From virtual to the physical, or how I got to design a board game after failing a computer one

Couple years back me and a mate started developing a computer game. It was going to be awesome. Totally different as a concept, infinitely replayable, a thing of beauty and all.

Long story short: after some 9 months into it, we ran out of money and after we failed our Indiegogo campaign, the project stalled. Honestly, such an outcome was to be expected for various reasons I’m not gonna go into detail now.

With all the money I have borrowed (in the lines of five digits, not starting with 1) so I can focus on game development, it took me well over an year to get back on my feet. Sort of. I got full time job that turned out to be more like an overtime job without the overtime pay and the only thing I really wanted after that was to have a couple of beers and just stare dumbly until it’s bedtime. Rinse, repeat for 7 months. I was a mess. There was no chance in hell we could continue the development.

Still, we were talking about it every now and then. Our final talk covered the possibility to go on with the idea, but this time turning it into a board game instead, as theoretically it was going to be much easier, faster and cheaper to produce one.

Quite frankly, board games are something relatively distant to me. As distant as console or mobile games are.

See, I’m a PC gamer. Period.

The computer fulfills all my entertainment needs. I don’t need a TV or a radio or a newspaper or a box of cards in my life. All I need to entertain myself is in my rig. Or at least that’s how I thought at the time.

Then my dayjob experience ended with a big boom. It turned out I was working for a pathological liar and crook, who still owes me and a lot of other people a big pile of money we will never recover.

A couple of months later I was still chewing on the philosophical question “Ok, seriously, now what”. It’s not like I can’t come up with something interesting. It’s quite the opposite. There are so many interesting things I come up with, it’s really hard to pick one to focus on. It’s been like that since forever and it was a good time for a change. So I just sat down and thought:

What is the thing that sums up all I am good at and where I can apply my skills; what is it that makes me feel good; what is it I love to do; what would not set me back thousands again and most of all, what is it I can do on my own so I don’t have to depend on anyone else anymore?

Drilldown: I am good at design, writing, idea development, creative thinking and most of the time I’m annoyingly pedantic about the things I create. It makes me feel truly euphoric when there is an idea to be developed, a concept to be brought to life out of nothing. I love playing games, reading sci-fi books, watching sci-fi movies, daydream about space. It really gives me the shivers. I also like to work with my hands. I love touching objects and toying with them around. I like to learn new things — even if it turns out later it’s not exactly my beer, it’s ok. Eventually it all lead to two choices. Either write a sci-fi book or make a sci-fi game.

As someone with two books behind their back, one of which receiver of the most prestigious fiction debut award in my country (a 10-ish kilo bronze horse with wings)…

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The bronze Pegasus — a damn prestigious fiction award

… I was skeptical about doing a new one. I don’t know how writing books works out in your country, but in Bulgaria you just can’t make a living out of writing, unless you write pathetic shit for the masses and do it in numbers (sort of being a pretentious intellectual whore just for the sake of calling yourself a writer), which I have no intention to do.

Making a game also proved to be a gargantuan task even for two, let alone for one. I am a designer, not a coder. I can create just about anything, but can’t bring it to life on my own. Making a new PC game was out of the question. Making a board game however was not. And this was the tipping point. The idea of Zenith:Unknown — a very unusual board game was born.

That was in September.

Fast forward to present day. The concept of the game is thoroughly laid out, there is an initial prototype, I’m writing and designing a booklet that will accompany the game, researches on funky materials to produce pieces from are under way, I’m talking with manufacturers and testing out different concepts for the board. And although there is enormous amount of work to be done before it all takes proper shape, I’m happy as a pig.

There are a lot of things I learn on the fly and would like to share — either on the development process itself or else, so be sure to check back regularly.


a proper sci-fi board game

Creator of Zenith:Unknown, Deep Space Noir and a metric shitton of popular media

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