My Board Game: Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls

Jul 02 2012

Months ago, I watched a bizarre short film called Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls which threw together clips from various cartoons and space opera serials of the 1930’s. The film didn’t do much for me, but the name stuck.

I mentioned that name to Michael R, and we fantasized a competitive board game in which zeppelins fly over a lost world, descending for treasure as their crews fight off pterodactyls.

Today, after much play-testingthat game is officially born:

Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls action shot

Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls action shot

I spent several months play-testing the concept, discovering confusing rules and improving gameplay. It’s always had the same basic concept: the players lay out terrain cards to form a lost world, then each player controls a zeppelin. On your turn, you move your zeppelin to an adjacent card or attempt to steal the loot on the terrain card below you. If you move onto an unexplored card, flip it over to reveal its loot: extra cannon balls, extra armor, or a treasure. You can also fire a cannon ball at one of the pterodactyls flying around. Separately, all the players move pterodactyls and cause them to attack nearby zeppelins.

A lot has changed. The terrain cards were initially square (hexes get around the question of diagonal movement and look cool). Early iterations had a lot of empty terrain cards; now there are no empty terrain cards, but some with minimal rewards. Controlling pterodactyls went through many iterations before I hit on the current system that involves flipping over a pterodactyl card on your turn to control that pterodactyl. I also tried several ways for players to track armor and cannon balls, from setting a 20-sided die to the current number, to placing stones on a paper track, to the current system of tokens.

As with my 50 Games in 50 Weeks challenge (and this counted as one of the games!), I learned a lot:

  • Rules must be airtight, written without ambiguity.
    • Much play-testing experience is needed to learn which phrases people find ambiguous.
  • Players benefit from a summary of the rules that can be used during play. Ideally, this summary fits on a card or one side of a sheet of paper.
  • A game will not appeal to everyone.
    • Better to create multiple versions of a game to appeal to different demographics than to attempt one game for everyone.
  • We now live in a world where I can upload a bunch of images and text to The Game Crafter, and within a few minutes, anyone in the U.S. can buy my game.

Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls is a family game for 1–6 players that plays in 30–60 minutes. If you’d like a copy, it’s US$30 on The Game Crafter.

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