Inle – Design Diary

Lead a balanced life and make a living growing crops on floating farms.

You are farmers living on Inle Lake, located in the northern Shan Hills of Myanmar (Burma). Make a living cultivating crops in the floating farms while balancing the material, emotional, and spiritual  life goals.

Designed by David Gordon and TAM

1 – 4 players | 60 mins | 14+ years

Sell Sheet: We are looking for a publisher. View Sell Sheet
Game Rules: View Game Rules
Table Top Simulator: Play Online

Design Diary

I’ve been wanting to make a game about Burma for a while now. Inle was the opportunity do a farming game that incorporates the Burmese culture.

Farmers gather clumps of water hyacinth and seagrass and secure them in place with large bamboo poles, which they then stake into the lake’s muddy bottom. They then heap even more layers of seagrass and silt atop the mounds to create the floating farms. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, flowers, and gourds are commonly grown.

I wanted to design an action selection system that conveys farmers on boats. I got the idea for an action point system that combines tile shifting with pawn movement.

Our first playtest in November 2022 using borrowed components from existing games. Can you name the games?

On the main board, shifting boats and moving pawns determines which tiles you can acquire. The tiles represent various crops, such as gourd, eggplant, and flowers.

The main board evolved to include the Age Track which tracks the number of actions you take per turn. At the end of each turn you also pick up a scoring tile (sign post). You need to decide if you want to take more actions in a turn to pick up more tiles, or take fewer actions per turn but take more turns to take more scoring tiles. When all players reach the end of the track, you score.

Each player has their own player board where they plant their crops, and clear a path through water hyacinth to connect other locations. This gives players another puzzle to solve while other players are taking their turn.

The game is played over 3 rounds (Ages). Each Age has a different Life Goal. For example, in the first Age, you will only score Wealth and Friendship, but in the 3rd Age, this shifts to Friendship and Merit. One of the central themes of the game is achieving balance to live the ‘good’ life. At the end of the game, your final score is the lowest of the 3 Life Goals.

The game went through several iterations in late March to make the boat puzzle more accessible. We showed it to several designers, including Jon Gilmore who wanted the puzzle to be easier, and Danielle Reynolds who wanted access to more water tiles. We can say ‘yes’ on both counts!

The player board saw some improvements as well. Ryan Courtney — a fellow designer and New York City denizen — who is known for making amazing tile laying puzzle games, commented that the tiles were too small and that people would find it fiddly. We increased the size of the tiles to 0.75 x 1.5 inches and also reduced the number of cells on the player board.

I experimented with a new way of generating cards with a new software called Cocktail. In the past, I’ve tried all forms of tools from InDesign, nanDeck, Component Studio, to rolling my own Franken-hybrid using Google Sheets and Slides. Although Cocktail is Windows only, and still in beta, it shows great promise. I love being able to add in-line graphics to text, and being able to pull in data straight from Google Sheets without a manual export is a big time saver.

It’s always exciting when you make the first physical prototype. It use to be that you start with the physical prototype. These days, we have pretty good tools like Table Top Simulator to visualize and test a lot of the game before it hits the table.

By June of 2023, we are in a good place with game and are ready to start showing it to publishers. We made a better prototype with chunkier tiles for Origins.