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Game Design Process Update

Hi. I’ve had an incredibly busy year with many things not related to board games. But I just finished some reading I had to do and now I find myself with a snippet of free time. So today I thought I would provide an update on my game design process.

My Game Creation Process

Ye olde Game Design Graphic

But to do that I wanted to adjust my graphic a little. In the past I have used the one on the right to illustrate my steps in the game design process. I liked it for a while but I’ve felt called to make a new version. If you are interested in game design and you don’t really know how to go about things, please go read the Inspiration to Publication posts by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim (designers of many games including the excellent Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games).

So today I present my new “Game Design Process” graphic.

My Game Design Process

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I’m not sure that’s an improvement but I had fun making the graphic anyway. It conveys the information in a more pictorial way rather than those boring rectangular prisms.

Let’s cover, briefly, what each of those game design steps really means to me anyway:

CONCEPT

The concept phase is all about brainstorming and coming up with the overall ideas for your game. This could be Theme-First or Mechanic-First. Either way, this phase is where you are taking a lot of notes and figuring out all the things you want your game to be.

PROTOTYPE

Once you’ve figured out the bulk of your game concept then it’s time to build it! In this phase you will create your physical prototype. If you don’t know how to get started, check out my article, “Starter Prototyping Tools.”

PLAYTEST

With your physical prototype ready to go it’s time to get it to the table and see if it works, see whether it is any fun, and find the ways to make it better! Just lure some friends with pizza or something. I wrote about playtesting once (here) but I am going to revise that article in the future because I’m not certain I agree with it completely anymore.

FIX IT! a.k.a. Applying Feedback

This is one of the more difficult things to do in board game design. It is tough sometimes to ignore feedback from your friends. It can be equally tough to accept tough feedback from them. But the most important thing is to understand WHAT the feedback actually means. For more info check out, “Coarse vs. Fine: Editing Your Game.”

PITCH! / PUBLISH

I wanted to put a caveat in the graphic somehow to stress that this part of the process shouldn’t happen whimsically when you feel like it. Before pitching to a publisher, or before self publishing, I highly recommend blind-playtesting. This is when you send a copy of the game to people you do not know. Let them read the rules and figure out the game. They will provide some of the best feedback you can imagine. After numerous cycles of fixing, prototyping, and playtesting where the feedback you receive is mostly or all positive, then I would feel confident in pitching the game or self-publishing. When you are ready to pitch the game you’ll want to contact the publisher that’s right for you and your game. Then you can follow the method in my article, “How to (Speed) Pitch Your Game.”

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That’s an overview of my game design process. I know that there are people who do things differently. It would be weird if that weren’t the case. If there are things you think are essential to the process I’d love to hear about them. Just leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.

The List – Colonia, Discoveries, Francis Drake

More games have been crossed off The List and I have been delinquent in reporting our progress. Today’s update covers three games: Colonia, Discoveries, and Francis Drake.

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Colonia

pic560068_tWe did not complete a full game of Colonia because it was taking too long with 6 new players. However, I think I mostly enjoyed the game. It is essentially a big chain reaction. Once turn order is set for the round players will:

  1. Get resources
  2. Spend resources to get goods tiles
  3. Spend goods tiles to get location specific money
  4. Spend location specific money on location specific cards
  5. Location specific cards are worth points at the end.

So there is a huge A-B-C-D-E type chain reaction in the game that forces players to manage their available worker pool. You don’t want to run out of available workers or you won’t be able to do the things you need.

I thought the most clever mechanic is the time-delay with workers spent in Round 1 not being available again until the appropriate time in Round 2.

Overall I think I’d like to play again with fewer players. The game has potential but I don’t think it’s a great game.

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Discoveries

pic2571301_tMy friend J and I had been working on a Lewis and Clark game design some years back before the game Lewis & Clark came out. When it was released we were both pretty excited to see what the designer came up with. One of the things that was absent from his game that we had planned on including in ours were all the Discoveries made along the trip. So I was pretty excited when I learned about this game, which is all about the discoveries.

In Discoveries players will manage a fleet of dice that will be used to take actions. Actions allow you to obtain Indians (which gives you special abilities or other action spaces), go exploring and complete exploration routes, change your dice, and more. The goal of the game is to gain as much knowledge as possible.

I thought the game was pretty good. It was a little fiddly with having to change dice as often as I did. I think it would work better with three or more players rather than just two. I’ll play it again so long as it would be with more than two players.

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Francis Drake

pic1616979_tI wanted to own Francis Drake since we demoed it at Gen Con 2013. I thought it was a really excellent game then but I couldn’t drop $80 for it. I found it last Gen Con at a nicely discounted price so I snagged a copy. We finally got it to the table during a game night and I still think it is excellent.

The game is divided into three Voyages. For each voyage there are two parts. The first part is a great worker placement goods procurement phase where players place their workers along the street as they approach the harbor. Only one player can claim any given spot. And you can never go “backwards” along the street, meaning once you have placed a worker somewhere you can only place subsequent workers closer to the harbor. I think this is a really fun way to obtain resources for the voyage.

The second part of a voyage is setting sail and completing missions in the four regions on the map portion of the board. These missions include attacking forts and towns, obtaining trade goods, and attacking Spanish Galleons. The tricky part about it is that players missions discs are numbered and they happen in numerical order. So someone may get to do an action before you because they have a smaller number on their disc.

Overall I really think Francis Drake is a fun game. There is a lot to think about in terms of the decisions you make throughout. And there are plenty of ways to score. I’m looking forward to playing again.

The List – Dice City, Samarkand, La Granja

Today is another update on The List. Three more games get checked off, one game got sold, and one game was added via Kickstarter. Let’s start with Dice City.

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Dice City

pic2561229_tI have played this a half dozen times now but it’s finally off the list due to meeting the criteria of having been played by two “List” members.

In Dice City players manipulate dice rolls to create excellent combinations of interesting decisions and capabilities on each turn. A player has five dice which will be placed in five rows on their player board. Those dice have the option to activate the building on which they sit. Or you can “spend” any die to move other dice. The objective of the game is to score points, which can be done in several ways. Many of the buildings you purchase in the game are worth points. Military battles against bandits or other players can earn you points. Fulfilling the orders of trade ships can earn you points. And building a cultured city can earn you points.

I really enjoy the “multiple paths to victory” aspect of the game. You can tailor your gameplay in many different ways to try and beat your opponents. This game could be played pretty diplomatically or you could get in your opponents face and keep attacking their buildings.

Overall I would say I am very pleased with Dice City and I am looking forward to the expansion, Dice City: All That Glitters.

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Samarkand

pic742553_tSamarkand: Routes to Riches is an interesting mix of mechanics that combine into a Euro game.

The objective is to marry into wealthy families and expand trading routes. During the game you can marry into a family, obtain “goods” cards that allow you to earn points, and expand trade routes.

This game has the hallmark of Euro games in that the mechanics are simple to learn and understand. The gameplay is limited in player options, meaning a player can either do A, B, or C. And the depth comes in by making those simple decisions have interesting effects.

I enjoyed Samarkand and I would play it again.

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La Granja

pic2031777_tI received this as a Christmas present and I’m glad I did. La Granja is a solid heavy game full of interesting choices and decision paths.

Players in La Granja are operating a farm. Points can be scored in many different ways and this has a feel of death by a thousand cuts. You never will earn a huge amount of points on any one turn in the game so you have to find many ways to earn them.

This is a resource management game that utilizes a smorgasbord of mechanics to force players to make difficult decisions. Part of that difficulty is that the game really revolves around multi-use cards. And in this case “Multi” refers to being able to use cards in four different ways. Players may use cards as a field to procure harvest goods, as a market barrow that can be fulfilled for the market, as a helper to allow a special ability, or as a farm extension to earn income or hold an extra pig or other things. So some of the difficulty in making decisions stems from trying to decide how best to use each card.

Please let your first game of La Granja be a learning game. I don’t think the rules are particularly well written so take the time to either play it solo and figure things out or at least understand that the first time you play it will be somewhat difficult to grasp.

Despite the learning curve I cannot wait to play it again!

The List – Patchistory, China, Rome: City of Marble

Three more title are being crossed off The List! While I didn’t play all three I wanted to remind you of the criterion for crossing a game off the list. A game shall be crossed off when at least two of our core group of 4 have played the game.

So while I own games that I have played, they might still be on the list since they do not meet the criterion.

Also, since I did not play Patchistory or China I am bringing in A-Game and J to share their perspective. But let’s start with Rome: City of Marble since I have now played it twice.

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Rome: City of Marble

pic2586529_tI love this game. I loved it in prototype form and I love it in final production. I am friends with the designer, Brett Myers. The way he designed this game to utilize rhombuses is intriguingly clever.

In Rome: City of Marble players have two actions per turn. Their objective is to build the city of Rome. This is done by obtaining and placing rhombus shaped tiles onto the city map. Whenever a hexagon shaped intersection between tiles is completed, a building or a fountain is placed at that location. If a player have influence over that location by having their magistrate on the correctly colored tiles, then they claim that building. If no player has influence it becomes a fountain.

Over the course of the game players earn points by completing buildings, having proximity to fountains, being connected to aqueducts, and more. I like that the balance of scoring is about 50/50 in-game versus end game. So you don’t know exactly who will win unless you are an uber nerd who crunches the numbers after every single action taken in the game, which kind of takes the fun out of any game, so don’t be that person.

Overall I am looking forward to playing Rome: City of Marble many more times.

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China

This was played by J and A-Game among others at Board Game Night. Here is J’s review:

pic63275_tChina is an old school euro. An old school euro to me is a collection of rules, mechanics, and scoring that drive the players to difficult or interesting decisions but do not embrace the ‘theme’ of the game.

In China there is a network of roads and towns on a board and the board is divided into areas. On your turn there is basically one action you can take (placing pieces on the board) and the action is limited by various rules (the three cards in your hand plus rules about how many pieces can be placed). The scoring is tied to having a majority in an area and having a majority across two bordering provinces.

I like old school euros because they are usually easy to learn and teach and don’t often take more than 1 hour to play. However, they are almost always lacking a theme that is well integrated with the mechanics. This game fits both of these conditions to a tee. The game is easy to learn, teach, plays quickly, and has some good decisions. However, the only reason it’s called China is because that is the graphic they chose to put on the board. The interplay of mechanics and scoring is clearly front and center here and that’s ok by me.

Old school euros have a lower ceiling and higher floor for me. I don’t typically have great gaming experiences with them but I’m also rarely disappointed by them. If you need a recommendation for an old school euro that delivers a really good experience I suggest Taluva. If you’re looking for another collection of mechanics and scoring conditions consider China; it will meet those expectations.

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Patchistory

This was played by A-Game, Bosun, and J over the weekend. Here is A-game’s review:

pic1949968_tI was looking forward to playing Patchistory. So I was glad when we brought it out for a three player game night. The focal point of the game is a patchwork map building mechanic. Each round, players bid on terrain tiles that provide different resources. These tiles are placed overlapping so you have to cover part of one tile in order to play another. Mixed into the terrain tiles are great leaders from history and architectural wonders. These tiles are permanent, so you can’t later over them. It was a cool mechanic that presented some very interesting decisions.

If the game was primarily centered around the map building, I think I would have really liked it. Sadly it was not. The remainder of the game consisted of bookkeeping and a long list of potential actions you can take each round. All the actions required the same resource (political points) so politics became the most important resource. If you don’t have a lot of politics, you can’t really do much. The actions themselves often felt uninteresting or unimportant. The only one that stood out to me was the ability to offer aid to your neighbor, which they can accept or reject and you score points either way, giving you the opportunity to offer something you know they will reject, so you can score points at no cost.

As the game goes on, the terrain gets more powerful, but the actions get more expensive, so it is basically a wash.

On the whole, the game had a few bright points, with a lot of fiddly bits in-between.

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I’d like to thank A-Game and J for contributing their reviews. We’ll keep it up as the year progresses and we continue to cross games off The List. Thanks for reading!

The List – Xia and Arboretum

The other day I posted an article about The List. It’s a list of the unplayed games my group owns. Our goal for 2016 is to work through these unplayed games. As we do so I’ll be posting brief reviews of the games.

These reviews will be after one play, so take that as you will. However, since we have so many unplayed games and so many games that we love to play, if a game doesn’t strike us after one play then we probably won’t play it again.

The other day we crossed two off the list. These were Xia: Legends of a Drift System by Far Off Games and Arboretum by Filosofia and Z-Man Games.

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Xia: Legends of a Drift System

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Box cover image via boardgamegeek.com

My friend A-Game backed this one on Kickstarter. We knew that it would be a long game so we limited the play time and used that as the endgame condition.

In Xia players command space vessels set upon gaining Fame Points. Fame points are earned in numerous ways, like exploring, selling cargo, and completing missions.

This is a pretty epic game in terms of decision space and game production. There are bunch of different ships you can command and each has its own miniature to fly around the map.

And speaking of the map, players will expand the map by adding sectors to the map as the game moves along. Sectors can contain planets, nebulae, gates, or even the Sun.

My Thoughts:

I think Xia is a fun game. I enjoy the building of the map and the exploration aspect of the game. There are many ways to earn Fame Points, which allows players to try different things in the game. In some ways this game feels like Merchants and Marauders in space, which is a good thing.

The biggest problem we had with the game was the downtime. When your turn is over it could be a long time until your next turn and there’s really nothing to do during the downtime unless someone attacks you. The downtime was kind of a killer for me.

Overall I thought that Xia was fun and I would play it again. Next time we would try a variant that cuts the downtime, perhaps by limiting players to two actions at a time and then a simultaneous Business Phase.

The Highlight:

On the very first action by the very first player he chose to “Blind Jump” to explore a new sector. It was the Sun and he was destroyed. He died on the very first action in the game. It was pretty hilarious. We let him redo the action and shuffled the Sun back into the deck.

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Arboretum

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Box cover image via boardgamegeek.com

This is a game that I almost bought at Gen Con but Z-Man wasn’t discounting the price at all so I passed. In Arboretum players are working to create paths of trees by playing cards to their display.

The gameplay is pretty simple. Players draw two cards, play a card to their display, then discard a card. Play continues until the draw pile is empty. Then the paths are scored.

Where the game is really interesting is in the scoring. There are ten types of trees in the game. To score a tree type you need two things: 1) a Path that begins and ends with that tree type and 2) the highest sum of that tree type in your hand at the end of the game.

So there is a very interesting balance of using cards versus holding on on to them.

My Thoughts:

I’m not a huge fan of the art direction of the game or the theme for that matter. It is different and unique and I give them credit for that but ultimately this seems like an abstract game that could have utilized many different themes and played the same way.

The other issue is that it took a little too long for what the gameplay presented. We all felt as though we wished we could have done more on each turn. Of course that would have changed the thrust of the design. Maybe a nice variant to speed up the game would be to remove one or two tree types.

The Highlight:

Perhaps it was a lowlight instead, but one time when I was drawing cards I drew from Bosun’s discard pile and then flipped the top card of the deck onto his discard pile. It was just a random moment where I spaced out and misplayed. It didn’t affect the game much but it made for a funny moment.

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Overall we are off to a great start by getting two games crossed off The List! We’ve got many more to go, however. And I’m sure we will add a few more games to The List as the year moves along.

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