This adventure begins on the 30/08/2021 when aspiring professional author Federico Pierlorenzi leaves Italy for Germany, the birthplace of modern board gaming. He heads towards the home of Martino Chiacchiera, an established author who welcomed the request to host him for a work placement subsidized by the European Community.

The first step was to get to know each other and collaborate on small planned tasks, then gradually move on to develop a board game over three months, the duration of the live collaboration project… and soon before a professional collaboration, a spontaneous mutual sympathy was born, which over time turned into a solid friendship.

The end…but wait! What board game projects did they develop together?
Well, actually the answer is two! As they intended to make one, they ended up with two, completely different ones! All started with a deranged Bull-die smashing meeples…

From Bullville to Reefs and Fireballs

More of a strong and intuitive mechanic than a game, this never-released project worked out as the flagship project, from which other prototypes were born, each following its own path.

Bullville had two souls: worker placement – the stronger the action, the higher the risk your meeple would be bumped by the Bull… and tableau building with crazy acceleration: gathering resources and activation tokens to create an engine building capable of bringing you from rags (the initial building) to riches (a fully working far west town where each building’s effect fosters the next one in super-rewarding combos).   

But Fail Fast was the motto of our duo: Bullville felt disjointed, with each of its two very different souls claiming to get the most attention, and clashing with the other.

As in life, either you win, therefore you reach the set goal, or you learn, that is, you discover that the direction taken is not functional to reach the aforementioned set goal, so you change course. And so the rapid and deep prototype development iterations undertaken by the two led to the birth of two different games: Siegfried on one side, and Temujin on the other!

About “Siegfried” we’ll talk about another day, but you can already get a grasp of what the end result was is going to be 🙂


The Relevance of the Setting

This designer diary from now on will focus on the other game, a game at that time we thought was going to be about Gengis Khan’s military campaign. The clothes make the man, sometimes, and somehow such a theme felt either very specific and appropriate at the time. However, this was just a temporary stage…


From left to right: Bullville, which turned into Temujin, which then turned into Oceansavers.

But at the time, the core mechanics of map movement and majority management seemed to well embody the role of the nomadic Mongol tribes, who traveled to plunder and conquer the cities of Asia.

One thing that suggested this theme could be a good fit was the Positive Interaction among players. Sure it’s a competitive game, but the raids of a player, weakening the defense walls, would help other players to carry on even more of them!


In the figure, black has breached in two routes thus making it cheaper for themself but also for the others (e.g., Orange) to move along that route.

This was bound to the particular movement and network building system built in the game, which is still a core part of what makes Reef Project somehow special in its genre.

A picture from Oceansavers, the iteration that preceded the Reef Project.

Playtest after playtest, the game seemed to improve, but the more it improved,  the less this theme felt appropriate. Soon after, the passion for history and the professional bias of school teacher Federico had to make space for  a less historical, and somewhat perceived as already seen setting… but what setting could fit well into the basic mechanics of the game, and at the same time be attractive to the board gaming audience?

The question every good publisher asks! But before them, the designers need to ask themselves: because technically they could design any rule, right? But what’s wrong or right, well, that can be determined and evaluated only in comparison to what the intended goal is. And the goal is to do something thematic, that makes sense, and that’s cool and fun… and no matter how cool your rules are, they are cooler if they make sense in the setting, and meet and match your expectations.

Our two designers knew that, after all, with over 60 games released Bullville wasn’t their first rodeo… so they started brainstorming like crazy, and after extensive research, they  arrived at a performing new setting: Ocean Savers!

Not only the theme sounded cool, and not only the setting was a better fit to the mechanics, the main discovery of the two designers was the epiphany that POSITIVE INTERACTIONS among players could foster a more positive message and mood than “raiding and praying Roman empire”. Instead of breaching defensive walls, it was much more rewarding to repair stuff… to repair reefs. To clean the ocean from waste. To carry on environmentally friendly missions on beautiful but endangered islands than to sack villages and cities. 

From here everything began to take on a more complete form. The newly found setting inspired game systems like the players’ boards and some areas of the central board.
It also finally made sense that players cannot split their soldiers…ehrm, crew! And that you must always move from a city, erhm, island, to another.

Example of a prototype Player board – each has an asymmetric special power that can highly impact your gameplay!

Plenty of skillful experts ready to join your Crew!

Scuba diving and exploring the Ocean floor has never been more rewarding!

But exploration of the surface, cruising from one Island to the other, is also important!

Example of Prototype Mission cards – they were added to provide even more options and combos to the game, and enhance the sense of scope and strategy associated with short-term movements.

Basically everything fell into place almost automatically, also thanks to the involvement of Alessandro Cuneo who took care of the graphics of the final prototype and Tabletop Simulator mode, which had become necessary due to the expiration of Federico’s work placement project.

Side note: Yes, it started as a 3-month project but of course it took almost two years to complete!

              Distant but close

The collaboration continued through calls, playtests on TTS, and playtests conducted live by the co-authors, each on their own, one living in Germany and the other based in Italy. Shared files on various game drives intertwined, and during calls set up for a project, many spontaneous insights regarding others were shared.

The game was heavily tested and stress-tested, also with the help of over 20 fellow designers from the Italian community, including relevant names in the genre like Fabio Lopiano and Simone Luciani.

And that is how a primordial broth of ideas turned into a welcoming ocean for life. And meanwhile, the lives of the two co-authors continued too, becoming more complex, then again simple, and then complex again. There are newborn kids, trips to Italy by Martino who had to balance not just the game, but also family vacations with work vacations where he met Federico, and Federico who continued to refine and balance every component of the game while getting involved in different work and challenging life projects.


When the tides recede

Essen Spiel came, and it was during the usual pilgrimage that all authors make from publisher to publisher to show their latest creation that Ocean Savers landed at Board and Dice, which Federico already knew for Trismegistus, and Martino was eager to showcase them this game – as cool as their productions are in this genre of strategic games!

Kacper Frydrykiewicz and the entire team at Board and Dice got excited by the Pitch in Essen, and they arranged a Test on TTS. Soon after a deal was signed, Federico and Martino couldn’t be happier… but they were wrong!
Board and Dice started working on the game, and worked diligently to develop it into its final form – the game was renamed Reef Project, David Turczi came on board to develop the solo mode, and he got excited too – claiming our game to be the best he had played over a week of intense gaming and testing among many, and this was even before Board and Dice had finished their development process! They deepened the theme, playtested the prototype even further than we have done, added important details for User Interface and User Experience, improved the variability from game to game, re-balanced all the components with each other, and created an aesthetically valuable work of art.

Publishers are multipliers: you give a good prototype, a good publisher will turn it into a very good game. You give them a very good game, and excellent publishers like Board and Dice will turn it into an excellent game! And that’s why we became happier than when we thought we couldn’t be happier. With Board and Dice’s amazing team, we knew our game had found the best home possible. Or perhaps we should say harbor?!

Anyway, the job is done, but the true journey is not over yet – it has just started! 

Reef Project is going to be released at Gen Con 2024 and we hope that by playing it, players will have fun, carrying on the ship Federico and I with the help of Board and Dice launched into the sea of games.

But most importantly, we hope that by playing it, you will discover how rewarding it is to rebuild reefs, and repair sealife; what joy comes from doing good and putting your skills at work to achieve a better world, and to compete with the others over who has done the most good, instead of who has done the most brutal raids. In this way, no matter who wins – we’re all gonna benefit from it.