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Publisher Diary: Mouse Maze

by Rafael Verri

Developing a new board game is a challenge that can find several paths, and each of them can lead to a different destination depending on where the publisher, the game designer, and the development team want to go.

Indeed, working on publishing Mouse Maze proved to be one of those challenges that, in its origins, could lead to different paths. We chose to set out on a not-so-explored route, seeking to reach a destination that would provide the player with a complete gaming experience, both in terms of game mechanisms and narrative experience, reinforced by the game’s components.

What is Mouse Maze?

In Mouse Maze, players take on the role of an intern recently hired by ZooLabs to assist renowned scientist Dr. Reuben in conducting experiments with specimens in a maze so that mice can help rescue people from natural disasters.

The game is a flip-and-write style in which players reveal cards showing how to draw the walls of the maze to define the mouse’s path so that it catches the greatest amount of cheese and sweets while avoiding the mousetraps.

After you draw all the walls, the player on your left moves the mouse, usually trying to take the worst route possible. The game has a campaign mode with thirty missions that change the basic rules from time to time, and it can also be played in solo mode or on each mission randomly.

The Beginning of the Maze

When we started prospecting for prototypes with Brazilian game designers, we were looking for a “writing” game that had easy rules, but that could undergo significant modifications if we chose to apply specific variations to the rules. With this objective in mind, the Mouse Maze project by Rodrigo Rego and Leandro Pires came to our attention, fitting our needs like a glove.

The original dynamics of the game were exactly what we wanted: a game with concise and simple rules that (as a bonus) delivered a different point of view for path-writing games. In Mouse Maze, instead of players drawing the routes directly, they draw the limitations, the walls that indirectly create the routes. This in itself was an interesting reason to take a closer look at the original project.

But as I anticipated, what caught our attention the most was the great potential for applying modifications to the rules, allowing us to imagine a final product that would be consumed and transformed as players explored the game.

Therefore, we challenged the game designers to create, based on the central core of Mouse Maze’s rules, a kind of campaign game, supported by a story that would evolve in narrative and rules. The challenge was accepted, and together we chose one of the initial paths of the final product development journey.

Experiments with Rats?

From the start I faced the first dilemma related to the theme. Why would we explore a game that deals with experiments on laboratory rats? It was immediately established that the rat would not suffer any kind of abuse or mistreatment and the purpose of the experiments was extremely noble as the rats were being trained to navigate labyrinths and thus be able to help people in natural disasters, such as earthquakes.

Furthermore, the idea was to work with the rat in a way that “humanized” the specimen, showing him as a courageous hero and bringing him closer to the protagonist player and, in a way, acting as an allegory of our everyday lives.

Who really is that mouse in the maze? What does this maze represent? What is the motivation to get to the exit? Where does this exit lead? Who is the scientist? Now, there are so many possible questions that allow us to compare our life to the labyrinth.

We wanted the player to be able to get closer to their specimen during the campaign in such a way that they began to identify with the rat and ask themselves why. Too much pretension for just one game? Maybe, but as we wanted to create a complete gaming experience, this needed to be addressed as well.

The Art of Mouse Maze

When we think of a scientist, the face of Doc Emmett Brown from Back to the Future comes to mind, and that was exactly the reference we sought to have for the game’s cover. A scientist with an excited and (at the same time) hallucinatory expression, not knowing whether it was madness or just excitement about the speed and cleverness that a little mouse showed when grabbing a piece of cheese while escaping from a mousetrap in a maze.

We wanted to give the impression of a modern laboratory while at the same time dark because hiding in the darkness are the mysterious missions that the player will unveil. The predominance of the purple tone comes precisely from reinforcing this feeling of mystery that we seek to convey in Mouse Maze.

The cards and the game sheet brought some details that would give greater immersion to the theme, such as the scientist’s scribbles on the cards or even the mouse’s footprints on the game sheet.

Furthermore, when opening the box and removing the components, players would be faced with an insert showing the top view of the laboratory table with the maze in the center.

Finally, to put the player in the role of the intern, for the campaign we developed a notebook in which players would record relevant campaign data as if they were taking notes on the experiments. All of this reinforced our main objective of creating a complete gaming experience.

Creating the Mechanical Experience

With the theme defined and art submitted, we reached the stage of understanding how to evolve the game based on a story we would build. What would be the specific changes to the rules, and how significant should they be? And mainly, what would the player’s experience be like with these changes?

Thinking about establishing a gradual and constant evolution that would introduce changes to the rules, we decided that it would be essential to create a tutorial mode for the game, with extremely basic missions that presented the central concepts of the rules. Therefore, we created three introductory missions.

From then on, we decided that in each set of three new missions, different concepts would be explored: physical, chemical, sensory, and so on. Each set would have a specific focus, but with each new mission, new rules would be presented. These changes were possible precisely because of the existence of a solid core of basic rules, the foundation supporting everything that would follow.

Since Mouse Maze is relatively quick, we created thirty different missions. This ends up giving the player thirty different games in one box as each new experience significantly changes the way players experience the game. Some missions change entirely the way players interact with the game’s components.

All of this was designed to combine the theme and story with the changes to the rules. Our main objective was to build a complete and accessible gaming experience in terms of components and with Mouse Maze, this proved viable since it is a flip-and-write style game, which gives greater freedom in re-using the game sheet.

Have We Reached the Exit?

Despite being a game with extremely simple rules, Mouse Maze was a challenge for the game designers and the development team, who had the mission of developing changes to more than thirty different rules, balancing the scores of all of them, and always thinking in a way to remain coherent with the proposed story we were writing.

After months of development, looking back when we thought about creating a game with multiple purposes, I think we managed to achieve the proposed objectives. Whether this story will be appreciated is now up to you!

Rafael Verri

Ludofun

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