Impossible is a new game design I have been working on. It is a race game where players are racing to recognize and build hex-based designs of impossible geometry reminiscent of the work of M.C. Escher.
You can learn of the design in my previous article: Hex-tile Prototype: Impossible.
Basically players will be grabbing hex-tiles from the pile and trying to create the 2D representation of the impossible shape. The first player to complete the image places their meeple on the highest scoring spot. The next player to finish claims the next spot. And so on.
The game continues over a pre-determined number of rounds. Each round has a different impossible shape. After all rounds are completed the total points are added to decide the winner.
Mechanically this game works. It is mechanically simple, easy to learn and understand, can be set up and taught in 3 minutes. These are all great things for a game design.
So What’s Wrong?
I am a very visual person. I can recognize visual patterns. I can visualize 2D and 3D geometry quite well.
I’m beginning to feel as though I’m the only one in the world who can play this game.
In the past two weeks I’ve solo tested this and playtested it with three other people. Small sample group for sure. But those people are very intelligent people. I’ll test this further, but my inclination is that this game may just be impossible for some percentage of people to play.
According to a paper titled, Visual Spatial Skills (2003) , out of Penn State University, spatial ability is defined thusly:
Spatial ability is the over-arching concept that generally refers to skill in representing, transforming, generating, and recalling symbolic, nonlinguistic information. Spatial ability consists of mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.
In the case of Impossible this is most definitely relevant. So what percentage of the population has spatial ability in their skill set?
This is from the Wikipedia page on Visual Thinking:
Research by child development theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and thinking in the form of words, and 25% thinks exclusively in words. According to Kreger Silverman, of the 30% of the general population who use visual/spatial thinking, only a small percentage would use this style over and above all other forms of thinking, and can be said to be ‘true’ “picture thinkers”.
I’m starting to believe that I’m one of these so-called “picture thinkers.”
So it seems that 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking. And a small subset of those use visual/spatial over all other forms.
Is visual/spatial required to be able to play Impossible?
My answer is, “yes.”
Marketability of Impossible
As a game designer I want to make games that are accessible to a large audience. The larger the anticipated audience is, the more likely the game is to signed by a publisher, and subsequently the more likely it is to succeed.
With 70% of the population not considered to be visual/spatial thinkers, that eliminates a huge percent of the potential audience for a game. I don’t think a publisher would be interested in a game that cannot be played by 70% of the population.
So at this point Impossible will earn a spot in my drawer of shame, where all my designs go to die when I decide to stop working on them.
I believe Impossible is a fun, quick, and interesting game that utilizes 3D geometry in 2D space. I think the artwork could make it look visually stunning. I believe it would fit at a good price point for a general audience.
Perhaps the best avenue for Impossible would be as an app for your phone or tablet. This would be quite easy to implement and then could be targeted specifically to people who would find it enjoyable. Who knows what the future holds for Impossible.
For a long time I have wanted to design a game around the 3D world of M.C. Escher. My dad had a picture of the Escher waterfall hanging in his office. I was always captivated by the impossibility and reality of the image: Impossible because it could not exist in a real 3D world, Real because it DOES exist in the 2D world of the paper.
Putting 3D objects into a 2D world allows for some awesome things to happen. You are aware of this if you have played the app Monument Valley, which I recommend.
I have been working on several concepts for a 3D-2D game based on impossible geometry like that of the Escher waterfall. I have made two different prototypes. One is terrible and is really difficult to turn into a game. The other I have been able to turn into a game and I’m ready to playtest it. Today I’m covering the latter.
Impossible is a real-time game of puzzle building and tile laying. It works similarly to Galaxy Trucker in that players will be grabbing tiles from a common pile. These tiles will then be added to their growing assembly. The objective is to create the face up Impossible Shape as quickly as possible to earn the most points for that shape.
The game is a set number of rounds. In each round a new Impossible Shape tile is drawn. All players will be racing to complete this shape.
When someone says, “Go!,” players will begin taking tiles and building their shape. When they complete the shape they can place a meeple of their color onto the shapes tile to claim the highest remaining points for that shape.
Once all players have completed the shape the round is over. The tile is placed to the side for endgame scoring. Players put all their pieces back into the pile. A new Impossible Shape tile is drawn and the next round begins.
The total list of components for the game includes:
- A bunch of hexagonal tiles
- A smaller bunch of rhombus tiles (I’ll explain why in a moment)
- The “Impossible Shape” tiles
It’s a relatively simple design with a succinct components list that should make it relatively risk-free and publisher friendly.
Because players can create the impossible shapes in different ways it leads to the need for many different designs on the hexagonal tiles. A simpler solution was to have “correction tiles,” which in this case are rhombuses.
Here is an example based on the image above. In the example a player is working on the left half of the image above. In their haste they grabbed the wrong tile for the upper corner. But instead of wasting precious time searching for the correct tile they realize that they can place an orange/purple rhombus over the wrong part of the tile. This allows them to have an accurate representation of the impossible shape.
The downside of the correction tiles is that each one is worth -1 points. So players should try to avoid them.
How to Win
Below is an example of an Impossible Shape tile. The first person to complete it will receive 7 points at the end of the game. The second player will receive 4 and the third will receive 2.
After a number of rounds agreed upon at the start of the game, all the points will be tallied and the winner will be determined.
Overall Impossible is a fast paced real-time game where you are racing against your opponents to build impossible shapes. Do you have the mind it takes to figure out the shapes and grab the right hex tiles? I’m pretty excited for this game and I’m looking forward to seeing where it ends up.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think about the design.
I read an article online a while back that the “upcoming” fifth Indiana Jones movie still has no MacGuffin. At first I thought, “What in the world is a MacGuffin?” Then I realized that I knew what it was but hadn’t heard that term before. From Wikipedia:
In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation.
This got me thinking about an analog in board games. While it’s not exactly the same in terms of purpose I think the closest analog in board games is the hook.
In my article, “How to (Speed) Pitch Your Game,” I characterized the hook in a few different ways. The hook refers to the thing that’s different than any other game.
- Are you utilizing components in a new way?
- Are you using a new mechanic?
- Are you modifying an old mechanic in a new way?
- Is your theme so amazing?
The hook should be a driving factor of your game. It should be the thing that’s constantly manipulating player’s decisions. It should exist to create moments of tension and reward. Like a MacGuffin, the hook is something that may not be the main plot, but it’s always there steering the narrative along.
When I designed Scoville I didn’t think there was a hook. Then I actually played it. The hook of Scoville is the great interaction within the field and the way cross-breeding opportunities open up throughout the game, and get blocked by other players. The important thing about this is that the hook wasn’t something that was apparent until I actually playtested the game.
So I’ve been trying to keep this hook concept in my mind while designing other games. My current game, Ziggurat, has a visual hook in that the ziggurat actually gets built as a 3D building during the game. But I don’t think that’s a big enough hook. While it looks appealing it’s too superficial. The game needs a bigger hook.
In my article, “My Board Game Design Philosophy,” I mentioned five things that I keep in mind while designing. These included that the game is quick to teach/learn, has few “exception” rules, a limited decision tree, a natural buildup or progression, and that players should be rewarded. I think I need (want) to add a “Hook” to that philosophy.
I checked out some of the popular games to see what their hooks were. Here are a few that I came up with:
Agricola/Caverna: The hook is how worker placement is utilized and optimized during the game. In each of these the difficult decisions are when there are several options that seem appealing but you know you won’t likely get both of them. Other players may choose one you wanted. So when it is your turn you have to try and make the best choice with your worker. (Plus Questing, i.e., upgrading your workers, is really awesome in Caverna).
Puerto Rico: The hook is not simply due to role selection, but that the selector gets a benefit. This is similar to the role selection in Race for the Galaxy.
Power Grid: The hook here is that you are racing toward creating the network and it offers a first-come-first-served mechanic of controlling the cities. When a player chooses to build more cities it is both good (More money) and bad (Worse turn order). That’s what gives Power Grid it’s hook.
Tzolk’in: The obvious hook here is the gear system for controlling the game as a time-based worker placement game.
Dominion: As the “father of deckbuilders” the hook is pretty obvious. At the time it was released the idea of deck building was novel and new. The hook is that players diverge in their capabilities each game depending on what they purchase.
Ora et Labora/Glass Road: Yes, more Rosenberg on this list. The hooks here are the resource board wheels that show what resources are available.
Alchemists: The hook is that you can use the digital app to help you mix potions. It makes for fun moments in the game where you aren’t always certain what result you will obtain.
You may disagree with these hooks, but you can’t argue that these help set the game apart from others.
What’s your Hook?
Are you designing games? Have you considered what makes your game special? I urge you to keep a focus on the hook of your game. Keep it in mind when designing. Keep it in mind when playtesting. See what your playtesters think makes the game special. Does that feedback match your hook?
The thing that brought this all up was that I changed a major mechanic of Ziggurat. When I was working on the design I realized that this change would have a dramatic positive effect on the interaction of the game. I wasn’t expecting that. Changing the mechanic basically added a hook to Ziggurat in that now players have the chance to essentially steal opportunities from other players. I can’t wait to get it to the table.
No, the title doesn’t refer to your shock that there’s actually a new blog post on Boards & Barley. Instead it refers to a new abstract game design of mine.
When I was a child I found a small print of M.C. Escher’s Waterfall Lithograph in my dad’s at-home office. At first I thought it was kind of neat but after a few minutes I realized how truly awesome the artwork was. There is an impossibility in the physical concepts of a waterfall flowing uphill. But yet this artwork makes it actually appear possible.
M.C. Escher has long been an inspiration of mine. I love trying to wrap my mind around the 2D artwork that portrays 3D impossibilities.
So I decided to make an abstract tile placement game around that concept. It is based on an impossibility that occurs in the waterfall lithograph. That impossibility is known as the Penrose Triangle. While I’m not using it exactly, I am using the fundamental idea of the Penrose triangle. I’ll show you below.
But first, because I have an illness where I must create a logo for any game design I am working on, here is the prototype logo:
The game is currently still in the concept phase. I have been trying to work out some “Euro-y” type scoring conditions but I’ll have to playtest it before I decide if they should be public goals or private goals, or a combination of both.
Here is an example scoring condition:
If players build a nodelink matching these colors then they will earn the points shown on the card. The first player to build such a nodelink would earn the 4 points while the second player would earn 4 points.
I currently have a bunch of different scoring conditions based on the nodes that will be built during the game. I’m looking forward to playtesting it and figuring out some of the balance about these cards.
The basic gameplay is simple. It’s sort of a mix between Carcassonne and Qwirkle. Players will play 1 tile anywhere that it fits onto the board. Nodes will be built up this way. Once a node is completed, it’s color is determined by whichever color is of a majority at the node.
There will also be one-time use bonuses that allow players to play more than one tile at a time. These should allow for players to make awesome moves in the game and have rewarding moments. My hope is that it also allows for some “take-that” type action where you can mess with something that other players are working on.
That’s the current status of Impossible. I will be bringing the prototype to Gen Con and I’m hoping to get it in front of some people. Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions.
I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog. In fact, it’s been two months since I posted something. I drastically underestimated how busy life gets with three kids. But I recently started actively designing again.
Back in March and April I collated all my designs and realized that I have 14 designs somewhere along the progress train. That was a little shocking. I then decided to focus on two designs and pursue them with great vigor rather than chipping away one small piece at a time.
Those two designs that I am focusing on are Trading Post and Ziggurat. Today I will discuss some of the concept of Trading Post.
Trading Post Status
Trading Post was my second ever design concept. I began working on it when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing regarding design games. (Some might still think that’s the case). But now I’ve redesigned it from scratch and I like where it is headed.
The theme of the game revolves around the Fort Union Trading Post. You can learn more about it on the National Park Service site here. The trading post at Fort Union was requested by the Assiniboine Indian tribe. All the local tribes and the inhabitants of the fort were friendly with one another, so the game includes no conflicts with the tribes. This is thematic and accurate.
The current status of the game is that I have solo tested it once. Here is a spoiler image of the prototype:
The game utilizes a rondel for action selection. It is a resource collection and management game. Players earn the most points by getting higher level resources via trades and then trading those higher level resources with Indian tribes.
The focus of the game is completing trades. I suppose you could put them in the same boat as the recipes in the Chili Cook Off in Scoville. They fit that mold. But in Trading Post you have to do a bunch of legwork to get the resources that are needed for those high level trades. And to get those resources you will have to manage your actions in the most optimal way.
There are eight action locations on the rondel. Four of them offer resources or trading abilities. The other four offer “experiences.” The experiences include hunting, encountering Indians, and building the fort. To hunt you will need guns. Encountering Indians is one of the higher level trading options. And building the fort will reward the player with the greatest number of points as it also determines when the game ends.
The whole premise is to contribute to the building of the fort. The best way to contribute is by completing trades that give you the resources with which you can build.
Why is it that the “In My Head” concept step always seems so perfect until I actually get the game to the table? Honestly the best step any game designer can take in figuring out their game is to make the prototype and play it. I liken that step to completing the border of a puzzle. Once you have the border completed then you have a better idea of what you are actually working on.
So I solo tested Trading Post the other night. I now have my border in place. After solo testing I realized that I needed tiers to the resources. This is similar to the idea of clay and brick in many Uwe Rosenberg games. The clay is a standard resource and the bricks are advanced resources. So I am going to implement a tiered system in Trading Post.
I also learned that the Indian Encounter trading objectives are too focused. Rather then requiring absolutely specific things, like two knives, they will require a more simple objective, like a pair of cards. This should help players complete those objectives, provide rewarding moments in the game, and allow the game to move more quickly.
The other thing I want to really emphasize in the game is player interaction via player to player trading. Right now I have a simple mechanic like the trading in Catan but I want to step it up just a bit. I’m still working on this and I’m hoping it falls into place when I have a few more pieces of the puzzle together.
So that’s the latest from me. I’ll post a similar article about Ziggurat probably next week. My goal for both games is to have them past the solo-testing phase so that I can bring them to Gen Con and get feedback from awesome people like you. Thanks for reading.