The Evolution of Chariot Race

The recent launch of the Chariot Race Kickstarter got me thinking about all the iterations the game has gone through. The earliest sketches I found were dated 2 October 2010, over six years before the game was released.

I typically keep older versions of a game as I work. Doing so helps me design in a more fearless manner – I can try stupid things knowing I can roll back if needed. I also take comfort when I look at these things before I start a new project, because they remind me that games don't start out pretty or balanced.

In this post, I've included some videos and photos of both Chariot Race and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. Flip through them to see how they evolved into their current forms.

Chariot Race started as a pub game with wooden boards and pegs. Watch here as the number of spaces on the board gradually shrinks and the chariot boards take on all sorts of different forms:

This is one of the "wood" prototypes (made from foam) alongside the board game version. Moving to more traditional materials cut the game's cost by more than half and opened up the possibility of including a double-sided board and variable chariots. The wood was fun but terribly expensive and the chariots (as cribbage pegs) weren't very thematic.

This is one of the "wood" prototypes (made from foam) alongside the board game version. Moving to more traditional materials cut the game's cost by more than half and opened up the possibility of including a double-sided board and variable chariots. The wood was fun but terribly expensive and the chariots (as cribbage pegs) weren't very thematic.

Here are some of the many pegboards I made out of foam and drilled for testing. Some of the boards were hollowed out underneath so you could keep your Fortuna coins secret from the other players. I used older boards to hold cribbage pegs while I painted them (bottom right). Not pictured are all the sets I sent out for blind-testing. I must have drilled about 5,000 holes over the course of the project.

Here are the reverse sides of the chariot boards showing the six different configurations. Chariots are either sturdy, normal, or flimsy; horses are either speedy, normal, or slow; and charioteers are either lucky, normal, or unlucky.

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age saw even more iteration. Watch here as the list of developments gradually expands while I continued to experiment with the size and format of the score sheet:

One of the central tensions I needed to resolve in this game was how much information to communicate on the score sheet. I was strongly tempted to go with a minimalist design (so new players wouldn't be scared off by all the text) but it turned out the new players appreciated the reference information most of all. (The last frame here, "LBA," refers to The Late Bronze Age, a print-and-play expansion for the game.)

People often attribute the success of a product to the novelty of its underlying idea. The truth is, the idea (while clear in hindsight) is often only dimly visible when you start out and dozens of iterations are often required before you're able to clear away the fog and arrive at the "obvious" solution.

If you're designing a game of your own, keep this in mind. You'll rarely get it close to right the first time. Much of the quality of a good game comes from its execution – all the little details matter – and the best way to get those right is through continuous iteration.

Interested in the final result? Check out the Chariot Race Kickstarter page.