#27: ADSftK Designer Diary 3 (The Obvious)

Welcome to part three of my series on the MANY things I learned from The Game Crafter‘s “Time” Design Challenge.  My entry was A Dragon Show for the King and the lessons were bountiful. Last time, I went over the headaches involved with this game’s art and theme.  I think today we’ll go over a list of much shorter, more obvious lessons.

*Firstly, let me apologize for the great delay in between these posts.  My first attempt at writing this entry turned into a rant about balance.  The second attempt met with some unexpected revelations about design and, therefore, required some extra time to refine.  Then. . . this third try required a bunch of images 😛 Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy!


You may have noticed that I really enjoy a rambling, story-telling style of writing.  I originally thought it would play well with the goal of sharing lessons I’ve learned about game design and self-publishing.  Well, I realized just today that I’ve been basically wasting “blog” time for about a month now.  You see, I’ve been preparing some very pretty words for a deep conversation about generating interaction between players, building a fun “experience” instead of just a clever game, and balancing meanness to player control.  The discussion actually ballooned into 2 posts!  Today, I suffered a moment of clarity and realized that none of that fluff had to do with any lesson I learned from designing ADSftK or taking it to print.  While the writing did lead to a revelation about the design process which I have now begun implementing, it’s not in line with the goal of this series.

Therefore, the lesson here is FOCUS – something I tend to struggle with.  Instead of giving what I promised, I was writing expositions on my design philosophy and what I find fun in games.  While some people might find that interesting reading, it’s not the point.  To that end, moving forward I will be putting more effort into outlining my posts so that I have a clear picture of my topics, and I will try harder to write about lessons as they come up – instead of recapping months later.

speaking of “in line”. . .

Central Alignment:

I feel so dumb.  My first version of this game looked like this:


Pretty enough.  Just a little something to convey information to my players.  When I finally settled on a theme, I kept the original layout, changed the icons, added eggs, and prettied things up.  Then, I hit this card:

(3+) 2-0

Do you see the problem?

Not enough room.  Know why?  Because EVERYTHING is center aligned.  Ugh.  For the most part, the information flow is pleasant.  I still love the pretty linework that it allowed.  Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough room for time, egg, abilities, and power all down the middle.  Not to mention, I need extra room for the next topic:


(3+) 6-8

This was seriously the dumbest mistake I made in this entire project.  I assumed.  At first, the abilities simply happened.  As I figured out cooler abilities, they needed special timing restrictions.  It was pretty obvious that I had to specify something happened at the beginning or end of the turn, and that some things happened when the eggs hatched.  And that’s where I stopped thinking.

I just figured that people would READ the abilities.  If there was no timing restriction listed, they would come to the conclusion that it occurs anytime it would make sense (all the time), right?  Nope.  For a month and a half, my testers and I just played and assumed.  No one thought it was strange or even commented.  So, I submitted my game for the competition.  Then, I got the first email asking about when something happened.  Before I even finished reading the question I knew what I did wrong. . . and it was huge!


(3+) 12-24
I have lost count of the number of times that I read “don’t assume”.  I even gave that advice to others.  Then, I went and did it anyway!  Fortunately, the fix was “easy”.  Changing the layout for the previous reason and utilizing icons in the ability text created plenty of room to showcase the egg and add this beautiful new timing label.

Information Breakdown:

This actually goes hand-in-hand with my previous post on using spreadsheets.  Go on, use them!  Don’t just lay out your cards, though.  If you have a finite resource, like how ADSftK has limited space and time, track it!  When I submitted this game, there was a real problem with staging eggs.  It always felt like players just could not get ahead.  Testers in most games I saw would end the game with at least 3 eggs in each hatchery.  That’s a problem.  You should feel smart for planning well, not feel overwhelmed and stupid.  When Willis first suggested staging eggs, I knew I would have to rebalance the times so that it would be more reasonable.  Well, I didn’t expect it to be so very bad.

When I finally input the cards into spreadsheets and looked at the times, I was shocked.  I calculated that the most “time” a single player could process in a 12 round game is about 33.  There was over 90 time in a 2 player game.  That’s a problem!  It meant that no matter how well a player planned, they could never clear their hatcheries by the end of the game.

Information Breakdown Part 2:

I could write an entire post on this point, but it’s here because I discovered it while writing the huge novel that was going to be Design Diary #3.  Very early on in the iterative process, break down exactly how you want players to interact with the game.  Once I decided to make every egg with a special ability unique, I actually had a difficult time coming up with new and interesting abilities.  This problem stemmed from not fully understanding my game’s inner workings.  I was only thinking about the big picture of “time”.  However, each ability’s effect on “time” was actually affecting the dwindling hand / decreasing choices, limited work space, randomly distributed eggs, and risk / reward system (abilities vs. score).  If I had taken the time to define those parameters, the development process would have been faster and easier because I would have known the ultimate goal from the start, instead of blindly stumbling into good abilities.   But, hindsight, rushed work, and all that jazz.

notesThanks to that epiphany, my process is now:
1. Brainstorm idea, story, theme, mechanism, etc.
2. Write Design Goals AND Specific Interactions
3. Prototype, test, refine, and iterate.

Summary of Lessons Learned:

  • FOCUS – write more outlines so that I can stay ON TOPIC!  If I really feel the need for an Op/Ed, write it on my own time and post it elsewhere.
  • PLANNED LAYOUT – while cleaning up the plain prototype is easy, I have to adjust the card to cleanly convey all of the new art, icons, and information that I’ve added along the way.
  • EXPLAIN EVERYTHING – don’t assume.  Tell the players what must be done and when.  Unnecessary confusion is a quick way of ruining an otherwise great game.
  • COUNT – track your finite resources, number of cards, each ability, everything!  Testing will tell you if it feels right, but counting will tell you if you are even in the right ballpark.
  • DEFINE INTERACTIONS – this does not have to be rigid or all inclusive.  Just as Design Goals set big picture parameters for the game, this list is an amazing tool for brainstorming new (game appropriate) ideas and to filter abilities and mechanisms.

Well, that’s it for A Dragon Show for the King’s race for The Game Crafter’s Design Challenge.  The Challenge is over (I didn’t win) and the world has moved on.  I still love this game and plenty of people have had a great time testing it.  Therefore, I am currently reworking the time balance so the game actually works and redoing all of the art so it isn’t as hideous 😉  Stay tuned here and the Facebook page for updates.  What do you think of the game’s progress?

Game Logo

Let me know what you think