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Power Plants: A Hexcellent Designer Diary

Let's Start from the End

For those of you that don't like all the background of where it started, how the publisher found it, what theme it had, etc. and just want to know what the game is about we'll start with that.

In Power Plants you are wizards fighting over a magical garden to gain gems. That is the setting that drives the tile-laying gameplay where on your turn you play a tile and either trigger a powerful sprout ability of that type of plant or trigger multiple grow abilities of all the two, three, or sometimes four tiles around it it. These abilities add sprites to the game, your agents of strength in the garden used to control patches and fields, move patches, gain gems, and several other such things.

Once again working with Helaina, Josh, and Sean has been a treat. We went straight from fighting off gnomes in another of my designs (Fall of the Mountain King) to cultivating magical plants. Through that work together and the further development of the game there have been three key changes to the game from the prototype I submitted back in 2019 that I think are worthwhile talking about.

The area control changed from being simply the most sprites in a field to controlling the most matches in a field - regardless of your total number of sprites. This was a change that we went back and forth on a bit, but in the end I think it has been a good decision to have it be number of patches. If not only for that is a unique way of doing area control in a game like this. This also means you can't just stack up in a single patch and count on winning that field. You must spread out, dink and dunk and really watch out for those lower numbered patches as they are the tie-breaker!

Another key area has been the adding of the Sprout power of each patch. Originally, only the Grow powers were in the game and the Grow power became stronger if you played the patch next to the same type of patch. However, players kept wanting to use the power of the tile they played. This led to just allowing it to happen (the Sprout ability), but not allowing them to use the Grow ability if you did. This added another nice decision of not only determining where you wanted to place a patch - but if you wanted to get the big Sprout power or perhaps multiple, albeit smaller, grow powers! This also has allowed for a great solution of "training mode" for playing with younger players where you only use the Sprout powers to simplify how the game plays.

Finally, which happens in a lot of games that have such variety like this one, the changing/tweaking/editing of the the powers! I submitted the game with many different powers, a core set, and others that I loved but knew would be likely be developed further after KTBG picked it up. While the types of powers remain very similar they've been tweaked slightly. For example, many of the plant types now come with a sprite on them. The Emberwood adds a sprite to help protect the gems you place, before it didn't. The Wingbean now not only moves a patch, but also destroys sprites and has end game scoring (personally my favorite plant in the base game!). The Snapjaw now can capture sprites in adjacent fields (and add a sprite) where before it was only adjacent patches. There is SO MUCH design space with these powers (and other additions) that we have a lot of plans for if the Kickstarter does well!

All games change as they go through development and Power Plants 2+ years of development after KTGB signed it is no exception. However, thanks to all the play testers, the work and dedication of the KTBG team, the amazing art of Apolline Etienne, and a little bit of patience the idea I had at lunch one day will come to fruition! Please consider backing the game on Kickstarter October 26th!

The Journey

For those of you who want more detail on how we are at the beautiful finished product.

An often used query of game designers is "Theme or mechanics first?" - for Power Plants the answer is...components! I had recently purchased Anachrony: Exosuit Commander Pack which replaced the cardboard hexes in the base game with some cool minis. This meant I had 30 hexes in five different colors that I could use in game design. This was in the fall of 2017 I believe.

In late 2017 or early 2018 (I don't quite remember) while at work I was thinking about those hexes and at lunch I sat down with a piece of paper and started writing ideas down how to use the five tiles. The idea I had was what if the tiles powers were different based not on what they were, but rather on what tiles they were placed next to on the "board". I ran with that getting more and more excited as I came up with powers for each of the tiles. I called my wife and said I'd be coming home early and we needed to play right away!

Well, that first play went really well! Enough that I said confidently "someone is going to pick this game up in the next year. I know it." (Little did I know it'd until the summer of 2019 before it was) I then set out to make it better by balancing it out and finding the sweet spot for the game. There were really three things that sweet spot needed to be found: more tile powers, more tiles for larger player counts, and how the area control scoring would work. I themed it with a magical architecture theme, called it Hexcellent (because you wanted to make the warlock you were designing it for to say "Hexcellent" to you), and got work.

I came up with several tile powers that simple, some aggressive, some odd and made the game even more variable as even at the early stage the game still had you only using five powers in any given game. I made a Game Crafter order to get a set of 64 tiles made to increase the number of turns players get in multiplayer games. Then I kept switching back and forth on how end game area control scored number of tiles in a group, each tile, number of tiles plus points, multiplying by number of tiles and sprites. By the time I began pitching the game it was still in flux.

That first year I pitched the game to a few companies and despite how sure I was to the game's quality, I didn't get any takers, with the exception of one company who took the prototype, but then I didn't hear from them again, so I put it on the shelf and saved it for convention season 2019. When Origins 2019 rolled around I thought I'd try again and this time around thought of KTBG because I'd met Helaina and Josh the previous year and bought Haunt the House enjoying playing it and thinking my little tile laying game would fit well in their line up. We met and I showed them the game. I could tell Josh was digging it, but I couldn't read Helaina for anything. I'm never going to play poker with her, because a few weeks later she reached out and said they'd loved it and would bring a contract to Gen Con!

Well, the week before Gen Con the company I'd given my prototype to the previous year asked to meet about the game as well. They ended up offering me a contract as well (which was crazy!), but after much consideration I wanted to go with Kids Table - because I knew they'd care about the game and me, and had been so responsive, open, and quick to respond. Such a good decision!

The KTBG team continued to work on and develop the game and then 2020 hit. They got behind schedule a bit on the planned release date (who didn't get behind?) and about that time I showed them the Fall of the Mountain King prototype their sibling company Burnt Island games. The decision was made to push that up in the release schedule and drop Power Plants to the fall of '21.

I has been great working on the game for the past 4 months once again. I'm really excited about some of the stretch goals we have planned. Add in the fun organic look that Josh has given the tiles, the production values that KTBG brings, Power Plants is turning into more than I imagined.

If you've stuck with me this long - thank you! Power Plants will be my 4th professionally published game and I'm very proud of it. Once again, patience and flexibility, are the keys to working with publishers and improving designs. Please come help make Power Plants a reality on Kickstarter October 26th!

P.S. I'd love to answer any questions you might have about the game or the design process or give you my Wingbean soup recipe which just flies out of the bowl!

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