Local board game designer has beautiful Creature Comforts coming your way

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Into the woods and undersea goes Roberta Taylor’s imagination for inspiration. The Edmonton board game designer best known for her tabletop Octopus’ Garden now has a few exciting new game projects on the go.

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The first is an upgrade of the aforementioned octopus game by Maple Games, now more than a decade old, with updated rules and expansions. The other, published by Kids Table Top Games and already translated into 13 languages, is a cute and much-anticipated work-simulation game called Creature Comforts, which should arrive in Canada this spring.

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Taylor, 47, is also working on two “huge” projects she isn’t yet allowed to “brag about” yet about because of non-disclosure agreements. But how she became a game designer is a wonderful story of chasing what you love.

“I didn’t grow up in a very gamer-y home,” she recalls, “but I did save up my allowance in Grade 7 to buy (detective game) Scotland Yard, and convinced everyone to play with me.

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Organic connections

“When my kids were teenagers, I found that was a good way to spend time with them. If they needed to talk — with my daughter especially — you never got to finish a game, because partway through she started to tell me all the things that were going on in her life,” Taylor laughs.

About 13 years ago, with her kids older, Taylor ended up in remote northern B.C. doing a job she describes as “actively horrible,” with a long, highway commute back and forth every day.

Looking for distractions, she ran into a card game-design challenge on boardgamegeek.com , which started to roll around like dice her brain.

“I realized, as I was commuting to and from work, that I wasn’t stressing about my job. I was thinking about game design. And I discovered that I really liked it,” she recalls.

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Soon after, Taylor came up with the original Octopus’ Garden for Valley Games, wherein players take on the role of competing octopuses, each hoping to create the most beautiful garden using plant and animal tiles, which subsequently attract seahorses and clownfish.

“It’s the ocean,” she explains, “so half the pretty things you’re collecting are alive.”

This fun little game — now out of print, hence the reboot — won the 2010 Canadian Game Design Award.

The upgraded version should hit stores, wait for it, by winter next year.

Supply setbacks

This same idea of tasteful other-than-humans collecting things brings us to her brand-new game, Creature Comforts, which was due to arrive in time for the holiday season this year after it was supported by 8933 backers on Kickstarter to the tune of $528,208 last winter.

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“Anyone who’s paid much attention knows that, globally, everything’s just a series of obstacles,” the designer shrugs, noting she doesn’t even have her own copy of the game yet. “I now know lots about power plant fuel shortages in China. But we’re back on track.”

With truly beautiful art by Shawna J.C. Tenney, Creature Comforts is a multi-axis series of tasks which, like Octopus’ Garden, is all about improving the life of your animal avatars.

For one to five players, ages eight and up, it takes about 45 minutes for a game to run through.

The simplest description of the game is animals collect resources — the creature comforts of the title — in preparation for winter.

“As a Canadian,” Taylor says, “I feel this very deep appreciation of all the seasons, but knowing that if you do this now, you’re going to be thankful in the winter.

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“I remember as a kid we always had to help mom in the garden, and she did all the canning — it’s hot out and you’re standing in the kitchen doing peaches — but in the winter you have all this canned fruit.”

For those into a deeper dive of the game’s mechanics, here we go!

The first thing you to do in Creature Comforts is pick which family you’re part of, represented by wooden meeple figures, the squat little game pieces made famous by the French game Carcassone. Here, the meeples are animals themed by family, so you can be squirrels, bunnies, porcupines and so on.

Time passes in turns using large cards through eight months — each offers the option to earn different, seasonal resources like rain, wood, yarn and mushrooms — moving from spring to winter. These resources are unlocked through dice rolled both communally and individually, by “family.” The communal roll of four “village dice” represents everyone in the ecosystem going through the same elemental circumstances. It’s a nice touch.

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We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Two dice rolled by each family introduces individual chance as each player attempts to collect resources.

“It’s very rhythmic,” notes Taylor, who spent about five years designing it. “It was definitely in my head — thinking about the way the seasons would impact how these critters would live in their imaginary little valley.”

Ultimately, the game’s goal is to collect as many “comforts cards,” such as soup, a lamp or a mandolin, as possible, each tallied with different heart values. So there’s is a final score, and hence a winner.

But even playing alone — as many games allow you to do these days — you can try and beat your points’ record.

Roberta Taylor’s still waiting on her own copy of Creature Comforts, the new board game she’s designed.
Roberta Taylor’s still waiting on her own copy of Creature Comforts, the new board game she’s designed. Photo by Supplied

“It’s got this very German board game-influenced thinking,” Taylor notes, “where there’s luck in the game. But the luck happens, and then you make your decisions, instead of you make your decision and then you’re gambling on the luck.”

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Resonating with reality

Taylor also believes the game was such a success on kickstarter because of the timing. “It was just such a perfect storm of everyone feeling that first winter of the pandemic. The idea of being cosy in a cabin with your family just resonated in a way that I think it wouldn’t have at any other point.”

Taylor is already working on a follow-up game to Creature Comforts, and we’ll keep you posted. Table Top Café already has copies of the first game on order, contact them or your favourite gaming store to try and get a copy.

There’s also a very deliberate gentleness to Creature Comforts. No one dies by the sword.

“It’s very kind,” she agrees. “There’s a video game term called cozy games which Animal Crossing is an example of, where you gather your things and stuff happens, but it’s never dire.

“You don’t wake up one morning and an earthquake wipes out your house.”

fgriwkowsky@postmedia.com

@fisheyefoto

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