The Nature Preserve – The Backstory

Amy and I are excited to have The Nature Preserve out and in the world for people to play.

I wanted to share a little bit about how this happened, both as a record to look back on later and share with others how creativity makes its way into the world in many ways.

The Conditions

With creativity, I think sometimes we want to create the conditions for amazing things to happen. Sometimes, we also find ourselves in the conditions. In this case, it is more of the latter.

Over the last few years, as my kids have moved into their teens, we’ve been playing more board games as an antidote to screens. We quickly found the games of my youth like Monopoly and Life weren’t much fun and didn’t keep us playing.

Early on, we looked for alternatives and found games like Munchkin and Smash Up!. If you are not familiar both are card games where you collect create combinations to do cool things and accomplish game objectives. The gamers call these Euro-style games—a style of game that has some randomness but put more emphasis on the actions a player can take with the options they are given. Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride are two Euro-style games that are very popular and you might have played.

So, I started to look for more games that we could add to our collection as birthday and holiday presents. And once you start that search, it is like stepping through The Looking Glass into another world. Dominion, Tokaido and Dixit all started to get play at our house. We start visiting a board game museum in Portland to play even more games.

Now, if you don’t play board games, I get it. You have never heard of any of this and this sounds like a crazy geek-ish obsession. In our case, it has become a fun obsession, but it lead to other things too.

Building Blocks

So, a couple years ago, I was hired to work on a book project. I can’t say a lot about the project because it hasn’t made it into the world yet and I don’t know if it ever will. I can say this board game hobby played a major role and was incredibly helpful. During that time, I researched the board game industry. Now, I can name popular game publishers. I read books on board game design. And for the board game lovers reading this, I, too, want to go to Essen someday 🙂

During that research, I ended up meeting Jamey Stegmaier, the guy who runs Stonemaier Games in St. Louis. I wanted to get some more background information on how board game publishing worked. Jamey’s strategy of one or two games a year also matched our one book a year publishing strategy at Bard Press. It’s been great getting to know Jamey and the games he is publishing.

Another condition that influenced things was the pandemic, like it has affected so many things this year. For our family, board games became a way connect when it got harder to connect with others. We added more boxes to our board game closet. Our oldest son pulled us into escape room style games like Exit The Room and T.I.M.E. Stories. Our middle son likes engine building games like Machi Koro. Our daughter puts up with all of this by pulling us into more straight forward games like Uno and Sushi Go Party.

Our overflowing board game closet

With so much time, we also started a playing Pandemic: Season 1. Yes, the theme matched the times. There was a strange kind of agency that we got fighting back against a fictional global pandemic. P:S1 is also a multi-game legacy campaign, where the game changes as make decisions and win games. The game is also cooperative, so every player is working with a character to reach a collective goal. We’d never played anything like that and once we got started everybody was interested in seeing what happened next.

Birds In The Forest

I got introduced to Wingspan when it got written up in The New York Times. It was another year until we bought it. Our copy arrived in April as we were really starting to settling into #pandemiclife. We were pretty familiar with euro style games by this point and after the initial game (which has a great tutorial module), we were hooked. More accurately, my wife and I were hooked. Lots of two-player games followed. My wife was so intrigued that she learned the automa version, so she could play the one player version even more often.

I joined the Wingspan Facebook group to see what other fans were talking about and not long after getting our copy, I saw a post from Kristina Zivanovic. She has created a campaign scenario for the game called Wingspan Legacy. Being in the middle of our Pandemic: Season 1 campaign, I was very intrigued. Kristina mapped out multiple games that were connected with player types that had different abilities. We immediately downloaded it and played through it.

After that something clicked—board games, Wingspan, legacy games and the strong desire to create something new during the pandemic all led to creating The Nature Preserve.

Early notes from The Nature Preserve

For Amy and I, we wanted our campaign to have a few things:

  1. We wanted players to be able to use the Wingspan base they already have and give players new ways to play it.
  2. We wanted actions in one game to affect the next game, but not so much so, that you started permanently altering components, like you would in a legacy game. That gave a creative constraint on what we could do.
  3. We wanted each game to have a unique challenge or goal. This might resemble an achievement sheet that you sometimes get in other board games.
  4. Finally, I wanted there to be a story that connected all of the games together. In our case, the theme of each story point ties to the challenges that players encounter in that game.

From there, we did lots of play testing of different versions of the various games. We worked on the right order to play the games to create a compelling campaign. And then we set out to write the instructions. I have a whole new appreciation for game designers and their skills at writing clear rules for players.

When we had a prototype, we put the instructions in a Google Doc and invited folks from the Wingspan Facebook group to play test the campaign. This was one of the most satisfying parts of the whole project. Players gave us great feedback on campaign and helped us make the instructions even clearer. We had over 75 play testers from all over the world try out The Nature Preserve. And now it is your turn 🙂

Thanks for listening and if you are interested in trying out The Nature Preserve for Wingspan, you can click on the link below to download the campaign instruction booklet.

Or click here to download the instructions.

You can also find more information with a full list of frequently asked question on The Nature Preserve campaign page.

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