Thursday, June 26, 2014
Evolution, Mutation, Fidelity and Copy...cat
Some time ago I ran across this BGG post by Friedemann Friese. In it he discusses his design process for his board game titled "Copycat." It is a fine and documented example of the evolution of board game mechanisms. Friese discusses openly the concept for this game — which is to take mechanics from several other designers games and build a new game with them. He went so far as to get permission from the designers of the games that he took the mechanics from. In the box there is a paper "Warning" the players of the games he stole mechanics from. His warnings are because he has taken each of those mechanics and mutated them to his own needs. This is done with a great deal of humor and delight.
I had a chance to purchase and play this game recently. If you have played the games that have been pilfered then the mechanics are easily identified when playing Copycat and at first may seem nearly identical to their origins. But, it takes only a round of play or a reading of the rules to see quite clearly that Friese has twisted the mechanics to his own needs. Surprisingly it feels at once like the other games and also like something entirely different here.
Friese takes mechanisms rather directly from "Dominion," "Agricola," and "Through the Ages." He adapts them, giving them his own little spin and manages to mesh them together in a fun way. Thematically, the games that he draws from are very much looking back on distant times. But, in Copycat Friese uses a contemporary theme. You are running a political campaign. It seems apt in many ways that the mechanics are stolen from other games and you are play a politician doing what ever it takes to win an election.
I enjoyed playing this game it it warrants more plays but I'm not sure it ranks particularly high on my personal list of games. I do believe that it's a very useful game in terms of research in game design. If you're a board game designer and you've played "Dominion," "Agricola," and "Through the Ages" then you definitely need to play this game. Friese illustrates through this game how seemingly disparate mechanisms can be adapted, mutated and combine into a new, interesting and noteworthy game.
It has left me asking questions about design — as nearly everything in the world around me does. I often have students ask, "how much do I need to change something to claim it as my own?" I think that this game is a good example of how to deal with this question. Friese clearly credits the authors of his mechanics and then he takes those mechanics and does something new and interesting with them.