As Glass Cannon Unplugged, we have a very straightforward mission. We choose video games that we believe have significantly influenced their genre and that just appeal to us in terms of translating them to the language of tabletop.

A look back at the design process

Don't Starve: The Board Game
  /  Don't Starve: The Board Game   /  A look back at the design process

A look back at the design process

SUMMARY:

  • In 2022, development for the Don’t Starve board game commenced after a founder’s dream became a reality.
  • Prototyping for the Don’t Starve board game evolved through different designs, with Rafał’s tile-based approach emerging as the frontrunner by September 2023 and gaining Klei’s approval in January 2024.
  • Fine-tuning mechanics and responding to feedback, the team prepares to unveil the Don’t Starve board game publicly, aiming to fulfill expectations and launch a Kickstarter campaign.
  • Follow Don’t Starve: The Board Game on Kickstarter on Kickstarter today!


Say, pal. How about a peek behind the curtains?

Unless you recently got pulled into another dimension, you’re already aware that we’ve announced the official board game adaptation of the superb Don’t Starve video game series. While the news was released only a week after the completion of the successful crowdfunding campaign for another one of our projects—Dying Light: The Board Game—it was hardly spur-of-the-moment.

We can’t wait to tell you more about the game, and while we still ask you to patiently await more news on the game, we’d like to take you back in time to show you the bumpy but thrilling ride which was the process of crafting it in pursuit of the ultimate Don’t Starve experience.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

Turning Don’t Starve into a board game has been a dream of mine since I founded Glass Cannon Unplugged. The series was on the top of our list of licenses at the time we discussed our business plan. For the most part it was a real gaming geeks’ wishlist—if we succeeded with Frostpunk and our company took off, then we’d just HAVE TO make an adaptation of this and that… right? And, as expected, everybody had their own dream title to contribute.

Mine was Don’t Starve. Why? Well, for starters, each time I launch the game to this very day, I find myself captivated by its unique atmosphere and style, and I simply can’t stop playing. What’s more, the characters and monsters on the screen always seem to shout at me: ‘Print me, make me out of paper!’ I also admire Klei, the publisher. I have always been impressed by their fresh ideas and innovative business approach. But the fact that you like something isn’t enough to transform an idea into a marketable product. Luckily, Don’t Starve has a lot of other things going for it. It enjoys a large and active player base, as well as a vibrant and loyal community. Also, with the success of Root—a game which also makes use of beautifully drawn images to tell its story—it became clear that the fans are incredibly receptive to these kinds of projects. The genre is another strong aspect of Don’t Starve. Players around the world just seem to love cooperative survival games. Given my experience with This War of Mine and Frostpunk, I had no doubt that we were more than capable of doing this series justice and coming up with a great board game in the process.

I approached the publisher armed with these dreams (and arguments!). The recent success of the crowdfunding campaign for Frostpunk: The Board Game and the support from my friends in the digital and tabletop industries proved instrumental. While all this was happening, we began developing the game based on an innovative concept for exploration employed in Natanel Apfel’s Into the Outside. The development process spanned many months, culminating in a pivotal meeting with Klei in mid-2021.

July 2021

That month, we had the unique opportunity to present our vision and an early prototype of the game to Klei’s Development and Merchandising team. This was supported by a robust licensing pitch document, diligently prepared by the entire team at GCU (longtime fans of the video game series, with thousands of collective hours played). It included our product vision, publishing strategy, and financial projections, forming the basis of our business proposal. Needless to say, it was a success! By spring 2022, we had signed the agreement and were ready to commence development proper—two whole years before the game’s announcement in the spring of 2024.

PROTOTYPING THE CONSTANT

The prototype underwent numerous iterations, with the processes involving multiple instances of constant evolution and revolution. We’ve used up a number of drawing boards, broke a series of Science Machines, and had a teammate sucked into a portal (he got better). We had so many cool ideas for the game mechanics that we had to spread them out to a myriad of different prototypes. I’m pretty sure the world isn’t ready to see ALL of these, but below you will find a series of photos to help you get a glimpse of the creative process involved.

August 2022—that single dark card among all the white ones? That’s Charlie. And she’s bad news.

The early prototype developed by Nat evolved from a mere concept to a tangible, though not yet truly playable, game. It served as the basis for intensive testing and brainstorming. During this time, we also threw ourselves into playtesting and studying other notable survival and exploration-based games, including the phenomenal Paleo (which we highly recommend). In parallel, we explored two additional prototypes for the game to mitigate project risks.

September 2022—this version is notable for having the action revolve around an exploration deck.

The photo shows the first alternative prototype by Radek Ignatow, who took a radically different approach to the scale of the game and board design. While it was a unique thing to behold, we decided that it ultimately limited the size of the secondary world of the game. Radek is an amazing designer and our dear friend—we highly recommend his other titles.

October 2022—dropping hexes for the sake of tiles.

We shifted our focus to a second alternative by Rafał Pieczyński, our most seasoned developer, who had significantly contributed to the development of Frostpunk: The Board Game. His version used a large-scale board assembled from numerous tile-cards. This approach proved promising, and we decided to shelve Nat’s and Radek’s prototypes and proceed with the design prepared by Rafał.

September 2023—things get dicey!

Here you see the prototype under Rafał’s leadership after he took over from Nat. It stayed true to our original concept which we established in collaboration with Klei. Interestingly, this prototype was the basis for presenting the game to potential publishing partners at the Essen Spiel fair in 2023. Apart from the prototypes for Apex Legends™: The Board Game and Dying Light: The Board Game, we also put up a mysterious tent on the side of our booth—now you know what that was all about!

September 2023—are you serious?!

Our story designer, Ryszard Chytrowski, joins the team working on the game to fill it with content. The photo shows just how easy it is to be carried away with the available options when you want to create impactful scenario cards.

January 2024—playtest with Klei.

Through joint efforts, we reach the point where the prototype prepared by Rafał and Ryszard receives Klei’s approval. Its assumptions became the basis for developing the final game mechanics.

March 2024—are those Meat Effigies 😉 ?

GEARING UP FOR THE CAMPAIGN

The team is fine-tuning specific mechanics, trimming the fat, and responding to feedback from our internal testing team and the developers at Klei. The conviction that the prototype worked and that we actually felt like we were playing Don’t Starve—just using a different medium—allowed us to finally announce the game publicly in March of this year.

This brings us to today. Rafał and Rysiek are working together to implement the final tweaks to the game in preparation for a public presentation of the prototype. The plan is to present it to you during this year’s UK Games Expo event. We may also soon be able to present it to you as an early preview by a certain renowned reviewer.

We also invite you to subscribe to our Kickstarter page where we will soon be launching the crowdfunding campaign. As you can see, this is not just another random prototype; it’s a meticulously crafted game, certain to fulfill both your expectations and a personal dream of mine. Because after all, it all started with a dream.

Stay safe and stay hungry, but don’t starve!
Jakub & GCU Team