One step forward, two steps back

boardgame, boardgame prototype, game design, playtest, Public Squares


Want to know what’s been happening with Public Squares?

1 – Rules and scoring systems

I’ve been experimenting with sets of rules and scoring conditions to motivate the players to create patterns, and it’s dawning on me why I haven’t really seen other games attempting this. Even though the brain is great at spotting patterns, turning them into an elegant, intuitive rule set is not easy. If you’re not careful there will be optimal patterns and every grid will end up looking very similar.

Ideally the players should be able to rotate shapes and patterns, even mirroring them across the grid. I created a few rule sets which do this in theory, but scoring them at the end of a game took as long as the game itself and resulted in three digit scores. Exhausting!


2 – Shapes

One of the core concepts for Public Squares is to use the pips of standard six-sided die as the shapes that fill the grid. When you take a die you can use a hammer to chip away blocks you don’t want, and then draw the remaining shape.


After playing just a couple games, I began to notice a pattern. My largest area was ALWAYS composed of repeated X shapes.

Looking at the die faces it’s obvious why. Out of the 6 possible shapes, 5 of them help you make an X! Even without modifying the shapes, you can get an X by combining 1 and 4 or 2 and 3, making it a safe bet.

It would be easy to create six new shapes which correspond to the numbers, but then the game would lose one of its unique features. Fortunately I have a few ideas on how to deal with this one!


3 – Other Games

One of the ways to test rules systems is to cut most of them and bring them back one by one, to see where they break. I always learn something when I do this, and would suggest you to do the same.

While experimenting I stumbled on a couple of rule sets which were a lot simpler but showed promise. I tried them out and they were fun!

That evening I found not one but TWO games which use the same concepts:

  • Criss Cross (Reiner Knizia): Roll two dice, draw the resulting symbols orthogonally adjacent on your grid. In the end, check how many times each symbol appears in each line and column to know how much that line/column is worth. Add them up to know your score.
  • Mosaix (Christof Tisch): Roll four dice, arrange them into a shape (reminiscent of a tetramino). Every player fits them in their grid. Their goal is to create several big areas composed of the same symbol.

This was eye-opening. These games are so close to my goal that I’ll have to take a few steps back and find a new direction for it.

Glad I found them so early in the process!

Public Squares

boardgame, boardgame prototype, game design, playtest, Public Squares


Last week I woke up at 5 in the morning with an idea for a roll and write game about Portuguese cobblestones. How could I ignore it?

In Portugal the ground is paved with limestone, often in intricate patterns that go from geometrical to historical. These are so common that, in their routine, most people forget to look down – myself included.

I only started appreciating them when I left the country and saw how grey and monotonous foreign sidewalks were.

calçada portuguesa

The main concept of the game is:


Each player is in charge of their own square, which they will decorate using the patterns they rolled. Players take dice, chip pips away using a hammer and draw them on the sheet. Negative space is important, as players score by creating patterns.

How does that sound?

I’m calling it “Public Squares” for now, a suggestion from Carlos Leituga!

This is very different from the other games I’ve designed so far but that’s part of the appeal for me. So much hinges on the scoring system, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Stay tuned!