Again with the mechanics first -- I more and more think "theme-first" is the way to go! (Also, YANGI)
Some time ago (over 3 years!) I posted some thoughts on Mechanics-First vs Theme-First design, as well as an idea I'd had that was A mechanical game, completed-lay devoid of theme.
Since then, a theme has emerged -- a theme that even seems pretty good -- and yet I have never gotten back to the game.
I'm starting to believe that Theme-First is the way to go, as it seems much easier and much more likely to maintain interest in the game, and to make progress with it.
That said, here is Yet Another new Game Idea (TM) which is, again, completely mechanical and devoid of theme. As a side note, I see a pattern: when I don't have an idea for a theme, I appear to gravitate toward color mixing as a place holder... basic resources of red, blue, and yellow combine into higher level resources of purple, orange, and green. As I said in my previous post, this just makes for easy grokking of the conversions in the game. It's tedious to memorize some chart of X+Y=A and X+Z=B, but everyone knows that Yellow and Blue make Green.
Worker Replacement game ideaI was listening to the Game Designers of North Carolina podcast last month, and they had an episode about turning a mechanism into a game. On the show they brainstormed a few mechanisms, and how they might build a game around them. The whole exercise kind of ties right in to what I was talking about above, and as I recall, after bringing up a mechanism, they immediately jumped to a theme to use with it. One of those mechanisms sounded like it had some potential, so I filed it away in the back of my mind to think about later.
Last week I started thinking about how that mechanism could work, and then this week on a plane trip, as I often do in that situation, I jotted down some notes and sketched out a game using that mechanism. As I said however, this is just mechanical rules, no theme to integrate, and as such it's pretty generic. Here's what I've got so far, let me know in the comments if you think it's any good, or what theme might fit...
As a player, you will be gathering resources, combining them into products, and trading in resources and products for money, points, or upgrades.
Each player will start with a neutral pawn in hand, and a board of 6 spaces will be seeded with 6 colored pawns. Each space on the board will be associated with an action. On your turn you will take the pawn in your hand, swap it with the pawn in one of the action spaces, then resolve that action -- and most of the time there will be a bonus available based on the color of the pawn in that space. So you will be making choices based on which action effect you want, as well as which color pawn you want for next turn.
As a placeholder for these actions I have put the following:
* Gather Raw Materials: Gain 1 red, yellow, or blue cube. Gain an additional cube of that color if the pawn matches that color.
* Refine Raw Materials: Combine 2 different raw material cubes into a product disc. Combine a second set of raw materials if the action pawn matches that color (same combination? any combination? Not sure)
** Red + Yellow = Orange
** Red + Blue = Purple
** Yellow + Blue = Green
* Buy Raw Materials and Products at Market: Buy any number of raw material cubes or product discs at the market prices (market is kinda like Glen More). If the action pawn matches color, then get a better deal or something.
* Sell Resources: Sell raw materials or products at market prices. Resources sell for money, products sell for money plus VP. If the action pawn matches color, get a better deal or something.
* Collect Money: Collect some money according to the color of the pawn placed (red, yellow, and blue pawns yield a little money, orange, green, and purple pawns yield more money. Neutral pawns yield a middling amount of money)
* Upgrade: Pay products/raw materials for cards with permanent abilities and VPs on them. Maybe there are 3 slots (color coded red, yellow, and blue), and if you use a red pawn, then you can take the card from the red slot, and if you use a purple pawn, you can take either the card in the red slot or the one in the blue slot.
That's all I've got so far. Maybe I'll make some more progress on the flight back home tomorrow. Let me know what you think!