I’ve previously mentioned that I got into board games bass ackwards as a result of researching how to create my own card game (sordid details here). Also, it is pretty cliche that every board game player fancies themselves a board game designer. Today I shall prove that cliche true once again, by talking about my forays into BOARD GAME DESIGN! (esign… sign… ign…)
Soo.. everyone else left already? Looks like it’s just you and me, lonely horny chirping cricket.
I had one big project I worked on in high school, the chess-collectible card game hybrid, with the very bland and generic name of “Tactics”. Obviously, many other people had the same idea, and Summoner Wars is probably the most elegant and successful implementation of the concept. As with many of my projects, I eventually lost steam on it and development ground to a halt. That’s not to say I wouldn’t revisit it some day. I still have the mocked up cards somewhere in my room in Malaysia. That would probably make for another interesting and embarassing blog post, but we’ll save that for another time.
One of my big problems with Tactics was the space that the “board” took up. My next project was then to reimplement Tactics in a more abstracted manner, with 5 randomised territory cards that you would fight for control over. The individual units could be formed into armies and sent to one of the territories to vie for control. My inspiration for this very evidently came from the Decipher’s Lord of the Rings CCG and the Legend of the Five Rings CCG. This development did not last long, as I was eventually sucked into the morass that is Magic: the Gathering.
Many years passed, and I neglected game design for other pursuits and finally played some honest to goodness board games. The one that drew me back into game design was Agricola. The worker placement mechanic was a huge revelation for me, and I wanted to design something that would take worker placement in a different direction. I came up with something I will retrospectively dub “Guilds” (Hells yes I am amazing with names). Each player gets a set of cards, each representing a worker. Each worker has ratings in 3 skills: Military, Civic and Politics. The starting workers obviously had low skill ratings, and could be upgraded or specialised (e.g. Soldiers had better Military skill, but non-existent Civic and Politics). You get some starting territories, and when you sent your workers there you got resources based on their Civic skill. Politics skills let you place influence cubes on the Guild board and also petition for a favour from a Guild depending on your influence level. Each Guild provided different favours which would help different strategies. New territories are obtained in a bidding system based on the Military skill of your workers. This part was probably the weakest. We played 2 playtests of it, and it wasn’t too terrible. However, it wasn’t too great either, and I never developed it further than that.
Until now. (*DUN DUN DUN*)
My resurgent interest in game design has been the result of listening to the Dice Tower and Ludology podcasts. A lot of times, I will hear some game description, or discussion of game mechanics, or game review and think of potential game mechanics that I find interesting. I usually quickly note them down in my phone for later reference. Up until now, I haven’t really done anything with those notes.
Last week, I decided to look through my notes and flesh out some game ideas based on those mechanics. I ended up with 4 that I think could be starting points for games. My plan is to do a brief introduction of each mechanic in this post, and in the future follow up on these 4 mechanics from time to time and document my thoughts on fleshing out these 4 mechanics. Hopefully I don’t look like too much of an idiot along the way. Also, if anyone wants to steal one of these ideas and improve on it, you’re welcome to. Just let me know so I can play it too ok?
Mechanic #1: Variable Value Worker Placement
Okay, this is not really from the notes. However, the renewed interest in game design has inspired me to revisit the mechanics in “Guilds” and refine the game. Recap: see above. The one new idea I had was to have Leaders. Leaders are the only ways to activate action spaces, which would limit how many actions you can take a turn. However, each Leader can bring along some number of Followers based on its Leadership which would determine the skill level relevant for the action space. For example, Bob the Builder (Leadership 2, Doubles highest civic skill of followers) would bring along Scoop (Civic 1) and Lofty (Civic 2) for a total Civic skill of 5 to the Build action space, resulting in being able to build up to a Rank 5 structure. It does seem to be a little convoluted but I think it’s a decent starting point.
I also want to maintain the Guilds and petitioning for Guild Favours from the old design. The Military bidding for territories however needs a complete overhaul.
Mechanic #2: Exclusive One Use Actions, Repeatable Common Actions
The next mechanic I wanted to explore was having a set of actions that could either be played for a one time effect that only benefitted yourself, or could be played to a common pool for a lesser effect. If played for the larger effect, the action card would be removed from play. If played for the smaller effect, you could then choose another action card in the common pool and execute its effect, after which the action card played would also enter the common pool.
The theme I was considering was capturing wayward spirits. Each player would represent a spirit-catcher who could have friendly spirits at their disposal who could either be “Appeased” for the large effect and then ascend to the heavens, or “Enshrined” in an accesible shrine for a minor blessing, and also seek out the blessing of other spirits enshrined there. The blessings and effects would allow the player to track down and capture wayward spirits.
One other aspect I was considering to add the this was a resource system. The idea is that you need to make an offering to Appease a spirit, but merely praying at a shrine would be enough to get the minor blessing. There would be multiple items (possibly represented by cards) that had various traits and you need to offer the appropriate trait to Appease a spirit or capture a wayward spirit.
Mechanic #3: Common Dice Pool Co-op
Another mechanic I was thinking of was a co-op game where there is a common dice pool that needs to be distributed to each player to accomplish tasks. My idea for the theme would be a modern or sci-fi setting where each player leads a contingent of followers/troops to accomplish a certain number of missions in a theatre of war or facility. The dice would represent members of your teams, and other enhancements.
There would be differing Mission cards available each turn, each with a different set of conditions that would need to be met using dice. For example, in a Military mission, you might need to roll a certain number of dice above a target number, representing hits and misses when firing at an enemy. In a Research mission, you might need to roll a total of all the dice higher than a target number, representing research effort.
There would also be different types of dice, with general troops being always available and probably using a standard d6. There may be specialists which have different distributions of numbers on the dice, or “fudge dice” which could represent items. Each player may also have a specialty that could modify the dice they roll and make them more suited for certain missions.
Mechanic #4: Deckbuilding Progressive Combat
The last mechanic is in the saturated genre of deckbuilding games. I was very excited when I heard of Eminent Domain, as it looked like it would bring the deckbuilding genre to an interesting new place. It mixed deck building with role selection, which was pretty great, but I had other ideas for the deck building mechanic. I always imagined a heavy civilization style board game would use deck building as a way to manage resources. For example, it could be a farming game and you start with say 5 farms. Each card in the deck represents a crop to be harvested, and you draw cards each turn based on the number of farms you have. You can sell the crops to expand your farms, permanently increasing the number of cards you draw, or invest in farming technology cards which enter the deck and let you modify what crops you grow. Crap this is totally different from what I set out to write and could be another game. I guess that’s a bonus one?
What I really wanted to do with deckbuilding was to use it to emulate the character progression in an RPG. I always get the feeling I am “levelling up” my deck when I play deckbuilders, and I can certainly translate that feeling into building a more powerful character in an RPG or MOBA. I’ve been thinking of this one even before I knew Mage Knight existed. I was excited when I heard about it, but when I played it I thought the implementation felt overly busy. There was just a whole lot of things happening at once in that game, and the deckbuilding part of it didn’t feel quite right.
One mechanic I’ve come up with was to use the deck to represent the resource/mana pool for the character. Each card would represent “mana” or some other combat resource that would be used to “buy” actions that the character would take. As the deck improved, the actions that the character could take would become better and contribute to that feeling of progression.
I looked to the MOBA genre as a model for building the character and conflict resolution. Each character could have a basic attack, a utility move, a special attack and an “ultimate attack”. The attacks and moves would be powered by the resource cards, e.g. 5 mana for a basic 1 damage fireball, each additional 2 mana buys an additional 1 damage. There would be waves of “minion” monsters that died easily to basic attacks, and provide a minor boost to the deck such as replacing 1 card played to defeat the minion with a level 1 upgrade card.
I’m still quite unsure of the details of this deckbuilding game, but I think there’s meat there. A deckbuilding game that emulates a MOBA in a board game would be pretty cool.
OH GOD ENOUGH ALREADY
So there you have it. Four game mechanics that I think are worth investigation. I hope I’ll be able to expand on these mechanics further and share more of my inane game ramblings with you. Really, I just want to be able to play some games using these mechanics, whether I’m the one designing it or not. Since no one else is doing it right now (That I know of. Feel free to inform me of my ignorance. It happens a lot), I guess it falls to me to make the games I want to play. Right, cricket?
You’ve been awfully quiet, horny lonely cricket.