For those interested in the design process for Moonshell: A Mermaid Game.

As I mentioned in the first installment of the developer diaries, the initial mechanic in Moonshell was set collection, but how you collected and arranged your seashells would matter in a tableau. The initial thoughts were some mash up of Herbaceous and Sagrada, with square cards of all kinds of different seashells.

Feature: A Rotating Board

I imagined a match-three type grid as the place you’d collect seashells. But how to collect them? That’s where rotating the board came in, and it’s a main feature of the game.

Shifting the tides in the ocean to move seashells toward you just seemed to work so well with the theme of playing as a magical mermaid trying to get the perfect pieces for your collection!

Obviously, using cards was not going to work if the grid of them needed to rotate – the board would just be too big and cards fly everywhere…I imagined.

I started with a very mini version of the game, using some leftover wooden punchouts (thanks Sandbox Gaming!) and cardboard coasters.

I love cardboard coasters because you can draw on them easily, and it is easy to pull out another one to test something else, really really fast.

It seemed the idea of a rotating board with colorful seashells on it was working!

Feature: Pattern Building with Colorful Seashells

While it was super easy to do the initial mechanical “does it even work” testing with the mini components, when I deemed it ready to try play testing with others, while good for travel, the mini components were NOT a good user experience and got in the way of getting good feedback on the game.

Once I made a better (if more boring looking) prototype, it was a lot easier to get into playtesting for specific elements and mechanics.

Especially because the color AND shape of the seashells mattered and they needed to be clear for players to identify. Having two elements on each tile made it so our different objectives could overlap – players can achieve multiple objectives on their treasure chest board by combo-ing objectives for shape and color. 

Feature: Objective Cards for Varying Strategies and Replayability

You see, I really wanted to keep the scoring low and the game overall so simple but with strategic depth. But it wasn’t right yet for a board game audience – the depth wasn’t quite there. My friend Clinton Morris crafted a prototype and playtested as well way on the other side of the country.

Clinton Morris’s insight as a co-developer helped me get over that block and consider changes to the game (higher scoring, other types of objectives) that I had thought would not be a good fit for a wider, non-gaming audience. But it worked. The core experience was working – players felt clever and smart, and that is the end goal. 

I think that’s the magic of what good developers can help bring to the table in the process of designing a game. 

Putting it Together!

In addition, my husband Michael Wright was my sounding board for the next stage of development, especially as we were getting caught up in the art development process (I learned a lot but it took a long time, more about that in another session). So while art seemed to be going slowly, we just kept with the game mechanics, and when those were solid – as in so solid, multiple other publishers and designers who played the game said so (thank you!) – then creating the stretch goals and expansions to the game.

So in the end, the longer development timeline worked out, because we could ensure the multiple levels of playing the game all worked:

  • Core gameplay which is great for gateway or new players
  • Adding secret objective cards
  • Adding the moonshell wild piece
  • Adding mermaid abilities
  • A solo version of the game
  • And…some stretch goal expansion elements I can’t talk about quite yet!

I am so excited to share more in the coming weeks and on the Kickstarter campaign starting March 2!

In other news, Moonshell: A Mermaid Game is in the running for “20 Most Anticipated Board Games of 2021” in the Family category on BoardGameGeek. Please vote if you have a moment!