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.

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