Design, Play, Repeat

Everyone knows that designing a game is pretty simple. All you need are gameplay mechanics, basic rules, and an objective. Designing a fun game, on the other hand, is a completely different beast.

A couple of weeks ago, I was tasked with creating a list of 25-50 analog game ideas in order to create an original board game from scratch within the next 6 weeks or so. The first five ideas came pretty easily, but the rest felt like pulling teeth. Sitting outside on the balcony, I tried using everything in the environment for inspiration. Car zooms by – ah, racing game. Wind blows – hmm, leaf collecting game?

Twenty-eight ideas later, I had a few decent ones. Now came the hard part: choosing an idea and developing it into a full-fledged game.

I spent the better part of this past weekend drawing and staring at shapes, trying to imagine strategic moves and epic analog battles. My basic idea was for a spider web game involving prey capture and natural obstacles, like wind damage. Players would build the web, trying to capture prey while thwarting their opponents.

Sounds pretty simple and fun, right?

Not so fast. This is where play-testing comes in. Prototype after prototype revealed new and unforeseen challenges. Here are some issues I ran across:

– Pieces bunch up when trying to capture the same prey.

– Pieces spread out when trying to capture different prey.

– Should prey placement be random?

– How should players “build” a web?

– How do you show the effects of wind on a board game?

After a few iterations, I stepped back from the direct spider connection and tried making the game more abstract, which in turn opened up a whole new can of worms. After many attempts to add innovative gameplay mechanics, I ended up with a combination of Carcassonne, Go, Chinese Checkers, Othello, and Chess, turning my “simple” game into a complicated mess.

Thus, it’s back to the drawing board for me. The best part of designing games, though, is that you get to design games! You can add or remove rules, design objectives, and create story lines – the amalgamation of all things creative. So even though I’m currently stuck, I’m sure I’ll come up with several new ideas before the night is over. Just design, play, and repeat.