Fossilis: Designer Diary
Updated: Feb 11
Fossilis is coming to Kickstarter on October 15
Board games are rarely designed in a straight line from initial idea to final product hitting the table. There is a process of play testing, trying new ideas, scrapping things that don't work, and finally finding the heart of a game. David Diaz has been working on the design for Fossilis for a year and a half and developing it with the KTBG team for a year. We talked to him about that journey and what he learned from the process on the eve of the Kickstarter launch.
When did you first have the idea for Fossilis?
The idea for Fossilis actually came from my wife Jaime. One evening she told me how our 4-year-old son had had fun digging up dinosaurs in sand at school. I was already designing Primal Ordnance, a dinosaur combat game, and she suggested that I try and design a family game where they dig for dinosaur fossils. I think in her mind the game would have actual sand in it but my design brain immediately went to using tiles to simulate digging through layers of terrain.
How long has the design process taken?
I started the design a little over a year and a half ago. At Breakout Con the following year, I ended up sitting with Helaina Cappel while we ate some lunch. She asked me how my design was going. I knew Primal Ordnance wasn't right for KTBG so I decided to pitch her my new idea for a kids' fossil hunting game. She liked the sound of it and asked to playtest it when it was ready. During the next few months I would test it at home with my family, at Snakes & Lattes Designer nights, at work with co-workers, and at Fan Expo. I got it to a place where I was confident to have Helaina test it out. Proto T.O. 2018 arrived and she and Josh playtested it and really enjoyed it. On the second day they brought their children to play it as well. I thought this was the real test! The kids loved it too. A few weeks later the official offer was made and we've been developing it together ever since. It's been a wonderful experience working with Helaina, Josh, and Sean and they have all had amazing input that led us to the final version of Fossilis.
What was the biggest challenge you ran into developing this game?
I think the biggest challenge was creating player interaction throughout the game. Early on this came in the form of simply blocking other players from getting fossils by covering spaces in the dig site by either adding tiles or pushing other tiles onto an uncovered space. As the game changed there was less and less of this until there was virtually no interaction which wasn't good. I remember leaving a 3 hour development meeting pretty bummed. The game didn't feel as fun anymore. But luckily after I left, Josh and Sean came up with the idea to add player meeples onto the dig site. We tested it at length at our next development meeting and it immediately felt right and added way more interaction than we had ever had before. It was a perfect addition and really lets players interact with one another throughout the game.
What sets Fossilis apart from other games on the market?
The 3D dig site and the sliding terrain tiles definitely set it apart. I remember when beginning the design I quickly checked how cardboard tiles would slide on one another and quickly dismissed it. There was too much friction. I knew that a domino type tile would be perfect but I needed them to be square. I ended up finding a game that had square dominoes and they were the perfect component to prototype with. The dig site began made of Lego. Other than it going from a 6x6 to a 5x5 grid it hasn't changed. Now it's an amazing 3D board designed by Game Trayz which is really exciting. From the very first playtest, players have said the best part of the game is sliding the tiles around and off the board so I'm happy that that has stayed part of the game through the entire design process.
What was the most important piece of feedback you got through playtesting?
I remember this moment very clearly. I was playtesting the game at Breakout 2019. At the time players would play tool cards from their hands to determine what type of terrain tile they would slide and how far. The playtest went well and everyone enjoyed the game but there was a problem. Players felt too constrained by the few choices they had which were determined by the random card draw. I remember thinking that maybe it was just a balance of how many of each card there was. But one player asked "Does there need to be a deck of cards?" It was a eureka moment. I immediately thought, no, it doesn't necessarily need cards. I had been so fixed on playing the game with cards since I started the design and this one comment got me thinking. Was there a more fun way to have players choose their actions? I briefly tested a rondel and action selection system but we weren't quite happy with it. But that did lead to the current action point system we are using now. That one simple comment was definitely the most important piece of feedback I received.
Is this your first published design?
It is and I couldn't be more excited. It's only my second design too so I really hope it's not all downhill from here! Now that Fossilis needs less attention from me I'll continue working on Primal Ordnance. I also have another kids' game in the works. It's a speed dice collection game called Piñata Dice. Another design I just started on is called the Super. You play as a retired superhero running an apartment building. You have to upgrade your units and perform heroic deeds to entice higher income tenants. I hope they all go as well as Fossilis has.
What is the most important thing you've learned through this process?
How much a good development team and solid feedback from other designers helps make a game design the best it can be. The guts of Fossilis remain the same from my first iteration of Fossil Finders. But working alongside the team at KTBG and testing it with other designers has definitely led us in directions I may not have gone on my own. I'm so grateful for all the work being done by KTBG and I can't wait for the Kickstarter and to see Fossilis on shelves next year.
Read about the Eras of Fossilis here.
Read about the Mechanics of Fossilis here.