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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Designer Diary: boop.

by Scott Brady

With the pending arrival of the second print run of boop. by Smirk & Laughter Games, I thought it might be interesting to document the journey this game took since conception. I wish I had kept a formal diary, but I do not work that way. I hated journaling in middle school and would crank out months’ worth of entries the night before the assignment was due. Here I am, 45 years later, doing the same thing.

Shortly after I signed my first game, Hues and Cues, in August 2019, I began thinking “What’s next?” I had caught the design bug and wanted to challenge myself to create more. I’ve never considered myself a “creative”, but I found board game design to be much more. Logic, intertwining of mechanisms, building depth and escalation (and ultimately, fun) – there’s so much more to a game than just an idea…and creating that takes much longer than most realize.


While I proudly put my name on Hues and Cues, abstract games have always been my favorite. Like most, I grew up on Chess, Checkers, Cribbage, Chinese Checkers, and more. As an adult, I own and enjoy the entire GIPF series, Tak, Onitama, Santorini, and countless 1970s and -80s examples of the genre. Having stared at the colorful square board in Hues and Cues for over a year, I couldn’t help but imagine a game using a standard grid.

I began thinking about mechanisms I had never seen used in a published abstract game before. I tinkered with many different ideas and ultimately rejected most because they had been overused or I didn’t find them interesting. Going back to the grid-based layout of Hues and Cues, I got to thinking about meteors dropping from the sky and hitting the ground. The result would be a crater. I imagined a piece striking the board and pushing any pieces away by the force of impact.

This idea of one piece affecting everything directly around it became an experiment of different outcomes, especially if the theme were different. Maybe things are magnetic, and some would push and some would pull. Or maybe only one would push. Maybe they would flip. I ran through at least a dozen variations over the next month or two before settling down with a played piece simply pushing all adjacent pieces — unless there was a piece next to it that prevented its movement. I would run with that and keep it themeless (for now).

Building the Game

Now that I had decided on a base mechanism around which to build the game, the real work began. At this point, I didn’t know how many pieces I would use, the size or shape of the board, winning conditions, or even how many players were at the table! The next two months would see many attempts to play up to four people (didn’t work), employ different ways to win (simpler was better), come up with an ideal board size (more on this), and number of pieces per person.

Board size was something I fought with a lot. Remember, at this stage I had no constraints. A larger board would accommodate more pieces, but would also increase the manufacturing cost. Additionally, I wanted to allow pieces to fall off the edge of the board instead of clogging it up, and a larger board made that happen rarely.

Once again I went for simpler, which as is turns out is what makes the game so elegant. A six-by-six square grid was my final selection, and I was leaning towards seven pieces for each player. (I had narrowed it down to two players by this time.) Multiple playtests showed that seven was too few as players ran out of pieces too soon. One more was added, and I found that the eighth piece got played only around 10% of the time; this is when having eight-on-the-board became an alternate win condition (in addition to three-in-a-row).


It was now shortly after the holiday season of 2019, and I was pretty satisfied with how the game was fleshing out. I had already devoted hundreds of hours to the design and hadn’t even given it a name. The playstyle reminded me of classic Japanese abstract games, so I enlisted the help of my daughter’s boyfriend who had four years of Japanese under his belt. I also consulted a subreddit devoted to helping with translations.

I wanted a name that referred to the pushing mechanism, and several were suggested. “Hanpatsu” was a leading contender, as was “Oshi” (which was already taken). After also considering a couple of European-style names, I settled on Gekitai, which means “push away” in a military sense.

I made a batch of high-quality boards using wood from the craft store. I covered them in marble vinyl and used a Cricut to cut out the grid and name. Glass beads were perfect and gave the game the style I was looking for. By this time, the game had over four hundred playtests with friends and family, and I was ready to show it to the world. I elected to release it as a free print-and-play on BoardGameGeek and listed a few handmade copies in the GeekMarket. Those sold out quickly.

Things began to take off from there. Hundreds of people downloaded the rules and began playing. They helped me catch one rare gameplay occurrence: four-in-a-row. A new set of rules corrected this oversight. BGG ratings began being submitted, and I was overjoyed with the high rankings. One fan took it upon themselves to implement a digital version on Chessicals. Another asked whether they could publish the ruleset in their local newspaper…in Japan! I began seeing reviews on YouTube from Russia, Latin America, and other locations. Others uploaded photos of their homemade boards to BGG. Gekitai was gathering a small, but dedicated, fanbase.

What Next?

After I signed Hues and Cues, I got a lot of grief from a friend who is also a game publisher for not signing with them. Truth be told, they had skipped the convention where I had been showing the prototype, and I was too reluctant to reach out to them. We have had such a wonderful relationship over the years that I didn’t want to jeopardize it by showing them something they might think was not worthy of publication.

So now with Gekitai ready for primetime, I mailed a physical copy of the game to the house of Curt Covert of Smirk & Dagger without warning. I didn’t realize he was traveling, so it sat on his doorstep for the better part of a week before he discovered it. This was late winter of 2020, so I guess I was lucky the elements didn’t ruin things. At the same time, I also sent copies to a couple of other friends in the industry to garner their opinion on the game and its marketability.

Long story short, Curt did immediately play the game a few times and further tested it when he could, which was difficult due to Covid. Ultimately, six months later, he elected to pass on Gekitai. While this was discouraging, I had already moved forward, submitting it to another publisher for which I thought it would be perfect: Gigamic, which has a well-known line of wooden abstract games.


Even though I was very happy with the state of Gekitai, I wondered whether the games were too short (5-10 minutes) for serious abstract players. I had been working on ideas of how to increase the complexity of the game without also introducing a more difficult ruleset. This version didn’t take long to create, with players adding eight more pieces to their pool, pieces that they would have to earn by upgrading, with the winning condition now being three-in-a-row of the upgraded pieces.

This small change took the game to 20-30 minutes and really amped up the strategy. In the middle of 2020, I submitted both of these versions to Gigamic, which began testing them in earnest. In September 2020, they sent the game to their mathematicians for their opinions. By January 2021, they stated they preferred the shorter version (Gekitai) and would let me know more soon.

Finally, in April 2021 I received notice that the mathematicians “loved it” and that the company felt it was a good abstract game — but they would be passing. Ouch.


On January 1, 2021, my life changed. Thanks to a gallstone that became lodged in the worst place possible, I spent the next 21 days in ICU fighting for my life. Needless to say, all game design and any worries about getting anything published were put on hold. I did have some interesting drug-induced game concepts while laying in the hospital, but I don’t believe there’s much of a market for games that pit blood droplets against floating cartoon characters.

And yes, being in ICU during Covid is as bad as you would imagine.

Square One?

No. During this time I had gotten amazing feedback from Scott Morris (GTS Distribution) and Chris Leder (Calliope Games), who I had sent copies of Gekitai to knowing they’d play with their kids. They both told stories of multiple plays back-to-back and how much they enjoyed it. We began talking about what might make the game more attractive to consumers, and it was agreed that a theme was needed.

Much like the name, the theme needed to relate to the mechanism and not just be slapped on. I considered a number of options: meteors from space, sumo wrestlers in a ring, drops of water raining down. Then the obvious hit me: CATS!

It was around this time that Gekitai was added to the AiAi software system. AiAi is a downloadable program that allows you to play hundreds of different abstract games against either another local player or a reasonably robust AI. It also has a feature that pits two AI players against each other, which allowed me to run thousands of games per hour and tally hundreds of statistics. This data proved everything I had calculated and probably what the mathematicians at Gigimic had loved. There was little to no first or second player advantage, draws didn’t happen, the average game lasted around 20 moves, and there were no repeating loops to cause the game to stalemate (assuming at least one AI is trying to win).

Pounce House

The idea of cats jumping on a bed came to me from a commercial that shows a salesman balancing a glass of wine on a mattress to demonstrate how the wine won’t spill when their product is jumped on. This theme fit perfectly. Cats will spook when startled, so having them jump away when another cat lands was thematic. Going over the edge and off the bed, then returning also fit the theme.

I struggled with a new name for an evening or two before landing (pun intended) on “Pounce House”. I took one of the wooden boards, recovered it with a printout of a duvet, and surrounded the edges with crepe paper to simulate a bed skirt. Scott Morris offered to test out his new 3D printer by manufacturing cats to replace the glass beads. When they arrived, I hand-painted them in traditional cat colors (black and orange) and had a more interesting prototype to share!


I shared my progress on BGG, but since we were still in the middle of Covid, there were no conventions to show off the game in person. I was working on other projects in the meantime and was deflated about the future of Gekitai/”Pounce House” after the Gigamic rejection.

The first convention to resume was Gen Con in September 2021. While I did attend and had “Pounce House” (and other games) to pitch, I didn’t. I wasn’t 100% after my health scare and preferred to skulk around the demo hall watching people play Hues and Cues. This was the first time I had gotten to see retail versions being played in person. I sat in with a few groups without disclosing my relationship, soaked up the laughter, and took note of unique clues.

We elected to skip the Origins Game Fair because its dates were too close to our favorite convention: Geekway to the West. It, too, had been delayed until the third quarter due to Covid. I chatted with Curt Covert of Smirk & Dagger beforehand and asked whether he would be attending. He was worried his schedule (and wife) wouldn’t allow it — until I reminded him of what happened when he missed the same convention in 2019. (Hues and Cues was demoed.)

My ulterior motive was to show him a couple of other projects I was working on and get his honest opinions. As we were chatting at the show about life, games, and more, he asked where I was with Gekitai. I remembered he hadn’t seen the advanced version, Gekitai², nor the themed example. I pulled my only prototype out of my bag and began explaining the minor changes and the marketable theme.

I think he was hooked right there and then, but if you know Curt, don’t play poker with him. He doesn’t project until he’s sure. He asked to take the prototype home to test. I sheepishly agreed, knowing it was my only example. It was only a few weeks later when he called to tell me he wanted to move forward with it immediately!


In the succeeding months, Curt took the prototype to PAX Unplugged and other gatherings to gauge consumer interest. It was at one of these shows that a discussion about the name came up. “Pounce House” was good, but Curt thought he had come up with something better. He showed me his idea for a name and a mock-up of a box, and I was sold. I had learned from Hues and Cues, formerly “Guess Hue”, not to hold on to a name. Publishers know the market better than designers, and if he thought boop. would get people talking better than “Pounce House”, who was I to argue?!

The next few months I didn’t have to do a whole lot of work on boop. other than to peek at the progress Curt was making on the design of the box, the rulebook, and the quilt! Yes, instead of a crepe paper ruffle, boop. would include an actual stitched quilt as the board in every box!


The last stages before production were to preview Smirk & Laughter’s handmade prototypes at trade shows such as GAMA Expo 2022. I was in attendance, and Curt and I were blown away by the retailer excitement. Preorders were pouring in. In fact, boop. had become the most preordered game in the company’s history.

Because of this, the production run was more than doubled and was now the largest first print run Smirk & Dagger had ever ordered. It also didn’t hurt that both Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million wanted in on the first run as well!

Present Day

boop. released in November 2022 and sold out in just a couple of weeks. A second print run was quickly placed in order to beat the Chinese New Year season, and this is now hitting distributors and retailers and proving to be still as popular as the first run. I expect to hear about a third print order very soon. I hope people will give this simple-to-learn, but deeply strategic game about cats and kitten a try.

And while I haven’t been given clearance to officially talk about the future of boop., let’s just say there’s already more great things in the works!

Scott Brady


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