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Designer Diary: Teeter Tower

by Aaron Crow

Hello! We are Aaron Crow and Ryan Scott, and Teeter Tower is our first published board game.

We went to high school together but really connected a few years after over many shared interests, including board games. After countless game nights and conventions attended, we decided to try designing and pitching games together.

Aaron (l) and Ryan

Aaron: Like a handful of our game ideas, Teeter Tower’s origin came from playing (or in this case seeing) a game that I thought would be one thing going into it, but turned out to be very different. Often, that’s part of the fun, where games surprise you in how they defy your expectations. It just scratches a different type of itch than what you were expecting. Sometimes, you also walk away with an impulse to chase that experience that initially excited you.

I saw The Towers of Arkhanos on Kickstarter and was immediately drawn to the visual of towers made of tiles and dice. While Arkhanos built the towers using dice drafting and an interesting worker placement/sacrifice mechanism, I was chasing my original inspiration to build a single, massive tower, so I grabbed the tiles from my copy of Five Tribes and a bunch of dice and just started stacking them to see whether that was fun in itself — and it was!

It was clear that a lot of the fun came from the nerve-racking dexterity element of carefully building an increasingly precarious tower, but I needed mechanisms for the dice placement. Dividing up the tile into zones of different numbers seemed the obvious place to start. Roll dice, see where you are able to place them, and determine the most stable choice. It was also clear this would be best as a co-operative game as it would be too easy to sabotage the following player if it were competitive.

On November 18, 2018, I scribbled on some Post-it notes, stuck them onto thirty tiles, then brought the creation to my most loyal playtesters: my parents. After one playthrough, I knew we were onto something and brought it over to Ryan’s house.

Ryan: We were at most four or five turns into my first time playing when I knew Aaron was onto something really cool. We immediately started looking for people to playtest with and saw that the newly opened Snakes & Lattes nearby was hosting a designer playtest night.

We set up that first night at Snakes & Lattes in downtown Tempe outside on the patio. (Winter in Phoenix is great, y’all.) The table was uneven and it was a little windy, but the playtests still went great, with anyone who walked by looking over to try to see what we were doing.

While feedback was great that night, the game still needed work. Tiles were really easy to place dice on, and we were regularly making towers 25-30 tiles tall. They looked really cool, but the game was taking 45+ minutes to play, and when the tower fell it would send pieces everywhere. A number of dice were lost that first night on that patio.

Aaron & Ryan: With playtest notes on hand, we made our first round of changes: redesigning the tile zones to be more intentional/challenging, and having a clear endgame objective. This was also when we implemented the color system in which some dice could be played on the negative space of their matching color, which offered a much-needed layer of flexibility and weight to which dice you drew from the bag.

At this point, we also needed something to call the game. “Dice Tower” felt like the obvious choice…but sadly that was already taken. We brainstormed some other ideas and landed on the working title of “Pip Tower”. A new prototype was made and we started taking it to every board game gathering in the greater Phoenix area that we could find.

With every playthrough, we were more and more excited for the game and knew that we wanted to start pitching the game to publishers. Board game convention season was right around the corner, so we drafted a sell sheet and even made a pitch video showing the game in action and the experiences it was delivering. In April 2019, we sent the sell sheet and video to a handful of select companies to set up convention meetings.

After several meetings for “Pip Tower” (and even a publisher speed-dating event) at Origins Game Fair and Gen Con, we just had to wait for publishers to follow up with us. After an anxious month or so, our top choice — Gamewright — reached out to request a prototype.

We shipped it out that same day.

While we were playing the waiting game again, Gamewright was playing “Pip Tower” with its development team. Chris and Jason of Gamewright got back to us some weeks later and asked whether we would be attending PAX Unplugged in December and if so, were available to meet to discuss the game.

We made our plans to attend PAXU that same day.

When we met with Chris and Jason, we were thrilled that they were so excited about “Pip Tower”. They loved its eye-catching table presence, simple and intuitive rule set, and co-operative experience. We discussed the game’s previous iterations and playtest findings, and they offered a few notes and what they thought could improve.

Our minds were racing after that meeting. While convention attendees were playing games into the wee hours of the night, we were back at the hotel brainstorming.

Upon our return from PAXU, we put together an updated prototype and rule set with our new ideas, chief among them being the (now laughably obvious) starting block to add much needed drama to that very first tile placement and get to the fun faster.

We sent Gamewright the updated prototype and rules with a few other variants that were explored, such as [BGCOLOR=#000000]XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX[/BGCOLOR], [BGCOLOR=#000000]XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX[/BGCOLOR], and even [BGCOLOR=#000000]XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX[/BGCOLOR]! (Redacted for potential expansion surprises.)

In May 2020, we received a response from Gamewright in enthusiastic support of the changes we made, along with a contract to sign the game! This was in the beginning months of the pandemic, but we knew a moment like this had to be shared together, so we emerged from our quarantine bubbles to officially sign our game together and celebrate!

We started this adventure of designing board games together back in late 2015. At this point we were four-and-a-half years in, and it was long grind to get to this point. We had designed and pitched multiple games, but never found the right place for them. Signing “Pip Tower” was much needed validation.

The following months were full of more playtesting, brainstorming, playtesting, iterating, playtesting, prototyping, playtesting, and dozens of Zoom meetings. We made all of the dice colors have a matching tile to offer more player choice, tested various number distributions across the tiles, and collaborated with Gamewright’s graphic designer, Mitch, to lock in a design logic to the spaces on the tiles.

Scaling the game’s difficulty was also a big topic of conversation and the solution we became very excited about was implementing the “twisted tiles”. This simple solution of rotating and shifting some tiles to throw off the center of gravity really changed the way you approached balancing your tower — and with each tile’s reverse side offering more challenge, players could use as many or as few as they wanted.

As we began to settle on the game mechanisms, we discussed possible themes and component sizes and changed the game’s title to Teeter Tower. Mitch sent over the first product mock-up which absolutely blew our minds – seeing our game finally look like a real, final product!

We reached the point where we were all happy with the game and felt it was ready. It was off to print!

While Teeter Tower was being printed and packed overseas, we started to see a familiar game appearing on Gamewright’s social media pages — Teeter Tower: COMING SOON!

To see our game not only in official marketing but standing alongside such other exciting titles was such a surreal and rewarding experience. Our game was among fantastic company leading into “The best four days in gaming”: Gen Con 2022.

The game was set to debut at Gen Con, but like many other industry releases, was delayed this year. However, Gamewright did have a small handful to demo at the show as well as two reserved copies for the game’s inventors.

Seeing a final product of something that started on Post-it notes…is a pretty incredible feeling. To hold and play the same version of a game that countless other gamers and families will play together is just wild to think about — and now here it is on BoardGameGeek and arriving at retailers!

Gamewright invited us to demo the game for attendees at their booth, and we jumped at the chance. We spent a good few hours of the show introducing our game to people – which was easily a convention (and career) highlight for us.

We can’t wait to see players building their towers, holding their breath as they place dice, and nervously pacing around the table as their turn approaches. If we succeed on delivering that experience to gamers, it’ll be the best co-op victory we’ve ever had.

Aaron and Ryan

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