Three design lessons from a heap of trouble

I don’t want to dwell on this, but I think a 2 month gap in posting needs some explanation: My health problems were somewhat worse than anticipated. I’ve spent most of the last 5 months in bed. I am very bored of bed. The next 5 months are supposed to be better, but there are no guarantees. I am probably not going to die before you do. I am going to try to attend MCM and UKGE and give SatW the attention that it deserves. Few people read this blog for news about me, it’s about game design tips and seeing the inside of the game design world. To that end, let’s talk about three lessons that I’ve learned through card design in SatW:

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Scandinavia and the Theme

Today I am preparing the Scandinavia and the World card game files for printing reviewer copies. Looking for spelling errors, instances of “player” that should say “opponent” and other such grist. In doing so I’m re-experiencing how the mechanics and theme interact. It’s particularly important in a game that is based on a webcomic, as it needs to carry the theme of the existing material strongly enough that existing fans recognise and enjoy it, introduce that material to people who have shown up for a game but don’t read the comic and not to let that get in the way of the game itself.

So today we’re going to talk about how mechanics and theme interact in card games, both in this game and in others, to deliver the best possible effect.

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Expressing Rules

There are some really awful rule books out there, many are mediocre and there are a few exceptional ones that clearly show how to play the game. Most gamers can agree with that sort of statement. What they can’t agree on is which of the rulebooks are the good ones – people seem to learn in very different ways which dramatically affects their enjoyment of games. Long time readers of this blog may remember this:

Flowchart

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Quality in Context

I’m presently sorting through hundreds of cards for the SatW game, in the hopes of cutting the game down to a more reasonable size. I’ve played a lot of games with this prototype and have plenty of notes about each card. The most useful “at a glance” measure is that I’ve been ending playtests by asking “Which cards did you like? Which ones made the game worse?” and putting a plus or minus next to each card that gets mentioned (depending on whether it’s a positive or negative mention). This is less useful than you’d think.

posinegative

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Bloat and Refine

I’m trying a new process with my latest game. It’s quite a simple idea:

  1. Take something with a lot of elements.
  2. Duplicate each element.
  3. Modify each new element into something else.
  4. Test all elements.
  5. Delete the weakest half.
  6. Finish up with something that’s working even better.

Let’s talk about how that’s gone and the strengths and weaknesses of the approach.

mitosis

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Optional Complexity

When watching a set of new players try a game and comparing their experiences to advanced players, it seems apparent that they’re not really playing the same game. I’ve been playing a bit of Legendary Encounters: Predator recently. The experience of someone who’s worrying about deck thinning and average damage curves is having a very different experience to someone who just hits the biggest thing they can and then buys the biggest thing that they can. While one is obviously more effective in terms of winning the game, I don’t think that it’s necessarily more fun. Both seem like valid ways to enjoy the game.

elephant

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Adult Content

I don’t really shy away from any particular type of content in my game design, I like to stick to whatever the game feels like it needs. In 404 and Wizard’s Academy that didn’t produce anything particularly out of place. Thematically they’re both funnier than they are dark. There are hints of bad things in them, of course, but ultimately I’ve had more comments that the dead monkey token is “cute” than people complaining about the objectives like turn a human into pie and feed it to another human (colloquially: The Sweeney Todd objective).

tokens

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