Note about this designer diary: Chronologically, this picks up right where my Planes designer diary left off. Unlike with that diary, I kept a journal of my entire process this time. I tracked how I felt and what I did while I designed. What you read below is taken directly from that journal as it was written on the dates marked.

Any new comments I make will look like this with red text. Hope you enjoy this glimpse into my process.

November 22, 2013

At BGG.CON 2013… I just finished another very positive meeting with AEG about my game Round Trip. They want to sign it and change its name to Planes. Obviously, this would link it to their game Trains, and naturally jokes about a third game called Automobiles began to surface. My wheels immediately started spinning…

What I don’t mention here is that at that same meeting AEG started discussions about possibly opening up a contest for the best Automobiles design. They talked about fielding submissions from everyone and taking the best one. With my inside knowledge, I took it as a challenge to have my design done before they opened that contest.

Automobiles 01
Pitching Planes to AEG at BGG.CON 2013; the Automobiles conversation started almost immediately after handshakes
(Pictured: Todd Rowland and Mark Wootton)

November 24, 2013

On the plane flight home from BGG.CON, I’m brainstorming what an Automobiles game could be. My first thoughts all have to do with fusing elements and mechanisms of Planes and Trains — something with moving cubes using deck building. How about deck building but with cubes instead of cards?!

At this point, I thought this was a revolutionary concept. I had no idea that King’s Pouch and Hyperborea existed, let alone that they would both release before Automobiles. Although, all three games have almost nothing in common. I love the diversity of our hobby.

December 23, 2013

My game Planes is officially signed by AEG. Also, they have confirmed that they are going to start a new line of transportation games with Trains. I’m even more excited to possibly design the third game in the series.

Automobiles 02
I sketched this during the development of Planes

January 7, 2014

So far I think there will be a board of a city with streets. The streets will have multiple lines of color (different colors) on them. The players want to accomplish tasks (like go to work, go to grocery store, go home) and they can do that by pulling out colored cubes out of their bag that match the colored lines of the streets they want to drive on. The more you drive on a street the better you get to know that area of town, which will allow you to add cubes of that color to your bag. Cube Building and Route Management game.

In hindsight, this sounds so terrible. I’m glad I didn’t stick with this idea.

January 17, 2014

There will be 5 cards next to the board with 10 cubes below them. The cubes will be different colors than the colors on the board. Each of these cards will give some sort of cool power when the cube is drawn from your bag. The 5 colors of cubes will be of 5 different types of cards. There will be X amount of cards in each type. Shuffle and choose one for the game in each of the 5 types.

This is the first hint of the final game.

January 18, 2014

Each player’s bag starts with X amount of action cubes and X amount of white cubes. White cubes follow a looonnng route around the edge of the board. In order to take shortcuts, players need to land on intersections. At the end of your move, you can add a colored cube that matches the space you are on. If you’re at an intersection, you may choose any of those colors. This is how you add new and better cubes to your bag. Your goal in the game is to complete task cards. Task cards tell you where to go in the city. Various task cards could be dealt at the beginning of the game and perhaps more could be bought during the game.

So very terrible. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

January 23, 2014

Boards will be static but the places (building tiles) on it will be random each game. Additionally, each default road (highways, boulevards (major roads), streets (horizontal), avenues (vertical), alleys (shortcuts)) will have several cards that have special abilities. Shuffle and place one of each type of card next to the special power cards. When you pull that cube, you can use the cube’s special power on the card or use it to move. Also, perhaps there is something about rush hour and how the highways and boulevards are slower than the surface streets.

Unfortunately, I didn’t change my course yet…sigh.

March 10, 2014

I haven’t touched my ideas for Automobiles in a while. No new inspiration. Perhaps a more flashy theme would work better than commuting in a city. Maybe players are building supercars, production cars or concept cars?

Yes. Finally, I woke up.

April 3, 2014

Met with a friend today and we discussed my ideas for Automobiles. The best part of the discussion was the epiphany that the cube building is the hook for the game and should be exploited further. I need to design powers and actions that showcase the strengths of cube building versus deck building. The design juices are flowing again…

April 9, 2014

New idea!!! A racing game where the track has multiple lines of color with various lengths of dashes. Each dash represents your speed basically. The slower speeds will have really really short dashes, so even with many cubes you will only move a short distance. The higher speeds will have really long dashes so each cube will take you a long distance. There will be cards on the side of the board to upgrade your car to various things, like letting you pull out more cubes, or being able to recycle your cubes faster (shuffle). Various cards will have actions like turn one cube into the color of another cube. Or move as many spaces as you have white cubes in your discard pile. Or buy as many cards as you have yellow cubes in your discard pile. Also perhaps each cube is worth one dollar in order to buy new cards (move used cubes to your bag). And then perhaps there is also straight up money cubes and they’re worth more obviously. Now, I’m going somewhere.

Automobiles 03
Early sketch of the set-up

May 25, 2014

I’m researching Monaco Grand Prix and the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. Good inspiration found.

May 30, 2014
As of this morning, Automobiles only existed in my head and on some notes and scribbles. It’s always a thrill to watch that very first prototype come to life — ugly and raw. I’m a procrastinator and I always take forever to prototype a design. Typically, I play it over and over in my head for awhile. In this way, I feel like I have played the game several times before I ever build it. This lets me get out a lot of bugs before I waste time producing anything physical prematurely. In fact, I was still working on handwriting the cards while the first few playtesters showed up tonight. Eventually, we played the inaugural game. Nothing broke. What?! I was shocked. We played again. Still working. We played again. We were all in shock at just how well it was playing in its debut. It was doing what I wanted it to do. And most of all, it was fun. I haven’t had this level of positive reception to a design this early in development since Planes. My playtesters are so excited. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Automobiles 04
Early design notes

June 2, 2014

I’ve been playing this non-stop since I made the prototype last week. I’m still floored that it is as fun as it is this early in its development. Pushing forward with lots of optimism…

June 4, 2014

This morning I did my first virtual pitch to a publisher. I presented Automobiles to several people from AEG over Skype. We had the usual technical difficulties (specifically I was hoping to use multiple webcams on my end, but one device failed to connect); however we moved past them and everything else generally went smooth. It was certainly different pitching to a webcam versus face-to-face with a live person. I’m used to reading body language and watching where their eye focuses while I pitch. I couldn’t do either of those things, so it was a challenge to know if they were keeping up with me, and understanding an element, before I moved onto the next. Nevertheless, I was pleased with what I presented and everyone at AEG said they were impressed. Their order was to press ahead…

I wanted to bring in AEG as early as possible in order to make them second guess if they should move forward with an Automobiles contest or not.

Automobiles 05
Prototype set-up for my virtual pitch to AEG

June 20, 2014

Here’s my current card categories:
• Gears (3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th)
• Wear (Grey)
• Money (Yellow)
• Pit (Purple)
• Handling (Red)
• Performance (Green)
• Engines (Blue)

Automobiles 06
All the prototype cards at this early stage

July 22, 2014

Playtesting continues. I’m observing the balance of new card combos and exploring turn phase options — specifically drawing your cubes at the end of your turn instead of the beginning. This would decrease the perception of downtime since players would be able to plan their turn when it wasn’t their turn.

Automobiles 07
Early playtesting notes

July 29, 2014

Incredible playtesting session. We tried out the new oval map. I was pretty excited to see what strategies emerged due to taking multiple laps around the smaller track. Unfortunately, the new track presented several challenges that I didn’t expect, which forced me to make a handful of hand-drawn changes as we played. I love this stage of playtesting — it’s so focused and productive. Additionally, I was hoping that this new track would both speed up the game duration, as well as give the players the increased feeling that they were racing. I failed on both efforts. But that’s not a bad thing. Failures at this point are often more productive and better for the game than successes. We discussed various ways to speed up game play (draw more cubes, change the track colors, make culling easier, etc) — many options for me to consider. On a positive note, the new cards were all very fun.

Automobiles 08
More playtesting notes

July 31, 2014

Breakthrough! Most of the challenges faced from the last playtest session were alleviated today. I’m so excited. I implemented a couple of changes all focused on speeding up both the duration of the game and the exhilaration felt during the game. The changes include giving all players a Spending Allowance during set-up and increases the amount of cubes drawn per turn from 5 to 7. Today’s sessions were very fun.

Automobiles 09
More playtesting notes

Check out all those exclamation points on the last line. 7 cubes indeed.

August 5, 2014

Spending Allowance continues to be both fun and beneficial to speeding up the game. However, I have been noticing that money has become too easy during the game, which has resulted in some bloated decks. These bloated decks increase the luck of the draw, while also diminishing the effect of gaining wear. I’d like to reverse both of those repercussions. Just one week left till Gen Con. Push push push…

At this point, it was relatively common for players to have ~$20 a turn to spend. Far too much freedom.

August 8, 2014

My solution to limit money has paid off big time. I removed all actions that gained you more money and created a few more deck customization actions. Consequently, the last several sessions have been ridiculously fun. Tonight, we blasted through 5 plays in under 3 hours and we all still wanted to keep playing. I think I’m ready for Gen Con…except I need to make a new prototype…sigh…

I remember this session clearly. These sort of breakthroughs on a design are a joy to watch unfold.

August 12, 2014

Trying out the new prototype, complete with more functional cards and a new track. Made some key tweaks to the new track, but overall I’m very pleased with how it runs and feels different than the oval track.

Automobiles 10
Early prototype of the Monza board

August 15, 2014

I’m at Gen Con. It’s my first time, and man is it overwhelming. Despite that, I’m enjoying myself and being productive in networking and pitching to publishers. It’s exciting that every time I see one of the guys from AEG, they tell me how much they are looking forward to my Automobiles pitch on Sunday.

Automobiles 11
At Gen Con 2014 with some of the members of AEG

August 17, 2014

Today is the big day. I meet with AEG to formally pitch them Automobiles. They know about the game and are very excited about it. From the communication I’ve had with them, the job is mine to lose. It’s a good position to be in. I’m prepped as best as I can.

I sadly do not have a picture of this pitch.

August 17, 2014

I’m on the plane back home. The big pitch earlier today went good. Not amazing, but good. We met and played at their booth in the main exhibit hall. We were in their private meeting room, but it was still loud and the space was quite tight. Additionally, it was the afternoon on the last day of the con. Everyone was visibly exhausted. All that being said, the pitch and play of the game went well. They were engaged and having fun. When it was done, we discussed marketing briefly and shook hands to confirm AEG will publish it. Success!!

September 16, 2014

Confirmed that this is just about done. I tweaked the blocking rules because they continue to be difficult to explain. I made them more intuitive, while at the same time increasing their importance. Other than that, nothing was altered and a fun time was had by all! Oh, and AEG has informed me that art is starting!

Automobiles 12
More playtesting…

September 30, 2014

Ridiculously fun sessions. Finishes are tight, cars are unique, and plays are enjoyable. Still tweaking cards, especially the ones that grant extra cube draws (i.e. Nitro, Crew Chief).

 Automobiles 13Evolution of the pit card: First prototype, early prototype, late prototype, and final design

December 16, 2014

Still tweaking cards and values as polishing development progresses. Additionally, the art continues to pour in. Specifically, the boards, the cover and the logo. I’m so stoked with how incredible everything looks.

Automobiles 14
Final Daytona Beach board

January 21, 2015

Playtesting continues to insure everything is on point. At the same time, I’ve finally taken a step toward writing a final rulebook. Such a painstaking process. Additionally, I have designed new “Those Aren’t Pillows” promos for each game in the Destination Fun series. Playtesting for these has started and they are very fun. I can’t wait to get these out into the wild. Lastly, art is really coming along. The main boards are almost final, as are the player boards, and the card backs. Gorgeous.

pillows

January 23, 2015

Officially added an “Alternative Turn” called a Pit Stop to the game play. This allows a player to pass their turn in favor of removing all of the Wear from their Active area. I have toyed with this idea from time to time from the start, but it’s now officially embraced. I like that players may now take a Pit Stop, instead of feeling bad about a disappointing draw.

February 18, 2015
Art continues to roll in. The box top, box bottom, cards…everything is looking great. In fact, I played on the almost-final board last night. Great stuff.

Automobiles 15
Playtesting on the final board
Additionally, AEG has really kicked into high gear to polish all the card abilities and costs for this last home stretch. We have had quite a few lively discussions lately regarding any remaining tweaks and balances. The game is getting even better.

Automobiles 16
Final box bottom

March 26, 2015

I’m continuing to work on the rulebook, which is proving to be a bear. Probably the most difficult rulebook I have had to write when it comes to the examples. This is not because the rules are difficult, but because each example must reference not just the cubes on a player’s mat, but also the main board and the cards. It makes for tough illustrations when it comes to multi-step actions. Sigh.

Automobiles 17
Rulebook notes and changes

May 12, 2015

One last rulebook pass… actually had a few significant updates this time. John Goodenough has been amazing keeping up with all the updates. At this point I’m feeling really confident about the rulebook. Man, I’m excited for people to start playing this!

Check out the final rulebook on the AEG website. I’m very proud of it.

July 10, 2015
The game is officially announced by AEG! I’m overflowing with excitement. I can’t wait to share this game with everyone.

And that’s the last entry in my Automobiles journal. I’m looking forward to racing in October!

David Short

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