Salton Sea design journal

What is now Salton Sea started after the end of the pandemic lockdown. I imagine that being stuck at home for a few months without much to do makes your head generate disjointed ideas waiting for the spark that joins all the pieces of the puzzle.

At the beginning of 2020, I came up with the main mechanics of the game: players would have dual-use cards. On one side there would be the actions of the game, and on the other side there would be resources that should be spent. In this way, players would face a dilemma when making decisions.

With that premise, I started looking for themes that would help me with the game's engine.

I looked for 20th-century events that I might find interesting, as I personally like realistic themes as opposed to more fictional or parallel universe themes.

After discarding a few themes, I happened to read about the beginnings of oil exploitation in the USA.

It seemed to me an interesting topic. I thought that practically everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, has a slight idea of how an extraction process of this type works. It seemed to me that actions could be quite intuitive, and I thought that there could me a game there, although at this point, I still didn’t know if it would go ahead, or it would stay in the drawer with my other prototypes).

Once I had defined the main mechanics and chosen the theme, I had to implement the actions to be performed in the game. To do this, it is very helpful to have a theme, since it is the basis that stablishes what we are going to do during the game. The initial actions were things such as extracting oil, drilling, refining, and selling the final product.

Another important issue that arises for me early in the design process is choosing the components I will be working with.

Will there be only cards? Will I need personal boards? How much wood and die-cut elements will I use?

A priori I find it useful to stick to just a few components. Opening the possibilities and adding more components is easy. What’s complex is reducing a game. So, I prefer to start with the minimum possible components, which can be easily expanded in the future if necessary.

Considering all these parameters, the first decisions I took during the planning process were to work mainly with cards, the common and personal playing areas, and some wooden pieces.


I did the first playtesting sessions with my wife. I don't usually do playtesting with her, but given the circumstances, it wasn't the right time to get together with my usual gaming group, and I hadn’t yet assimilated the use of TTS as a gaming platform.

From those first tests I got an important breakthrough for the game. When players won money, my first idea was that it wouldn’t go directly to the hand, but that you had to wait until the end of the round to get those benefits. But regardless of how many times I told my wife, she always took the money she won straight away, so she introduced the first major change. It would no longer be a deck management system but a much more flexible hand management system.

Progressively, TTS was introduced into our lives, and many groups of people appeared willing to exploit this "new" way of playing the game, so that the evolution of the game was much faster.

After many games, you begin to understand the things the game “requires”. These online playtesting sessions helped me understand that the game required personal boards from where to manage actions, instead of limiting everything to a hand of cards.

In addition, once I added a board that could be used for many other things, the game began to grow around this board.

I added stores, extraction areas, research areas... everything grew around the personal board, but a major change was still missing: the inclusion of worker meeples.

Up to that moment, everything was done with cards. There were options to get neutral workers, but everything changed when I incorporated workers, which would serve to indicate how many actions you could perform per turn, besides blocking personal spaces.


At this point the game improved greatly, and I started to expand my playtesting circles.


The game worked. The management level was quite demanding, but I noticed that it fell a little short.

Then came another big breakthrough in the game: I implemented a market on a common board, which allowed me to make the game grow in other ways.

The major headache came when I had to make the new elements fit with the existing ones. I had to undo and redo the game many times, tweaking the numbers, combinations, and other construction processes, so that everything made sense.

There were moments during this phase when I really wanted to throw in the towel and leave the game in a drawer.

I must thank once and a thousand times the closest players (Kor, Moon, Heras, Ferran...) for the immense support I received from them, encouraging me not to quit.

They probably had more faith in me than I had in myself.


Eventually, in March 2022, during the Protos y Tipos gaming event organized by the Ludo Association, I showed the game to different publishers.

I took 3 physical prototypes, and all 3 were taken by different publishers to be evaluated.

Throughout the event, I had very a good feeling, and I left convinced that I finally had something good enough.

At the same time, I submitted the game to a prototype contest organized by the podcast Última Ronda and it passed the first rounds of the contest, until I had to withdraw the game from the contest when a publisher became interested in the game.

Unfortunately, eventually the publisher was unable to take charge of the game, so it was free again.

That was when David Esbrí contacted me to tell me that he was interested on the game had seen at Protos y Tipos, and that he wanted to play it again.

Finally, Devir decided to publish the game. At that time, the game was already quite closed, but they suggested me a new theme.

The oil extraction theme has already been used in many games and they needed something different, a modern-day theme with a more ecological feeling.

Since the mechanics were already well-defined, it wasn’t easy to look for a theme that would fit all the requirements.

Among all the themes we thought about, the one we felt would be the best fit was that of lithium extraction for its use in electric car batteries.

By chance, I came across some information about a very special case in California, in the Salton Sea.

The information I gathered referred to the extraction of hot brine, which allowed to take advantage of the dissolved lithium and the steam generated by the temperature of the extraction, resulting in the generation of geothermal energy.

We understood that this positive aspect, within all the setbacks that the place has suffered, could be a story worth telling, so finally we decided to choose this theme.

And finally, now in 2024, after many hours of testing, modifications, adjustments and researching for interesting themes, we can say that the game is ready to be enjoyed by all players.