Maple Valley: Designing a New Chapter
Hi! For those who haven't met me, my name is Roberta Taylor, my pronouns are she/her, and I've been making games for nearly 15 years now.
To talk about Maple Valley, I first have to talk for a moment about Creature Comforts.
Creature Comforts, a game about the critters in Maple Valley preparing for winter, grew out of a long, slowly simmering design process, where I would pull it out, work on it, tweak something, then put it back on the shelf, sometimes for years, until I finally pulled it out rebuilt it from the ground up using the current theme and incorporating cozy game principles throughout. KTBG took one look at that version of the game, saw what I had envisioned, and polished it up, making it even more beautiful than I had imagined.
Maple Valley's development could not have been more different.
As KTBG interacted with fans and watched the reaction to the game around the world, they knew that they wanted to return to Maple Valley, and not just with an expansion, but with a stand-alone game using fresh mechanics. When we spoke about my creating that game, we initially talked about a winter setting, but that turned out to be a real challenge, seeing as all of the characters in the game are hibernators, and resources in Algonquin park are scarce in winter. I did consider a winter sports theme, but nothing clicked mechanically, as much as I would have loved to create a game that incorporated Skijoring! And so I found myself telling a story in springtime instead, which is delightful.
I live in a household that chose to take great care to avoid Covid, and so there have been no game design meetups, no play test evenings with friends, no conventions. Thankfully my housemates are willing players, but for the large part I still was designing in isolation, rather than in constant connection with a wide variety of players. So my design process had to adapt, both in the tools I used and in how I iterated the design.
I spent months in the early flailing-around-and-going-in-circles stage of this design, trying to do something new in the same setting. I love designing with constraints, and I've done a lot of projects with very specific constraints that I am very proud of. Doing so within a familiar setting, and without making the same game over again, was a new challenge. There were moments when I wondered if I'd ever find the game I was seeking, especially in the long dark of winter. Perhaps people should hibernate too!
But I persevered.
I initially wanted to make use of a mechanic that, when done well, I love a lot: pick up-and-deliver. But as I tried to make it work, I realized that the reason that it's not used super often is that it is very tricky to make pick-and-deliver interesting, and harder yet to do so in a simple manner. But those attempts are where the map of Maple Valley began, and thanks to the encouragement and feedback from KTBG, my idea of various types of travel that critters might use to shortcut through their environment grew into a mechanic that I love and a game that I am so excited to share.
All winter long I worked away on the game, in between a full time job and all the other things that life fills with. I was inching closer and closer to the experience I wanted. I knew the game would play in a day in Maple Valley, with the sun moving in the sky to track rounds. I adored the secondary 'kid' economy of curiosities. And I knew by this point that the little critter friends were central to the game, as they created the arc I wanted and carried the story well. But failure to add a new friend early game was often punitive, and I hadn't quite worked out how to make this better.
In the spring, I tentatively made my way to the first gaming event I'd been to since Covid began. I had the opportunity to sit down with the folks from KTBG for a few hours, and it was just amazing to see how much productive work came out of a few conversations and brainstorms. We decided that I would fly east a few weeks later and spend a weekend working on finishing the design. What a great decision! The whole team is amazing, and we played, brainstormed, and filled out spreadsheets in a marathon of development.
By the end of the weekend we had 98% of the game we were trying to make. Our critters were ready to scurry through Maple Valley, doing favours for the adults as everyone prepared for the Spring Festival! So many of the details that really sparkle in this design were a result of this teamwork.- the useful upgrades that I had envisioned became infinitely easier to create and more fun to look at when Josh suggested they be patches, and hours of testing and talking refined the map so movement is interesting but not frustrating. A few days after I returned home, Josh put the final piece into place when he suggested the Dawdle cards mechanic to keep players in the game even if they have fewer critter friends in their deck. I love it!
I am thrilled to be working with a team who are so skilled at what they do, and so committed to helping me bring the story I want to tell to the tabletop. I think that fans of Creature Comforts will find their return to Maple Valley charming, cozy, and a lot of fun!
Maple Valley is coming to Kickstarter on November 15. Sign up for a launch day reminder here.