Saturday, May 23, 2015

Further reflection and design revision

Following my initial thoughts on the first playtest of my boardgame design, I've been reflecting on the revisions necessary to my boardgame. As pointed in my earlier post, I highlighted the core tension that I hoped to elevate in this game.

In order to focus on this central tension, there are a number of questions that I need to ask myself about this game:
  1. What is the nature of the resources that players need to acquire?
  2. How will players acquire this resource?
  3. How will players utilise this resource?
  4. How will the acquisition and expenditure model simulate demand?
  5. How will the game simulate the degradation of this resource?
Nature of the resource
Is the resource inert and passive, and serve no other purpose than to be moved from one location to another? Or perhaps the resource itself can impact the game (through the use of dice, or other means of affecting odds)?

In my original design, the resource was passive, other than to be moved from the marketplace, onto to players board, and then recycled.

Resource acquisition
In the original design, players obtain resources through open auctions. Further consideration needs to be taken on whether this mechanic is best suited to my game. Perhaps other methods might be better suited, such as closed auctions, random distribution, or a purchase model.

If I decide to maintain the open auction mechanic, further refinements will need to be introduced. This includes varying number of available resources, or introducing minimum bids.

The trade mechanic from the first design will need to be scrapped, to increase the tension, impact and consequence of acquiring resources.

Utility of resources
Initial feedback suggested that using resources to satisfy customer cards might be highlight of the game. But I remain unsatisfied by the initial design. At present, players only move resources from one location to another in order to resolve customer cards. But this process is ephemeral. 

Demand for resource
The nature of the resource, the acquisition model, and the utility should inherently simulate the demand for resources. But maintaining a balance will be key.

Degradation of resource
One mechanic I am keen to maintain is the degradation of resources. Meaning players will lose resources if not properly utilised. This mechanic has two purposes: 1) building into the theme of a restaurant, whereby unused food will be wasted, and 2) increase the scarcity of resources, which should loop back into the central tension of acquiring resources.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

First play. Putting a boardgame prototype on the table.

I'm resurrecting this blog to talk about my recent experiences in conceptualising, designing and playtesting my first ever boardgame design.

I've been playing boardgames for a lengthy period of time. During this time, I've come across many different themes and mechanics in boardgames. But it was only in the recent months when I stated contemplating crystallising fleeting thoughts into a coherent design. After making a pact with some friends to actually create a game by a specified deadline, I presented my first prototype, Smokehouse, yesterday for playtesting. 

Smokehouse is a game where players manage a barbecue restaurant - buying ingredients, cooking up delicious meals, and feeding the masses of hungry barbecue enthusiasts.

The resulting playtest was not unexpected. While there might be a kernel of playability within this early design, there were issues with fundamental mechanics that either created complexity without depth, or diminished the impact and cost of meaningful player decisions. There were also issues of balance, but in light of the aforementioned problems with mechanics, these are less of an immediate concern.

Upon reflection since yesterday, I've come to realise that the core tension I had hoped to introduce to this game is a trilateral pull between:

  1. the supply and availability of resources/ingredients,
  2. the demand for resources from customers, 
  3. and the degradation of those same resources.

The intended focus on this core concept was diluted by the introduction of unnecessary mechanics. The original design included worker placement/assignment, and trade mechanics. The worker placement/assignment had minimal impact upon decision making. The trade mechanic diminished the scarcity of resources (allowing players take what they want from each other). 

The initial design sought to emulate the workflow of managing a restaurant. The result of this is a game that is mechanically linear, and does not offer players a puzzle to solve, or a tension to make decisions meaningful.

There were other issues of concern, including confusion with phases and turns, allowable actions, and being overly "fiddly" (having far too many components). 

Going forward, this game will need to focus on the trilateral tension as outlined above. Any additional mechanics or systems must be in service of that - to increase the tension, impact and player cost/stakes to make decisions meaningful.