Board game design

“How do you sculpt a lion?”

“Simple, take a piece of marble and remove all the bits that don’t look like a big cat!”

Our creative enterprise

Maybe a bit too big to use as a pawn?
Maybe a bit too big to use as a pawn?
Board-game design means being creative! At one point there is no game and then some time later there is.

Most people would use the metaphor of the painter: You start with a white canvas and you add the bits (colors / mechanics) that you want.

And while this is a valid way of looking, I think there is an opposite but equally insightful way. The metaphor of the sculptor.

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Board game design, In-game economics

Introduction

Once upon a time I was interested in balancing the game I’m working on (Voluntarios) using excel sheets. Finding nothing I got to writing. And writing. And writing. The result was a series on in-game economics, of which this post is the next installment.

The other posts in the series are:

The general idea of a feedback loop

Sing it back, bring it back. Sing it back to me!
Sing it back, bring it back. Sing it back to me!
The general idea of a feedback loop is a system that has both inputs and outputs and where the output of the system is also (part of) the input. Thus the output loops back to again form the input.

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Board game design, Learning

Introduction

The box of T.I.M.E. Stories
The box of T.I.M.E. Stories
I recently had the chance to play the second T.I.M.E. Stories game: The Macy Case. I don’t want to go into the exact story (don’t worry, no spoilers!) but I do want to use T.I.M.E. Stories as an example that I think all board-game designers can learn from.

We played the game with quite a diverse group of people, going from hard-core gamers to people who will pick up a game if it doesn’t take too long. And they all loved it! After the first play they were all clamoring to go a second time (and then a third).

A game that can do this surely must have something to teach us?

What is T.I.M.E. Stories?

T.I.M.E. Stories is a cooperative board-game in which up to 4 players take on the role of a “temporal agent”, which get sent through time (and potentially even to a parallel universe) to “solve a mystery”. Before starting the game you have very little information on what the mystery is or how to solve it. During play you visit different locations to gather clues, objects and other characters. There are tests which you need to beat using the skills of your characters, which is done using die rolls.

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Board game design

Introduction

For most board-games it's win or bust!
For most board-games it’s win or bust!
We play a board game and at the end of it one person does a fist pump while the others hang their heads. One winner and multiple losers.

The difference can be one lousy point (on a total of two hundred) and still there is a watershed between glorious victory and humiliating defeat.

As a board game designer this fascinates me: Why is “the winner” so important?

No-winner game: Sim-City

There is a whole swath of computer “games” that can’t be won, with Sim-City being the first that comes to mind. I spent hours staring at my screen, trying to get enough money to be able to create more space for houses so that I could get more money…

Technically such a “game” would be better qualified as a “simulation”, but it’s not my intention to get into semantics here.

And though you can’t win Sim-City, I generally did have an idea of what I wanted to do: Get the biggest city. Or create a city without any pollution. Or see how quickly I could completely raze what I built up using tornados. What I wanted to do became my goal for that particular session. I wouldn’t “win” the game. But I could most certainly achieve something.

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Board game design, Learning

Introduction

What can I trade for an additional turn?!
What can I trade for an additional turn?!
In a previous post I wrote about “resources” as part of a series on in-game economics. Of course something isn’t just written and then “done”. The piece got me thinking further, so I thought I’d share a bit more with you.

In this post I want to go into the “temporal” aspect of resources.

Resources are transient

One important insight I had was that all resources (in board-games) are transient, meaning that at some point they will be gone.

For things like wood and stone, which you “spend” to build say a building, this is pretty clear. Once you’ve used a given wood card or token, you cannot use it again until you somehow produce more wood.

There are however many resources within games which seem to be permanent: A city you build in Catan, the spaces on the board of Monopoly. And within the game they most certainly can be.

But that’s the thing: Games end!

And that means that everything within your board-game has a limited lifetime.

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