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On a cold December day in Winnipeg, Ryan Smith and his sister were feeling creative.

This wasn’t anything new to Ryan. A creative person by nature, Ryan loved photography and drawing, creating postcards and calendars, and anything that involved the creative process. This time however, his creativity would leverage another passion: gaming. After a few hours of cutting out cardboard and construction paper, the first version of CITY was born.

CITY in a Nutshell

CITY is played on a Sudoku-style board; each square of the board contains a natural resource, and is divided up into 9 zones. Each player starts off with two citizens and a bank loan, and take turns placing their pieces on a randomly determined game board. Each piece in the board contains a natural resource. Each turn, the players develop their cities by pulling residential, commercial, or industrial zone cards. These cards, when played become spots that can be shared or fought over by other players. As the game progresses, the area turns from a barren, uninhabited area into a dense urban district as players develop their cities. The game ends when all natural resources have been used up, and the player with the most points wins.

The Development Process

A climate researcher and instructor at the University of Winnipeg, Ryan Smith has been playing board games with friends for years. He had been looking for a board game that supported his love of the Sim City games, but never found one that came close to what he was looking for. After some initial planning, the plan for CITY took shape. Although CITY has taken over a year to develop, the finished product has not strayed far from the original design. Rules changed frequently, however, as feedback was gathered from play tests; in fact, about six months ago almost all the rules were thrown out and restarted fresh due to the game taking 2-3 hours to play. Game time has now been reduced down to about an hour.

Friends and family were treated as the guinea pigs for CITY, and Ryan ran over 50 playtests with them. Ryan also tested the game by himself dozens of times, playing each player separately to try to iron out all the kinks. Friends would jokingly ask what version they were playing each time so they could keep track of what set of rules they were using. Once Ryan was feeling confident in his game, he began hunting for publishers.

Ryan and Castle Games Inc.

Logo for Castle Games Inc.

Eventually, Ryan partnered with Castle Games Inc, a game publisher based in Winnipeg. Castle Games had already published two games – Portable Galactic Empire (which we reviewed a while ago) and Fleet Admiral – and were looking to pick up another game. The two parties found the business venture to be a win-win scenario; Castle Games would get more publicity, and Ryan would be able to see his work published and sold to the masses.

Castle Games isn’t the only local business that Ryan’s been working with. One of the local game stores, Game Knight, has agreed to buy a case of the games to help distribute them. The store has various games in stock, and often stocks games that other stores don’t carry.

In order to get CITY into the hands of eager gamers everywhere however, the game must first be printed.

Cue Kickstarter

Logo for KickstarterAs the publisher, Castle Games has been organizing the Kickstarter campaign, but it hasn’t been easy. Unfortunately the minimum number of copies that can be printed in one shot is one thousand, and the cost to do that comes in at $19,000. With that in mind, Castle Games set up a Kickstarter fundraiser for that exact amount. Money has been coming in, but Ryan admits he doesn’t think he’ll make his goal.

If there’s one thing he’s learned from this campaign, it’s that getting the word out is hard (something that we can appreciate!); marketing a game to the general public is a difficult task and can be hard without the proper marketing channels. Despite various interviews (including one on the radio), the campaign is trending to not make the minimum goal by the deadline. Nevertheless, Ryan remains relentlessly positive. Thankfully friends, family members, and various other gamers are helping to spread the word, and if the Kickstarter doesn’t work out, he’ll keep trying to raise the money in other ways; Castle Games has already committed to publishing one way or another since they enjoy the game so much.

Regardless of what happens, Ryan says he won’t stop making games. He already has another prototype that he’s working on, and he’s hoping to get the new game published in due time.

More Information

A big thank-you to Jean-Paul from Castle Games Inc. and Ryan Smith for taking the time to organize this interview. Best of luck with your Kickstarter! –Brian