Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Random game design thoughts - stream of conscience style.

So I had this great idea for a game... it had to do with delivering pizza and breaking traffic laws. I mean, who doesn't love pizza? And who doesn't love breaking traffic laws? Actually, every time I think about the game I get excited because I feel like the mechanics should work really well and that game would be fun. I even got about 1/2 way through a prototype when I hit a snag because I decided I was inept at creating a map board for the game.

This could be because I have a grandiose scheme to have a really novel board, with holes cut at the intersections (traffic lights) and a rotating color wheel below the board - so the lights will change over time, impacting the available routes. The game is intended to be about route planning and pressing your luck. The route planning comes from the changing traffic lights, and the pressing your luck comes from breaking traffic laws - which make you more and more likely to get busted.

Anyway, in the time since I started prototyping that one (the rules are ready to test, though they could maybe use some more player interaction), I have gone through the process of writing, prototyping, and testing several other games, as well as prototyping and playing games by other people. Here's a quick rundown:

Terra Prime
An idea I originally got from a friend, which I turned into a decently working prototype. It's about exploring space, colonizing planets, harvesting resources, and protecting the colonies from hostile aliens. Sounds like a lot, but it's like a 90 minute game, involves a nifty economic model, and a chart of upgrades for your spaceship.

I was very fond of this one, but lately I'm bummed because there's one part that's just not working for me. I can't seem to fix it, so I haven't even played this one in a long time.

A relatively simple game about fictional ancient Hawaiian tribes, who made sacrifices to the volcano goddess Pele in hopes she would not send fiery lava toward their village. Points are acquired by spreading out your tribesmen (which of course makes them more susceptible to lava flows), controlling the lava flow (by making the biggest sacrifice in a round), and collecting Fertile tokens (left when lava flows cool and go away). Novel movement mechanic borrowed from Mancala. I originally played this on a simple 9x9 square board. I thought perhaps hexes would be better, so I made a nice big board with big hexes... then realized I hadn't really increased the number of hexes or the distance from the mouth of the volcano to the edge of the board. Since then I've found a nice pic of the big island to use, and superimposed a hex grid - but I'm thinking I'll go back to a square grid... the game seemed better that way.

Homesteaders - by Alex Rockwell.
The king of Puerto Rico strategy articles, and Caylus 2p analysis, has come up with a game of his own. I played it when I met him last summer, came home, and made my own copy so I could play it some more. It's a sort of cross between Caylus and Vegas Showdown. You auction off the right to build a certain type of building, and there are lots of buildings per type. The buildings give you various abilities or incomes, which you use to build other buildings or otherwise translate into points. I have been testing it out and offering my comments through many changes, and will have a copy with me at BGG.con...

Soldiers and Builders - by John Heder.
No, not Napoleon Dynamite... his cousin. No, really, I know a guy named John Heder (hederj on BGG), and he's related to the Napoleon Dynamite guy (who's name is also John Heder, in case you have been living under a rock and wonder what the hell I'm on about). So my friend John found some 6 sided dice with colors on the faces (like in Carolus Magnus) at a store, and he was dieing to make a game that used them. So he did. It's relatively abstract, and has to do with placing dudes on the colored spaces on a grid. You determine where you can play by rolling 1 Region die and 1 Color die. I tried it out, and it was amusing at first, but quickly got old as there wasn't really enough to do, or enough control or player choice for my liking. So... I fixed it. I modified a few things in order to inject some options for players. I took a hint or two from Reiner Kinizia's new Genesis, where you roll 2 dice and play on both colors that come up or just 1 wild. I merged that into the game by having the player roll 1d4 for region and 2d6 color dice, and for each color die you either make a play, or discard it to change either the region die or the other color die. We (John and I) also implemented tower powers (towers result when you make a square of dudes, like a monument in T&E) in order to incentivize building towers. Scoring is based on towers (better if in groups), majority of guys in each region, majority of towers in each region, and destroyed towers (oh yeah, you can do that too). It's alright, but I would love to give it a theme. It kinda reminds me of that computer simulation thingy called "Life."

Odysseus: Winds of Fate
Another friend of mine from the Board Game Designers Forum asked me to help him out with an idea he had. It sounded really good to me, so we discussed it for a while. And as usual, I forked off with my own route on it while he went a different way. Well, it made so much sense to me, that about 2 days later I had a prototype ready to test. My friend (Nando) said that my version is closer to his original vision than his version is. Irrespective of that, I'm excited about this one because of 2 reasons... it's got a cool scoring mechanism in which you get points in 2 different varieties during the game, and the one that matters depends on how the game ends. Players have a little control over which type of points they get, and a little control over which way the game ends. The other thing I like about my implementation is that while there are numbers on cards that you play (via a mechanic not entirely unlike Taj Mahal), the numbers don't really matter for getting points - just the number of cards. The numbers (and suit of the cards) matter as to which points you get, and which game end condition gets furthered, but you can't get screwed out of points by a bad draw. The number of cards you have is (almost) completely within your control.

I also like the theme a lot... there aren't a lot of games out there with the Odyssey as a theme. In this one, players play the Sisters of Fate, who observe Odysseus on his voyage from Troy to Ithaca, not entirely interested if he makes it home safe or not... but they decide to sort of bet on it.

Dynasty: The Spread of Culture in Ancient China
This one will probably be my next "Hot and Fresh" (that's the pizza game, by the way) in that it's a great idea, 1/2 prototyped, that I'll probably never get around to finishing. It's based on yet another friend's idea... he asked me to help him with a game idea about China, which was to be some epic thing with wargame elements and everything. I took what we talked about, or the parts that interested me anyway, and made a Eurogame out of it. It's so simple yet seems like it would be so good. My friend didn't like that I posted it though, but said he wouldn't care as long as I changed the theme... maybe to something about India. Until I figure that out I was going to keep working on the mechanics anyway, which are ready to test, I just need to figure out some tech advances... here's the gist of it:

Each player represents a culture in ancient China. You start by establishing little villages in various regions on the map, which allow you access to resources. You don't actually GET resources, like cubes or anything, you just have access to them or you don't. Then you can buy technological advances or whatever, which better your civilization. If you can't afford one, you can ask an opponent to help you. They get points for doing so... Basically, as you get these advances, and especially as you "trade" with other civs, you get markers to fill up your Cultural Development chart. When you fill up the first part of the chart, you become advanced to the point that one of your villages becomes a city, granting you abilities and access to higher level resources. Later in the game you can found more cities and take over other players' villages and cities, but each time you assimilate another players culture, you get their chits on your board. As soon as a player has filled up their board, they become the first Emperor of China and the game ends. At this point you see who the winner is by revealing all the chits on everybody's boards... the newly crowned Emperor may not be the winner (though they get a bonus to scoring) - they may be Emperor, but they're empire is infused with another player's culture. The player who's culture is the best represented is the real winner.

Well, that's all the designs I can think of offhand. I also proto'ed a solitaire civ game made by another BGDF friend... it's pretty cool - made to be played solo (obviously), like on an airplane or something. All you need is a pad of paper, the rules (with list of Advances), and a small deck of Event cards (16 cards). Scott even made a 'deluxe' version with printable tiles for those that want the tabletop experience :) If you're interested in this game you can look up PocketCiv on Doho123's blog MeepleSpeak .

I suppose that's enough blah blah blah from me... leave a comment if you read this, let me know what you think of the game ideas.