Dreams Made into Games
Board game design is a great deal of fun. It is a both a game and a puzzle in itself, especially when moving from the conceptual stage to the practical stage of physical pieces. I wish I could say that designing games was a relaxing hobby for me, but it isn’t so. When I am actively designing my mind dwells on the game day and night, so I have to be careful when opening that pandora’s box.
I first got interested in designing board games a few years back when my brother in law Steven and I decided to try to make a 4X colonial settlement style game. We eventually abandoned the project, but we learned a valuable lesson which I apply in my current projects: beware the temptation of realistic complexity. From there I started work on a medieval battlefield game which is on hold until I can solve one or two important problems. The main reason is that the game that is now known as Centauri Rift quickly overshadowed it. People immediately liked Centauri Rift and encouraged me to develop it further, and so here we are. Incurable Dreamer and Centauri Rift exist today as they are only because of the support of certain important people.
There are a few features of design that are characteristic to my games at this time:
- Choices are key: I like to give players room to be creative in their strategy within a framework of rules. The rules provide the structures and limits of the possible choices, making a game possible, but the players themselves are free to construct unique and interesting strategies within that rule structure.
- Replayability: Player’s enjoy games in which the possibilities are not quickly exhausted. A good game is like a new territory to be explored, and the more things available to explore, the more interesting the adventure. I like to build replayabitlity into games in two ways. First, the pieces of the game should allow for variation in the physical circumstances. Second, and most important, is a variation of ‘choices are key.’ I build replayability into games by allowing creative choices. Players can test different strategies and must react to the strategies of other players. The possibilities are limited only by the creativity of the players and their opponents.
- Balance of simplicity and depth: Creating a balance between simple rules and components and deep strategical possibilities is important to me. In the past I enjoyed long and complex games, but this stage in my life and that of many people I know does not allow for extremely long games. Moreover, I find it less and less attractive to open a box and find scores of different types of little cardboard, plastic, and wooden bits for tracking this and that thing. Neither, however, do I prefer very light games with a shallow experience. Therefore, the challenge is to find the balance wherein players can find an immersive experience in a medium length game without being overwhelmed by many details and pieces.
- Player interaction: The solution to the above features is player interaction. If part of the fun of the game rests inside the heads of the players, then the game needs less complexity (and is probably cheaper!). Anyway, you invited those friends over for a reason right?
- Chance in its rightful place: In general I tend to lean away from elements of chance in my game designs, having always favoured strategy to chance. However, chance can be an important element in many games. If used responsibly, chance is a way to simplify, abstract, and speed up complicated aspects of what is being modelled by the game. Furthermore, as many people recognize, chance can be that element that attracts players interested in a lighter game. Finally, chance can also contribute to the replayability of a game, though I like to limit this mainly to choosing the startup conditions for a game.