Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unusual Board Design

There are a number of gaming trends currently in vogue right now.  There's a wave of 4x games, deckbuilding is a mechanic that's getting a lot of love (thanks Vaccarino), and Euro Games in general are currently being touted by gamer-types as the superior style of game to design.  Low-variance, skill-focused games, often with real world themes, and usually tied to European ideas.
Despite the huge diversity of morphology in games right now, then, there are still a number of dominant motifs.  I aim to understand and work with popular ideas and mechanics, but am also interested in trying new things for their own sake, and attempting to create games that are more experimental than they are commercial.
When a game idea comes to me, it could be any one of a number of different starting pieces to the puzzle.  It could be a theme, a board shape or image, or simply a mechanic.


This is probably the most common way in which a game concept presents itself or occurs to me, and, I suspect, most designers.  You watch a great movie, read a great book, or play a shitty game that you could do better.  Or it just grips you: the story pops into your head, or you wake up with the dream still lingering, and you think, man, I wanna play that.  I don't think it exists yet, though, so I have to make it.
For me, I attempt to do themes that I don't believe have been done yet.  Some good advice I try to follow: "Don't try to compete with the entrenched establishment.  Find out what sets you apart, and market that."  Does the world need another WWII-themed wargame? Maybe.  But I don't feel the need to write/design about it.  This isn't to say that I won't make a game with a theme that's been done before; but usually that's because the theme goes with a game that first presented itself to me as a mechanic or as a board shape.  Space 4x? Been done.  But see Black Sky in the Board section below to see why I'm developing one.
Here, though, are a list of game ideas that have come to me thematically.

- Diletsky.  As my budding interest in music theory grows, I've been fascinated by the image of the Circle of Fifths, and the disconnected flashes across history that created it.  I thought, damn, if I could come up with a way to make a game out of this, it would help teach music theory.  Then I looked at some old pictures from the creation of the Co5ths:
And it became clear - yeah, there's a boardgame in there.

- Pieces of Light.  A game of piracy; either space piracy, or intellectual property theft (romanticized; data wants to be free! Signal The Noise!), which came to me as a theme when I was spitballing titles for Black Sky.  I hit upon Pieces of Light (a pun on Pieces of Eight, in case you were wondering) and thought, oh no, that's it's own game about piracy on a new frontier.

- Proxies.  A game of puppets and masks.  This came from talking with my buddy John, whom I love having artistic/scientific discussions with.  He's great for talking to in terms of using both sides of your brain (yes I'm aware that as a literal description of the brain, that's been debunked) and also builds his own puppets.  A discussion with him lead me to thinking that it'd be cool to have a game where you mix puppets and masks.  A Role-Rotation game, perhaps.  Ooh, and everyone has two hand slots and one face slot for adopting roles each round.  Maybe a Werewolf type, overall.

- Skrattejagergeist.  I wanted to make a game where monster spirits ate each other.  Then the mechanic of Ferocity vs. Wiliness slapped me in the face.  Bing bang boom.

- The Heirs of Liu Guo.  I had a cool-ass dream.  About warrior monks and a shadow-walker Princess, and protecting the royal scions.  I woke up and wanted to make it happen.  Now I'm thinking about Futures decks for each Heir, and what can happen to each of the Heirs as they grow up, and how your interactions with the board can shape a story that changes with each telling.

Board Shape

I also am very interested in unconventional board shapes and designs.  I have an idea I call Bag Games, and which I find is done by Hiku Games as their mini-lederspiele line.  Essentially, it involves flattening out a drawstring bag to form a circle, allowing for circular boards.  The idea to make a drawstring bag came before I ever heard of Hiku or any of their games, and arose from my desire to make round play spaces.  Shape theory, interesting pictures; all of these things can inspire a game in me.  Diletsky was inspired as much by shape as it was by theme.  Here are a number of game ideas I have based on Board Shape, or image, that popped into my head.

- Flect.  
Flect came from me doodling, and looking at nesting shapes.  How can you nest regular shapes - and how about irregular shapes? I looked at a pentagram and saw that pentagon created by the star was regular.  Then I looked at how I could nest pentagons.  The mechanics popped into my head immediately after, and the mechanics informed the theme.  I am now working on Hect, a variant board design prototype inspired by doodling hexes and pentas.
It's worth noting that I've talked with John Horton about these.  He uses vector art, and has made a few attempts at skewing the regularity of the central pentagons in order to compensate for the distortion of the mediant pentagons.
Regular                                                                      Skewed

- Black Sky.  This game came together so quickly.  I was looking at a designer diary that used round playing spaces but then discarded the idea, and that sent me to investigate circle packing, where I wanted to confirm that six circles played well together; went to wikipedia, found that they play together THE BEST, and then got to thinking about ships, dice as ships, and the lessons I'd learned from Dungeons and Dragons about dice math, and why 2d6 of sneak attack generally does more damage than 1d12 worth of greatsword damage.  Board; Mechanics; Theme; Prototype.  It's interesting; I find that coming up with a new idea for a board or playspace instantly unlocks ideas for mechanics, and theme comes almost immediately after.  This is why I like shape theory so much.  It's the fundamental way of differentiating your game from any others, and originality on other fronts flows thereafter.
This here is the very beginning of the board I'm making.  The negative space in the "corners" will become the Artifact planets, if I can fit them in.  I'm not sure I can make a circle that touches both planets.  But then I just add a movement mechanic where it takes one extra move to cross the far reaches of space and hey, maybe that'll explain the gap.  Once again, looking at the board and the shape inspires me with potential mechanics or solutions.


This is what pops into my head most often.  A tactic.  An idea.  A solution that I don't have the problem for yet.  A thing you can do to simulate something else.  They often suggest theme to me, but often the board or playing space remains dark.  I am luckiest when I can envision a playing space first.

-  Wyck.  A game of worshipping at altars, while the candle of the world grows dimmer.  Inspired in part, no doubt, by the Quartet of the Fall of Man.  From my stream-of-couscous freewrite: "A game mechanic where a candle is represented by a column of cards set to either part of the candle or emptiness, with a wick card moving down the column as the candle burns. Maybe tie it to a game about competing for belief at your altars? Hmm, okay, so how about a multiplayer game where each player represents a small deity... What if the game has three resource types, Hope, Vendetta, and Caprice. Hope adds to the Candle, prolonging the game, while Vendetta shortens it. At the outset, you have the chance to attract one of the three kinds of basic followers to your altar. Whoever gets the first Hope follower has the distinct Hope advantage for the remainder of the game, while the deity who gets the first Vendetta follower pretty much becomes the Vendetta player, and the same with the Caprice Deity. You can have multiple Caprice characters. Or perhaps add a Balance-focused fourth type. And an Entropy based fifth. Hmm.
The Caprice character is focused on undoing or redirecting the actions of others. But she has the least objective tangible power, even if she might have the most meta-power.
The game must always, despite the Hope character(s?)’ best efforts, end. “Now, in my twilight years, I fear that I have worshipped at the wrong Altar.”
I need to figure out how Pandemic works better so that I can understand the “Players know what they are in danger of drawing” mechanic better.

- Mantis.  I thought, hey, it'd be cool to be able to see your opponents upcoming moves in a duel game of sorts.  Hey.  Psychic... dueling.

- Flurry of Blows.  Not the monk class ability from DnD, a way of using a line of dice to simulate swordplay.  May end up being the mechanic that underpins Heirs of Liu Guo.

- War of the Four Houses.  I like the Tarot.  I read the Tarot, after a fashion.  Investigating the origins of Hanafuda and the Tarot and the Modern Playing Card inspired me to make a game that used the Tarot Deck, wherein the Major Arcana were all rules that affected simple War-style play.  Probably subconscious influence from Fluxx and Ascension.

That's it for today.  Some game ideas, and a bit about how they came to me.  I'll probably be posting about specific games next, and probably in my usual stream-of-couscous style of talking to myself to generate solutions or options for my own challenges.
Tsai jien.

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