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Designer Diary: Fit to Print

by Peter McPherson

From Inspiration to Concept

The idea for Fit to Print came together quickly after a conversation in early 2019 with my wife, Indiana. At the time, she was a reporter for a local paper, where she’s since been promoted to editor. This got me thinking about how a game about running a newspaper might work. My brain got working on ideas, and after making notes and sketches, I started on the first prototype.

The theme came first, but the mechanisms followed moments later. To capture the chaos of a newsroom, real-time tile-laying was the obvious choice. The tiles are the articles, photos, and ads of the paper — and the board is the front page itself.

Influences and Gameplay Concept

Let me get this out of the way early: I adore Vlaada Chvátil‘s Galaxy Trucker, and it is the second inspiration for this design after Indiana. Chvátil does a lot of things right that I found necessary to include in this design, namely flipping tiles (one-handed!) in the center of the table and taking them or leaving them face-up for other players, as well as three boards that increase in size each round (though this came later in the design process for me).

A newspaper isn’t necessarily laid out as pieces are written. Generally speaking, the content comes first — and then it’s laid out and sent to the presses.

Thus, unlike Galaxy Trucker, players explicitly cannot place tiles on their boards as they take them. Instead, you must place tiles you have chosen to keep on your desk, a 3D cardboard structure. When you think you have the right amount and mix of tiles, you say “layout” and switch to placing tiles on your paper, all within the time limit of the round. Each player enters the layout phase at their own discretion, so you decide how much time to spend collecting tiles versus arranging them on your paper — but once you’ve switched phases, there’s no going back.

First Prototypes and Gameplay Developments

I wanted to give players just a few too many things to think about in a three- to five-minute round: tile types that cannot touch, photos that score off of adjacent tiles, ad revenue that makes or breaks your paper, and a balance of good and bad news.

Players are likely to forget at least one of these elements, and that’s okay. Unlike many polyomino games, Fit to Print is a game about imperfection, about getting the front page of the paper as good as it can be, but almost never “perfect”. You’ll have gaps of white space, or you’ll take too many or too few tiles. Whatever the case is, the paper will hit the presses one way or another.

My first prototype looks remarkably similar to the final product. If you’ve already played the game, you’ll recognize many of the tile sizes, as well as the dimensions of the paper.

The three tile types were present from the start, but the role of ads changed a couple of times before settling on its final effect: Your total ad revenue has no bearing on your final score, but if you have the lowest total after three rounds, you are exempt from winning. This was popular among playtesters from the start, and it became a core part of my design.

Next came unique centerpiece tiles that give players abilities and are drafted based on the order in which players finished. The last major change before development was increasing board sizes across the three rounds, which increased the potential for points as the game progressed, along with the hilarious side effect of making the tile-estimation puzzle even more challenging.

During the whole process, I had the advantage of playtesting with Indiana and getting her input on what feels right and which elements accurately evoke the feeling of the newsroom.

Working with Flatout

I first met the whole Flatout Games team —Shawn, Molly, and Robb — at Gen Con 2019. Both Tiny Towns and Point Salad were debuting at that show, and during a pre-con event by publisher AEG, we got chatting, and I showed them my prototype. They enjoyed it enough that we ended up playing at least one more time during the con.

Though, of course, I was aware they are a publishing team, I’m so glad I got to know them as friends first. Some time after the convention, they expressed interest in developing and crowdfunding Fit to Print.

During the Flatout Games CoLab development, several additions were made to the core gameplay, such as player powers and “Breaking News” modules. We also replaced the flat desk “boards” with 3D desks, which add another dexterity element. To make the game less punishing, tiles with placement errors are flipped facedown rather than coming off of players’ boards, which fills more white space.

Additionally, they added several modes: the family mode, turn-based mode, puzzle mode, and a refined version of my solo mode. At the tail end of development, we decided to include my ridiculous team-based “Newsroom mode”, which has up to twelve players (with one box) working in teams: a reporter who collects newspaper tiles in one room and an editor who lays out those tiles. This was my initial gameplay concept, and I’m so happy we worked it in.

Once we landed on the bustling woodland town theme, we had a lot of fun coming up with a variety of headlines and the names of the papers themselves. There’s even a couple of stories to be found among the articles and photos if you look closely.

There was a lot of discussion about the ad revenue instant elimination rule. We knew it wouldn’t be a hit for everyone, but with a game that takes around twenty minutes to play, we could get away with including such a harsh rule.

Ads contribute nothing to a paper’s news content, but without them, the lights don’t stay on. We wanted players to balance two things that are difficult to quantify: the number of point-earning tiles they include, and the number of “don’t get eliminated” tiles they include. Ultimately, being knocked out due to ad revenue is relevant only if you had the highest score, but since the player with the highest score likely dedicated the most space to things that aren’t ads, this happens more often than you might think.

Working with Ian O’Toole

I was overjoyed when Flatout Games brought Ian O’Toole on board as the illustrator and one of the graphic designers, alongside Dylan Mangini. While I knew his work would be fitting and gorgeous, I didn’t realize how much he would contribute to the world and lore of the game.

My early prototypes had a vague American 1920s–30s theme, and all of the ads and photos (and many of the headlines) were from that era. I wanted to include real historical events, which meant I had to either thoughtfully include sensitive topics or pretend the time period was simple and cheerful.

Flatout Games worked with Ian to find a style that might make the game more fanciful. After brainstorming themes to match the game’s lightheartedness, Molly had the idea to set the game in a The-Wind-in-the-Willows-style universe, which let us explore more cheerful headlines and photos that are appropriate for a wacky twenty-minute puzzle game. While we gave Ian detailed descriptions of the illustrations we’d like, he often came up with his own concepts and frequently tweaked our suggestions to do something much more charming. My favorite example is this illustration; we’d asked him for an image of a dam breaking, and instead we got this sad beaver engineer:

He expanded upon the team’s prompts for the ad tiles, and he often added his own jokes and puns — and with him being responsible for the in-game graphic design as well, the result is a collection of tiles and newspaper boards that feel cohesive and grounded in the world of Thistleville.

A Team Effort

Oftentimes when I work with developers, artists, and graphic designers on a game for months, it starts to feel like a separate thing that I couldn’t have possibly come up with on my own. That’s especially true with Fit to Print because I didn’t. Indiana was always up for a playtest and gave me guidance and encouragement for years. Shawn, Molly, and Robb contributed so many ideas (and entire game modes), and our vision for it was shared from the start. Ian O’Toole threw himself into the project and helped to craft its world and characters. Dylan Mangini designed a rulebook that taught the core game concisely and highlighted the various modes and achievements. Then there’s the 8,059 backers on Kickstarter, along with John Zinser and AEG, who brought this game to retail.

So many people made this game possible, and I am extremely excited to share it with you all.

Peter McPherson


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