Sunday, July 21, 2013

Game Design Retreat

This weekend I did something new and cool. It's something that's crossed my mind before, and in some ways it's similar to Protospiel - a design convention I've gone to for the last 3 years, only a bit more focused perhaps. Here's what happened...

I met Tim Fowers, designer of Wok Star and the recently-kickstarted Paperback, at OrcCon last February. We got to talking, and he had been wanting to do what he referred to as a Game Jam or Game Design Charrette, something I guess they do in the video game world where a handful of designers get together and discuss design, work on specific problems, playtest games, or whatever. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, and I told Tim I'd love to join him - and if he wanted to do it here in Tucson, I'd even host it. This seemed like a good plan, as it would save hotel money.

So that's what ended up happening. Last Thursday Tim, James, and Brent flew in, and we ventured out to a 4-bedroom house on the outskirts of town. After some introductions, we got right to talking about game ideas and design stuff. Tim mentioned some thoughts he'd had about making a sort of board game version of his online game Now Boarding. It reminded me about all the thoughts I've had while waiting in airports... So I shared those thoughts, and we talked up the idea and how it could work - I felt like I wanted to prototype the game and try it right then and there!

Friday morning we did just that. We cut some index cards into 1.25" squares and put some data on them to make Passenger tiles, we made Hubs and Cities for each of 4 players, and we brainstormed a list of upgrades you could buy... and then we gave it a try. We went through a series of iterations very quickly as we came to see how the game felt - free form, turn based, with and without time pressure... It was great! It was a mix of analysis on one hand, and trial and error on the other. It quickly coalesced into a game experience that worked and was fun! over the course of about 5 hours we had created a working, fun, cooperative game from scratch.

Later that night, David Short was able to join us, and we showed him the game, and it held up. That is to say that it still worked, though we all had thoughts on how to improve it. Saturday we took the game to SAGA's Ides of Gaming event and played a couple of games with players there. With the exception of 1 player, everyone was able to play well and succeed. Since then we have refined the game a little bit further, and I look forward to getting home and making a nicer prototype to continue testing.

In addition to creating Now Boarding (tagline: "Now Boarding - now boardgame"?), Brent got an asteroid mining game idea together and we tried that as well. It was a very early (maybe first) draft of the game, and we all had lots of ideas about changes to make before moving forward. We implemented some of them and tried again, and it was definitely a step in the right direction.

Over the course of the weekend Tim got some valuable feedback on Paperback and Wok Star, both of which he's finalizing now that they have funded on Kickstarter. I also got several prototypes/submissions to the table, such as Shadow Puppets by Scott Almes, and Captains of Industry by Michael Keller. I also taught the guys Eminent Domain, which they'd never played - something I wanted to do so that I could discuss my thoughts on the upcoming Political expansion.

James had an idea for a game based on Dominion, but rather than drawing cards and playing them to add more cards to your deck, you move a pawn around a board and activate the spaces you step on. So it was kind of like you took your Dominion deck and laid the cards out in a grid, "drawing" them in the order that you want. That was the basis of the idea, but as he, Brent, and I discussed it the game  quickly diverged from just a modeling of Dominion to something fairly unique, with a shared geography which seems like it could lend a fair amount of interaction to the game. He got some great ideas to carry that game forward as well.

David Short and Den Keltner came by again last night and got a test of their current version of Bomb Squad - specifically the Training Missions - and I think they got some great feedback on how the Training Missions ought to be set up.

All in all I think it was a very productive weekend. I look forward to doing it again sometime, hopefully soon!


ooogene said...

Seth - the Dominion-like game sounds like something I've done called Guild of Thieves. Haven't really shopped it around much, just enjoyed having it available for print on demand for people if they'd like to play it.

Cool idea for a weekend. I've wanted to do something similar, but probably would just be a long Friday night.

Seth Jaffee said...

I find that a "long Friday night" often isn't long enough.

I just got home from Protospiel last weekend, which was three days long, and THAT wasn't long enough! Of coruse, there were 80 people there.

I think a good balance of time and number of designers is key to making this sort of thing useful. Too many designers and it seems like not enough gets done.