#25: ADSftK Designer Diary 1 (Design Goals and Physical Components)

As promised, I am going to start rolling through the MANY things I learned from The Game Crafter‘s “Time” Design Challenge. The entry I eventually submitted (at the last possible minute) is A Dragon Show for the King and the lessons are plenteous.  *I promise to try and keep this brief and to the point 😉

I guess the most logical place to start is the beginning. The contest began about 2 months ago. I found out about it with roughly 50 days left. Fear and doubt had no place in my mind because it was racing with the potential of a game which used time as a resource – not a simple timer or “clock”, but as something which could be manipulated for the players’ benefit. My Idea Notebook went everywhere with me for a week because I could not stop the flow of game concepts. Sometimes it was just a possible mechanic. Other times the thoughts involved an entire thematic idea. There were so very many  options to choose from – even some great ideas from my friends.

With time running short, I had to make a decision on ONE project to build up and publish, though. Here are the associated design goals I was cooking through:

Contest Requirements:

  • Time as a resource
  • Cost cannot exceed $24.99
  • Publish Ready: logo, backdrop, shop ad, action shots, description, cool factors, all images proofed, and have packaging
  • Must be new and must be (legally) yours

Personal Goals:

  • Small / easily transported (because of the dwindling clock and monetary restriction)
  • Lightweight / easy to learn (because it’s small)
  • Easy / fast set up and break down
  • Good player interaction
  • As many players as possible (because interaction is more fun with more people)
  • An element of randomness to improve replay value
  • Players should feel like they have control over their end-game
  • No player elimination & hidden score (so the game can be fun all the way to the end)

Now, with the exception of the first 2 points, these personal goals are generally how I like to design anyway. Honestly, I don’t even write this stuff down. It’s just how I filter game ideas as I’m preparing to work on a project. So, with all of that in mind I reviewed my ideas and went with the most exciting and “complete” one I had: a drafting game where the chosen cards had to “cook” for a set number of turns. After the cards processed they were turned face-down in a score pile to hide the actual score until the end of the game. Some cards would have abilities which sped up or slowed down the progress of other cards. Some of those abilities would specifically mess with other players.

Why was that the most exciting? Didn’t you have something bigger / better in that book? Well, let me tell you. . .

I love drafting games. Teale Fristoe at Nothing Sacred Games gives a wonderful breakdown of many reasons to love the format. Primarily, I wanted to keep this a drafting game because it utilized randomness in a way to give players a different view of the game play after play, while still allowing a level of control over how the game panned out. Depending on how the draft is structured, you could have a built-in clock to end the game in a set number of turns – thereby giving me control over how big and how long the game was. Because I knew how many turns I wanted the game to last, adding more players simply involved adding a known number more cards. Finally, as Mr. Fristoe points out, a huge benefit of drafting is simultaneous play. Thereby allowing me to add up to 6 players to the game without drastically increasing play time.

The first iteration was actually quite easy to build. The challenge, really, was in determining how many cards I would need. Ideally, I’d be able to fit this whole thing into a tuck box. However, I wanted at least 6 players to be able to play and, as I just mentioned, adding more players meant adding more cards. So, the total number needed to divide evenly into player groups (i.e. 2, 3+, 5+) to allow for easy set up. Secondly, the number of cards divided by the number of players determined the number of turns for a game. Too small a card pool and the game would be extremely short. Too long of a game and players would start with an unwieldy hand (imagine on your first play through holding and sorting 30 cards all at once).

My gut told me that I wanted a 2 player game to last between 10 and 14 turns. This should allow just enough time for players to get themselves into trouble and race down to the finish line without feeling overly long. Whatever I decide for 2 players would be my foundation – no other group would have fewer than this number of turns. After doing a tiny bit of math and a lot of intuitions 😉 I settled on 24 cards. This gave 2 players 12 turns to work their magic. It also multiplied beautifully: 3 players would have 16 turns each, 4 players 12 each, 5 players 14* each, and 6 players 12 each. The one acceptable complication being 5 players. In the end, I put some REALLY strong and crazy stuff in those 24 5+ player cards. So, losing 2 wasn’t really a problem.

This means that the total 6 player capable version would only involve 72 poker size cards. Yay! Small game? Check! Easy set up? (Shuffle together up to 3 complete sets of 24 cards depending on the size of your group.) Check!

That pretty much covers design goals and how I determined the physical details of the game. Tune in next week when I’ll start covering more of the virtual aspects of the game, like: player interaction, time as a resource, theme, etc. In the mean-time, have a great week!

Let me know what you think