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The Pioneers Program

I am Odin, a game designer from the UK. I was living in Kuala Lumpur when the first ideas for The Pioneers Program were jotted down. The idea was to capture and recreate the struggle of trying to survive and rebuild society after the apocalypse. Fans of the genre and sci-fi books in general will be familiar with towns struggling to scrape an existence in unforgiving lands preyed upon by the various factions that have risen up. I wanted to place players in the role of a town leader where tough decisions have to be made and managing resources is always a consideration.

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So I started by creating a framework for the game, early and very simple prototypes were made (with pen and paper) and together with friends I began to test the game. Constant iterations and improvements are part of the process and this continued nicely until I first encountered the work of a Macedonian artist who draws under the name ‘the Mico’. His artwork for another game blew me away and I knew as soon as I saw his work that he was the artist to bring The Pioneers Program to life.

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We had discussions about the game and the art direction and then he began to work his magic. This is one of the elements I love about creating games; the opportunity to work with talented people who can take your ideas and make them even better. Some game designers prefer to be just that, concentrating on the game and mechanics but I really enjoy the 360 approach creating a game, being involved with every step feels right to me. I am a part of a company called GCT Studios that self publishes games and so this was the reason I was able to take the opportunity to commission an artist and move forward with the game.

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So with the Mico knocking out incredible artwork it became more important to ramp up the play testing. I had returned to London and now had access to a wider player base, blind play testing allowed me to identify holes in the rules and fix them. The game was becoming very fun with increasing balance, games were starting to end with players on a knife edge poised, more than one player a point away from winning. I knew it was working when people discussed what they would like to try next time and how they would win. With this I again worked with a talented graphic designer called Tom Hutchings at Thorn Design, he worked with the art and the game mechanics to get a balance between prettiness and functionality.

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It was time to bring the game to a wider audience and we opened up the game to volunteers who wanted to print and play the game and offer feedback, this went well and players really enjoyed a mechanic involving the choosing of a different survivor from the wastes each turn. These survivors provide asymmetric skills and often more importantly they affect turn order and so players have to manage the skill they need that turn with how quickly they need to achieve their plan. It was great to hear from people that they felt the pressure the game was trying to create and their stories of building a great town or crippling the production of an opponent.

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I took the game to the UK Games Expo and ran demos for the press and public alike. A recurring idea of a fixed turn limit kept popping up and so we added it in, increasing the importance of every decision the players made. A doom clock made the experience even better. Watching people analyse the game, come up with a plan and then in the aftermath decide that they now have a new strategy has persisted and I was happy together with the ideas of all the contributors we had made a great board game.

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It has been a brilliant time making The Pioneers Program and the next step is to take it to Kickstarter to generate the support needed and the funds to begin manufacturing the game. It is a scary step into the unknown when launching a KS but we hope people enjoy the ideas and want to play it as much as I do ☺

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