Category Archives: Design Me

Every other Friday I try to come up with a totally random game design and turn it into a coherent concept. I pick a mechanic and solicit a theme from an outside source (Twitter, Boardgamizer, and others). All of these Design Me articles are found here…

Design Me: Area Movement

It’s time to flex my brain muscle once again! Why? Because it’s a Design Me Friday! Every other Friday I do some exercise… of the mind! The idea behind these Design Me articles is to practice being creative and see what I can come up with in the spur of the moment.

In the last two exercises I designed a dice rolling worker placement game about brewing beer and a grid movement resource collection game about flying your aircar around a distopian world. What ever might I come up with today???

Once again I am using the tool from Boardgamizer for the inspiration for today’s exercise. Let’s see what it came up with:

Time traveling boats capturing other boats while only having 18 cards. This could be challenging to design!

Time traveling boats capturing other boats while only having 18 cards. This could be challenging to design!

Quantum Orcas

A little closer and that boat’s a goner!

Alright, where would one begin with a time traveling boat game based on capturing other boats all while having less than 18 cards?? Time Pirates is the first thing that came to mind, but I cannot compete with the Alan R. Moon version of that game. So I’ll go a different route. Whales.

This is only my third Design Me article, but all of the names of these fake games have been terrible. So there’s no reason I can’t call this game Quantum Orcas. But I admit, it is a pretty lame title.

In Quantum Orcas you are a killer whale that likes to eat boats. You also possess the awesome ability to jump through time. Okay… you can’t really jump through time. You can merely freeze time to make it appear that you are jumping through time. I guess the whales realized that swimming was too slow so they had their scientists (Beluga whales) design time jumping suits for them to wear so they could eat more boats.


I’m designing this as a two player game of epic boat munching awesomeness. Here are the components:

  • 48 Cards (16 for each player and 16 for the grid)
  • 8 Number tokens to mark the grid (4 gray and 4 blue)
  • 2 Four-sided dice (one gray and one blue)
  • 2 Whaleeples
  • 6 Large boat pawns
  • 12 Small boat pawns
  • Rulebook

The objective of the game is to chomp the most boats. To set up the game, shuffle and randomly place the 16 grid cards into a 4 x 4 grid. Then line up the blue and gray number tokens along the top and left edges of the grid as shown below. Then each player will roll the two 4-sided dice to determine their starting grid location. In the image below Blue rolled Gray-4 and Blue-1 while Green rolled Gray-2 and Blue-3.

Each player has a hand of 16 cards that represent the grid locations. Throughout the game you can only play each card once. The game is played over 10 rounds, so not all locations will be visited by both players.

At the start of the game each player will roll the two dice to determine the location of a small boat and a large boat. Therefore there will also be 4 boats out on the water. Note: Boats cannot be placed on the whale locations, so if that happened, the dice should be re-rolled until the boat can be placed on a vacant spot. Here’s the game after initial setup:

The orcas are getting hungry!

The orcas are getting hungry!

How to Play

In each round (except the first) players will each roll the dice to determine where to place a new boat. Once rolled, players will choose whether to place a big boat or a small boat at that location. At this point it does not matter whether or not a whale is already at that location. Place the boat there anyway because the whale will be moving off of that spot.

Once the boats have been placed then the players will choose a card from their hand, which represents a grid location. Each player will reveal their card simultaneously. Players will then move their pawns onto the corresponding grid spot.

If there is a small boat at that location, players will “EAT” the boat and move it to their area on the table in front of them. If there is a big boat at that location, players will “EAT” the boat and move it to their area on the table in front of them AND randomly discard one of their remaining cards. Over time a whale may come to a spot where there are more than 1 boat. If this is the case, the player may discard cards from their hand equivalent to the number of boats on that location and then eat them all. For example, if the green player moved to a spot where there were two small boats, that player may discard two cards and eat both of them. A player may choose to not discard any more cards and then would get to eat only a small boat from that spot. Big boats always require the discarding of a card, so if a whale came to a spot where there was a small boat and a big boat, it would cost three cards to eat them both.

Note: discarded cards are removed from the game.

Once each player has moved their whale and eaten a boat if possible, then it’s on to the next round. Note: this movement mechanism represents the whales jumping through time to come up on the boat without the boat being able to flee.

If, however, both players chose the same location then it becomes a Whale Duel! Players check to see how many boats they have eaten (Big boats count as 2 small boats). If one player has eaten fewer, that player wins the duel since their voracious appetite would cause them to womp on the other whale and win the battle. If both players have eaten the same number of ships then each player will choose and reveal a card from their hand. They will add together the blue and gray values. Whomever has the highest total will win the battle and will have to discard their card. The loser does not have to discard their card. If there is still a tie, no player eats the boat and the bosun and captain grab a bottle of rum and celebrate!

After ten rounds each player will total their value of boats eaten, keeping in mind that big boats count as 2 small boats. The player who has eaten the most boats wins the game!

Your Designer Perspective

So what would you change about this game design? Did I miss anything major? Are there holes in the design? Anything seem broken?

Those are all excellent questions that designers need to constantly be asking about their designs. I challenge you to use the Boardgamizer tool to try and come up with something on the fly. It can be a lot of fun!

Today’s Design Me exercise was actually a lot of fun. I think I could mock this game up relatively quickly and see how it plays out. Thanks for reading today, and don’t forget to exercise your game designer brain!

Design Me: Tile Placement

Two weeks ago I started this new bi-weekly feature called Design Me. The idea is that I come up with a random game design on the fly in an act of basically barfing a design into words that you are now reading! For the first Design Me I came up with a dice drafting/worker placement game called The Rolling Wort Boil. Today, after soliciting theme suggestions on Twitter and receiving none (I assume you all were at lunch) I have decided to collaborate with an awesome new tool available.

The tool is called Boardgamizer. It is a website that punches you in the gut with ideas for game designs. The way it works is it randomly chooses Mechanics, Themes, Victory Conditions, and Constraints. Then it’s up to you to let your mind plug away and come up with something. That basically makes Boardgamizer the perfect tool for these articles!

Here is the result for today:

Distopian Flight Tile Placement? Sounds good to me!

Distopian Flight Tile Placement? Sounds good to me!

Hou-ti-son Basin

I’d fly in that!

The concept behind Hou-ti-son Basin is that the world has undergone massive changes. With the invention of flying automobiles, referred to as aircars, the road infrastructure has been completely neglected and mostly destroyed. There are only a few roads left that can be landed on. The other development is that with the aircars came aircar accidents. In the air there are no roads, so people would fly wherever they wanted, however fast they wanted.

Unfortunately when aircars crash in the air, they fall to the ground, often on houses or buildings. That’s not so good.

The other problem with the future is that supplies are very limited. People have to make death-defying flights to scary locations where they are put at risk so that they can purchase the supplies they need. But at the same time, they must be careful not to stock too many supplies at their “base of operations” lest they become a target of theft.

How To Play

At it’s heart, Hou-ti-son Basin is a tile placement game. Each turn players will draw and place a tile like they do in Carcassonne. However, the main thing that differentiates Hou-ti-son Basin from Carcassonne is that the tiles will be used for movement. This probably makes it more similar to Tsuro or Cable Car.

But there’s a catch. Players may place tiles on top of already existing tiles. The tiles themselves will show the flight paths that you are allowed to take with your craft. But flight paths are expensive to register with the recently founded Hou-ti-son Basin Aerial Flight Commision Ministry of Aerial Convenience. That means you’ll likely have to share the cost burden with your opponents by adding and sharing your flight paths. That save money, but opens the door to thievery and aircar accidents.

To win the game you will have to defend your base. That means you have to successfully fly out and procure the correct types of resources and return them to your base. This also means that you will have to protect your base from thievery. If other player have a flight path that connects to your base, they then have the capability to fly in there and steal some of your resources. To prevent that you will need to be close enough to your base to eliminate their flight path that gives them access.

So each player will have a secret card that shows their victory condition. These are different combinations of resources that they need to procure. If at any time their victory condition is met, all of the players will have one more turn to try to also meet their victory condition. If there are multiple players that meet their victory condition on the same turn, then the player with the most resources will win.

Tile Placement

The tiles themselves represent the different resources in the game. For the sake of simplicity for this article I have created three different types. Let’s pretend they are water (blue), corn (green), and biomass (brown). Here are the available tile types in this quick design exercise:

The six types of tiles in Hou-ti-son Basin.

The six types of tiles in Hou-ti-son Basin.

There are a few rules to how tiles can be placed:

  • White flight paths must line up.
  • A tile can only be placed over a tile of the same color.
  • Tiles can never be place over one’s starting base.
  • Tiles must be placed orthogonal to already existing tiles.

The resources a player earns in the game are a direct result of their flight path. If a flight path has three or more of any type (color) of resource in a row, you earn one of those resources when you fly your aircar. If a flight path has 5 or more of the same color in a row, you earn 3 of that resource. So players will need to carefully place their flight paths so that they can earn the resources they need.

Here is the starting map:

Warning: ugly prototype art!

Warning: ugly prototype art!

More Details…

I’m not a huge fan of the “defending your base” victory thing. Nor am I necessarily a huge fan of the hidden victory conditions for this game. But my brain already spewed those words into this article and therefore they shall remain.

I prefer this option: There are 8 flight paths into/out of your base. That means you can create four loop paths during the game if you fly out of one and into another. So I would have the game played where players can complete up to four loops. You earn resources for each of those four loops. Once a loop has been used, it’s “into/out of” spots are used up and unavailable. So players cannot just keep using the same flight path over and over.

The game would end when someone has completed their fourth loop. Each other player would have the chance for one more turn. The winner would be the player who has earned the most resources from their completed loops.

Your Thoughts?

Remember that the point of these Design Me articles is to basically “practice” designing games. It’s fun to use a tool like Boardgamizer to choose some random mechanics and themes and see what you can come up with. So the game design thoughts above aren’t necessarily meant to become the next awesome game design, though I think this one could particularly be fun.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or comments about this game design or about the Design Me concept.

Thanks for reading!

Design Me: Worker Placement

I’m starting a new feature on Boards & Barley called “Design Me.” These features will allow me to let my brain spew words onto this site in an effort to come up with a random game design. The idea here is to “exercise” my game design brain and “flex” my game design muscles. Consider it like practice. Athletes go and work out, lift weights, and other things like that. So as a game designer I think we should do the same thing. Bear in mind that this is an exercise and exercises are not nearly as elegant as actually seeing an athlete perform.

Normally Friday’s are review days here on Boards & Barley, but reviews aren’t very fun to write. So I’m switching to this design feature. Now there will be two review Fridays per month and two Design Me Fridays per month. I tweeted a request for a unique theme on which to apply a worker placement theme. The first person to reply wittingly mentioned castles, farming or railroads. Then they mentioned Smurfs. Then someone else mentioned smurfs. Who knew there was so much love out there for the little blue guys. However, the idea I found most interesting came from Tasty Minstrel and I’ll be going with this:

The Rolling Wort Boil

Not a very rolling boil. Hopefully the design rolls better!

Not a very rolling boil. Hopefully the design rolls better!

First of all, I really enjoy the idea of dice drafting and using dice as workers. It works really well in both Alien Frontiers and The Castles of Burgundy, the latter being one of my favorite games. Granted, they don’t necessarily use dice drafting, but the general concept is there.

So let’s start designing this game…

Brewing beer involves a few different things. You need to gather the right ingredients, gather the right equipment, have a facility, and possess skill in brewing. So let’s break each of those down into different parts of the game.

Here’s the grand concept, a thesis statement of sorts, for the game:

In The Rolling Wort Boil players must utilize the best dice for gathering ingredients and equipment, upgrading your facility, and perfecting the art of craft brewing.

Dice will be used for each of those things. There will be two types of dice. One type will be used to gather the right stuff. The other type will represent people and their skills. Let’s explore the former type first.

The Gathering Dice

Trying to exercise my art skills as well. The top is supposed to be yeast.

Trying to exercise my art skills as well. The top is supposed to be yeast.

I would design the game to be played where each round had a gathering phase and a brewing phase. In the gathering phase each player would roll a number of gathering dice. These dice would have different symbols on them. Those symbols could be grain, water, hops, or yeast.

Each player would roll their gathering dice. Then they would choose one die and pass the rest. They would then choose from the dice that were passed to them. This drafting would continue until all dice were chosen.

These gathering dice then form your team that you can use to go claim ingredients and equipment. What you’re trying to do while drafting is create combinations of dice that you can use. Players could, for example, collect three hops, which would allow them to harvest hops. If someone only gathered two hops, they’d still be allowed to place those on the worker placement spots on the board, but they would go second and get worse hops.

So the way it would work is similar to Alien Frontiers. You need certain combinations of dice to be able to harvest certain things. For hops it could be that you need at least three hops. For Yeast you might need three different symbols, one of which is yeast. Once everyone has drafted, then people could start claiming the worker placement spots with their combinations of dice. As dice are allocated to the board, the players would immediately harvest whatever their dice allow.

So through the dice drafting you are trying to create the best set of dice that will allow you to maximize your combinations, and thus harvest the best/most ingredients. I imagine the gathering of equipment would work the same way.

The Employee Dice

Here’s where things can get a little more interesting. Now we’ve got resources and equipment. We’re homebrewing in our garage. But we have a basic homebrewer with little skill. The employee dice will serve a few different functions. These include increasing skill, increasing quanity, and increasing efficiency. The trick here is that a pool of employee dice are provided by the game based on the locations where people placed their gathering dice.

So the depth of the strategy is not simply in gathering and using resources, but gathering resources so that you can get the employee die into the game that you strongly desire. Turn order would also matter in this case.

Let’s imagine you used three hops dice in the field that provided a “skill” employee die face. If that’s what you really wanted you would have to make sure you go first during the brewing portion of the game so that you can choose the skill die. Perhaps you knew you would not go first when choosing the employee dice. Then maybe you would have put your three hops dice into the fields on the spot that provided a “quantity” employee die. So there’s control over what your gathering, and the resulting employees.

These dice would then be drafted and utilized after the harvest.

How to Play

Each round of The Rolling Wort Boil (tentative name), would include the following phases:

  1. Dice drafting of gathering dice.
  2. Placement of gathering dice combos onto the board.
  3. Harvesting/gathering of ingredients/equipment based on placement.
  4. Pooling of employee dice from those placements.
  5. Drafting of employee dice in turn order.
  6. Usage of employee dice to brew and upgrade your facility.

How to Win

To win The Rolling Wort Boil, players must brew high quality or high quantities of beer. This requires them to maximize their ability to gather as many ingredients as possible, while also increasing their employee’s skills and upgrading their equipment. Each batch of beer they produce would be worth points based on the ingredients used, the skill of the brewer, and the level of the facility. I imagine the game would take 30-45 minutes, have a light-ish feel, and be best played with a Hefeweizen of IPA.

So there’s our first “Design Me” Friday. Any thoughts about the game design? What would you do differently? And most importantly, does the game sound like it’s any fun. Thanks again to Tasty Minstrel for the idea. I’m looking forward to the next Design Me in two weeks.

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