Design Study Number Two: “Boiling Point”
January 28, 2014
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The gap between what I think would make for a game and what I end up doing once I actual have live playtesters working through something with me… it’s just tremendous. So much of what I want to do is dull or unworkable, I don’t even know that I’m qualified to brainstorm about a new game design idea. Doh!
My kids are good sports though. They didn’t complain too much when I completely switched things up in mid-game on my first session with my new design study. Pictured here you can see the results of our first session. My original idea was to make a Monopoly variant with the eight colors of the property sets lined up in rows. I wanted to speed up the slot-machine aspects of the game and abstract out the roll-and-move stuff. I ended up making a set of 26 cards that had stuff on them to let you put markers on the board and move other people’s stuff around… which is not exactly what I was thinking when I was first jotting down notes for this idea. There was a card to reroll the die that indicates who’s going to score… and another couple of cards to trigger the scoring round early. I had a “reshuffle” card that ended up being strangely useless during actual play. Fortunately my son got over its uselessness when it turned up and we somehow managed to keep playing.
When I was pulling card ideas out of thin air, the one thing that I ended up angling for was more chaos. You see, I’d beaten everyone in my last game of Incan Gold and my daughter hasn’t played a lot of games since. I’m trying to come up with something that will bring her back to the table. On the one hand, this is sort of futile given the number of perfectly good games that have failed to entertain her. On the other hand… I know my daughter waaaay better than those big time Board Game Executives. So we’ll see what comes of this.
The essential problem that’s emerged has everything to do with getting a fast paced game… with lots of upsets and surprises. I want the sort of insanity that you get in D&D where everyone is screaming at the dice. And I want the addictiveness and patterns that you see in those Candy Crush type video games. And the hand of cards… I want it to feel like it’s on fire… just like an UNO deck feels. I want this game to move. Going into my next playtest… this is how I’m thinking I’ll achieve some of this:
- The game needs a “hotness” track. Some cards and certain actions will push it forward. When it gets to to eight… that ends the round and triggers a scoring event. I could never figure out how to nail down the exact number of draws and plays in a round when we were messing with this, so this is my answer to that problem after the fact.
- I’ve got cards that put more stuff on the board for you… cards that mess with other players…. Probably one I need is one that lets you cash in some of your potential points now even though you may end up regretting it later.
- Maybe the different tracks get unstable the more units get placed on them. Maybe something to do with this can be used to kick off a new round– sort of a pruning phase. It’s maybe too much like the robber from Catan, but… eh.
- I also thought of cards that let you draw more… and some that require you to discard an extra card for added effect. This is maybe too piddly to keep up with, but I’d like to have a card that sacrifices stuff in exchange for a larger hand size.
- Shuffling is a pain. I’d like to get rid of it or else minimize it if I can. At the very least, I’ll go to the usual 52 card size instead of this piddly half-deck. My index cards that are cut in half are just atrocious, though.
- Oh… and I don’t know what I was thinking when I was trying to design this game… but the simple method of “play a card, draw a card” is what I need here. (I had people have hands of three cards and we’d go around three times and half the cards were useless so things were just obviously silly… so this is my brilliant fix for my “creativity.” Heh.)
That ought to keep me busy until the next playtest session. But one thing to note about this whole exercise: Dr. Lewis Pulsipher pretty well predicted this in section eight of his game design class. While I was noodling around with my prototype, I thought to myself, “well I can’t really playtest this solo because it requires multiple players to do this.” Wrongo! Half the stuff I uncovered here could easily have been sussed on my own time. I got away with using my playtesters as a sounding board this time, but this is something that should be avoided.
And, uh… anyone dropping by looking for Mathscades updates: I reworked the board to eliminate the “optional” spots. My son wants to have stuff to spend points on… I’m thinking maybe that you’ll start at 50 points… you spend 5 for each “turn.” The obvious thing is letting the player buy additional dice or else buy additional scoring platter thingies. I was thinking that you don’t get to keep them for the whole game just so as to avoid having to keep up with it. I really wanted to take a stab at making the game cooperative– I had this idea that you could play cards when it wasn’t your turn… and it’d be a way to keep everyone engaged even when it wasn’t their turn. But when I sat down to make the cards, I couldn’t think of much to put on them, really. There’s probably enough to test out with this “buying stuff” thing, so I guess I’ll stick with that for now and see if anything sticks from it.