heavily on forcing players to make difficult choices.

These ideas evolved into a contraption-building game that would be a cooperative race against a horde of zombies. At its core, each player’s turn would consist of two critical choices—choosing the least detrimental bad thing and then choosing the most helpful good thing. And thus we had our concept for a cooperative Bodgers game of difficult choices.

There were plenty of little details in the original design that changed during the game’s development. The placeholder name Bodgers versus Zombies, for example, had to change for some reason or another. We also wound up adding a card-trading element to give players another choice to make regarding their cards and another means to cooperate with their fellow players. Lastly, we added the wildly entertaining “bite tokens” to the game as an additional tough choice for players to consider and for a way to create fun interactions around the gaming table.

There were also plenty of things that stayed the same. The game board is remarkably similar to the playtest board I originally drafted, the names of the zombie types remained consistent from the initial rough prototype to the final game, and even the deck of Terrible Things kept its goofy name all through playtest and into the final product.

Once game design and rough prototyping were complete, we did some small-group testing, and then it was time to roll up my sleeves for the development work. I created a card database that would allow us to create better looking playtest—but more important, its spreadsheet-like functionality helped me to sort and compare the various card types at a glance to facilitate creating effective game balance. This sort of feature is extremely useful during game development to ensure the proper mix of features or abilities—in this case an even balance of the different types of parts on the part cards, the right severity of bad choices on the Terrible Things cards, and so on.

Our playtesting efforts were also critical to the development effort, allowing me to customize the overall severity of the cards in the deck of Terrible Things, to tweak the mix of icons on the part cards, to improve the rules language on the cards and rulebook to maximize comprehension, and to achieve the level of difficulty we were looking for.

At various points within the development timeline, I worked with other departments for artwork, graphic design, editing, marketing, and production. Even once playtesting was complete and the game rules were locked, I continued to work with these other departments to fully realize the latest Bodgers Game—a cooperative zombie-defense board game packed with tough choices, and, most importantly, a veritable zombie horde of fun!

Developing Zombie Defenses,
—DC