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Here There Be Pirates Game Design Doc


  • Invest the time early to carefully choose dramatic elements that adhere strongly to your mechanics
  • Being a pirate is cool and exploration is fun
  • Be thoughtful with time-estimates to finish things, then double the number you arrive at
  • Under-promise and over-deliver
  • Particular game strengths: Aesthetics (pins for player markers, pirate-map art, gold coin points) and dramatic elements (pirate exploration & stealing) complemented mechanics (moving, staying, looting, stealing, attacking) excellently.

Design Journal - “Here there be Pirates”

Team members from left to right:

Laura Littleton, Charlie Feuerborn, Reid Weston, Abigail Sullivan.

Our affordance object:

A reversible sequin throw pillowcase

Our team was quick to jump to work, experimenting physically with the object and bouncing ideas off one another.

We found that the object interestingly affords:


Rubbing/color changing

Holding things

Wearing like a hat or hood


Multiple people interacting with it

Initial ideas included creating an “IRL or” with the color-change ability of the pillow case.

However, the color changing really only worked in two directions (up and down, not left to right), so it did not afford the movement necessary for such a game.

Then, we came up with the idea of an ocean exploration game, inspired by the blue/purple/green/azure colors of the object.

We considered making a card-based story game that progressed as players revealed new parts of the map.

But instead of our initial idea of a card-based story game, we opted for a 4-player competitive pirate game, with booty-filled islands and stealing mechanics. (pictured to left)

Early iterations of the game were quickly prototyped using paper

Our first map was smaller than our intended end goal, simply to test if the idea was viable.

We used a d4 to dictate movement rather than a d6 with our initial map to compensate for the map’s small size

The game worked well, though it was very messy!

External playtests were conducted with varying board sizes, trying to find a good balance of distance between players and length of play

Also experimented with “bomb” spaces that stop players when they move on them

We settled on a 12 by 12 board and finalized the decision by drawing the grid onto our affordance object!

Detailed map of values and bomb locations

Continuing our “pirates” aesthetic, we decided to use pins to mark players’ locations!

Currency was tracked with valued cards to represent acquired booty

We switched to a d6 to match the larger board

The game progressed well, but the bombs didn’t come into play much.

So we added more!

Also, to make them more interesting, they moved players “4 spaces toward the center” without revealing spaces hopped over.

Though they still didn’t give players any booty, it would make them less disheartening and perhaps make the game more interesting!

Some serious playtesters

For some serious playtesting

In line with our other playtests, the playtest with the storms was very messy.

Players’ biggest complaint was that it was “physically difficult to play”, since you had to rip up the top layer to reveal the board.

Players said they would play again if it was easier to handle

We also discovered that the storms were too complicated and confusing, since our rules did not afford diagonal movement or a good way to decide “center” direction.

However, including the storms/bombs in the mix of the islands did add more excitement to the game.

Our final product!

Super great experience, exploring the affordances and caveats of a weird pillowcase, and perfecting a fun game of high adventure on the turbulent seas!

Photo Journal: Charlie Feuerborn

External Playtests: Abigail Sullivan & Charlie Feuerborn

Playtest Digitalization: Reid Weston

Instructions: Reid Weston

Loot Card Production: Laura Littleton
Board & Player Pieces: Abigail Sullivan

Estimated Times vs Actual time:

Rule Decisions: 2 hours / 2 hours

Design Journal: 2.5 hours / 2.5 hour

Instructions: 4 hours / 3 hours

Loot Card Design: 3 hours / 4 hours

Board Creation: 6 hour / 4 hours

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