Tile-flipping game of memory and daring escape

Hi, my name is Dennis and I run a small game publishing outfit called Bellwether Games. I live and work in Southern Illinois where I’ve been trying to make a go of this game publishing thing full-time. I started designing games in high school and finally got one published my last year of grad school, called Drop Site. Since then, I’ve published two other games including one I designed, called Antidote, and one from another designer, called Swamped. This past year I designed a family game called The Princess and the Goblin, which is based on a classic story that has also been turned into a movie and a ballet. I’d like to tell you how this game came about.

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I read George MacDonald’s classic children’s novel, The Princess and the Goblin, when I was in elementary school, but had lost track of it over the years. My memory of the plot had faded, but I always retained an understanding of the feeling of the story and certain images. I remembered, for instance, a curious and courageous Princess and her friend Curdie. I recalled a seemingly empty and enormous house with passageways and connections to underground tunnels, and I remembered the simple unencumbered feeling of a story set on the edge of timelessness.

The memory of these feelings returned to me when I began seeking a theme for the game I was creating. The game was about children escaping from a dangerous place, and I wanted to set the game against a backdrop that would be new, yet familiar to players. Since The Princess and the Goblin story is in the public domain, I knew it would be a free license (a major plus), so I got a copy of The Princess and the Goblin and read it for the first time in over 20 years.

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There is a brilliant moment in the book when the Princess Irene follows a magic thread into the heart of the goblin kingdom under the mountain. The one line in particular that stood out to me was, “she did not hesitate,” which described a moment when Irene chooses to enter a hole into the mountain, alone. As I read this part again for the first time as an adult, I had to stop and put the book down. I was completely floored by Irene’s demonstration of courage in such a terrifying moment. As I reflected on this moment of the story over the next couple of days, it occurred to me that it would make a perfect theme for the game I was making and a great metaphor for the courage players of the game need to exercise to win.

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So, I set out to transform this old, but well-loved story into a game. I hired two amazing artists in Courtney Godbey and Scott Nicely who brought the story back to life with vibrant illustrations, I tweaked some of the rules and concepts of the game to blend them better with the story, I tested the game over and over and sent prototypes out about 3 dozen different game groups including both gamers and non-gamers, and refined the game until it was something I was truly happy with. The result is a beautiful and fairly simple memory game that is good for families and non-gamers that also has an uncharacteristic level of strategic thinking, which makes it fun for the modern tabletop gamer.

In the game you take on the role of Princess Irene who has just discovered her friend Curdie in the heart of the mountain. You play by placing tiles into the “caves” and peeking at adjacent ones. Tiles contain signposts with symbols you’ll need to match-up to escape the mountain. To win you must choose the right time to escape, then build a path home with tiles from the caves, relying on your memory and special “breadrcrumbs” you’ve placed. You earn points by finding clues along the way and using breadcrumbs in your path, but if you discover goblins at the wrong time you could be captured or risk being locked in the mountain forever.

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I brought The Princess and the Goblin to Kickstarter to raise the money needed for a full print-run of the game, and (as of this writing) we are about 50% of the way there! Click this link to check out the campaign and pledge for a copy of the game. If you’d like to learn more about Bellwether Games, stop by this website or go here to read The Princess and the Goblin story.

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