A Stonehenge Only a Game Designer Could Love
MikeSelinker_120 von Mike Selinker:
Early in the design process for Stonehenge, our group of game designers agreed on exactly one thing: we needed a board. We were, after all, designing a board game. And with the real Stonehenge sitting on Salisbury Plain—emphasis on the "Plain" part—a flat surface seemed to be the best thing to build our stones upon (...)

stonehenge-lego_180StonehengePrototype_180trilithonetc_180
MikeSelinker_120 von Mike Selinker:
Early in the design process for Stonehenge, our group of game designers agreed on exactly one thing: we needed a board. We were, after all, designing a board game. And with the real Stonehenge sitting on Salisbury Plain—emphasis on the "Plain" part—a flat surface seemed to be the best thing to build our stones upon.
But which flat surface was dramatically unclear. So, being the enterprising game designers that we are, a number of us started making boards. And we quickly reached what would be the first of several intellectual conflicts on the way to making Stonehenge.
There were two camps, which I would call the "minimalist camp" and the "maximalist camp." Except I don't really know what the word "maximalist" means (I think it has something to do with Russian politics), so I'm just going to call it the "hungry camp," for reasons which will soon become clear.
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The minimalist camp argued for the barest amount of information on the board. Alan Moon did up a board that a number of us liked, because it just showed the positions of the rocks. His version, shown here, is a black-and-white blueprint of the land, with the presumption that each game designer's game would place the rocks in realistic positions either at the start or over the course of the game. Which was a great idea, assuming you'd finished your game design and all you needed to mark was the positions of the rocks.
The problem was, none of us had finished our game designs. None of us had even started, in fact. We were in the interesting position of having to design a game board for each other to use, with no idea what any of us would need. So we started to think out the theoretical possibility that, if we were building Stonehenge from a game designer's perspective, what features would it have?
Number one, of course, was positions for the rocks. James Ernest and I started to research what rocks Stonehenge actually contained. Everybody knew about the trilithons—those monstrous three-stone megaliths—but what else was there, and how could we use it?
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James started with a LEGO model of Stonehenge. Inside the horseshoe of five trilithons were 19 bluestones, easy enough to represent in a U-shape. And inside those was the altar stone, a huge flat rock. From the LEGO model, James drew a sketch of the board that was starting to take shape in his head.
One of the more interesting areas was the outer ring, which (assuming you believe that it was a regular shape) had 30 horizontal stones balanced on 30 vertical ones. To James, that screamed "numerical scoring track," like on the outer edge of hundreds of German board games. Certainly we wouldn't all use it that way, but a track numbered 1–30 seemed like a great idea.
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In real life, inside of that ring were 56 pits, which may have held much smaller stones. One day, James asked me how I would feel if there were 60 instead of 56. I recoiled in horror, and then enthusiastically agreed. Sixty small stones matched up perfectly with 30 large stones, allowing the smaller stones to (mentally, anyway) be counted as "1A and 1B," for example. He added a ring of 60 stones in his next draft.
This allowed us to use two different color schemes—again, without really knowing why we would need them. We could color the trilithons and outer-ring stones with different colors, in a regular sequence, because sometimes game designers need colored sequences. And we could alternate the 60 small stones in black and white, or what Richard Garfield would eventually call "night and day."
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And so James put it all together in a prototype board. A regular pattern of lines separated the various components of the board from each other, so that we could say "this is space 9," or "this is the blue space." And then the fighting began.
The minimalists argued that the board was cluttered with things that didn't exist in the real world. The maximalists argued that the board was now useful, because we could now refer to objects on the board as being in particular spaces or having particular properties. And the maximalists won out, for the simple reason that we were shopping hungry.
You've done that, I'm sure. You go to the supermarket to buy a gallon of milk, but you're famished, and so you walk out with the maxi-size carton of Ho-Hos. We did the same thing. We were hungry for functionality to give our as-yet-undesigned games features to hang upon, and so we went with a build that would allow any one of us to use the blue spaces for negative points or the night spaces for card-drawing prompts. Or whatever. They were there in case we needed them, and it turns out we all did.
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Eventually we pared away things we didn't need so it didn't look like a dartboard. Then we played games on them for a year and ended up with a functional board as seen in James's final design.
Later on, it came time for our graphic designer, Sean Glenn, to take James's brightly colored prototype board and make it into something you wanted to see on your coffee table. Sean thought that the grass of Salisbury Plain from James's layout was a nice touch, so he borrowed it—and an image of real grass, which he spent hours turning into a usable backdrop. The background squares became shaded light and dark, as if a great lawnmower in the sky had come down to smooth it out for us.
The outer ring became a continuous band rather than individual blocks. That's closer to what it actually looked like, though of course the real lintels were all grey rather than an assortment of rainbow hues.
Then it came time for the inner ring. Where James had circles, Sean put actual stones. Each rock is individually shaped, as if they were pulled from the plain itself. The altar stone and the trilithons are shown in their real-world placement.
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The end result is a Stonehenge that game designers and historians could love, assuming the latter group could get beyond the whole 56-pits-becomes-60-stones issue.
Next time, I'll talk about what it is we put on top of that board. Come back for that.
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