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Versions, miniatures and animals

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Board game versions

Tabletopia screenshot of AstroNavigators online (Amillary Games)

I wasn't sure how the reaction would be on miniatures for the characters, but it would drive the price too far up for some people. My decision to go for cardboard and wooden pieces for the retail version is an important one. This will keep the price low for people who really don't care for miniatures. On the other hand, some backers from a previous campaign did advise me to consider to include miniatures to attract the attention to a unique theme, such as astronomy, to an audience obsessed with miniatures or painting them. If a lot of people would miss out on the miniatures, we can always bring out a miniature expansion pack to complete the retail version in a later stage, depending on the success. By keeping a focus on the retail version, we will also make it easier to lower the initial campaign target. The current digital Tabletopia test versions give a good idea how the standees, tokens and pieces would look like.

3D overview of artwork contributions of Tiny Factory Studios, Jeff McDowall Design, Diego Sanchez, Vincent Verhoeven (Armillary Games)

The Kickstarter campaign will unlock a deluxe version with unpainted plastic miniatures the moment we have reached the first target. The moment this is unlocked, we will probably give the current backers the chance to ramp up to the deluxe version.

Why miniatures?

Initially I started out with a scientific and educational idea for gamification, without real art. I was also dependent on working with an environment estranged from the gaming setting. While wandering around in a dark place, I realized where to go next, after being contacted by Diego Sanchez, and after discussing some character designs. When a scientist looks into my head, he will see the compromise I made for a "toy". When an artist looks into my head, he struggles with "reality". This is why I had to reunite both worlds without restrictions, hence Armillary Games was born.

The project was growing on my extensive research and it has grown to a real artistic and philosophic idea. Getting back to my thesis on ancient astronomical instruments in 2003 and the anthropological consequences of the development of astronomical instruments had a magnificent story to tell in order to support the science in the game. This time there are character developments and mystical adventures included to bring the entire project to a new level.

Astronomer Wang Xiongmao's Jian Yi by Aná Roman of Tiny Factory Studios (Armillary Games)

One of my wishes was to bring the instruments to life in a comprehensive way, in order to demonstrate their ingenious applications. One way is found in the game mechanics. Instead of dealing with monsters and traps with weapons, players will deal with knowledge and observation power thanks to these instruments.

Last month, Spanish sculptor Aná Roman showed me what she could do with the characters, and specially with those instruments... and I knew, the climax of this project was yet to be written. I adore how passionate my professional artists execute the art pieces. Most of the time they got it spot on after my explanation, but when I am commenting on my detailed expertise, I am glad to see them pushing the bar even further. This way, we can mould the game in a perfect mix of emotion, science and gaming. The miniatures will bring an extra awe and are a must-have for painters and for fans of astronomy and spaceflight, but the game mechanics remain the protagonists of this endeavour.

Last year, I discussed with Diego the possibilities of making an artistic booklet with some background information on the characters and some technical basics on the instruments supporting the celestial mechanics, resulting into my blog section as a draft. Because this project needs to be completely polished, an estimate for the KS and publication is 2021. The game test period has started, but during COVID-19, a digital test version was a necessary sidestep to evolve. And the digital version will turn into more than merely a test version. Painted digital miniatures will be added to the completed version in the future as well.

Why animals?

Antarctic astronaut Spen Easydive by Carlos Castaño of Tiny Factory Studios (Armillary Games)

The first basic (dull) animals were there in the past as kids-ambassadors of a continent. For gamers this was too childish and contradicting the setting. Anyway, the previous version had other target goals. After pondering about moving on, I changed some animals to connect with philosophical references in anthropology and astronomy. I started giving them real names, giving them characteristics and stories linked to instruments and cultural beliefs. I took real science and history, and linked them with those characters, and thus adventures and real life references were born.

Digital coloration by Aná Roman of astronaut João Luna (Tiny Factory Studios)

The vintage/ancient look in the game was necessary to support the old instruments that has led us into the current mindset of the future. The parchment theme in the game refers to an old star map from 1880 and will induce a sense of forgotten knowledge and mystery: the key ingredients for a game of adventures. This theme will also render the game less dark and cold. Together with the anthropomorphic animals, I seek to attract families and non-space gamers. Although, I do want this game to be noticed by real nerds and astronomy or spaceflight enthusiast as well for its level of scientific detail. This adventure should be indirectly educational, guided by a lust to uncover incredible mysteries.

Such mysteries are stretched to using animals in the game as a reference to what people have always been doing for themselves and for their children: referring to morals, gods and virtues by using anthropomorphic animals! Look at the Greek, Egyptian and Mayan mythology in the game.

Greek Ceramic art of Classical Period adorned with Oedipus and the Sphinx (The Gregorian Etruscan Museum)

And to complete the cryptic references, Oedipus' Sphinx will complete the story with a twist: the humans are seeking to wield space and time to their benefit. The solo mode is still under development and will uncover four hidden stories within the game.

I want you to open the game box, look at the star map, look at those exotic instrument minis and at these extraordinary characters, and then start wrapping your mind full of curiosity around what they all could possibly mean. My intention for you after playing the game is to discover how much of the dream is real ;-).

Arman 'Piñata' Cherepakha

Draft of Arman Cherepakha, nicknamed cosmonaut Piñata, by Diego Sanchez (Armillary Games)

Arman Piñata is the antagonist in the solo module. This special character is a tribute to the Russian tortoises of Zond 5 and a tribute to my workplace where an 1880 telescope and dome adorns the top of one of the university buildings in Ghent, Belgium. The name of Arman is inspired by the workplace (Armand Pien Observatory) linked with a story quote, where our tortoise Arman used to complain in public that the Russian space agency decided seats were not necessary for cosmonauts with strong shells. They all nicknamed him Comrade Piñata after his historic lunar Zond 5 mission. As an astronomer, Arman has been working in Ghent as an astronomer before his Russian cosmonaut adventures. The huge 19th century refractor was partly made in Germany, concerning its optics, but the equatorial system came from England. With this instrument a mysterious star navigation map from English astronomer Richard A. Proctor, also dated from 1880, was discovered by Arman. Tortoises are known to have long lifespans. Arman has managed to hide the secret of the successful Zond 5 mission. Nevertheless, some other astronomers are trying to dig into his past and are trying to track this old star map.

Videos in the making to support play testers

I have started to make some videos as promised, and so far I managed to make the 3 first ones. After this blog, I will be working on the basic rules video. I can say that I am not a hero at this, and the process is time-consuming. Nevertheless, I hope this will spark some interests to support the gameplay development from the fans' perspective.

Via the link "Game Tester Guide" you will be able to follow up on the film series, with which I start to explain the concept of the game.

I really hope that you guys are enjoying the development of this game like we (play testers, designers and illustrators) do, and that you understand that patience is key to bring this endeavour to life. Deadlines are killers for all forms of art IMHO. Yes, I also consider boardgames' main purpose to be an art form! One that should support the development of new generations in order to understand how the world works on any level. That reminds me of one of my favourite heavy scientific game designers during an interview on the subject: Phil Eklund on games as an art.

Until the next video or blog!


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