Dec 072007

On Tuesday, it was just me and Ian at the design meeting. We played a several iterations of my new Space Port game. We took it from a bunch of clunky mechanics and turned it into something that was interesting and playable. It still has a lot of work to go, though. Besides that, we also experimented with some new rules for Monkey Lab intended to reduce the chaos in the game. That led us into a discussion about what chaos is, why it exists, and why some games have it and others don’t.We defined chaos as the feeling a player has when he has little to no control over significant changes in the game. This can come into play when your opponents mess with neutral playing pieces, as in Wiz-War, or your playing pieces, as in Wiz-War. In Fluxx this occurs a lot, and you might as well not even pay attention when it isn’t your turn because the game will have changed dramatically by the time yours starts again. Consider yourself lucky in either of these games if your plans haven’t been entirely disintegrated after one round.

Chaos is something that can be amplified when the number of players increase. In a two player game, you have one guy who is always doing his best to slow you down. In a six player game, you have five guys that can all potentially choose to work against you. Even when there are not direct attacks possible in the game, multiple players simply means that the percentage of choices you make in the game is smaller.

Werewolf is the perfect example of demonstrating the chaos/player relationship. In a hundred-player game of Werewolf, the results are very chaotic. Your vote to kill a villager is almost insignificant. The odds that you get what you want are very small. Once the game gets down to a small handful of people, you feel much more in control because there are less people to convince and less opposing arguments to overcome.

RoboRally is another game of chaos. The chaos exhibited here is in the form of unexpected and uncontrollable outcomes. As a player, you do have a lot of control over where you want your robot to end up on the board. However, one unplanned bump from another robot will make the rest of your moves nearly random. Planning for this, players can choose to “take the long way” to the goal and avoid interactions with other players thereby reducing the amount of chaos. So, with RoboRally, players can control the amount of chaos they want to encounter. They are effectively “in control” with their risk management plans.

My game Monkey Lab has a similar problem, except it does not have a strong “risk management” solution to the chaos. Your plans can be messes up no matter what you do. The solutions we came up with allows for players to take actions such that they can avoid chaos in the short term. Chaos will still exist, but players should feel more in control of whether or not they want to subject themselves to it.

Chaos is something I never really though about until now, and I plan on being more aware of it. Chaos can exist, but the key is all about keeping your game under tolerable levels of it.

Aug 312006

Now that I’ve described the structure of the system, I’ll talk about the theme of the trilogy. The concept that I decided upon is that of alien contact and visitation. My hope is to simulate (as much as a board game can) the decisions and feelings surrounding this topic. There aren’t a lot of “book” science fiction games out there. When I say “book”, I mean science fiction in the classic sense. It’s exploring behavior through non-existant scenarios. Doom: The Board Game would fall under “movie” sci-fi where the setting, weapons, and characters are unreal, but it doesn’t really explore any ideas. Anyways, here’s the rundown:

Trilogy Theme Overview

Game 1 – Players use resources to collect and decipher space signals.

Game 2 – Players control governments and organizations to prepare the world for an alien visit.

Game 3 – The aliens visit our planet.

This is a rough outline, but I think that each one of them will have their own feel. Since each game will have its own focus, I will be allowed to explore mechanics in depth. For example, if this were just one game, I’m sure “decipher space signals” would be just one card. In this series, it will be an entire game!

Next Up: Where to Start?

Aug 302006

I’ve had this crazy idea in the back of my mind for a long time, but until now have I actually decided to take a stab at it. I am planning on designing a trilogy of games. We’ve all seen trilogies in books, movies, and video games, but not so much in board games. In the board game world, we have expansions (Seafarers of Catan), spin-offs (Blue Moon City), conversions (Travel Blokus), and let’s-sell-you-the-game-you-already-own (Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition). However, nothing is what I would call a true sequel or a trilogy. (Note: I hear that there is a game being developed called Cartagena II that will follow where Cartagena left off. They may have beaten me to the punch, but that still remains to be seen how that game actually plays.)

My definition of board game series (in my case, trilogy) requires the following:

1. All games in the series will have an effect on one or more games played later in the series.

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. My current plan is to have the final state of Game 1 to determine the setup of Game 2.

2. All games in the series can be played by themselves.

This is related to the previous rule. Separating the games apart from the overall series experience is important. Each game should stand on its own merits.

3. All games in the series are connected through a story.

This requirement is to strengthen the connection between the games. The story is what separates my definition from game series like the GIPF project.

4. All games in the series require the same range of players.

The same group of players should be able to experience the whole series from start to finish. This will make it more challenging to design, but it will make the players much more open to committing the time to play the series.

I plan on documented my way through this whole project. I know I will have a lot to learn. Designing a single game is no small task, so designing three of them that connect is going to be a challenge. Stay tuned for next time when I tell you about the theme of my trilogy…

Jun 262006

I recently purchased a number of games- big surprise. At Bryon’s festival on Saturday, I had the opportunity to play a number of them and discovered that two of my recent acquisitions didn’t pass muster. You mihgt even call them less than stellar. These two games are You Need Drew’s Truck and Zig-Zag. I’ll post a full game session report for everything on my blog in the future. In a nutshell, Zig-Zag is a pattern-matching racing game with a bit of memory and action as its main draw (pardon the pun) and You Need Drew’s Truck is a pick-up-and-deliver game that uses a magnetic tetris-like gimmick.

Dan offered an excellent suggestion before trading away these games: Use them as a design exercise. I’ll bring both of these games to the next playtest meeting, we can play them as-written once, then see if we can come up with better rules using the same components.