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Friday, March 11, 2016

Designs and Prototypes Update



I started this blog for a few reasons, but mainly to have an area to discuss my own ideas on game design and to hold myself accountable for following through with my designs. Time to get back to that and revisit some of my thoughts in process!

I'm beginning to realize game design is very much a volume play. Ideas fly into my head a mile a minute, but it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Here's a great example:

I recently became very interested in Dutch Auctions, where you start with a high bid that slowly decreases and the first player to commit wins the lot.
To simplify the concept, I was tinkering with creating a turn based version. I envisioned a game where you are hiring employees to manage a bed and breakfast. Those employees have certain expertise (the chefs would attract the foodie customers, etc...) that attracted customers, who in turn spent money. Money was points but also the only currency in the game, making, what I hoped, an interesting decision in every game of how long you can let the Dutch Auction hiring phase go.

Unfortunately, nothing came together in the games I played. I really liked the theme of managing a B&B and will probably revamp it into another game at some point.

The turn based Dutch Auction wasn't great. It was interesting but not as tense as I had hoped. There was also numerous times where the employees expertise didn't match up with any customers available, based on various set ups I was trying. I feel the only way that portion of the game would work is if all the customers were available instead of just a few, and I didn't like that as it messes with some of the employee abilities that interact with customer distribution.

I'm sure there's a good game in there, but it's not the game I wanted to make. I'm having a similar problem with Zookeeper.

I haven't really put any effort into Zookeeper lately because I'm caught in two minds. It was disheartening but necessary to have it brutally smashed to pieces at the prototype meet up. On one hand, some of the feedback provided could make the game play smoother, more tactical, and overall improve the experience. COULD. However, the game would change into something that wasn't my vision. 
On the other hand, turning Zookeeper into a 2 player only game keeps the core essence of the game, the bluffing, second guessing, and greed, but would limit the scope and potential marketability of the game. The world has excellent 2 player games, but it never hurts to have more.
The bottom line is I just need to keep on testing and getting feedback from a variety of people, especially not just from family and friends. I also need to decide what type of game I want Zookeeper to be. You can't please everyone, but I don't want to alienate any potential customer bases if possible. Zookeeper works OK as a casual game, but the proposed changes could still enhance that segment as well. Testing, testing, testing. I'll be refocusing on Zookeeper in the coming weeks. I have a vision of how I want Zookeeper to be, but if I should try to broaden that vision to attract more players without sacrificing too much of the heart of the game.

I'm going to experiment by really focusing on Zookeeper, Transylvania Pizza Kitchen, and The Great Barrier Reef. 

I'm working on a really neat blocking/barrier mechanic (I can't resist a good pun) for The Great Barrier Reef but it certainly needs refinement. I'm not sure it currently fits well within the press your luck mechanic, but it does add some tension. I've taken out the previously mentioned idea of having a shared air tank. It was just too easy for a losing player to sink the whole game, and that really wasn't fun. Currently, players simultaneously choose if they want to continue exploring the reef by revealing the top card of the deck, placing it in the card row, adding a matching color cube to it, and moving their player pieces on top of it, or stop and take pictures. When a player stops, he puts a barrier token on the card his player piece is on and then chooses a color. He collects all cubes of that color in between him and a barrier token behind him. (If there isn't a barrier token, he can collect all the way back to the start of the card row.) He also puts his player pawn on the matching color's action space and performs a special action.
Since stopping your own piece creates a new barrier, there's tension with how long you decide to explore. However, this also leads to way too many instances of multiple players stopping at the same time and I don't have a good enough tie breaker system for who gets to choose which color and special action.
The barrier mechanic adds tension but may be overall detrimental to the game. It encourages people to play it safe and stop earlier in fear of someone else stopping and forming a barrier. This one is going to take a lot of work to get right and still remain interesting. 

Finally, back to good ole Transylvania Pizza Kitchen. This game works fine as is, but I have more ideas to spice it up. There are a few different and unique ways to add variable powers into the game. I could really expand on a separate type of card-customers- that grant abilities when they are fed the right size or topping pizza. I could treat customers similar to the mandatory quest  cards in Lords of Waterdeep. These are played in front of another player and must be completed before any other quests. It's a little bit of "take that!" but the player still gets points for finishing the quest. She just can't focus on a much larger point value quest until the mandatory quest is gone. This concept could easily be applied to customers to add some player interaction into the game. Adding customers to the game will really kick it up a notch, I just have to determine through testing the best way to do that.
There are some thematic things I know I need to work on too. It's easy to say the Vampire can't eat any Garlic pizzas, but it's a little harder to to say that the Frankenstein's Monster creature can't eat any fire. Hot sauce maybe? I love that this theme can be so silly and still make sense to the game. 

I'm going to double down on these 3 designs moving forward, particularly Transylvania Pizza Kitchen.  It's the closest to being really really good. The Great Barrier Reef has interesting mechanics that may or may not work, a timing issue, and undefined scoring. And with Zookeeper I need to really think about what type of game I want to create. It could be an excellent submission to the 2 player board game contest on BGG, which is taking submissions until May 5th. 

The possibilities are endless, and that's why I really enjoy thinking about and making games!

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