Designer Diary: Sand

The story of Sand, as with almost everything in life, is the result of a series of fortuitous and coincidental events that have nothing to do with boardgame design itself. We met on a board game podcast and later we ran into each other at an event. The almost 600 kilometers that separate us would have been an almost insurmountable obstacle under other circumstances.

In the first quarter of 2020, the world suffered what until then was something completely fictional, or something that only those of us who have ever played a certain cooperative game could imagine, a global pandemic. In that context, one night in March we decided to meet online to play. Given the impediment of not being able to meet with our respective gaming groups physically, we tried to alleviate the situation through Tabletop Simulator. 

Those days of confinement always ended with a game and a talk. In one of those talks, Javier said that years ago he had had an idea about a prototype for a board game, but that at one point in the development of the idea he encountered obstacles that he could not solve, and he shelved it.

Ariel, far from listening to the idea passively, decided that it was better to see and analyze it, and we both got to work on it in Tabletop Simulator. It didn't take much effort to find more flaws in those years-old ideas than can be counted. And after a few nights and talks, we concluded that time improves all memories, and that, indeed, those old ideas were decidedly horrible. However, having put them on the table made us do an exercise that we both enjoyed and that little by little replaced the game of the night. A brainstorming exercise about board game design.

The initial sketch of Sand was an economic/logistical management game, which had to have as its premises a satisfactory development engine for the overall gaming experience, with the greatest number of transcendental decisions possible and whose narrative would serve as support for the design decisions.


We began to look for ideas so that the soul of the game could move, and we evaluated mechanics that we mutually liked. Then we analyzed the ones that, despite not being our favorites, do not bother us at all. And later we evaluated what we could support if necessary. Finally, we evaluated what possibilities the Pick up and deliver mechanic offered us, to discover with surprise that it solved part of the mechanical problem posed, which was how to capture the personal management of resources and actions on the main board. 

Because, ultimately, Sand is a game about managing time, which the dice represent: time spent on the action we want to do. And having defined the engine for the selection of actions and the use of dice, both by their strength and by their color, it remained for us to complement it with a presence on the central board that would give it meaning. So, we decided to re-evaluate all the other alternatives. When it became clear that we were not achieving the expected results with the rest of the proposed mechanics and modifications, we had a revealing moment, in which we decided that the core of the game should move with Pick up and deliver, but with specific conditions.

The game universe should not move around this mechanic in an exclusive way, but around the personal management of resources, to use point-to-point movement only as a tool that, despite being an important part of the game, it should not be the most important part of the puzzle to solve. Our development and evolution are what ultimately gives a concrete and truly final meaning to the fact of taking merchandise from point A to point B. Pick up and deliver became the tool to capture on the central dashboard what we were managing in our personal dashboard.


This is how the ideas emerged, and we evaluated and tested them, until we opened the prototype to other people. From that moment on, we found a reality that we did not see, beyond the mechanical issues that had to be corrected, the set of rules to move the game was tremendously complex. Even considering that the first testers were all hardcore Eurogames players with a lot of experience. 

We started working on cleaning up the ruleset of exceptions, mini rules, and anything that added noise to the overall gaming experience. Then we began to simplify some processes and gradually lowered the difficulty of the game and polished mechanical details, which over the months led us to a game with which we both felt comfortable on a mechanical and dynamic level. 

We then decided to begin balance work, analyzing literally hundreds of games in which exhaustive notes were taken of all each player's point sources. The concept was simple in its approach but devastating at the work level to be able to carry it out. All strategies had to be competitive, and all of them had to allow the player, if executed well, to have a chance to win.

There were many hours of work. Ariel spent between 10 and 12 hours of work a day, capturing in TTS and Photoshop all the modifications that were made daily, to be able to test at night. 


During this process, the help of the testers became invaluable. As reflected in the rulebook, without them this game probably would not have seen the light of day. There were many games, there were many people, and there was a tester who, in addition to contributing his experience as a player, gave us a perspective that was totally beyond us, the editorial perspective of the project and its viability. That tester is Juan Del Compare, better known as J, who is part of the Devir Argentina Staff. And at this point there is no doubt that it could very well have happened in a thousand other different ways, but nevertheless this is how it happened.

When we decided that the game was at least mechanically finished, for the first time we considered showing it publicly to publishers. Yes, oddly enough, we never thought about that when designing. Thus came the first meeting with a publisher, and David Esbrí sat down to test what today, thanks to his vision, is Sand. Because having taken the game from what he was able to try that first time to the narrative of the Kemushi Saga is nothing short of an act of magic. 

From here on, the trip is a succession of curves, increasingly faster, that end up leaving us at the gates of a dream that even if we were fed up with alcohol we would not have dared to dream. Can you tell me if it couldn't have been a million different ways? Yet here is Sand and that's how it happened.