Cats! Fire! Living in a shack without heat for a week! Or, How Mi Gato se Incendia (My Cat is on Fire!) became a board game

As a nifty online experiment, Ben Gerber – of Troll in the Corner – and I came up with a cunning plan, a sort of blogger exchange program. Once a month, Ben and I plan to share our views and musings with the readers of Troll in the Corner and Dice Hate Me. Look for more cross-pollination each and every month, and let us know what you all would like to see in these columns.

Hi there!  I’m Ben, a guest blogger here on Dice Hate Me, stopping by from my own site, Troll in the Corner.  I’ve recently designed a print and play board game called Mi Gato se Incendia! (My Cat is on Fire!) and with the kind permission of those who run this site, I’m going to tell you a tale of game design, alternate physics, moderate insanity and cats.

The creation of a board game is an act that is fraught with stress, self loathing, number crunching and countless hours of play testing.  It can be an extremely stressful event, which can lead to arms in the air, disgusted looks and wrecked marriages.  That’s why I decided to make a game about cats.  Soft, fluffy, funny, cute cats.  And fire.

Or, more specifically, cats on fire.

Look, it sounds a lot worse than it really is, I promise.  Don’t abandon this article right at the start just because I mention burning cats right off.  To keep that warm fuzzy feeling you’ll eventually get from this game, let me introduce you to its main inspiration.   Six years ago when I started work on this game, my cat Panger Ban was with me every step of the way.  Here she is just two days ago, when my prototype arrived in the mail, as calm as normal and not the least bit paranoid.

See, that look right there was the start of this whole board game design saga.  Cats are traditionally curious, fun to watch, paranoid by design, ranging anywhere from mildly insane to downright bonkers and existing in their own special relativity.  I started designing this whole game with one concept in mind, Feline Physics.

The idea is that cats don’t quite exist in the same world we do.  For instance, if you have more than three cats, you actually have N+1 cats, where N is the number of cats you think you have.  Conversely and at the same time, you own C-C cats, where C is the number of cats you actually own.  Doubt me?  Ask anyone who owns more than three of the little suckers (myself included).  At any given time there are too many cats to manage successfully.   When you’re home alone at midnight though, and hear a strange sound like a glove with knife blades on it being sharpened, you’ll look around and see not a single cat.  Nor will you find any in your house if you search.

Cats are strange and wonderful, and frankly there aren’t enough board games about them.  That then, was my primary goal.  Create a board game involving strange and wonderful cats!

A cat is born. Born into fire.

Trust me when I say Herding Cats, my first iteration of this game, was not a success.  It wasn’t fun to play, involved a bunch of number crunching and was, well, like herding cats.  One week of ideas and design out the door.

Wait a minute.  Out the door.  Out the door! That’s it! What is the one thing the one cat I own who is least well equipped to survive in the wild trying to do all the time? Escape!  That’s what this game would be about.  Your cat escapes and you’re off to find it and return it home.

I took that idea and ran with it.  Your house cat has escaped, and it’s up to you and your family to recapture it!  Which is fun in and of itself but not terribly challenging if the cat is wandering around the board until one of the players bumps into it.  There needs to be a challenge – something to add a bit of tension.  And that something is fire.

What if no one could win? Not all the time, but if it were a possibility. Then, you’d be playing against the other players and also all trying to beat the game.  While it may not be advantageous to help another player, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep Mi Gato alive, and preferably, not sprouting jolly orange flames.

That was the seed of Mi Gato.  Then I ran in to my second road block.

I can make cards.  Cards are easy.  See, here’s a card.

Boards on the other hand.  Boards I am not good at.  I ended up with a bastardized image from Google Maps with some squares drawn on it connected by lines.  As game boards go it was pretty horrible.

Horrible or not, it was what I had. Armed with a lot of standard printer paper cards and a game board printed on a plotter that was of better material but looked far worse, we headed off in to the woods.  That’s what you do when you design a board game, right?

Actually, it was a family vacation. With my inlaws.  I figured I’d torture them by bringing along my hand made copy of Mi Gato se Incendia! and forcing a group of animal lovers to play it.

It went off quite well, actually.  We played long in to the night, next to the camp fire, only occasionally losing a fluttering, millimeter thick card to the open flames.  I thought it was fitting.  I also realized that I may be on to a fun game.

Mi Gato - the game board in all of its glory!

Years passed and Mi Gato sat in my closet and on my hard drive.  Always though, it was in the back of my mind.  It wasn’t until a few months ago that I decided to really take another look at it.  More play testing commenced along with some design tweaks.

As it turns out, it was still a fun game!  Not ground breaking but the mechanics were easy to grasp and it was a bit of skill, a bit of luck.  The board still sucked though.  So off I went to Reddit and made an impassioned plea for some graphic designer to carry the torch and step forward.

Forward stepped Jeremy Bushnell of Dystopian Design Services and like magic, I had a decent looking game board!

Now I had a game board and a game.  The next step was to seek out a publisher, right?  Well, not in this case.  You see, I think Mi Gato is a fun game.  Many people who’ve played it also think it’s a hoot.  But it’s not going to change the gaming world.  As a game it’s fun at, say, a $15 level.  But not so much at a $40 board game level.

The artsy and slightly out of focus close up

I know this and I think many publishers may see this as well.  Since I’ve already been doing the self-publishing route with RPGs, I decided to make this a print and play game.  This way, you can get the entire game for a buck, if you’re willing to do some printing and scissor work.  Avery business card punch paper also makes the cards a lot easier. Also, I get 65% of each dollar I make on every game sold.  So far, it’s working out.

Still, I was going to be making an appearance at a few gaming-focused conventions.  It couldn’t hurt to have a physical prototype that didn’t just roll right off the printer in my office. that’s when I hit up The Game Crafter and decided to spend a few hours making a prototype.  It was far, far less painful than I thought it would be.  I now have a nice, flat game board, cards printed on actual glossy card stock and a few pieces to make the game look and feel a lot better.

A game in progress

I have my prototype in hand, my digital file available for purchase right now and a fun game to play with my friends.  More importantly, I have the experience of designing, play testing, marketing, self-publishing and prototyping my first board game.  This means that my more advanced ideas, the ones that I didn’t think I could pull off, are now looking a lot more likely.

The story of Mi Gato se Incendia! doesn’t end there though.  I was recently approached by another redditor, one MrBug, who happens to be pretty good at rapid, 3D prototyping and printing.  This person volunteered to design unique Mi Gato se Incendia! pieces, which I’ve already sent to a 3D printing firm and am eagerly awaiting! I think that these two fine redditors, all of the folks who helped me playtest this game, those who made suggestions and edits, criticized and critiqued, are shining examples of the gaming community.  The most interesting part, to me, is that I have only met a few of them in person.

We have a very strong community, us table-top gamers.  Let’s hold on to that even online, especially online, because it makes us all that much better.  Which brings us all better games to play.

For a complete review of Mi Gato se Incendia, you can check out the full Dice Hate Me review on Troll in the Corner.

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7 Responses to “Cats! Fire! Living in a shack without heat for a week! Or, How Mi Gato se Incendia (My Cat is on Fire!) became a board game”
  1. tomg says:

    This was interesting. As a fledgling game designer hearing how you went through this is encouraging. I’m glad you touched on Game Crafter and going the print and play route. Thanks for mentioning Reddit. I did not know about that and will check it out.

  2. Wastex Games says:

    Wow! This was an extremely encouraging read! Thank you for sharing this. I did not know of the resources you mentioned and have only recently been looking for printing and prototyping methods. The local print shops charge more than I’m able (and willing) to dish out.

  3. Hey Tomg,

    Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you found the article interesting. Any specific questions, fire away.


  4. geraldkw says:

    I liked your article and the links were interesting and useful.

  5. Wolfie says:

    oh man, thanks for the tip on the Game Crafter. My game-design-in-progress has far too many cards and i’ve been trying to find a better way to print out decent cards. Huzzah!

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