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Designer Diary: Satori

by Paco Yanez

Hello, I’m Paco Yanez, the designer of Satori. I am also a Japan lover who almost always gets inspiration from Japanese culture when starting work on a game, at least to feel more comfortable testing whether the preliminary ideas work. At the same time, I’m aware that most of the time the theme may change when the game is published, depending on the publisher’s preferences. However, in the case of Satori, it evolved while maintaining the essence it had from the beginning, including the name.

In December 2021, I came up with the idea of creating a game centered around Buddhist monks’ meditation while using time as part of the mechanisms. The monks would venture to the mountains to meditate and attain certain “things”, which would enable them to reach other things and so on. In other words, they will experience “satori”, a Japanese term describing the moment of enlightenment in Buddhism.

From the beginning, I consider the feelings I would like to convey with the game as this prevents me from easily losing my way. I wanted each game to be different and to have a lot of interaction between players — the more interaction, the better. I wanted to have many moments of satisfaction throughout the game…even on each turn, if possible.

On the other hand, I enjoy incorporating common elements that create synergies and offer variable benefits to players depending on the moment. Furthermore, I try to make the theme relevant in the game since it simplifies the mechanisms and ultimately enhances the gameplay experience.

First prototype

In January 2022, I began working on the initial ideas for the game. I started by designing several altars and the three mountains where the monks would go to meditate. The altars each represent the available actions in the game, and players can build new altars that will alter the initial actions since new altars would be customized when built, giving the game dynamism and variability.

At first, monks in the mountains “connect” with the devotees at the altars to receive “bonuses”, and these bonuses were delimited by the available actions of the altars. However, once satori tiles were introduced, the game saw a rise in variability, which intensified the decision-making and increased the potential for chain reactions.

I like to impose restrictions or limitations on components as it helps me get the ideas flowing, especially at the beginning. Therefore, I changed the devotee’s meeples to cards, which facilitated the introduction of a draft mechanism to trigger interaction from the start of each round.

Devotees as cards

Besides the altars and mountains, there was an area with two reward tracks. You had to choose on which track to progress when you executed this action, weighing the benefits of immediate rewards versus end-of-game points, which also depended on other elements you had developed during the game.

The two pagoda tracks

The next step was introducing the pagoda in the game. It became another way to score points and ended up replacing the two previous tracks.

The pagoda brought more options to connect with other game elements like the satori tiles, which also function as a ceiling, turning it into another resource for the game and suddenly, connecting all the elements of the game becomes essential.

First test of the pagoda

As testing progressed, I tried to manage the weight that each element and mechanism had in the game to ensure that they were balanced without any isolated element. I used to do checkpoints at regular intervals to check each layer of the game, and one of these checks brought one of the first changes, which was to turn devotee cards into meeples again and get rid of the constant draft mechanism, which in practice was an additional layer that contributed nothing, while meeples allowed turns to be resolved faster.

Thanks to this, the area where the devotee cards were played within the altars made way for the idea of incense burners (jokoros), which at first were built only on the altars, boosting your final score based on how many different altars on which you had built, but later the jokoros extended to the pagoda, where the scoring depends on the pagoda’s level of development at the end of the game.

Devotees become meeples again

I continued playtesting the game for an extended period until I discovered the most significant change that transformed it from an idea into a more serious prototype. This change introduced the prayer wheel, then incense as a new resource. These additions completely transformed the gameplay experience, intensifying chain reactions and enhancing game variability.

Incense burners as cubes on the pagoda’s floors and the prayer wheel

Conversations with different publishers were held until November 2022. I eventually signed a contract with Perro Loko Games, a small Spanish publisher known for the care and commitment put into each of its games, and this is what I was looking for. Then, as an incentive, they told me that the game would be illustrated by Edu Valls, who you might recognize for his work in Bitoku or the recent 3 Ring Circus. I couldn’t have been more excited…

From that moment on, we started working together. The amazing Perro Loko testers and I spent around four months working on and enjoying the game twice a week. During this time, we adjusted many elements, and even ideas that had I discarded at the beginning came up again, such as the objective cards that were polished during this phase.

I took statistical notes by rounds, tracking the source of points of every single game during this period so that I could compare the impact of every change we made.

I was not the best player

Although the temples were adjusted throughout the development of the game and provided variability of the available actions, we felt that they were a little out of the player’s interaction — until I introduced the offerings’ track, which now allows all the elements to be connected.

Offering track on TTS

Soon Edu’s first illustrations began to arrive, and it was brutal to see how the game was coming to life.

Incense burner (above) and an altar (below)

The solo mode and the pagoda’s sōrin (the vertical shaft on top of the pagoda) were the last elements to arrive. The sōrin came in to boost a variable scoring source in the last round of the game.

For the solo mode, I wanted you not to have to learn to play a different game, so in Satori, the AI reacts in one way or another to your actions through simple rules. You must try to optimize each of your turns as in the regular game, while also preventing the AI from taking too much advantage from its reaction to your turn; at the same time, you want to shape the actions of the AI for your own benefit.

Satori has been a lot of time and work, but it was satisfying in the end, so I would like to give thanks to all testers. Every single play was valuable to me and helped me to make the game better.

Paco Yanez

Images of the production components

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