Boon – Card Game
Skills: Collaboration with business partner/developer, designing and printing prototypes, gathering live user feedback through play-testing, creating new iterations based on feedback, writing instructions, working with a printer, selling the game, social media marketing, hosting live events, designing a website, creating a video (script-writing, directing, producing, filming, editing, animating, voice-over, Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects)
Make the classic card game sheepshead easier to learn than it is on a standard deck of cards, and launch it to a wider audience (sheepshead is typically played by an older crowd in Wisconsin and Germany). Do this by designing a custom deck of cards that appeals to a younger audience, writing directions to be easily understood by new players, and successfully bringing the game to market.
Sheepshead is a classic card game – similar to Hearts, Spades or Euchre – that is played on a standard deck of cards. It is difficult to learn and memorize, as each card has a different point value with seemingly no rhyme or reason, and the “trump” suit is unclear. My partner and I wanted to make a deck of cards following the rules of sheepshead, but a custom one that is much easier and quicker to learn.
Users and Audience
Sheepshead’s typical audience is older folks who have been playing for years. Rather than try to change the habits of seasoned players, we decided to target the millennial audience, introducing them to the game for the first time. The game is also most prevalent in Wisconsin and Germany, but we decided to widen the audience by targeting all U.S. states (we stuck with the U.S. for shipping purposes).
I was co-creator of the game, responsible for designing the website and cards, writing instructions, co-organizing play-testing, directing and editing an instructional video, managing social media accounts, planning a launch party, and more. My partner was responsible for developing the website based on my design, helping to organize play-testing, managing finances, and handling the company’s legal information.
Our constraints included time, money, team size and our printer’s. Regarding time: while we began brainstorming and designing the game in July or so, we wanted to have it ready to sell at a launch party in early November, just in time for the holiday season. While this sounds like a lot of time, designing, play-testing and printing a new prototype deck took weeks or months each time we went through the process. On the financial side, we were bootstrapping the project with our own money and had a limited budget. For team size, there were only two of us so we had to wear many hats. The printer was located in China; since we were in different time zones, email communication took days, and printing and shipping took a week or two – we often had to pay extra for express shipping.
The idea came about because my business partner wanted to build and publish a mobile app for sheepshead, his favorite game. We decided to create a draft of physical cards and play with those to determine if our suit and numbering system was accurate for the app. Thus, we began by brainstorming our own suit and numbering system for the game. Ultimately, we liked the idea of pursuing the card game rather than the app.
Next, I wrote directions and designed a sample deck. I designed each suit as a different color, including an entire suit dedicated to the “trump” cards. We also included point values right on the cards. These two features were key to our game so players didn’t have to memorize the “trump” card values or the complicated points system, which they have to do when playing sheepshead with a standard deck of cards.
We printed the prototype and directions, then play-tested this deck with some potential users – millennials who like to play games – and gathered feedback about the design. Feedback included tips like the points’ font was too small, or the instructions were confusing. With that information I updated the design and instructions, and we repeated this method various times. Our most effective play-test was one in which we let novice game players teach themselves. They had more valuable feedback for our instructional booklet than any of the seasoned game players.
Once our deck design and instructions were final, we placed an order for a 500 decks to sell on our website and in-person. Throughout the entire process, I managed the printer relationship.
I also designed the game’s website, which my business partner developed from scratch. It told our personal story, featured the game’s directions, and linked to an online store.
To aid the teaching of the game, I created an instructional video. My process included writing the script, recording the voice-over, directing, producing, filming, editing and animating the video. We published this video on our website.
Lastly, when we were ready to launch, I created social media channels, co-organized a launch party event, and used social media marketing to fill up the venue with people ready to play the game. I continue to co-host a monthly board game night at the same venue.
My major lessons learned have to do with design and written instructions – and further refining them through user research, or in this case, play-testing.
I learned that we should playtest with all ages rather than only the millennials we tested with. Although we were primarily targeting millennials, they often wanted to play with their parents or kids, and fonts may have been too small for these players (though this is unconfirmed).
I would also play-test with colorblind users. I designed the little flag in the upper left corner of each card to be a different shape on each suit so that colorblind players could tell the suits apart – but it seems that these designs were not different enough.
In addition, I would play-test in all types of lighting since we heard and saw that the blue and green suits looked too similar in darker light.
Also, rather than teaching the majority of our play-testers how to play, I would just give the deck and instructions to all play-testers to teach themselves, and watch and take notes. We did this only once or twice and found it extremely valuable in editing our written instructions.
I would play-test with more audiences who are not seasoned card or board game players. We only play-tested with one group who fit this bill, and their questions greatly helped us edit our instructional booklet. For instance, we learned that we should specify in the instructions to deal the cards “face down.” Meanwhile, our more seasoned play-testers already assumed that you dealt the cards face down and did not bring up this issue.
I would also consider a different box design or size. We used the standard size of a deck of cards for budget purposes – also so people could easily travel with the deck – but I would ideally like a slightly bigger box so we could include more “victory cards” and have a larger instructional booklet, and also so the game would stand out more on store shelves.
In the next edition, we also need a tiebreaker and 5-player directions written into our instructional booklet. Currently we only have the 5-player directions posted on our website because there was not enough room in the booklet. In the future, I would make the booklet larger if we had different packaging.