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Different Approaches to Game Design

I’ve been messing around with half a dozen designs lately and I seem to be stuck on each and every one of them. The only design that is making progress is a co-design with a friend of mine. So I’ve been thinking about mixing it up to try some different approaches to designing game. Today I wanted to present four approaches that you can use as a starting point. I am going to try each of these four approaches over the next month and see if I find inspiration.

Theme First

One of the most popular ways of starting out a game design is to choose a theme that you think is interesting.

This is a wide open way to design. You could choose to design about paratroopers rescuing chickens stranded on Antarctica. You could design about scuttlefish escaping sea urchins.

Going Theme First allows you to choose whatever you want the game to be about. Once you’ve chosen the theme you can then begin to consider the mechanics that might fit with the theme.

I personally like Theme First design. I like to picture myself immersed in the theme wondering what ways I can bring the theme together and make it feel like a grand experience.

Mechanic First

This is probably the other most popular way of designing a game. The designer might come up with a really interesting way to play a game. This could be a new component, a new way of using a component, a new combination of mechanics, or other things that haven’t been done before. Or you could pick a mechanic that has been done before and add a twist.

Once you’ve figured out your main mechanic and made it playable you can try to figure out what type of theme might fit with your mechanic.

This way of designing assures the designer that their game will utilize a gameplay mechanic that they like.

Scoring Condition First

This is a lesser used way of designing games. Some abstract games are designed with the scoring condition as the driver for the design.

This is essentially a specific variant of Mechanic First design, but with the end-game in mind. Designers choose how they want the scoring to work. Then they will fill in the design with the mechanics and slap on a theme if necessary.

This is something that I’ve been wanting to do but have not found a scoring condition that I like enough to build a game around.

Component First

This is a tough one to do because most designers don’t design around a “final product” type component. But there are times when a designer may make a game from the components that they have available.

When designing component first you would often choose a component or components that you really want in your game. Then you would choose a theme or mechanic that will work with those components.

This can be pretty awesome if you have a great component in mind. If you want to go with this approach it is probably best to be innovative and use either new components that haven’t been used in games before or to utilize existing components in new ways.

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There are, of course, other ways to get started with a game design but I think these four ways are a great starting point to get you thinking about your game designs. If you have other ways that you think are important, please share them in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving (If you are in the US) or a great weekend around the rest of the world.

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Monday Brews – 11-24-14

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the US and my schedule has me in the office only two days this week! Since I didn’t post a standard Monday Brews last week we’ve got a lot to cover! Let’s start with the Barley…

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The Barley:

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT:
Sixpoint Global Warmer Imperial Red Ale

I had never had an Imperial Red Ale before. It was quite enjoyable. Sixpoint produces pretty hoppy beers, but I found that the “Red” style complemented the hoppy character quite well.

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The Boards:

Mutiny Card Reverse V1 - 822 - CutBOARDS SPOTLIGHT:
Mutiny

I have a love/hate relationship with Mutiny. I hate it because I’m terrible at lying and you have to be sneaky in this game. I love it because it’s SOOOO good, and just got better!

We tested a new version with new roles for the game. These new roles added a lot to an already terrific game. I’m very excited for the future of Mutiny!

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Normally I also share a “Designer’s Corner” update but there’s too much to discuss here briefly. So I’m planning on having a Game Design Debrief after Thanksgiving. I’m sure you’re looking forward to that!

Design: The Grand Illusion

Preliminary Logo

Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the big show. Tonight I will be performing a series of illusions of the highest grandeur. You’ll see things that no human has ever seen before. And then you won’t see them! Tonight it’s all about the magic. For my first trick I’ll need a volunteer…

I came up with a new game design theme a few weeks ago and it’s still rattling around in my brain. So I figure I should try to turn it into a real game design. For some reason I’ve decided to do all the design publicly on this blog. I think this will be a fun way to show people what is all involved with the game design process and I’m also looking for involvement from all of you!

So these design articles, starting today and continuing on Thursdays, are meant to be an open source forum of sorts where I welcome your comments, ideas, suggestions, etc.

Game Theme

I love the look and feel of vintage magician posters from that era.

I love the movie The Prestige. It’s a fascinating movie about competing illusionists in the early 1900s. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it. For me magic has always been an intriguing thing. Last year I had the chance to visit the Harry Houdini museum in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was neat to learn about his story and more about the era as well. It seems like an interesting time to have lived.

So I want to make a game about competing illusionists from that time. Therefore The Grand Illusion is all about magicians and their competition to earn the best reputation.

You are a street magician in the early 1900s beginning your career. You’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve that no one else has mastered. It’s time to build a reputation and become a household name in the field of magicians.

You start small doing a few tricks for small crowds on the street. Do them well and your skills will increase, as will your reputation. When you’ve got enough of a following then it’s time to take your show to a real stage. But beware, the crowd will always be expecting bigger and better!

If you can find a way to continually master new tricks and perform them flawlessly, then you may end up as the greatest magician of all time!

Basic Concepts and Components

My original thoughts for the gameplay involve card drafting and set collection. The concept is that you have to collect sets of cards that allow you to perform certain tricks. The bigger the set, the more likely you are to perform the trick flawlessly.

But there’s a catch. You know the old “Ball and Cup” trick? The idea of the trick is that there will be a ball under one of three cups. Then the magician will move them around and try to get you to lose track of which cup the ball is under. I want to utilize this as a mechanic in the game. If players each contribute a card to a common hand these would represent the cups. Then if there were a special card added to that hand it would represent the cup with the ball. Then players would blindly draft and whomever pulled the cup-ball card would get to perform the best trick. That’s my basic original concept for one of the mechanics in the game.

What I want players to feel throughout the game is a sense of accomplishment while teetering on a sharp edge. Players should attempt tricks and illusions throughout the game but always with some risk of failing and letting down the fans.

Each set of cards used for performing tricks will have several different symbols on them. These symbols represent different illusionary skills such as sleight of hand. When you complete a trick you can increase your skills in any or all of those categories. One emphasis for that decision making process would be that each player has a Grand Illusion that they are working toward completing.

The Grand Illusion

Like a private scoring condition, the Grand Illusion card that each player holds is a trick that could provide a huge boost near the end of the game. It is a trick that can only be attempted once, so players will want to make sure they have a skill set that will help them perform the trick with high success.

The idea is that as players become better magicians and build an audience and a reputation they realize that they have to keep increasing the awesomeness of their tricks or else the audience might go to another magician. So by performing their Grand Illusion it could put them at the top.

What’s Next?

So that’s the current state of the design. It is just a bunch of basic concepts. But that’s where you all come in. What would you like to see in a game about Victorian era magicians? What mechanics, themes, components would you like to see?

Let’s design this together. Please comment on this article or reply on Twitter.  I’m looking forward to designing this publicly with all of you. Thanks for reading!

Monday Brews 4-28-14

Monday in Madison is rainy. Yesterday was rainy. Tomorrow will be rainy. Wednesday and Thursday will be rainy. And people wonder why Spring is my least favorite season. Oh well… at least we have board games to keep up happy during depressing weather like this.

So here we are starting another work week. While it’s dreary outside let’s look back and the Boards & Barley I enjoyed last week. That might brighten my mood.

The Barley:

So good! So smooth! So luxurious!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

I enjoyed this on tap at a new local establishment in the glass shown in the picture. It is chocolatey, smooth, creamy, and delicious. I recommend you try it if you are a fan of any beer styles what-so-ever.

The Boards:

Small tin, Big game!

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT: The Builders

I picked this up for several reasons. The artwork is awesome. The game has been getting a little buzz from Euro lovers. And it was only $18.

The Builders is a game about building buildings. Each turn you have three actions which you can use to hire workers, begin construction, send workers to build the buildings, or take money. Play continues until someone reaches 17 points from their completed buildings or tools.

This game plays quickly and includes a plethora of interesting decisions. I played it twice last week and I’m looking forward to playing it again!

  • Glass Road
  • Crokinole
  • NEW! Unpublished Prototype
  • NEW! Thebes – I love the theme of this one. Doing research and then visiting archaeological dig sites to search for artifacts is great! But the way this game manages the time aspect adds a very interesting concept. While I thought the artifact digging added a little too much luck, I found the game to be very enjoyable and I’ll play it again.
  • NEW! Hab & Gut – I’m not normally a fan of stock market games. Money is a very bland theme for me. But this game, with it’s lingering concept of player elimination for the lowest charitable donor, and its hidden information market manipulation aspects made this a love-hate game for me. I wanted to know more information than I knew. I actually thought the design of this game was really clever. I would definitely play it again.

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I didn’t do any design work last week. I really need to finish reading Words of Radiance so I can get back to spending my free time on game design. But that book is so good. What Boards & Barley did you enjoy last week?

Real Favorite Things

April Fool's Version of B&B

April Fool’s Version of B&B

Most of you understood that my “Hexes & Hops” article was an April Fool’s joke. Others mentioned that they actually preferred the green motif. If you missed out on the fun and want to see what it looked like, just click the image to the right.

I had fun writing that article and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Today I’m posting a true version of my favorite things. And I’m using all the same categories from the April Fool’s article.

Let’s get started with my favorite Barley things…

Barley Favorites:

BEER STYLE: Just about anything Belgian

I love Belgian beers, specifically Trappist beers. They have floral notes and beautiful body. And they are easy enough to understand with the names Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, etc. Of those varieties I would say Tripel is my favorite. But be careful because these tend to be on the strong side. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia showing some of the best Trappist beers and their glasses:

For the next Board Game Night???

Honorable Mention: Honey Anything, Scotch Ale, Hefeweizen

BEER ESTABLISHMENTS: Breweries/BrewPubs

If I’m going out for a beer I’m gonna go someplace where they either brew beer or they serve local beer on tap. There are actually two new places being built near me that will be great Beer Establishments. I’m also blessed to have a brewery within 1 mile of my house, another big one 25 minutes away, and several more within the city. Madison, Wisconsin is a great beer town!

So I’m not going to bother going to one of those places with the bucket of Miller Lite. I’m going to a place that offers at least 10 different “good” beers on tap. I recommend this strategy.

BEER: Duvel or Orval

To go along with my favorite beer style, I would say my favorite beer would be either Orval, which is trappist, or Duvel. These are both awesome beers with amazing flavor. Of course Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and La Trappe are great substitutes.

Honorable Mention: Leffe, New Glarus Cabin Fever Honey Bock (local), Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale (local)

BEER BREWING PHASE: Cracking open the first of a new batch!

I’d be fooling myself if drinking that first new beer wasn’t my favorite part. It’s way better than the boiling, racking, or bottling. Obviously we don’t brew beer so we can have fun brewing. That’s a side benefit. The real reason we brew beer is so that we savor and enjoy fine beer!

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Boards Favorites:

GAME MECHANIC: Worker Placement

I love worker placement games. Some of my favorites are Agricola (which I rarely play), Belfort, and Stone Age. I like the idea that each player has a “crew” to work with and the winner will be the player who best utilized their crew.

If you want to learn more about the Worker Placement mechanic check out iSlayTheDragon’s guide: Take This Job and Place It.

PLAYER STYLE: Fun People

Games are all about fun. So if you are playing and conversing in a manner that is fun and you are fun to be around, then you fit in the category of “Fun People.”

GAME NIGHT HABITS: Contributors

I like it when people bring beverages, snacks, and games to a Board Game Night. It shows you are taking ownership of it. It shows you are there to have a good time. It shows you are part of the group rather than a clinger-on. I also like it when people take charge and read game rules ahead of time or come prepared to teach a game that they enjoy. Be part of it, people!

GAME ART: Merchants & Marauders

This game wins for the board and the player mats. I absolutely love the use of vivid and bright color. I’ll skip the explanations and just show you the art:

This doesn't even do it justice.

This doesn’t even do it justice.

When you’ve got ships out there on the board sailing around then you can really immerse yourself in the Pirate culture!

GAME: Scoville

Alright… call me out on loving my own game. That’s fine. But I wouldn’t have designed it if I didn’t at least like it. And it turns out that I really love Scoville. I’ve played or taught it over 125 times and I’m not sick of it. It is simple, elegant, easy to learn and play, but deep in the interaction and gameplay departments. When it gets produced I hope you’ll check it out.

GAME DESIGN TIPS (Rebuttal of the fake ones):

  1. DO NOT hire an artist for a prototype. Let the game persuade a publisher and then THEY will hire an artist.
  2. DO NOT quit your day job after one successful game. Board game design doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. You should playtest a game no less than 40 times. Preferably closer to 100. Fine tune that thing like it’s a 50s Corvette that still roars like a lion!
  4. Playtest your game enough to find any place where it might be broken and fix those places. Broken games suck and demonstrate that you probably haven’t put enough work into it.
  5. Don’t go hog wild over adding tons of components. Try to keep the component list as streamlined as possible. But if you need to components to make your game great, then go for it!
  6. Don’t sell out a Kickstarter campaign by adding minis. Just make a great game.
  7. Don’t force a long playtest on people. Play long enough to get valuable feedback.
  8. Don’t use spinners. There are almost always better, more fun ways to design random elements of gameplay.
  9. Paper money works, but I prefer chit coins.
  10. Don’t design a CCG. But if you do, make it great!

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There you go. April Fool’s is over and this article should fit much more closely with your Boards & Barley habits. Feel free to chime in with your favorites as well!

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