Harris Hawk Designer Diary

I think often about an older post I wrote called ‘getting out of the game room‘, and the value that comes along with doing so for a tabletop game, in order to gather experiences from the real world to draw on. A frequent travel stop for Andrea and I (owing to a mix of family and good friends there) is Tucson, AZ. On our most recent visit, this past April, several people recommended we check out the Sonoran Desert Museum. I was skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I love museums as much as (likely more than…) the next guy, but, the desert doesn’t do a lot for me. The heat, the sun, the death…💀? Not appealing to me, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to appreciate a whole museum about it. But, we went in spite of my reservations, and it was awesome.

It was so cool.

It had a ton of animals, snakes and frogs and scorpions, and a whole outdoor area where desert plants were cultivated to attract animals into the space the wild, including lizards and bees and all sorts of other critters.

The real crown jewel of the museum, however, was the Raptor Show — fur real, how can you pass up an event called The Raptor Show? — falconers guided a range of desert raptors around an open area on both sides of a corralled audience while a narrator described their features and differences — which were fast, and why, which glide, which wing or beak features were conducive to speed, or hunting specific types of prey, etc. Among the cast were a snowy owl and peregrine falcon, but I was most charmed by the Harris’s Hawks.

These are the only raptors which hunt has a pack, circling an area to find and flush out prey for each other, all while adhering to a rigid, matriarchal, pecking order. (The Alpha Female likes your perch? She’ll knock you off it, and you’re gonna have to go find another!). Not sure why or how, but the idea of exploring a desert with players moving hawks from perch to perch looking for prey sounded like a cool idea for a smallish family game. I immediately made a note.

I refined the idea over a few flights and a bit of downtime during the Tabletop Network Conference, before buying a stack of 700mm square cards from Amazon and scribbling numbers on them. I stole 15 minutes during a Denver Prototopia, and snuck in some tests with both my dad and Andrea (who are less accustomed to game testing) with a goal of making the design time on this a little quicker.

Lots was broken — too many perches that offered too-powerful vantage points made it too easy to control much of the desert simultaneously, and there were some (bad) issues with a hand-management mechanism I originally included (some tiles let you increase your hand size… and ended up being more interesting to play than actually finding or catching prey…). Additionally, ‘flushing out’ prey was so advantageous for your opponents, it was almost never worth it. All players saw a gem in the prototype, but it was clear it needed work. Full of excitement, I took down all these notes, but then promptly forgot about this game entirely, in favor of shinier, glitzier designs, like Weathercasters.

Fast forward 6 months, and I’m finally intrigued enough by GameCrafter’s new component-making tool to try it out. I grabbed the original pen + card prototype and transcribed it into a spreadsheet to try out the new tool. Short answer, it was amazing, and and now I have a really pro-looking prototype of this design for testing (More on Component.studio in a future post)! Iterating has now resumed, and this is shaping up to be a fun little tile-laying and area control game. With any luck, I’ll be pitching this at Origins this summer.