We received the second prototype of The Valley! We still need to fix a couple of things, but it’s almost finished! Here’s a bit more detail about all that.
So close… but so far away
This is the second full prototype that we have ordered from The Game Crafter (TGC), and in between, we have taught ourselves so much about game design that it’s hard to compare the two – while I made the first version, I was still working with a very basic understanding of file sizes and digital artwork, and making my first ever cut lines, and for the second one, I developed my own, very complex, custom cut files.
In the process of refining the game and improving the components, we fixed a lot of the errors that were in the last version, including card misprints, the cover art layers somehow getting out of order, forgetting to include the player count and stats on the box, and lots of other things that are why we make prototypes in the first place!
That being said, of course, I made a few mistakes in this version, too, which were pretty annoying.
Oh no, no, no, no, no
The first one slipped through even we both checked it: pages 1 and 2 were reversed in the upload, so we got a bit of a ridiculous cover on the rulebook. Here’s what it looks like in the Game Crafter software:
And here’s what we got – at least I finally got to post that viral “oh no” track, right? Heh
Unfortunately, (says the narrator), it was not the only mistake.
Acrylic Meeples and sadness
When you proof your files on TGC, you can’t really see much detail. I haven’t figured out how to zoom in enough to be completely certain everything is correct, so I rely mainly on overlaying the files in my software and exporting them at the same scale.
When I uploaded my files for the standees, I couldn’t see that there was a very slight difference between the front and the back images (although there wasn’t one in my actual files when I went back and checked, I must have bumped something right before exporting, and not saved the change or something). This image sent to me from TGC support shows that the back images were very slightly offset, compared to the cut lines.
Another thing that you can’t allow for with laser-cut printed acrylic is drift. What is drift? It’s the small amount of difference between where you want the image to be cut, compared to where it actually gets cut, despite the printer’s best efforts. This means, for example, that if you put a frame around a card, or have something very small where the artwork needs to be centred, you will probably have a bad time. With the standee bases, I still decide to try this, but it was, as expected, pretty unsuccessful. Drift with acrylic tends to be less than with paper or cardboard, because the sheets are heavier and (I think) fixed in place, but the printing process can still land the image slightly off – which is what happened when I tried to print circles of colour on the bases of my meeple standees.
I decided to risk the ink bubbling and cut through the circles. They are only the bases, so if it doesn’t quite work, it will be more forgiveable than these. This is what my new file looks like.
As you can see from the preview, it’s hard to tell what the print quality will look like. I’m not sure if the difference in quality between the 6mm I got last time and these 3mm acrylic prints was because of the overlapping error or something else. It’s almost as if this one has left out all of the black outlines. I am loathe to bump up the thickness too far, but I don’t want a second error.
As I uploaded my screenshot, I also just noticed that one of the meeples has populated incorrectly, so I will fix that, too.
Proofing files is one of those things you really can’t do if you are too close to them, and I guess George is officially too close to them now, too. We will need to get someone else to check our files before they go to the manufacturers, I think.
The problem of scale
The board for The Valley is made up of two elements – the outer boards, and the hex tiles.
The Outer Boards
In the previous version of the game, the corner boards formed a square. Part of the reason for it was that, in an earlier version, players had to travel to and from the Artisan corners.
I hadn’t quite succeeded in making them join together properly, so I knew I had to rework the design a bit. As I battled to get the puzzle pieces to connect, it occurred to me that it no longer matters where the Artisan boards are in relation to the play area, which meant I could change their layout and make their design a bit more elegant, too.
The outer board panels took a long time to develop, not least because of the size limitations of the largest custom board at TGC. But eventually, I got a shape that worked perfectly in our testing at home, and I felt absolutely confident that it would work – and it did!
The pieces popped out of the boards perfectly, and they fit like an absolute dream. I was feeling pretty amazing about my work at this point.
The Hex Tiles
The tiles we used in previous versions were standard-issue TGC medium hex tiles, but ever since we changed the movement so that gatherers move from node to node, I had planned to eventually cut them out. The complex geometrical calculations required to get the cut-outs to make perfect circles was a bit much to take on, though, until now – but we again got them exactly right – they fit together perfectly!
So, what’s the problem, I hear you ask?
Well, to test exactly how something this complex fits together, you have to literally put them together. When we tested it by moving around the digital images, it worked. When we tested it in print, it worked. But when they arrived, the tiny variation (less than 1mm per tile) meant that… they did not, in fact, fit. Aaargh.
So… the hex tiles fit perfectly with each other, and the outer boards also fit perfectly with each other, but the tiles are slightly too big. Well, this is a time to bring in the Concierge service offered by TGC, because we can’t test that tiny extra difference with our tech and our skill level. Time to get the professionals involved.
Here’s the video of the unboxing.
It might sound like there were a lot of things wrong with the prototype, and I suppose, in a way, there were – but given how very many things went well, this is actually a really positive outcome. We have fixed the meeples and the rulebook, and the hex tiles are with the experts, so that means that once we have checked the cards and boards with a fine-toothed comb, we can consider this a finished prototype!
So – what else is left to address?
In terms of a working prototype, we have everything completed. But in terms of a finished game, the main things we need to refine are the graphic design elements – choosing a new font for all the headings and the logo, and fine-tuning the cards to get them to that next level of polish.
Here’s a reward for reading all the way to the end: a bonus ASMR unboxing video!