Taking an idea forward

TL;DR – Thinking about writing down my ideas/progress as I work on an idea for a board game. I’m new at this and probably pretty bad at it too, but I can’t keep holding onto ideas and talking myself out of developing them.

The Beginning

In the late part of last year, I was enrolled in a game design course as offered by edx.org (11.126x, Introduction to Game Design) and although I wasn’t able to complete it due to real-life obligations on my time, I was fairly bitten by the idea of actually building a board game that I might one day be able to share with others.

One of the early assignments in the course was to take no more than 10 minutes to just down notes and bash out a rough idea for a game. To be perfectly honest, I hated this approach and greatly disliked what I was able to produce in 10 minutes. While I did quickly realize that I made some critical and obvious mistakes, the 10 minute constraint was wholly unappealing to me because I didn’t feel like I had any time to actually think about what I wanted to do, it was just a stream of conciousness thing, which isn’t a way I’ve ever been able to learn or work. That all being said, after the assignment was completed, I wanted to see how different it was to actually sit down and try to plan something out in a much larger period of time; I would still write down ideas as they came to me, but I wouldn’t artificially limit myself to such an extremely short period of time.
(I should note at this point that despite my dislike of this particular assignment/exercise, I thought the course was overall excellent and if they ever elect to hold it online again, I will happily re-register and make another attempt to complete it.)

First Steps

Originally, I began thinking of ways to make a worker placement game with a new or at least relatively unused game mechanic. I had recently picked up Glass Road and was fairly in love with the card selection aspect and how Mr. Rosenberg had introduced such an interesting type of mind-gameyness to an otherwise “dry” Euro. My favourite type of game is worker placement, so I wanted to figure out a way of adding that sort of feel from the Glass Road character cards to a worker placement game, specifically Caylus, which is one of my absolute favourites.

I first posted a rough concept over on the BGG Game Design forums, tossed out as a relatively unrefined idea:

I’m starting on a worker placement idea for a game design course I’m taking part in and I’m hoping for help with a particular mechanic – not necessarily help on the mechanic itself (since that’s part of the course), but rather whether there are any games out there already that also use the same mechanic, so I can research how they implement it.

The rough idea I’ve got at this point is a 2-phase worker placement game (same idea as in Stone Age), broken down as follows:

Phase 1 – Players take turns placing their workers on various action spots on the board;

Phase 2 – Players take turns removing any worker from the board to gain the abilities of the board spot they occupy. If they remove a worker belonging to another player, they must pay that player $1 (as an example) and the owner may get a resource as well, I’m still hashing out the details.

My goal here is to make both phases of the game dynamic and interesting, since jumping on the spots that give the resources you need does not guarantee you being able to collect them. I’ve done some searching, but I haven’t had any luck so far, so any help that might be out there would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I got some great responses (including one from Nat Levan, designer of New Bedford) and quickly came to the conclusion that I was tunnelling too hard on the ability to remove other players workers, which was seen as disruptive and generally confusing. Back to the drawing board.

Two Steps Forward, One Back

Between real-life stuff going on and the Christmas/New Years holiday season, ideas were sporadic and my attention was focused on other things. I didn’t feel like my idea was going anywhere, the aspect that appealed to me the most about the game (trying to game other people into placing their workers where you need to go) was simply not going to work.

The next step in the process started off with an interesting thread on r/boardgames called “Friday Fun: Pick two distinctly different games. Swap their themes. Keep their mechanics. Add a twist. Describe what this new game is and how it is played. Bonus points: Let others try and guess the original ingredient games.” (link)  My contribution was:

Players represent powerful families (or guilds) vying for power over a fantasy/medieval city. Each turn, they each choose (a few) cards from their own identical deck to each other and then reveal them one at a time to indicate what resources they are offering their protection to. Players may then place workers to harvest those resources, however they must pay a coin or one of the harvested resources to the player(s) who are offering their protection. The more players offer protection, the more of the resource can be harvested, but costs more. Afterward, players can use remaining workers to use those resources to build additional buildings or complete different ‘achievements’ to gain approval/VP. (link)

The feedback I got on this idea was much easier to parse; folks picked up on the Glass Road influence, but Caylus didn’t stick out as the worker placement influence. What I was most excited about was that nobody commented about the “protection” aspect; it seemed far easier to grok than using other players workers.

My two take-away’s from this post were that the cards were far easier to understand in this format and my worker placement aspect needed more work. This wasn’t a huge sample size, but as I am now realizing, any feedback is better than no feedback.

Where are we now?

It’s been a few weeks and I have continued working on this idea to the best of my ability in the time I have available. The game has evolved quite a bit since then, specifically taking additional aspects from Glass Road (namely the buildings – realized this after learning about Puerto Rico) and adding in a “Mission” (temporary name) system for when players decide to not play the same card as another player.

My goal in creating this game is to try and make a game that evokes a tense feeling from players, not tense in the same sense as feeding your family in Agricola, but rather the tenseness that comes from Caylus and not knowing whether other players are going to dump resources into the Provost in order to punish you. I want to make a game where good decisions are rewarded, but also where “bad” decisions don’t leave you stuck or eliminated from winning contention early on in the game.

Over the next little while, I aim to write about different aspects of the game as I am working on it:

  • The cards and the card-selection phase;
  • The “missions” and allowing alternate possibilities to card-selection
  • The actual worker placement part of the game;
  • The turn order selection process and how I aim to make this a more involved process;
  • The buildings and how they have evolved over time.

(Header image by BGG user Icefysthttps://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/333968/caylus

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One thought on “Taking an idea forward

  1. Pingback: Taking an idea forward – Card Phase | Board Game Strategies

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