Game Design Diary – Part Three: Back to Square One

Game Design Diary – Part Three: Back to Square One

Here is a new post by Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show about our game design adventure

It’s been a little while since I last wrote about the game that myself and Mark Rivera (from the splendid Boardgames in Blighty) are working on. While we’d not forgotten about it, it was certainly on the backburner as other stuff took precedence, most notably the UK Games Expo. The pair of us (and Chris from Unboxed!) worked like dogs as we interviewed the cream of UK designers, ran a wide range panels, talked about games and (shock) even got to play a couple. We also managed to coerce a few people to try out the prototype version of Espionage (the working title of our project) and got plenty of interesting feedback. Other folks playing your creation is always a weird thing. It’s like sending your child out into the world and worrying that everyone thinks it’s an ugly idiot.

Espionage wasn’t an ugly idiot, thankfully – but it wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be. Looking at it objectively, there’s far too much going on that’s utterly superfluous while other areas need more added. Money, which we reckoned was an important aspect of the game, turned out to be quite redundant as it was far too easy to come by and there wasn’t actually much to spend it on. On the other hand, many players thought that it didn’t feel like there were enough locations to move around on the board. This was something I tried to fix by adding spaces between the actual locations but again that didn’t feel quite right. Game design is hard.

People who tried out the game also had plenty of good things to say about it, but these issues needed dealing with – and that’s a lot of work. Now, we’ve not binned the project, but Mark and I have decided to aim for something a little more stripped down, I suppose. Looking at what we had, it feels like we’d bitten off more than we could handle. There was an awful lot of stuff going on in Espionage, but there were certainly plenty of aspects we liked. It’s time to take a step back and aim for something that we’re happy with, that works well but won’t melt players’ brains.

A couple of weeks back Mark came to me with a concept for a card game. We’re still going for the cloak and dagger theme of spycraft in the early 20th Century, but as we’re working strictly with cards instead of several million pieces we’re having to take an entirely different approach. The new idea (codenamed Ace of Spies) is a game were you’re able set your own targets. You decide what Missions you’re aiming to complete, done by collecting various necessary components. Agents, Tools, Intelligence and Locations are all needed to complete Missions of varying difficulty – and the more specific the mission, the harder it will be to collect the cards required. Easy Missions will – of course – be simple to complete but will only get you a small amount of points. The more difficult the Mission, the greater the reward – and there’s also plenty of bonuses out there too. However, if you fail to complete the mission by the end of the game, you’re penalised and points are taken away from your total. We’re looking to have a couple of different ways to approach the game as well that will hopefully provide different playing experiences.

There’s also the ability to scupper your opposition with the inclusion of Intervention cards (another element from our original idea). We’re aiming for a truly interactive experience with as much opportunity to attack others as possible. All we need to do it playtest the thing into the ground and make sure it’s as good as we hope! The next few days will see me working on basic card design (the text of which has already been written up on The World’s Biggest Spreadsheet – and I hate using Excel), spending far too much money on blank playing cards and ink cartridges, and swearing at typographical errors. Then it’s on to playtesting, honing and – inspired by the words of Tim Gunn – making it work.

Game design, hey? Like I said, it’s hard – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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