Category Archives: Game Design

Ziggurat: Building the Game

I designed Ziggurat the Thursday evening before Prototspiel-Madison in October. I prototyped it the Friday of Protospiel. It was played four times during Protospiel. And I am finally putting together the pieces to turn it into an awesome game!

So today I want to share a little bit about the game and the basics of how it plays. But first here’s a history lesson:

What is a Ziggurat?

Ziggurats are like the Sumerian equivalent of Egyptian pyramids. They are basically a huge brick structure with several levels. They served as the focal point of worship in those ancient cultures. Often it is believed that a temple was built atop the ziggurats.

And since I’d rather focus on the game rather than the history, here’s the Wikipedia link: Ziggurat

The Game…

The thrust of the game revolves around building the Ziggurat. As the design currently stands you have two options on your turn:

  1. Purchase resources (bricks, laborers, special abilities) from the courtyard marketplace.
  2. Spend bricks and laborers to build the Ziggurat.

One of my design goals is to come up with games that are accessible and easy to teach. Ziggurat is like that. The simplicity of limiting what actions can be taken makes the game accessible for non-gamers.

The region of interest, in terms of adding strategy, is to design compelling and interesting decisions into those two options. For example, when purchasing from the courtyard market, would you be willing to pay a higher price for a better card? Also, when building the Ziggurat, does the location where you are building matter?

These are the sorts of things I’m trying to design into Ziggurat. Let’s take a look at the prototype.

The Prototype…

I had previously obtained some components from The Game Crafter at a prior Protospiel event. It turns out that the components I had worked perfectly for what I wanted to achieve with Ziggurat. Here is a first look at the bare prototype:

Barebones prototype demonstrating the 3D nature of the game.

Bare bones prototype demonstrating the 3D nature of the game.

The Ziggurat is composed of three levels. On each level there are platforms that need to be built. Players will build the platforms by spending the appropriate resource and then placing one of their player cubes onto the platform. Once the first level is completed it will be scored. Then the large square tiles for the second level will be placed on top of it. Here is a look at the Prototype with more details on the tiles and platforms.

The Ramp lists what the scoring conditions are for the current game.

The Ramp lists what the scoring conditions are for the current game.

One thing of great importance in the game are the platforms. Each platform requires 4 cubes. When any given platform is completed, each player who helped build the platform will earn some reward. The rewards available are shown on the corners of the tiles. This is a way to ramp things up in the game and loosen the tightness of the resources. It also incentivizes building, which is the whole idea of the game.

Here’s another picture of Ziggurat at the end of a Protospiel playtest:

Ziggurat Completed! Time for final scoring.

Ziggurat Completed! Time for final scoring.

In the bottom left of the image above you can see the courtyard market. In the current version of the game there are six cards in the market. Players may purchase up to two cards. The card at the end costs zero and the costs ramp up as 1, 1, 2, 3, 4. The image has different costs, which I have since adjusted.

The Latest Prototype…

I’m a sucker for creating decent looking artwork and graphics. I use Inkscape, which I recommend. I mocked up some cards and placed an order with TheGameCrafter.com. Here’s what they look like:

Each card represents a laborer OR the resources on the back.

Each card represents a laborer OR the resources on the back.

With a deck made I decided it was time to upgrade the tiles and platforms as well. So I did. Here’s the final result which shows the current state of the game:

Not too shabby, for a prototype!

Not too shabby, for a prototype!

I have some big plans for the game. I want it to be slightly less singular in terms of your goals so I’ll be adding a few other paths to victory. But I solidly enjoy the game as it is.

Feel free to ask any questions. I’m excited to hear what people think and I’m just as excited about the future of the game. This one feels like Scoville did when I designed that. I think there’s a lot of potential here. Thanks for reading!

Game Design: Starter Prototyping Tools

Game Design Process: Prototyping

Game Design Process: Prototyping

I recently asked myself the following question: “If I were to start over with game design, which prototyping tools would I buy to get started?” I’ve made numerous prototypes and I’ve learned what to do and what not to do. So today I present a set of prototyping tools to help get you started as a game designer.

When I got started out I didn’t want to throw a lot of money at prototypes. This was because I had no idea if the prototypes would ever actually go anywhere. I was fortunate to have a wife who used to do physical scrapbooking. So I had some tools available to me that wouldn’t have otherwise been available.

Never-the-less, there are some key tools and resources that I think every game designer can utilize to make high quality prototypes at low(ish) cost and with relative ease. For the sake of this article I will assume that you can print on photo paper (I recommend Kodak 8.5×11 – 100 sheets).

Game Prototyping Resources

First, let’s cover where to get some basic resource type things. These are my go-to retailers for these items:

Game Prototyping Tools

Things that are not mentioned above include boards, tiles, tokens, reference sheets, rulebooks, and more.  I generally use the same process to make all of those except a rulebook. I don’t typically make a rulebook.

To make my prototype components feel like high quality I purchase the following materials:

  • Matte board remnants from Hobby Lobby for super cheap. You can get a stack of about 25 12″x12″ matte boards for about $6.
  • Kodak Photo Paper (100 sheets for ~ $15)
  • Non-OEM ink for my inkjet printer via eBay. (I bought 5 full sets of ink cartridges for ~$20)
  • Glue Sticks – you’ll want to keep several on hand.

I often create artwork and then print it on the photo paper. I glue it down to the matte board. Then I break out my most highly recommended tool: The Rotary Cutter!

The Rotary Cutter

Easily worth the cost!

Easily worth the cost!

This has been my most-used tool for creating game prototypes.

I have a Fiskars rotary cutter similar to the one shown in the picture. You can buy it here:

Fiskars Rotary Cutter: $26.49

It isn’t the best cutter. You can pay a lot more money for better cutters. But it does exactly what I need it to do for my prototypes. Other cutter options include:

There are more options than those, so if you don’t like those options feel free to do more thorough searching.

I use this tool to cut out the components that have been printed and glued to the matter board. This cutter works well enough for that.

Punches

Great for cardstock chits!

Great for cardstock chits!

Other great tools for designers are punches. These are used to quickly create tokens and chits. When I create tokens and chits I usually prefer printing the artwork onto thicker stock paper so they are more rigid. 90lb or 100lb paper is usually a good weight.

There are a plethora of different punches out there, but for the sake of board games you’ll most likely be interested in circle and hex punches and corner rounders. Here are some options.

As before, go ahead and do some more searching to find the right product for you.

Sharpies

Sharpie

I am firmly in the Sharpie camp. I love them. They are bold, colorful, and extremely useful. Sharpies can be used to create prototype components rapidly, especially in the case where you own blank cards because you took my recommendation above.

By having a variety of Sharpies you become an unstoppable force of game design awesomeness!

I use them to create prototypes. I use them to mark up my prototypes. I use them to revise my prototypes. I use them to draw silly pictures for my kids.

Seriously, Sharpies are fantastic. I feel they are a must-have for any game designer, if for no other reason than to be able to practice your signature for the time when lovers of your games will ask for your autograph for their game box!

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I feel like this article needs more tools in it, but those are the only tools I utilize on a regular basis. Are there prototyping tools that you use regularly? Post a comment and let everyone know which prototyping tools you prefer!

The Purpose of Expansions

Carcassonne and several of its expansions. Photo via wordsgoneby.blogspot.com.

Scoville is on the ocean in a container on a massive vessel (info via latest KS update). That’s pretty sweet and it means that the time is rapidly approaching when all of the awesome Kickstarter backers will be able to get Scoville to the table! I couldn’t be more excited.

So naturally I might as well begin work on an expansion (which I playtested last week!). Working on it has brought me to the question of “What is the purpose of an Expansion?” Today I’ll briefly try to address that. Throughout I’ll be using Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride as examples.

From a designer’s perspective here are the three main reasons I think a game should receive an expansion :

  1. Increase Replayability and Variability
  2. Add something new
  3. Add depth

And here are three reasons a publisher may want to publish an expansion (in addition to those above, of course):

  1. Sell more of the original game
  2. Make money at a higher margin since expansions don’t typically cost as much
  3. Provide more quality products to help build your catalog

Obviously the designer reasons and the publisher reasons that I provided are not nearly exhaustive, so take that however you want. I’ll only be covering the reasons for an expansion from the designer’s perspective. At the end I’ll also provide some things that an expansion SHOULD NOT do.

Increase Replayability and Variability

One of the things I like to design into my games is the ability to play it over and over and never have the same experience.I like to define Replayability and Variability thusly:

REPLAYABILITY: When a game can be played over and over again without it feeling old and “samey” despite the setup and game conditions being identical.

VARIABILITY: When a game presents different scenarios for play such that no two plays could ever be identical.

Kingdom Builder – Variable Setup FTW!

Those sound the same and they basically mean the same thing to me. The point is that I do not want to play a game the exact same way it was played prior. That turns the players into robots seeking to find the optimal plays in a game. I prefer games where it is different based on who you are playing with or how the game is designed.

This can be accomplished in several ways but most often via randomness. Sometimes the original design doesn’t receive all the variability the game deserves. Other times the designer comes up with new ways to increase variability after the game is published. Either way, creating an expansion is a great way to bring the game to people’s tables again and make the experience better.

Some of my favorite examples of expansions increasing the replayability/variability of a game are the Carcassonne expansions. (They actually meet all three “expansion” criteria I am mentioning today, so I’ll use this example for each below as well.) The Carcassonne expansions add replayability because they implement situations that are different based on the people you are playing with and based on the tiles you draw.

But perhaps the best instance that I can think of for variability is with the random board setup and scoring conditions from Kingdom Builder. That is one of the most replayable and variable games in my collection and that doesn’t necessarily refer to the expansions.

Add Something New

Add something new… like new routes to Ticket to Ride!

Sometimes a game is deserving of a new addition that changes the game and how it is played. Adding something new to a game can make players want to play it again. It can be a new mechanic, new components, new cards, dice, etc.

Adding something new doesn’t necessarily add depth. Adding new elements can simply make the game enjoyable to play again.

In the Carcassonne world, the Inns and Cathedrals expansion did not really increase depth. Rather, by adding something new it lured gamers to play again and again. The Inns and Cathedrals addition is very minor but it adds enough to change the way people play the game.

Another example is the USA 1910 expansion for Ticket to Ride. Basically it adds a bunch of routes without changing any rules. This is such a simple and smooth expansion to integrate with the base game. Designer’s should keep these sorts of additions in mind with creating expansions.

An easy (actually ridiculously easy) way to expand Scoville is to design a whole bunch of new recipes that utilize previously unused combinations of peppers. This would add something new to the game without changing a single rule. Ironically I hadn’t thought of that until just now, while writing the article. I will be creating 20 new recipes!

Add Depth

Grain, Beer, and Fruit by the Foot!

Often an expansion will provide ways to make a game deeper strategically, tactically, or even thematically. This usually coincides with adding something new. A new mechanic can be added to the game that changes the gameplay or injects depth of decisions. Or perhaps new components are added that add depth via breadth (is that even possible?). I suppose that would be something like instead of limiting the game to four different resources, you could bump it to 6, which could add depth.

The idea behind this reason is to take a game that players have become familiar with and make it deeper. Sometimes players refer to this as “heavier.”

In Carcassonne the Traders and Builders expansion adds notable depth. Players have the objectives of finishing castles such that they earn the bonus tokens of Grain, Beer, and Fruit by the Foot (or maybe grain, wine, and cloth… not sure). This sort of depth adds a distinct layer to the strategy players utilize during the game.

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What Expansions SHOULD NOT do…

I am of the opinion that expansions should not:

  1. Cost more than the base game (Though I suppose an argument could be made for certain situations).
  2. Change the base game so dramatically that it is a completely different thing.
  3. Detract from the original concept of the base game.
  4. Add an overwhelming number of new rules or exceptions to rules.
  5. Modify the original rules.

Not an expansion.

So the simplest way to create an expansion is to simply add some new components like the Ticket to Ride USA 1910 expansion. That expansion did not cost more than the base game. It did not change the base game at all. It did not detract from the original concept. It added zero new rules. And it did not modify the rules. That’s a streamlined expansion.

When expansions violate the 5 points I listed then they start to break away from what I consider an expansion and fall more in line with a whole new game. This would be akin to Ticket to Ride – Europe. The base game is the same but there are new components, new rules, and the original rules were modified enough that this doesn’t meet my criteria for an expansion.

NOTE: Ticket to Ride – Europe was neither marketed nor sold as an expansion.

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So what do you think? What makes an expansion worthwhile to you? What are some of you favorite and least favorite expansions? Thanks for reading!

Grand Illusion Update

GrandIllusionLogoV2

Today I wanted to report on the progress of The Grand Illusion. Normally I do that on Thursdays and I was planning on posting a game review today but I’m excited about the game so I figured I’d write about it.

What’s New?

I’ve begun prototyping! I have created a deck of skill cards. These cards represent the 9 types of magic in the game. The types of magic are in two separate tiers: basic and advanced. There are 6 basic types and 3 advanced types. Here is a picture showing the skill cards (thanks to The Game Crafter for blank cards – They have blank poker cards on sale right now for 1 cent each!).

Collect these and use them to perform never-before-seen magic tricks to appease your growing audience!

Collect these and use them to perform never-before-seen magic tricks to appease your growing audience!

Those are hand-drawn icons, people!

What’s Next?

The next step for the prototype is to create a deck of Trick cards. These are cards that represent magic tricks. During the game you’ll need to collect the skill cards shown above and then turn them in to complete the magic tricks.

Once you perform a magic trick you will earn the rewards and audience shown on the card.

So let’s discuss audience… Audience is actually a currency in the game. It is necessary to build an audience during the game or you will not meet the requirements on your Grand Illusion card. So each time you perform a trick, if successful, you will gain audience. In the game you will collect skill cards, spend them to perform tricks, gain audience and increase your skills to be able to perform better tricks.

There will definitely be some engine building in the game. The goal of this design is to be an entry-level game with an easy rule set that is quick to teach and play. The main mechanics are set collection and engine building.

Engine Building

Engine building in games refers to the idea of obtaining some ability or benefit that let’s you do things a little better, then getting another one that builds on the previous ability or benefit.

In The Grand Illusion the engine is represented by the skills each magician will gain. Will you become a master of vanishing acts? Perhaps you’ll be the best at restoration magic? Ultimately you’ll have to get proficient at at least two basic types of magic and one advanced magic.

The question I’m currently struggling with is how exactly to create the engine building element. I have two options I’m considering:

1) Splendor-Like

In the game Splendor players turn in poker chips to grab a card from the table. Once they grab that card it usually acts as a poker chip. So for future card grabs they need one less poker chip. This would work perfectly for The Grand Illusion but I don’t want to copycat an existing game.

2) Tech Tree

A tech tree is something where you must complete “Level 1” stuff before you can work on “Level 2.” So in The Grand Illusion I could have a tech tree (pyramid) of trick cards on the table. When a player would perform a trick they would place a token of their player color on the trick to show they’ve completed it. This would also direct their play as there would be advantages and disadvantages for breadth versus depth.

I think that once I create the Trick deck I’ll try out both of these options. The Splendor-like version may work better, but I’m more drawn to the Tech Tree version since it is more original.

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My goal is to prototype the skills deck this weekend and aim for the first playtest next week! Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the different engine building options.

The Grand Illusion Update 8-28-14

Preliminary LogoAs I continue to work on The Grand Illusion I get more and more excited about the potential of the game. Not only is it focused on Victorian era magicians and illusionists, but I also think that the gameplay in interesting and intriguing.

Today I’m going to discuss that gameplay a little more in depth. So far I’ve discussed the theme, the core mechanics, and the drafting mechanic. Ironically both the core mechanics and drafting mechanic are changing. I’ll explain why today. But let’s recap a few things, starting with the objective of the game:

The Objective:

As a street magician/illusionist it is your dream to work your way up and have a popular show in a highly successful theater. To do that you must win over the crowd, from the few stragglers on the street at the start of the game to larger and larger audiences as your reputation advances.

You objective in the game is to increase your skills and earn enough reputation to successfully perform your Grand Illusion to as large an audience as possible. Points are awarded based on your skill levels, the size of your audience (this potentially may change), and the number and variety of tricks you performed throughout the game.

What I want the game to be:

I absolutely love the movie, The Prestige. Here is a quote that best represents how I want things to operate:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge“. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn“. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige“.

I love when games escalate and this simple three-step process of Pledge, Turn, and Prestige is ideal for that. However, I don’t want players to only work on one trick throughout the game. So I would rather have the game work in three stages where things ramp up automatically as if a player were progressing from the Pledge to the Turn and finally to the Prestige. The question is whether or not I can accomplish that through the game design.

The Gameplay:

Previously I had shown these icons for the basic types of magic:

iconsV1

These represent the only types of magic a player can perform early in the game. It will be important to perform these because they will allow you to “unlock” new magic types by increasing your skills.

SIDE NOTE: One thing I’ve been going back and forth on for The Grand Illusion is whether I want the game to be phase based (meaning in each round players all do phase A, then phase B, then …) or turn based (meaning players have options A, B, C… and on their turn they choose one). At this point I’m going with turn based. (I’m dropping the draft mechanic for now)

So I mentioned that players can perform tricks and increase skills but I haven’t really explained that. Here we go…

ON YOUR TURN:

There are three options for each turn. These are:

  1. Perform a trick (Including your Grand Illusion)
  2. Draw magic cards
  3. Increase your skills

Let’s explain these in more detail.

Perform a Trick

You can turn in magic cards from your hand to complete an available face up trick on the table. These trick cards will have magic requirements. When you turn in the correct cards you will “perform the trick.” After that, take the trick card and place it face up in front of you. This card will have a magic type on it that represents a skill you can now increase. It also has an audience rating. The audience rating will be important for being able to perform your Grand Illusion.

Draw Magic Cards

It will be important to keep your hand stocked with the correct types of magic cards as you work up to your Grand Illusion. You can simply draw magic cards from the face up cards or the deck based on your skill levels.

Increase your Skills

Once you have successfully performed tricks those cards will be in front of you. To increase the skills shown on the cards you will have to turn in different sets of magic cards. When you do you can then place a skill marker on the trick card to show that you have increased that skill. If you have several cards of the same type you can simply stack them in a way that you can still see how many you have. Your skill level will tentatively be number of cards times number of skill increase tokens. Increasing your skills is necessary to be able to perform your Grand Illusion.

Scoring:

The game ends once a player has performed their Grand Illusion. When they do, all other players will have one final turn.

Points are earned from several categories:

  • Number of tricks performed
  • Types of magic performed
  • Skill levels
  • Grand Illusions (if completed)

In the game you can focus on a singular path toward your Grand Illusion and try to maximize skill points on one type of magic. Alternatively you can attempt to score via breadth of magic types and complete a high variety of tricks. Ultimately this game will be a race to complete your Grand Illusion. But hopefully along the way there will be fun and interesting decisions.

What’s Next?

It’s time to prototype this. I’m ready to get this to the table and start playing it. I’m pretty happy with the direction it is going. After the feedback from readers regarding the drafting mechanic I think I’ll save that for a different game. I believe it was distracting from the thrust of what I want this game to be. So it’s gone and I’m ready to start playtesting (once I put some cards together). It will be my goal to create a PNP file to share once I’ve playtested a few times so that I can possibly get some early feedback from gamers and designers. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for reading!

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