I call Fruit my first game, and by most definitions it is: it's the first tabletop game that I've taken from a concept with a theme and an objective, built a draft prototype and set of rules, tested and refined those rules, built a proper prototype, tested and played with other people.
But technically it's not the first board game I ever created. That honour goes to a little something called Car Arena.
So, in other words, Death Race 2000 but on a board.
Look, I was 11.
In the game, players controlled one car that could be loaded out with various weapons, and the only objective was to drive around in the arena (avoiding traps) and destroy all other cars without being destroyed yourself.
It's a pretty simple premise - Roman gladiators on wheels - so it should have been pretty simple to implement, right?
Well, not the way I went about it.
I started by drawing out the playing area. I did a terrible job - the arena was a badly planned mess, a kind of mostly blank "here be dragons"-type mediaeval map drawn not to scale and with no tiles marked out to allow for easy calculation of range of movement. I remember using graph paper to begin with, but I disliked how blocky it made everything look, as well as how limiting four-directional movement seemed (at this age I hadn't yet cottoned on to the concept of hexagonal tiles), so I simply drew the arena freehand on plain paper. I'm pretty sure it would have been no bigger than around A3 size as well (that's about 11.5 x 16.5 inches), so pretty small. I added in barriers and traps pretty randomly, based mainly on how the arena looked with them in it.
Sadly, that Car Arena board is now lost to time.
Fundamentally, it was an entirely theoretical exercise - in designing the arena I made no consideration to how the game would actually play.
As for the cars themselves, I drew them on separate pieces of paper, one for each player, putting excruciating detail into the sizes and shapes of available weapons bays, the level and condition the engine, each wheel, the armour plating on each side of the car - to my credit this was probably the most useful part of the game design, and as part of an overall coherent game it might have worked pretty well.
Looking back, the funniest part of it all is that once the "design" phase was "complete", I stopped. No testing, no iteration. I didn't even write a rule book. Ultimately, it didn't even get a playthrough - I made it on my own when my friends weren't around, and by the time they were around I think I'd forgotten about it.
When I look back on it part of me wants to cringe at how badly I conceived and executed almost every aspect of the game, but at the same time a larger part of me appreciates that I was young and clearly had a love of games and wanted to create something myself. I'm glad that I felt that way, and I'm equally glad that I tried - even if what I created fell very, very far short of what a game should be.
The fact that I never actually played the game pretty well encapsulates the experience for me: playing it wasn't really the point. The fun I had was in coming up with the concept and initial prototype - what people call the "1% inspiration".
That's still the case today - the sense of joy at creating something new has clearly stayed with me - but now that I'm older I realise that although most of the pure fun comes during the concept and early prototyping, the real satisfaction comes in working things through, fixing bugs, refining rules, finishing the project and seeing others play it. In other words, the "99% perspiration" part.
I'm pretty sure 11-year-old me would be absolutely shocked!