Category Archives: Game Design
Every once in a while I like to step back and take a look at what I’ve been working on. Last night I was putting together some components with “final” artwork so I can make a gameplay video for Scoville and I realized that it had been a while since I made any prototypes. And that got me thinking I should step back and take a look at what I’ve been working on. Let’s start with the hottest Euro farming game ever…
This game is currently preparing to launch on Kickstarter. That means that art is being worked on with a feverish pace. I’m not really an artist, at least in these terms, so I can’t say how much work actually goes into it, but it seems to be a lot. There are so many different components that require artwork (orders, recipes, boards, player shields, bonus abilities, bonus point tiles, box, rulebook). Each of these is no less important than any others.
My work on Scoville has been pretty minimal. I am, however, hoping to receive more final artwork so that I can put together a prototype copy with that artwork and make a gameplay video for the Kickstarter campaign. When I receive more artwork I’ll see if I can give you all a little teaser or two!
I worked on this game one morning at BGG.con and made some awesome progress. I suppose it wasn’t progress as much as it was a breakthrough in the design. The game had previously been dry and lacking important decisions.
Brooklyn Bridge is a worker placement game where you send out your crew to obtain materials and build the bridge. You can also hire more crew. So far everything I’ve mentioned sounds like a re-theme of Stone Age. While elements of Stone Age are present in the design, the hook is that players not only place workers in a turn by turn order, they also remove workers and perform the actions in a turn by turn order. This adds a time dependence of when you activate workers each round. This is where the design differs greatly from Stone Age.
The breakthrough that I had at BGG.con was to incorporate public goals in the game, not dissimilar to the orders and recipes in Scoville. These goals would be for building different parts of the bridge. Pieces of the bridge should be built in a certain order and players earn bonuses for building them correctly. While Stone Age has it’s endgame scoring based on your game status (food track, # in tribe, etc.) Brooklyn Bridge scoring is based on how much your crew contributed to the bridge. I am plowing forward on this game and my goal is to have a playable prototype in January.
Dice Hate Me 54 Card Challenge
I am pretty excited for this contest. I know the awesome people from Dice Hate Me and it would be an honor to win this contest and get to work with them. For information on the contest itself go here.
Here’s the issue I have… knowing them they are seeking something that is awesome and has a unique and flavorful theme. I unfortunately currently have neither. I guess I had better start cooking something up!
A while back I mentioned that I would be putting this on The Game Crafter once I was happy with it. Unfortunately between BGG.con, Thanksgiving, and now the 54 card challenge I have not had time to work on this most awesome of games.
On the upside I have a plan for how to make the game better. Since the time after Christmas is usually a down time for a lot of things I should have time to finalize what I want the game to be. Then after I’ve played it at least 40-ish times I might feel comfortable posting it for sale on TGC. So those of you who love time traveling killer whales shouldn’t have too much longer to wait!
Ah, Conclave… what to do about you. We’ve had a love/hate relationship so far and I imagine that will only continue.
So Conclave is my game design about getting yourself elected as the next pope. The game includes manipulation of the Cardinals by persuading and influencing their votes. The problem with the game is that it is only pseudo-fun for one round and the game lasts 4 rounds or more.
I have a solution that could make the game fun and more interactive without adding any length to the game but I have been avoiding it. If I sat down for a day or two and worked away on Conclave I think I could have something enjoyable. I’m hoping to get to this during the long hours of nighttime in January and February.
That’s where I stand from a game design perspective. It’s always been fun for me to work on this stuff and I appreciate you reading about my design efforts. I hope to report back by the end of January with some awesome updates!
It’s usually this time of the year that I don’t put much effort into game design. Between Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas each about a month apart there’s always something to be looking forward to during these months. And that also typically means I travel more than normal to make sure I visit family.
So I find myself in the designer doldrums. A place no designer wants to be, yet I’m guessing we all find our way here at one point or another. My visit to the doldrums is aided by the upcoming Kickstarter campaign for Scoville. There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes and it has captured my attention like going on a first date. Never-the-less, I am adrift in the game design ocean and the wind has stopped blowing.
Today’s self-help article is all about how to get inspired and out of the doldrums. I am presenting 5 ways to get back in the game. So when you find yourself without inspiration or desire to design, try out these five things:
Play New Games
This one is a fairly obvious option. By playing games that are new to you you can get inside the mind of other designers. New games often have new quirks to mechanics that you may not have seen before. Those quirks might inspire you to try out a new mechanic of your own.
Read a Book
Often when you enter into someone’s creative world you can pick up little things that might inspire you. By reading a book you may find that you love the story and could be inspired to design a game that fits the theme. The other benefit of reading a book is that you get whisked away from everything else on your mind. You can get lost in the world inside the story. It’s often these moments of escape where you brain gets inspired!
Watch a Documentary
For inspiration I prefer documentaries over normal movies. Documentaries often share the nitty gritty of some topic that you otherwise might not find interesting. And often it is the nitty gritty that can give you inspiration. My first hand example is with my design for Brooklyn Bridge. I was watching a BBC documentary about it and the whole idea of sending workers into a caisson while risking caisson’s disease was really inspiring. It seemed to be something that could be a fun game mechanic. So find an interesting documentary and see if it reveals any interesting game mechanics!
Visit a National Park
One of my favorite ways to get inspired is to simply get outdoors. Despite the cold weather moving in, if you can get to a park and let your mind relax and forget about all the other stuff that makes your life busy, then you might be able to get inspired. While nature itself isn’t necessarily the thing that I look to for game mechanics, it is the place I can go to do some clear thinking about game mechanics. Plus, who doesn’t like to smell the fresh air and get away from things for a while?
Clean Your Workspace
This last one isn’t nearly as fun as the first four, but I find it can be just as inspiring. My workbench and design area often fills up with clutter, game components, tools, and more. The result is that it becomes a non-useable space. The clutter ends up hindering my design abilities. So every once in a while I like to spend an afternoon and completely overhaul the space and get it cleaned up. Once that workspace is pristine I find that I can sit there and really think about game design. If your workspace is cluttered, then perhaps your brain is cluttered too. Clean up your desk and your mind will be able to work better.
Those are some of the ways that I like to break out of the designer doldrums. Where do you turn for inspiration and ambition?
Welcome to another Design Me exercise day on Boards and Barley. As a former competitive athlete I know the importance of practice. As a soccer player it is important to practice with your team so that you can learn how you work together on the field. But it is also important to practice and exercise on your own so you make sure your body is in the best shape possible so that you can be successful when it’s game day!
I feel like exercise and practice are important for the brain as well. That’s why I’ve been writing these Design Me articles. The idea for these articles is to exercise my brain so that I can perform as well as I can when actually designing games with the intent of pitching them some day.
I’ve been using a cool new online tool called Boardgamizer. It is perfect for coming up with a topic for these Design Me articles. The way it works is that it spits out a mechanic or two, a theme, and a victory condition. Then you can take that and see if you can come up with a game design around those things. Here’s the result I got for today:
So today we are going to exercise our brain and come up with a bidding/auction game with a holy theme where the goal is to place all your pieces. Piece of cake!
In The Beginning
The idea behind “In The Beginning” is that you are playing a role in building the earth. There are mountains, rivers, forests, deserts, and other terrain that need to be placed onto the bare Earth. The winner will be the player who can put out all of their pieces first.
The pieces that players must place are sets of different terrain tiles. Each round a set of terrain cards will be available for auctioning. Players will then obtain terrain cards from the auction. These terrain cards can then be played according to a small set of rules, which will then allow that player to place some of the terrain tiles from their supply.
Each player begins with the same number and types of terrain tiles. For example, each player might have 2 desert tiles, 3 forest tiles, 4 river tiles, 5 ocean tiles, and 6 mountain tiles and so on. The desert tiles would be the most difficult to place while the mountain tiles would be the easiest to place.
- 1 Board showing a bare earth covered in a hex grid
- 27 Bidding tokens in each player color numbered 1 to 27
- 1 Blank bidding token in each player color
- Deck of terrain cards – 20 of each terrain type
- Hexagonal Terrain Tiles – 20 per player
- Guide sheets for terrain interactions
How To Play:
In each round there will be a number of piles equal to the number of players plus 2 placed next to the board. The number of cards in the piles will vary as the game goes on. During the first three rounds the piles will each have 2 cards. During rounds 4-6 the piles will have three cards. And during rounds 7-9 the piles will have 4 cards.
Players will be bidding on these piles of cards simultaneously by using bidding tokens. Each player has a set of bidding tokens numbered 1 to 27. They may place only one token at each pile face down. Players MUST bid on at least one pile. Players may bid a total of 35 bidding points in any given round. For example, a player may bid on one pile with their “27″ token. Then they would only have 8 bidding points left. They could place any combination of bidding tokens totaling 8 points onto remaining bidding piles. All players will place their bids face down. Players may “bluff” by placing their blank token at a bidding pile.
Once all bids are placed they are flipped face up. Whichever player has the highest bid at a pile wins those cards. Their bidding token is then discarded for the rest of the game. If a player loses an auction by less than 5 bidding points they can draw a card from the deck. Their bidding tokens are also discarded. If a player loses an auction by more than 5 bidding points they will keep their bidding token but do not get to draw a card.
So in the example image above here are the results:
- Pile #1: Yellow wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Red loses, but is only 5 away from the winning bid, so Red discards their bidding token and draws a card from the deck. Blue is not within 5 of the winning bid so they keep their bidding token but do not get a card.
- Pile #2: Red wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards.
- Pile #3: Blue wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Yellow loses, but is within 5 away from the winning bid, so Yellow discards their bidding token and draws a card from the deck.
- Pile #4: Red wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards. Blue loses, and is not within 5 of the winning bid, so Blue keeps their bidding token but does not draw a card.
- Pile #5: Blue wins, discards their bidding token and takes the cards.
These bidding piles are important because of the cards that they are offering. Because placement of tiles is what wins the game players will be looking to make combinations of cards that allow them to place as many tiles on each turn as possible. So once players obtain cards they can turn them in, in player order, to place their terrain tiles on the board.
Placing terrain tiles follows a logical order. For example, you wouldn’t put a desert next to a forest. Well, you could, but it would cost you an extra card. At the start of the game one mountain tile is placed as a starting tile on the board. Any other tile can be placed next to Mountain. But after that there are a series of logical rules for placing the other terrain types.
These rules are things like, if you place X terrain by Y terrain then it costs one extra card, or 1 fewer card, or “you must place three”. So there would be a series of these types of rules. So players will want to build the right combinations of sets of cards in their hand so that they can play more terrain tiles than their opponents.
This exercise could turn into a full game design if I put in the effort to create the terrain placement ruleset, which I just might do.
Your Designer Perspective:
So what are your thoughts about this game design? Are there any glaring holes in the design? Is anything obviously broken?
What would you have come up with for the design based on the Boardgamizer criteria? I imagine there are an infinite number of ways to go with those criteria. So make sure you are exercising your game designer mind! And have a great weekend!
Time only offers itself once. So you’d better use it as efficiently as possible. As every designer knows, it’s rare if you are ever working on only one project. I am just the same. I am currently working on four projects, not including Scoville.And I could certainly use a few more hours in the day. So I thought I’d give you a status update for each of the games currently in my “active” queue. My hope is that by writing this I’ll get a better idea of which game(s) on which I should focus my few game design hours per week.
And I’ve decided to set a goal: I want to have a playable and fun game by Christmas.
In the past I have set emotional goals, like “I want to send a game to a publisher by October.” How is that an emotional goal? It’s emotional because it has to do with making me happy versus making a good game. So this new goal is avoidably non-emotional. It’s all about the game. So I am going to attempt to spend the next three months hammering away at the stone to reveal a beautiful sculpture, and hope that it is a decent board game!
Let’s get started with last week’s Design Me game…
I designed it last Friday and by Saturday evening it had already been through four playtests. I’m not sure what your typical Concept to Playtest timeline looks like but this isn’t my typical timeline. There are a few things that the game has going for it to have allowed for four playtests.
- It’s simple to prototype
- It’s simple to teach
- It plays in about 10 minutes
So when I arrived at Protospiel-Milwaukee last Saturday I snagged a few of the free components that The Game Crafter had donated and threw together a copy.
In the game you are a killer whale who can jump across time, which is represented by jumping across the 4×4 grid. The game lasts 8 rounds. Each round two new boats are placed randomly into the grid using two d4s. Then each player chooses one card, which represents a location on the grid, to jump to. If there are boats there, they can eat them. If there are multiple boats, then they’ll have to discard cards to eat them. There are a few other rules, but the player who eats the most boats wins the game.
I think I might be able to design this into a complete game by next week, let alone by Christmas. It could also easily be rethemed. In fact, during Protospiel-Milwaukee I did retheme it based on some components available there. Several people playtested it with the theme of Space Monsters eating asteroids. So maybe I’ll have the game be dual-themed. If you like the killer whale idea you could play on that side of the tiles. If you like the Space Monsters theme you could play on that side.
The bottom line is that this game was fun, plays quickly, and comes in a small box. That’s an awesome combination.
I’m not typically an area control/area majority kind of guy. However, Conclave is all about area control. In the game you represent one of the Preferiti, the cardinal’s on the short list to be the next pope. You are also representing a order of Catholicism, which can allow me to do some interesting things with the design.
The current state of the game is that it isn’t very fun. While I think there are some interesting mechanics in the game, they just don’t seem to work together to make something that is fun. That’s not good.
But I have some ideas. Since the game revolves around holding the control of different tables, with varying numbers of cardinals sitting at them, then I can add in objectives to the game while keeping it reasonably thematic. The idea would be that the game can be won if a global victory condition is met, otherwise it will be won by a combination of points, which represent how well you manipulated the college of cardinals.
There would be both shared and secret objectives. Once a player completes a shared objective, they place a pawn on it and will earn those points at the end. When a played completes a secret objective it must be revealed. This card will remain in from of them and will be scored at the end.
So I have some good paths forward with Conclave. Now I just have to decide where it actually resides in my priority queue.
Call me Ishmael, for I have discovered a white whale by the name of Trading Post.
Trading Post was my first experience with trying to design a really heavy game. I failed miserably. However, I love the theme and some of the core mechanics so I’d like to do a third complete reboot. Note, however, that the first two reboots were more like retrofitting rather than redesigning.
To redesign the game I want to achieve the following things:
- Make it more historic
- Make it focused on Trading, explicitly about trading furs for European goods.
- Make it fun.
- Make it complex.
So I sat down at the end of August and came up with what I think will be a really great game. The idea of the game is that you are a Trader working for a Trading Post. Your objectives in the game (read: “Ways to score points”) are to go on hunting excursions to collect furs, trade furs for goods, use goods to help build the Trading post. That’s the 10,000 foot view of the game.
There are a few other things going on in the game that I think are unique and interesting. There is a time-dependence for being able to do things in the game. For example, when you send furs to Europe, they have to ride on the boat, which takes time. There is also a concept of chopping wood and floating it down the river towards the Trading Post. So players would have to set themselves up to receive the large amounts of wood when they arrive.
Overall I’m pretty excited to be able to think about this game from a fresh perspective. It’ll be interesting to see how it comes along.
This is a very recent game design of mine. As you can imagine, the theme is that of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the game you represent a crew of workers that are helping to build the bridge. It is similar to Stone Age in that you place workers in different areas of the board one location at a time. It is different from Stone Age in that one player cannot remove all their workers and take all their actions at once. Instead, players will remove their workers and take the actions one location at a time.
What that introduces is an interesting dichotomy about placing and removing workers. You might be able to get a good spot in the Materials office, but someone might beat you to building a section of the bridge. You might get lucky and not experience the bends when working in the caisson, or your worker might have to undergo a stage decompression.
This game will be a balance between obtaining goods and earning money. The goal is to contribute the most to the bridge and that will ultimately be the player who earns the most money.
As of today this is still a pretty rough concept. I’ve mocked up some tiles so that I can test a few things. I’m not sure this one (or Trading Post) could really be a full prototype by Christmas, but we shall see.
The Path Forward
So those are the four concepts currently in my active queue. This gives me enough variety and enough challenges to work on while not being overwhelming. But if I try to work on all four then I’m afraid none of them will be ready before Christmas. So I present my first ever poll, for which I am sure to get thousands of votes. Please vote for the game design you would most like to see fully prototyped:
Thanks for reading and voting! I’m hoping to bring you good game design updates over the next three months!