Welcome Caterpillars! This is a blog on how Caterpillar Filler began, changed over time and developed into where it is today.
Last year I was thinking about an old game I used to play – the retro Snake game on the old Nokia phone (I may have wasted more of my teenage hours on that than I care to quantify).
I really wanted to play a board game that replicated the feel of the old mobile experience – something like a grid movement game where your creature gets bigger the more it eats and food appears randomly in the grid. There are a lot of Snake-esque video games already out there however I couldn’t find a tabletop version.
As a game like this didn’t exist, I wondered if I could make one myself. The first prototype was a simple 16 x 16 grid (A-P and 1-16) where each player controlled a Snake and hunted mice. On the back of each mouse token was a grid reference number (e.g., G6) drawn randomly from a bag and players rolled a dice to see how far they could move their snake. If you landed on a mouse your snake got bigger and a new mouse entered the grid.
The first version was a lot of fun however it had a few problems:
Player interaction was a little low (mainly running towards or away from opponents)
Move restriction was too open as there was no distinction between the ends of the snakes
Each mouse token had a unique reference number so there had to be 256 playing pieces (a little on the high side….)
There was nothing to constrain the game length (it was a simple first to 10) – it felt like it needed something to prevent games going too long
Growing Snakes to Butterfly Metamorphosis
One thing that I was struggling with was matching the theme of snakes to the mechanical goal of growing them, why does the game end when someone grows to 10 pieces? What is the thematic endpoint for scavenging for food?
Then it hit me: I needed a thematic goal to tie in with the mechanical one e.g., Bears gathering enough food to survive hibernation. Obviously bears and snakes are quite different, so maybe not bears. I needed something that moved somewhat like a snake but had an interesting change in nature (you can see where this is going – Caterpillars!).
I now had a thematic goal of getting enough food to be the first to transform into a butterfly, the rest fell into place from here. Caterpillars also have really lovely tessellating patterns that fit into adjoining playing pieces.
Now that the theme was more solidified, I started closing the playtesting gaps. After a few more versions and lot of tweaking, some interesting solutions started to develop:
Creating a limit on the number of food tokens (now flowers as mice are a little too big for even the most mighty of caterpillars). I moved the grid references away from the tokens and onto the game mat. Also separating the letters and numbers shortened the token count from 256 to 32 (which is a bit more manageable)
Increasing player interaction – now that the flipside of the food tokens is free, I added Wasps to the reverse side. Whenever a player gets a food token, they can use it to place a wasp in the grid to block other players
Adding a Head playing piece to each caterpillar was a simple (in hindsight) solution – players can only move from the head so it leads to more interesting “chases”
A ticking clock (figuratively) – at set up there are 12 (for a 2-player game) sets of grid coordinates added face down to the game mat at the start of the game. When these run out the player with the longest caterpillar wins
So that’s a brief outline of my thought process in designing the game from initial idea to completing first design. The first demo copies are in the post to reviewers so there may be some final improvements from professional feedback.
I hope to have more to share with you soon,