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ATW cover image 2

I love all my babies, naturally, but there’s something that genuinely excites me about playing Around the World in 10-15 Minutes. It’s our third game from No Box Games, meaning it’s a print and play with no assembly required. It’s also the first title where I felt more attuned to the limitations and advantages of the print-and-play format. More on this in a minute.

This is the first version of Around the World in 10-15 Minutes, which past me was kind enough to date as August 10, 2022 (and it should be obvious which versions are my prototypes made in Powerpoint vs. the professional illustrations of one Parker Simpson):

ATW v1

Then, as now, one player each turn is the Navigator. They choose one action that all players must take, including themselves: Travel from one city to the next, Explore the city you’re in, or collect a Souvenir. Everyone simultaneously chooses how they want to take the Navigator’s action on their own sheet, so there’s very little downtime. When everyone’s done, the Navigator role rotates clockwise to the next player.

This original prototype came out as we were putting the finishing touches on our first game, Spies. Spies is full of hidden movement and deduction, so I really wanted to continue playing with movement. Since the whole ‘no assembly required’ also means ‘no cards’ (since those would require cutting out, sleeving, etc.), I realized from the start that any sort of hidden info in a game like this would be… challenging…

With Spies, I opted to make the sheets hidden – a necessity for the hidden movement to work well – but I also realized a lot of the gameplay happens in the mind of the player if you’ll give it a reason to.

With Around the World, there’s no hidden information at all. Everyone has their own identical map of the world (or the US or Europe), but it starts asymmetrically by having each player choose one of the map’s starting cities. You know where you are based on where you trail ends, though I could easily see some players using a pawn or meeple to track it.

Back to the first version – the core loop has barely changed between then and now. There’s always been 3 cities on each continent, and the goal has always been to ensure the continents are well-connected without getting too mathy in the process. The game always ended whenever one player went around the world and returned to their starting city. This was a bit of a callback to Jules Verne’s classic, but also it felt like the most natural thing. After all, you go out to travel, and you come home.

In these early versions, one frequent question emerged from playtesters: what does ‘around’ mean in the context of a flat map? I had always perceived that ‘around’ meant one complete lap of the world – one trans-Atlantic crossing, one trans-Pacific crossing. Some playtesters had missed (or hadn’t considered) the ocean’s paths that go off one edge of the map to the other. The rule had always been ‘visit at least one city on each continent before returning to your starting city’, but some were confused by a since-removed rule requiring at least one trans-Pacific journey.

The game became a lesson in incentives – how do you incentivize movement? I needed some more asymmetry, so the Navigator got to take their chosen action once or twice. It’s rare you’d only want to take an action once, but it also fended off the question of ‘can I take the action just once if I want?’.

By keeping the number of ‘big’ choices to three, the Navigator has the opportunity to scan the table and see what players might want to do vs. what they want to do themselves. Since each player has a ‘little’ choice to make (how do they take the action, what’s the most beneficial for them to do) there’s always a decision to make.

  • If you’re traveling, do you want to travel to the third spot on the continent (earning a ‘completed continent’ bonus) or cross to another continent to set yourself up to collect different souvenirs?
  • If you’re exploring, would you rather continue exploring the thing you’ve already explored a lot, or is it worthwhile to stay balanced since you’ll score 5 points per complete column?
  • If collecting souvenirs, which souvenirs will help complete the line(s) you’re working towards?

Playtesters sometimes wanted more choices, and I was torn here. On one level, I wanted to keep this a light, family-friendly game that anyone can pick up without having to study a bunch of things or get analysis paralysis. I briefly debated adding a fourth action of some sort, which would have interacted with the other three existing actions in some way, but ultimately I opted to keep it simple. It’s typically quite easy to create more complexity, but more complexity doesn’t always create more fun.

Later versions streamlined the scoring and created incentives to push and pull the player in different directions. The Explore section having points the further down a track you go is balanced by awarding points for complete columns. My instinctive choice of 5 is where we ended up, though I tested everything from 3 to 7 at some point. Iterating is a lot easier (physically speaking or virtually speaking) when there’s just one sheet per player to change. It’s a sort of forced elegance.

A few late changes were late-stage balancing – adding an extra path here, for example – or tweaking exactly which cities were on the map. One goal was to represent as many countries as possible, so I aimed to end up with one city per country.

With the world map essentially done, I turned my focus towards the game as a product that eventually needs to hit the Kickstarter market. One map is great, more maps are better. The system and core loop can work with virtually any location (real or fictional), but I wanted to add at least one little tweak to each of the other maps so you didn’t feel like you were just playing the same game with a different map.

ATW v15 US 1

The US map twist adds another way to score points – but only if you go out of your way to reach them. The starred regions lack places to explore or souvenirs (two things that are untrue IRL, but necessary for game balance and variety), so you’ll want to be careful about when and how you travel for them. Washington DC has since been added to give a bit of balance to the Northeast.

Clever players figured out they can choose the travel action as the Navigator to move two spaces – one space into the starred region, then one space onward from it. It’s a fine play, but it may have an opportunity cost and requires a bit of careful planning to set up.

ATW v15 Europe

With Europe, the twist is to the formula. While you can divide Europe into six regions, four made more sense. You’ll have to visit two cities in each region, but at the end of the game, the player that visited the most cities in a region scores the ‘completed continents’ type of bonus.

One big benefit of the print-and-play-only genre is the ability to make changes quickly. The game’s only one page per player, after all. A couple of early previewers asked me why the points you score from being first back to your starting city aren’t marked in the scoring like everything else. They really needed to be, and having a prescribed place helped you remember to score them and that being fast was a good thing. Our illustrator Parker was able to add that in without too much shoehorning:

3 points for being first

Both Parker and Rocky (the marketing guy rounding out the trio that make up No Box Games) had some great times putting the game through its paces, and it’s been great to work with two amazing professionals. Our next few games are in playtesting right now, and I can’t wait to share more about them in the future.

Around the World in 10-15 Minutes is on Kickstarter May 14th-30th, 2024, and will be on sale after it’s delivered to backers.

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