Knitting Circle: The Evolution of a Drafty Game
Updated: Apr 30
Knitting Circle has evolved a lot in a very short time. I’d been working on it for less than 3 months when I brought it to Unpub and while the core idea remains intact (draft yarn, place based on knit/purl, score with beautiful color patterns) the implementation looks very different. Allow me to take you on that journey :-)
My initial idea was a drafting mechanism that you won’t find anywhere in the game today! I knew that I wanted to play with the knit and purl stitches because having exactly two stitches felt like an interesting constraint. I put the baskets of yarn in between players instead of in front of them and instituted the rule that when you needed to draft a knit tile, you pulled it from the basket on your left and when you needed to draft a purl tile, you pulled it from the basket on the right. This meant that my knit basket was your purl basket, putting the players in direct competition with the players on either side of them.
Which basket you drafted from was based on a stitch card that was selected by the first player. Once selected, everyone would draft simultaneously according to that card. So if the first stitch was knit, everyone drafted from the left. Then the next stitch was purl so everyone drafted from the right, and so on. I thought this was incredibly clever. I learned in playtesting that perhaps it was too clever…
As I playtested I quickly discovered that the draft I’d created was not working. People didn’t know which basket to draft from. Because the knit and purl stitches were unfamiliar to most players, the words held no intrinsic meaning. And even worse, the meaning I’d mapped onto them (left and right) was not related to the actual meaning (front/back), so it didn’t even help to explain what the stitches were. And even if they drafted correctly, sometimes they put the yarn in the wrong personal basket. And if they did that right, they still sometimes put a yarn from the purl basket into a knit slot or vice versa.
I tried a number of graphic design solutions to help cue people, including colors, icons, and arrows. To keep track of knit vs purl, I created a knit and purl basket for players to store them in so that they’d remember the stitch (as I write that, my usability brain is yelling at me for breaking the cardinal rule of recognition over recall). I also made the garment patterns have a zig-zagging quality, so that you could remember to place knits on the left side and purls on the right, matching the sides of the drafting baskets as well as the personal baskets. But no matter what I did, it still just didn’t work for most players. I was really really trying to force the knit = left, purl = right “rule.”
So I had to give up on the left/right baskets. In order to lighten the mental load, I went to a passed draft. Players still needed to follow the common stitch pattern, but removing the complication of left/right immediately eased some of the mental burden.
It’s probably time to talk about the yarn. When I started the game I was using plastic gems as the yarn because I had them on hand. I soon moved to circular tokens so that I could put a texture that would read more like yarn. I was also starting to think about making one side knit and the other side purl, but I wasn’t sure it would be worth it. I was pretty sure people would just flip them over without really thinking about it. Plus this introduced a drafting confusion: each basket needed to have tiles that could be drafted either as knits or purls. My instinct was that seeing tiles on one side or the other would make players think they needed to keep it on whatever side it showed in the basket.
The moment of inspiration that started me on my current path was that I needed tokens that would enforce the knit/purl order. I needed them to ONLY fit together in that order and they had to be able to be both knit (one side) and purl (the other side). This is when the new tile component was born, at 11:45 PM on a Thursday night after an in-person playtest at Omar’s. Once I introduced this component, things began to click. People didn’t tend to flip these over because it was so clear that the side was important. While they still rotated the tiles to get them to click together, it didn’t matter if they put them in the wrong personal basket. Once they got them drafted, they stayed on the right face and they always alternated. A HUGE part of the confusion was gone.
So when I arrived at Unpub, I had my new yarn tiles, my passed draft, and the stitch cards. Over the course of Unpub I quickly got rid of the stitch cards because (as I’d suspected) having tiles on both faces in the draft basket was mentally locking players into those faces. I switched to an approach where all tiles in the basket got flipped to a single face, fixing their face for the draft. And that was the last big change and takes us to where the game is today. Once I changed the tile and switched to a passed draft, things just started to fall into place. And the game went from being a brain bender in the worst way to a brain bender in the best way.
Thanks for taking this walk down memory lane with me, I hope you enjoyed it :-)