Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Conception — where I hang it all out there and begin to design a boardgame

About 8 or 9 months ago I began seriously contemplating the idea of designing a board game. Life has kept me busy and as a result not much real work was done on the idea until recently. As part of my summer goals I decided that I would get going on this. Yesterday I devoted a good chunk of time to getting something together that might be playable. And last night I sat with arch-nemesis Vicki (aka my "sweetheart," aka "gamer Vic") to give it a whirl. It only took about 10 minutes to see some serious adjustments that needed to be made. It felt really good to be designing something... it's been a while. In reflecting on this it strikes me as quite interesting that, even though I have never designed a board game it felt like home for me. It makes me feel good that I can design a type of thing for the first time and I feel comfortable doing it. It seems that design for me is design. In many ways it's very much the same process regardless of the type of artifact being created. I attribute this largely to my age and the years of experience and education that I have.

Just to be clear — I'm not saying that I'm going to be any good at board game design. In fact after last night's 10 minutes of play and some serious fails I see that I may have a long road ahead if I want to produce anything that's decent. Board game design is hard. It's really hard! I've only been studying this specific type of design for a short time. But like almost all kinds of design... Wow... I really dig it!!! So, I'm not likely to throw in the towel... ever.

Like other types of design the final product, if it's good, can feel natural when it's being used. This leads users to believe sometimes that the design work that went into the artifact was smooth and easy. Not so! In fact the smoother and easier the feel of use the more likely it is that the design process was arduous. At least that's been my experience. I feel a bit guilty that I fell into this same line of thinking as I have enjoyed playing so many board games over the course of the past 16 months.

Today in our research group I shared this prototype (which by the way has already changed significantly).

I was asked where the idea came from.  While I can pinpoint an origin, what you see above is the result of a twisty, winding path including several major adjustments to that original spark. In fact that original spark isn't really anywhere in the current version. Here is a brief synopsis of the evolution of the idea.

The tangled path of chaos leading to my currently broken game...

I read a paper and participated in a discussion on the topic of phronesis and technesis. Oddly... this was the spark. I thought about the importance of both types of thought and how they work together to move things forward. For some reason this struck me as a good idea for a game. I jotted down some notes and doodles. As I did this, at some point I thought about the similarities between phronesis and mutation and technesis and fidelity. Mutation and fidelity are concepts that I relate to evolution which is an obsession of mine. So I did some sketches and notes on how the game might be if it were about mutation and evolution. I thought about how ideas mutate and evolve.. how information mutates and evolves... how information becomes ideas and how ideas are a form of currency.

While taking a class this past semester I tried to work this into a team project I was involved with. It never made it into that project. But, I did come up with a mechanic that I think is unique. It involves laying cards over the corners of other cards to build a patch work carpet of cards. Laying over corners in this way forces the players to sacrifice the resource or ability represented on the corner that gets covered. It occurred to me that this is somewhat like mutation in evolutionary biology. So, that mechanic has become the core of my game.

I struggled a bit trying to find a compelling theme that might drive my design work. I contemplated the Terry Gilliam film "Brazil" and how information is a central character in it. It seemed a very good fit for what I wanted to do and I love that movie. So, for now the game has a Brazil-esque theme. Clearly that will have to change due to copyright issues. For now though it works quite well not only for the game but as a compelling way for me to think about the game. I think it will be easy enough to re-theme later.

So that, in a nutshell, is where this came from.

My summer goal is to have this game in a state that is not too embarrassing to share at the upcoming Protospiel.

1 comment:

  1. Like. Like like like like like. I look forward to seeing it.