The Story of Startup Fever told in 9 Boards

Below is a quick look behind the scenes of developing Startup Fever. Visually, the change in graphics over time is the most obvious. However, the fine details document the long trial and error process that went into designing Startup Fever.

The First Design

The first mock up of the board. At this point the game wasn't playable yet, it didn't even have written down rules. But I had the theme, and some game mechanics in my head.

You recognize Silicon Valley on the map and various companies as well as employees. Employees vesting stock was in there from the beginning, as well as angel and venture capitalist funding for companies.

The magic number 10B was quite prominent, which is still about where the user track maxes out. The 10 zeros of 10B will still show up in the next version below.

Early on, I imagined players investing in Africa to get more people online so I created a board with a world map - looked a bit like Risk.

The First Prototype

By now I moved to a virtual map in the background. The money is made out of chickpeas and the other pieces are Lego blocks. The game is already playable.

The user track went around each red circle, and then along the arrows from one circle to the next. The number of users is logarithmic, and each circle is a 0. When you reach 100 users, you enter the second circle. It was way too nerdy...

This version also introduced the turn order track. For twelve products, I used the months of the years: Each company plays in a month.

In this version, companies could go public. This element dropped, as it was way to complicated. Maybe an extension will bring it back?

Back then, products had "powers". I couldn't get it to work, and in the launched versions, products are much simpler.

There were no event cards here yet, I just used this design for basic play mechanisms testing around hiring users and revenue.

Separate Company Cards

All early versions had 12 separate product/company boards. Back then, each company started with just one product. It took forever to get a second product, and the game was a bit boring with just one. You can see the 12 company/product boards around the board.

The hiring pool was in the middle, and you hired employees and put them on your board. Employees were everywhere. The boards show the vesting track, room for product cards and markers on whether the product/company is launched.

By now the first event cards have been introduced (in the middle)

In the lower right of the board are benefit cards. Despite many attempts, we just couldn't make them work, so they dropped out of the game. Money now consists of 10mm natural cubes.

Single Board

The separate boards for products/companies were too complex and the middle of the main board was empty. So the 12 boards moved into the middle of the main board. Suddenly the whole setup is a lot more organized.

In the middle you see the turn order track and the light blue funding track. The former made it to the end, but the latter was sacrificed on the altar of simplicity. At this point in the development, our victory points were multiplied by the fraction of the company you still owned. It was hard to compute and hard to keep track of during the game.

But there wasn't enough room on the user track, so it had to grow.

Broad User Track

This is the first version that people that I never met before played.

The user track is wider to give more room, and I removed 2 out of 7 fields, to accelerate the game (those gaps in the outermost circle)

However, the user track and vesting track have little relation and players were confused.

If you look at the funding track, you see little colorful cubes, where above these were cylinders. Previosly, it was very hard to figure out which company had how much funding, and with the new cubes in yet new colors it became easier. But this introduced yet one more category of components, and was just way to complex.

Beta Edition Design

This is pretty much what is now known as the Beta Edition. As you can this game was still played on a taped together paper "board".

The funding track is gone and the months of the year are replaced by just numbers. The user track consists of big nice squares around the board.

If you watch closely, you see that this version didn't have cylinders in 12 colors, but cylinders, hectagons and octagons in 4 colors each. This creates a visually more complex environment and most people didn't like it. However it is more friendly to color blind people. The Beta Edition will have the cylinders in 12 colors. For the retail edition we will move to punched out markers instead of wood, which we can print on, so we can make them distinguishable for color blind players.


Many people wondered about the theme of the game. Nobody made a board game about startups. Alien Frontiers was what was selling like crazy. I questioned whether my desires overruled my senses.

I moved my mechanics and rules into space. The new title was Oort Cloud and you were hiring engineers and soldiers to pilot your ships and mine precious metals from asteroids. Instead of users, you were in hunting asteroids. For a week I was very excited, as this allowed for great technology cards, space aliens and violence. I even updated the rules book. It was a stretch, but all the game mechanics fit into space.

However, nobody ever actually played on this board.

I decided to stick with the original theme. It may not sell as many copies, but it is the game I wanted. So I came back to 21st century Earth.

This is also where I decided to self-publish, instead of finding a publisher. Keeping artistic control is important to me - while being fully aware that I am no artist, and I desperately need help.

Beta Edition

This is the current Beta Edition, with all the wooden pieces and cylinders in 12 colors. It's being used for all ongoing play testing as well as the videos for Kickstarter. This is also what's being sent out to reviewers.

The funding track is still gone, but the original idea is back in the Kickstarter-only Venture Capital extension. However, this time it's a lot simpler, you just trade victory points for money. Pure addition, no multiplication and fractions.

Note: No trained artists were involved in the creation of any of the above boards. The background used in some of them is from xkcd and available under a creative commons attributed, non-commercial license.

Retail Edition

This pictures shows the first concept for the Retail Edition from Gary.

It is still very much work in progress. The photo uses components from the Beta Edition e.g. the wooden rectangular product chips. The round red/gree/blue circles with letter in the middle are place holders for what will replace the cylinders of the Beta Edition. This board has room for nerds, suits and money on the board (inside the coffee stains and on the sticky), but this turned out to not work too well, so the not-yet-used components are next to the board. On the side you'll see some of the new event cards.

And the End result

And this is how it all came out.... More pictures can be found here.