Thursday posts look at game design using things that I’m working on as examples. This makes them part design diary and part theoretical discussion. Note that these are real games that I’m currently working on for Quirkworthy, so I don’t know if they will end up being published, or how much they will change in the process of development. In the end they may turn out to be duds, in which case we can explore why they didn’t work. Whatever happens, I hope that you’ll find some interesting morsels along the way.
I’ll start with a game that I initially came up with during a train journey. This starting point alone illustrates two important maxims:
- Always carry a notebook.
- Write down ideas as soon as you have them.
I use the Notes app on my iphone for most notes these days. However, I do still carry a notebook on train journeys, and I can write faster than I can type on my phone which gives an advantage to the old school approach there. In addition, I find it easier to draw on a piece of paper, though that is changing as I get more used to the various apps. Still, on your phone you don’t have a stylus worth spit, so you’re reduced to finger painting…
Whatever format(s) you choose, make sure that you have some way of taking notes nearby at all times. You never know when you may have a great idea, and they are fleeting. Write them down as soon as you can. Writing down 10 that turn out to be meh on later study is definitely worth it if you also capture 1 good one that you would otherwise have forgotten. More than once I’ve had a great idea that I convinced myself was so good and so elegant that I didn’t need to write it down as I couldn’t possibly forget it. Then I forgot it.
Write it down. Do it immediately.
I’m calling it that because I don’t have a name I like yet. That’ll come. Either way, this initial idea I had on the train was for a game of competing ninja clans.
The story is that they are trying to impress the Imperial staff so that they will gain their patronage. To do this, they have been given a test. The various ninja clans who are in the running (represented by the players) are despatched to a province that is full of seditious mutterings and dubious behaviour. They need to prove themselves by finding out who is loyal and who is a traitor. If anyone. Could all be just rumours.
The game plays out with each player allocating their ninjas to various missions. These can be spying, assassination, theft or whatever. Generally not assassinations as that raises too many alarms.
So far, so average.
What I thought was clever, and why I’m doing something with this idea rather than the hundreds of other ones in my notebooks, is the next bit. The targets of these mission are 3 or 4 local families. They are all different, and have varying strengths and weaknesses. Each family has a number of defined characters within in it, usually the heads of the families. The missions available to the players are not only the Imperial ones, but also ones generated by the families themselves, both as protection and spying, attack, and so on as they vie for power among themselves.
Players could even take both the infiltration mission against a family and that same family’s defence mission. They can then choose to deliberately fail whichever one was of most benefit.
I also want to track how the families feel about each other, and have this influence which missions they offer, and against whom.
Overall, the players should feel like they have wandered into a living environment which they can take part in, but which won’t stop and wait for them if they fail to act. It’s an idea I’ve used before. It’s hard to get right, but great when it works. Definitely worth the effort.
The original notes also include some example layouts and more mechanical details. That’s all well and good, but it’s more illustrative of the sort of flow I wanted to have rather than hard and fast rules. This flow is what you’d expect from the description: players win “contracts” and allocate resources to completing missions. Depending on the type of mission they end in different ways and there are rewards for completing and failing. In the background, the Imperial envoys are watching. Eventually the game ends and one of the player’s clans is adjudged the winner.
I’ll get into more detail next time. Till then, keep your notebooks handy!