There are three things I'm passionate about: cycling, design and getting together to socialize with friends over a board game. When I started down the road toward creating a game, Visions of Rainbows, I was able to combine all three. Now I'm running a Kickstarter to crowd-fund the first print run of the game.
Board games are a great form of entertainment, especially in the winter season, when the desire to be outside is low. Spending time in the physical realm is an ever-growing bonus as modern life becomes more and more digitized. I'm on a computer through most of the day – ironically now more than ever, as I finalize designs and manage pledges. Playing games helps me reconnect with the real world.
All of these board games could easily be digitized and played over a network (and many of them already are), but playing a physical game is like touching a vinyl record. There is a certain satisfaction you get when pull the weight of a large box from your shelf into your hands, a lovely smell when you open remove the lid and a tactile warmth to pushing cardboard punch-outs across a board.
Every week, more and more board games arrive to the market, totaling more than 3,000 new releases every year and covering an ever increasing amount of themes – from wine-making to bird-watching, fantastical monster battles to war reenactment, social activism to simple wordplay.
The initial concept for Visions of Rainbows came after a friend introduced me to a car-racing game from GMT called Thunder Alley. That game became the starting template for my new concept, and years later, after a growing list of modifications and optimizations, Visions of Rainbows came together as a singular game of its own.
Thunder Alley was a notable game to me for a few reasons. First, it accommodated a wide variety of players, which made it a highly flexible game; seven-player games are a bit of a rarity. Second, it also had movement mechanics I hadn't seen before that fell into that sweet spot of simple to understand, but not easy to master. And finally, it showed me that while the theme of a game is important, I might be missing some great games based purely on rejecting the theme. In this case, I have little interest in car racing, but the game was well considered and subsequently very fun. Bike racing, too, is a niche interest, and I hope others will give it the same chance.
While developing Visions of Rainbows, it was important for the game to illuminate what makes the sport exciting, which is the storytelling. Cards aren't simply numbered for speed, or called "Pedal" and "Pedal faster." You can aero tuck on descents to give yourself a bonus, or butt heads to push opponents out of line, or even take advantage of the famous micro-cheat – a sticky bottle – to pull yourself forward to the next group. The intensity of the game builds as riders move closer to the finish line, taking on fatigue while their bikes take wear and tear until the final, frenzied, agonizing sprint to the end.
I wanted to build a game that was balanced for all players. The best strategy games make their players feel like their actions were responsible for the win, not just hoping for a lucky roll. This meant creating the right amount of flexibility when managing a hand of action cards. Sometimes a player needs to make a big move to capture a bonus sprint, but other times, it's a matter of playing the long game and organizing your riders to benefit from another player's moves.
Still, headline events, such as crashes, bad weather or bonking, have a chance to tilt that balance. These things happen in real life, and it was a challenge to make the event system as tasteful as possible so that players feel the pain, but they don't feel completely burned. The same went for the tactics cards, which are the opposite of events, and can be played to your benefit.
It's fun (and frustrating, yes) to watch people playtest your creation. Having to constantly remind players of the rules illustrated to me that there was a better design somewhere out there. Rules could be simplified or removed altogether; card text could be refined and icons could be made clearer. Every game night provided a new opportunity to make the experience a little better. But then one day you watch a game play out with your complete silence – and that's when you know that you've made something special that actually works.
If you are interested in getting a copy of Visions of Rainbows, you have until Feb. 11 to pledge at the $60 level in the Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The fundraising goal is $17,500, or approximately 300 backers.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.