Shortly after we made the decision to do the Dice & Ink project, all the way back in October 2018, we sent out a call for game pitches. One of the pitches that came in was from Alexander Shen, who had come up with a concept around the Hawaiian myth of Maui pulling up islands. As much as we liked the idea, we had concerns regarding cultural appropriation, as Alexander is not Hawaiian. Luckily it did not take us long to settle on a new theme, one centred around the fabled city of Atlantis. A game that we then called Islands of Atlantis.
The first iterations looked a lot like the picture above. The game was centred around drawing lines on a grid, which would form islands when the line was closed. The game had some interesting concepts, such as having a score multiplier which grew when you met certain conditions. It also had a turn timer, and it was relatively easy to brick your game by just not rolling well.
The sixth iteration changed the game in two major ways. Firstly, a departure from the line work towards working with connected hexes, where the number you roll is now the number of hexes you fill instead of the length of the line you draw. The second major change is that Alexander dialled down the complexity. Gone were the turn timer, the multiplier, and other things that we ended up forgetting, and instead we had a natural end to the game, as the game ended when a player could not fill any more hexes.
From there, we could make things more interesting. The sixth iteration proved to be a hard reset, a clean slate on which we could add new mechanics. From there, Alexander added the concept of land types and ‘perfect islands’: a second type of die would correspond with a land type; having all six land types on one island would give a large bonus, but would also be difficult to achieve. Players would chase that bonus and grow their islands too much, a perfect push-your-luck system. Alexander off-set the ‘collect all the different things’ with the influence table. When you score an island, you mark that table for each set of hexes depending on the land type. Use a given land type often enough, and be rewarded with special powers that can turn a die to a one, or simply add or subtract one from the die’s value.
Between the perfect island bonuses and the influence table, the game suddenly was in a very stable position. Everything just felt right. There was just one thing: players would optimise the placement of islands, whereas we’d prefer that players had to place islands sub-optimally, to make it difficult to get those good islands going. Players would have to start in the middle of the map, and a new concept, relics, was added.
The game features hexes with various items in them. Vases, pearl necklaces, temples, gems, a lot of ‘it belongs in a museum’ kind of things. These are called relics. Players would get points depending on the number of different relics they would collect in a given island. Two of the same does not count for this bonus, so accidentally collecting two vases loses you potential points. All of the mechanics for Islands of Atlantis were now in place. All that was left is some balancing, and done!
At this stage, we moved on to artwork. We did some research into the Atlantean myth, and we settled n the interpretation that it should have been in the Mediterranean Sea. Since the myth is of Greek origins, starting with Plato, we felt that the theory regarding Crete and Santorini was the most interesting to work off of. That theory also made most sense to us in a historical perspective, making Atlantis based off of the Minoans.
As the theory both encompasses Crete as well as Santorini, we decided that in Islands of Atlantis, Atlantis would lie in between. We got more surrounding Greek islands, albeit most either larger or smaller than life, to form a skewed version of the Sea of Crete. The layout, with its large hex-shape collection of hexes, fit nicely in the space, but it all felt off. The islands formed an organic border, which contrasted sharply with the cold hex-shape. Our final balancing run was spent on changing that, filling up the spaces in between the islands more thoroughly, and breaking the hex-shape. We scattered the relics better, creating more traps for unassuming players, and added a few historic sea monsters to underline the mythical nature of the concept. After a final polish on the artwork, we arrived at what is now the final version of Islands of Atlantis.
Have you grown excited to play Islands of Atlantis? You can pre-order the game right now using the button below.