Mycelia – updates

Mycelia – background

Mycelia is a very new game I have been developing over the last few months.

A note on the name: I am aware that “Mycelium” or “Mycelia” is a common name for mushroom-related games – we are treating it as a working title for now, using the tagline “Fungus Families” to differentiate us from all the other Mycelia games.

From my records, my earliest serious work on Mycelia is from mid-September 2022. I had an idea brewing for a build-your-won mycelium network game, and I wasn’t sure where the idea would go, and if it would even take off. I certainly didn’t think it would be ready in time to take to BGG.CON, or enter into the Game Crafter Lunchtime Challenge – but it was!

If you want to read more about the early stages of prototyping and testing Mycelia, you can do so here, and watch the series of videos on our channel here:

Mycelia at BGG

So after testing the game together three times (formally), and a few more partial tests on my own before and after that, my very new game was one of 7 that we brought with us to BGG.CON.

As always, I was nervous about bringing out my prototypes to actually play them – I am not worried about my games, or criticism of them – I am worried that I won’t explain them well, or be able to process feedback, because my ADHD and anxiety often stop me from processing information. I didn’t want to annoy people or waste their time by explaining my game poorly, or not being able to understand their feedback. When I get stressed, my communication and comprehension skills can be affected.

In future, I will record all my testing sessions, because I miss so much when the stress is overwhelming my faculties. We intended to do so for BGG.CON, but the equipment we brought wasn’t up to par for a variety of reasons, and I wasn’t very familiar with using it. On the shopping list before the next convention is a small, portable camera with a stand, good mic, and a very long battery life.

The good news for Mycelia is that the only test I was able to fit in was very positive – both players picked up the simple rules quickly, and began using the more complex strategic elements within the first game. Both were designers in their own right, and well-accustomed to playing with prototypes, so they didn’t bother wasting time on the placeholder graphics, beyond thinking about whether there needed to be a different distribution of symbols (which may be needed at a later date).

The most important and useful comment was simply that the fun stops once you get down to only one tile. I personally enjoy this stage, because it feels like the game is accelerating towards the end and the gameplay gets tighter and faster – but it’s also true that you hit the problems we first encountered. When you can only place one tile, inevitably, one person ends up setting up winning conditions for another player.

A huge thank you to Will and Dave for that test, and feedback.

Round wins against hex, 10 to 8

So we took that feedback and made one minor rule change: instead of playing until ALL the tiles run out, you just play until there’s only one pile of tiles left. Because this condition can be managed by the players, it’s an additional strategic element to consider – do I take the best tile for my current plan, or the second-best, leaving more tiles in play?

Mycelia – illustrations

As soon as we got back from BGG.CON, my priority became creating and painting the illustrations for the game, so I could get my prototype ordered and take action photos and video for the competition.

I have the distinct advantage over a lot of other board game designers that I can create my own art and graphic design. I don’t claim to be an expert at either skillset, but I can do well enough to create an attractive game, which is a big plus in a competition where people only see pictures of the entries, and don’t actually get to play them.

The style I decided to use for this game was a combination of my usual digital line-art style, but instead of using flat fill colours, I coloured them manually on paper, with watercolour paints. Considering I am only just learning watercolour, I think this came out really well. I used this style for all 3 games in this set (Mycelia, Bubble Net, and Magma).

Time was pressing, and with three games to illustrate in a short timeframe, I threw together card and tile layouts that looked like they would work, and submitted my order for my prototype. I didn’t add the rulebook, because they take ages to write, and because I was planning to upload a PDF to meet the rules requirements of the competition anyway – so I could leave it to the last minute. As I also had to create a video and a shop page, I planned to combine the creation of the graphics, animations, GIFs, and diagrams into one session for efficiency.

Mycelia – TGC Art Test

One thing that is useful about the Game Crafter is their community test functionality. People look at your game assets, in this case, art assets, with no other context. The intention is for them to assess the illustration (pretty) and graphic design (functional). If I were to write the descriptions for how I view these questions, I would say:

Pretty: Do you like how it looks? Yes/No

Functional: Do you find it easy to read the content (ignore context as you don’t have access to the rules): Yes/No

Comment: leave a constructive comment to help the designer improve, or to explain your selection

Unfortunately, there are always people who decide that anonymity means they can be outright mean, or that their personal preference should apply to everyone. That was the case with the comments I got.

My score was good overall, as the Game Crafter email said: “Mycelia: Fungus Families has just earned the accolade “Passed The Game Crafter Art Test with a score above 70″, an honor bestowed to only 291 other games or 0.10% of games on the site”.

Not as good as I had hoped, but still, pretty good. Until I opened the comments.

So angry about that white space, someone is clearly having a bad day and wanted to take it out on an art test…
So helpful, so constructive
Ah yes, white backgrounds, what a sin… except watercolours don’t work terribly well on non-white backgrounds…
Well yes, that’s how art tests work – we don’t put all the rules on every card or tile of a game component…

To be clear, these weren’t the only comments – many were helpful and I have taken that information on board. But the person who commented “bad” did so on everything they reviewed, with no additional information, and the angry white space commenters really took it too far. Another challenge with the digital images that they are reviewing is that the restrictions on size mean these are very low resolution – so they look much less clear than they do in person.

First TGC prototype

That being said, this prototype was a first pass on the card and tile designs, and under pressure to get it done fast, I made an error with the tiles and uploaded the version I made for the rulebook (cropped to the shape of a hexagonal tile) rather than the version with the full bleed (aargh) so they all have the unattractive white trim around the outside.

Overall, though, I was very pleased with my first prototype, and I am using it to think about ways to use the punchout card as storage for the components, instead of an insert – a zero-waste storage solution. With double the tiles, they will make 4 stacks that fit neatly next to the stack of punchouts, perfect for storing the game pieces. Unsleeved, the cards also fit nicely into the last space alongside the punchouts, but sleeved, they will have to lie flat on top, instead.

Mycelia – Art Improvements

Even though some of the comments could have been worded more kindly, it’s still true that the images aren’t easy to read digitally, and as we are heading towards Protospiel Online next, I have started making changes to make the cards more legible. Here’s a little progression of the card designs so far.

The first image is the very first version of the game – it wasn’t even printed, just something I used to help me think about how the cards might look, and what number of symbols I needed.
The second image is the card layout we used for the prototype that came to BGG – still with test art and symbols, but the general layout was set – 4 symbols plus a bonus “Fairy Ring”, the name at the top, and the art in the middle.

New Symbols

For the Game Crafter prototype, I developed new symbols to replace the generic ones I used in the first draft. I asked several mushroom experts for input, and came up with the following 6 symbols, of which 5 are currently in use:

Again, I drew these by hand on my tablet with my stylus, then printed and painted them with watercolours. After that, I scanned them back into my machine and added them to the cards – that’s why they are all on white backgrounds, because they were painted on white paper.

I also took the outlines of the vector art I originally drew and turned them into “masks” – I combined all the big shapes into a single outline, then I inserted the scanned image into the outline. The effect was the same as cutting the shape out of a piece of paper.

This gave me a painted image that I could manipulate within a digital environment, with a transparent background, allowing me to make the icons 3D and overlay them onto any image or colour I wanted. It also allowed me to use the same bone illustration twice – the single bone was hard to identify, but crossed bones are something we can all recognise.

Crossed bones in Affinity, with the full scanned images inserted into the vector outlines, and a 3D effect applied

Playing with layouts

Now that I have made all the symbols into cut-outs, I can overlay them onto different backgrounds, apply effects like 3D and shadow, and see what sorts of layouts are most legible and pleasing.

Card layout drafts with different image combinations
Trying different effects to see if they make the symbols clearer

I can apply the same techniques to the hex tiles – the original layout meant the symbols were quite small, so I started playing with making them take up more space.

Three tile variants
Three tile variants with outlines on the symbols

How to play Mycelia now:

Mycelia for 3-4

In the BGG prototype version of the game, I tested with 40 tiles. I didn’t think it would be a huge difference to try with 32 (the number of small hex tiles in a sheet at TGC) so I ordered that number as the first prototype. It’s enough for a 2-player game but there’s no need for 10 tokens each, and it feels quite a bit shorter (even though it’s only 4 fewer moves), so I will test it with 64 (two sheets of tiles from TGC) and see if that works for 2, 3, and 4 players. I think 98 will definitely be too many. So that’s what I will be testing next.

Once I have determined the number of tiles, I will finish by designing the tokens for each player in the “deluxe” version, which will have different shapes and colours – the winks and cubes are fine for testing, but the winks in particular are quite annoying to handle, being so thin.

So look out for updates on that, too!

Published by Drayer Ink

Artist, designer, ideas person

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