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Board Game Design Methodology

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DarkDream
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Joined: 12/31/1969

I recently got back from my three week vacation from England (to visit my family for Christmas) and went ahead and spent a significant amount of time designing my game, "Chariots of War."

As this is my first board game I've really designed, I have already learnt a lot from the time and the mistakes I made on it.

What I did is simply sat down and began writing the rules of the game. I played parts of the game in my mind, noticed the rules didn't work and tweaked the rules and so on. After doing this for about a week, I ended up with around ten pages of rules (including a lot of examples). Proud of my masterpiece, I got my brother together and preceded to play test with him.

After about five minutes explaining to him the rules, he looked at me blankly and said, "that is way too complicated no one is going to play that." I brushed aside his comment, and continued to explain to him the rules and went ahead and tried to play test a part of my game with him.

After around ten minutes, it began to also become clear to me that my whole beautiful ediface of crystalline thought embedded by the rules was a load of garbage; "it sucked," my brother told me succinctly.

This was a huge reality check for me, and my brother reminded me that the best games are simple which was something I really did also believe in.

What I did then, is got rid of around 80% of the rules and started from scratch. This time I just concentrated on one fundamental and simple activity -- moving the chariots. It took me around one to two hours of brain storming, talking to my brother and receiving his judgements of "that sucks" or "sounds ok" until I got, "let's try it".

After that we went ahead and play tested the most simplest ideas we could think of moving the chariots. When I say moving, I meant the most simplest activity of moving ahead. We tried rolling dice, using cards and so on. Through extensive playtesting up front we were able to eliminate quickly dead ends and home on something really interesting.

After moving was completed, we then worked on ramming the chariots, going around corners and so on, using the same method as before: discussion, judgement, and trying out various alternatives with the existing basic rule set.

After four or five days of spending two to three hours every day. I can say I have a fairly solid basic foundation to work on that is actually beginning to be fun. Not only that, it is a *lot* simpler and easier to do.

Why I am relating this experience, is that this one instance may point to something a lot more important than just the helpfulness the approach has been to my current game.

Being in software development for around five years now, I have begun to realize the importance of having a good programming methodology. By methodology I mean a set of practices that bring discipline to the creation process so as to increase the chances of creating something of quality that meets the requirements of the target audience. In other words, finding a way to be able to reproduce success.

I am not saying I have found the holy grail or anything, but I think evolutionary design is the way to go.

Their is an article at gamedev.net that I believe is a must read and it explains the evolutionary process really well:

http://www.gamedev.net/reference/articles/article1661.asp

I read the article before I was inventing my game, but I sort of stumbled upon the process.

Maybe through more development and fleshing out, a methodology can be concretely spelled out that can increase all of our chances greatly of producing a great game. I am convinced, that coming up with the simplest thing, testing it at the beginning, integrating it and repeating the process is the way to go.

Also I believe it is essential that any game designer also understand behavioral psychology of rewards and punishments in their games and the importance of choices. There is a couple of great articles on Gamasutra.com, http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20010427/hopson_pfv.htm and http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20020204/hopson_pfv.htm

This should be required reading for all budding game designers.

Any comments or discussion on this would be greatly appreciated.

--DarkDream

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

D'oh!

As you were typing this I was actually typing out a simplified version of my game design practice in the "Bash the leader" thread...

...oddly similar.
Hmm.

Tyler

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Hmm... interesting read. Thanks!

But... but...

Now I want to PLAY the damn game! :-)
Where can it be found!?!?!? :-)

Tyler

DarkDream
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Where to find "Chariots of War"

Tyler,

To reply, if you are referring to my game it is still in early development. Come March I will post the game in the "Game Design Workshop" forum.

Thanks for your input,

DarkDream

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Well.... yeah, your game too. :D

But you just gave me a link to this rather well written article breaking down game design to the psycological level... all written around the design of "Giants and Castles"

But in the end... I've got no game to play. :D
I've emailed the author though...

Tyler

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Random_Person wrote:
Well.... yeah, your game too. :D

But you just gave me a link to this rather well written article breaking down game design to the psycological level... all written around the design of "Giants and Castles"

But in the end... I've got no game to play. :D
I've emailed the author though...

Tyler

That was my reaction! :D If he sends you a copy let us know; I want to play this!

Matt

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

His response:

"Glad you liked the article. I have the completed game in my game cabinet at home. I still play it occasionally. :-) Out of curiosity, how did you come across my article? It seems a few people have been hitting it lately and I wonder it was linked to anew someplace.

Take care

Daniel."

I asked him to dig it up and PDF it for us... maybe he will! :D
Tyler

FastLearner
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Board Game Design Methodology

I'm only just starting the article, but this chunk is not a good start (emphasis mine):

Quote:
The practices of game design are derived from intimate experience with a wide variety of game projects. The core principles that drive a simple arcade game like Pac man should also be evident in a sophisticated tour de force like Deus Ex. With this thought in mind, I analyzed the design process of a lowly board game.

"A board game", you cry. "Such a thing has no cut scenes or fuzzy logic NPCs!" I concede there are differences. Writing a novel requires a variety of additional techniques not found in a short story. Still, the rules that build a good short story are found in abundance in a novel. If a designer can successfully create the minute-to-minute user experience in Donkey Kong, then he or she has a powerful foundation for creating a much longer involved game such as Mario 64. A board game is lot less complex than Donkey Kong, and as such it is a perfect vehicle for discussing game design fundamentals.
Uh... no. A board game -- a good board game, anyway -- is a lot more complex than Donkey Kong. In fact, Donkey Kong isn't much more complicated than Chutes and Ladders.

His lack of familiarity with the complexities of decent board games doesn't bode well for the rest of the article, but I'll read it just the same. He lost a lot of credibility there, though, for me.

-- Matthew

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Yes, he took a stab at us... that's fine.

I might even be willing to consider that he did it with the attention of getting "programmers" (who think their form of entertainment is much more intillectually stimulating than ours) to not shun his article as crud...

Reguardless, I think the article was a good sales pitch for his game. :)

Tyler

Brykovian
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Board Game Design Methodology

While not having read the article ... ;)

I'm guessing the author means in terms of actually implementing the game play as a computer program. While the theoretical *design* aspect of a board game may be more complex, it is (much!) easier to *program* a board game for a computer than even the simplest real-time/action game.

Now ... I need to go and read the article and see how far offbase I am. :P

-Bryk

Torrent
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Board Game Design Methodology

I have definately seen this article before, albeit in a different form. (There is a paginated form of the same article on GameDev as well.)
I guess I didn't notice the jibe that board games are simpler than Donkey Kong. I would actually say the the entire rest of the article fairly directly contradicts that. The article is actually one of my favorites that I have read (several times actually) since i got interested in designing Board Games.

I like the idea of reward schedules. Basically the idea that every turn a player should get something. Too many turns without any perceived advancement or progress will kill a player's interest. But the little rewards need to be able to lead to a bigger reward. The thing about board games is that they are less complicated than video games in length if nothing less, and in number of mechanics involved. A video game can have dozens of variables and last for 30-40 hours gameplay employing several different paradigms of mechanics. No current Board Game woudl do that.

This sort of idea simplifies the reward schedule idea for board games in that they only have to last until the end of the game. There does not need to be an incentive structure that pulls you for hours other than just the interest to play again.

I like the article. It helps remind us that computers are tools and still require solid thoughts behind designs. Board Games are the same, just physical and tactile representations of (hopefully) solid ideas and playtesting.

Andy

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Hi folks,

I was kindly pointed this way by Random_Person. Glad the article is still useful!

As a note, I absolutely adore board game (particularly intricate German ones for some strange reason) The idea behind using a board game as an example instead of Donkey Kong is that underneath all the pretty finishing touches, much of the underlying game mechanics are remarkably similar. If anything, I see board game design as a 'purer' expression of game play than video games. :-) You certainly can't hide behind a pretty board for long if the game play of your board game is miserable.

The game Giant and Castles is unfortunately in a bit of messy format. I've got some illustrator files for the cards and the game board is a massive 300 dpi bitmap. The game pieces are little wooden flower pots (though any stackable objects would work). It might be a fun project to put it all together in an internet distributable form and see what additional improvements folks could make.

take care
Danc

PS: I keep that article on my website as well - www.lostgarden.com. I feel like a bad person since I haven't updated it with any more of my writing lately.

IngredientX
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Re: Board Game Design Methodology

DarkDream wrote:
After about five minutes explaining to him the rules, he looked at me blankly and said, "that is way too complicated no one is going to play that." I brushed aside his comment, and continued to explain to him the rules and went ahead and tried to play test a part of my game with him.

After around ten minutes, it began to also become clear to me that my whole beautiful ediface of crystalline thought embedded by the rules was a load of garbage; "it sucked," my brother told me succinctly.

This was a huge reality check for me, and my brother reminded me that the best games are simple which was something I really did also believe in.

Wow, this pretty much sums up the reaction of my testers (my wife and my brother) when I showed them my first two games. Some people are lucky; they come up with a first design that isn't a piece of garbage. I guess I wasn't so lucky. :)

Deviant
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Board Game Design Methodology

I remember reading that article only a few months ago and finding it very helpful. The concept of "reward schedules" is something I never really considered. All my games had it, sure, but only in the sense that players were advancing toward a goal.

My first game design was... okay, I guess. At least it wasn't totally shunned by my gaming group at high school. The thing is, my first experience with board gaming (outside of Monopoly and Scrabble) was Cheapass Games. My best friend was a demo monkey for the company, and always had something new to show us. So the very first principle I learned to operate under was "Keep It Simple, Stupid". I'm afraid that very first game was much too simple to hold anyone's interest for long, but I was able to evolve it over time in to something much more involved and interesting. The same is true of all my games, although occasionally I've had to move backwards in complexity to get ahead in gameplay.

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

For folks interested in the game design for Giants and Castles, I posted the game rules and the associated graphics up on my website. Also included are instructions for building the game.

http://www.lostgarden.com/giantsandcastles.htm

Let me know what you think.

take care
Danc.

hpox
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Board Game Design Methodology

First impression: Wow!

*Off to read your Evolutionary Design essay*

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

love the artwork on the cards.

I guess the scale of the board is like two sheets of A4?

I like the idea of the little flower pots, but the thought of playing with them "makes my teeth itch" (sound of earthenwear).
Also the sound of happy children smashing them when they loose.
:wink:

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Thanks Dan!
Been waiting to play this one for a WHILE! :-)
I had to go back and re-read your article which, again, got me all like "now I want to play the game!"... only this time, I can! :-)

Tyler

Yekrats
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Joined: 08/11/2008
Board Game Design Methodology

Danc wrote:
For folks interested in the game design for Giants and Castles, I posted the game rules and the associated graphics up on my website. Also included are instructions for building the game.

http://www.lostgarden.com/giantsandcastles.htm

Let me know what you think.

take care
Danc.
That is excellent, Danc. I love your articles on Evolutionary Game Design. Frankly, I love your whole site!

Thanks a million for writing and posting that.

-- Scott S.

DarkDream
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Questions on the Rules

Danc,

I have a couple of questions on the rules.

The rule states, "Move to an adjacent space. This can be on top of a giant or castle."

Does this mean you can finish your move on top of a giant or castle? I assume "on top" means the plant pot of the moving giant can be placed on top of the plant pot of another giant or castle. Does this mean that if a giant has another giant on top of him, he can move around with the other player's giant on top?

I am also not clear by "pick up an adjacent room from the top of a castle or giant's stack." If a giant is on top of a castle, I assume another giant can't go ahead and pick up the other giant because he is a giant and not a room, correct? I am somewhat confused by what a giant's stack is. It appears to me that a giant's stack is all the rooms on top of a giant pot. Is this correct? Is so, the pots a giant places on an adjacent square (with no giant underneath), is this a stack?

When you refer to placing a "room of your stack on an adjacent square", I assume you have a stack of rooms on top of your giant pot. Can the adjacent square already have rooms on it, or must it be an empty square? Can you place a room on top of another giant?

Finally, in order to cast a spell you need to place rooms on the sorceresses square. Can you go ahead and the very next turn pick them up again and deposit it to cast another spell?

The game looks great. It is just that I am not so clear with the rules though.

Thanks,

DarkDream

Anonymous
Board Game Design Methodology

Aye. I looked around for years for pieces other than flower pots to represent the castles and players. The original version of the game actually had little wooden people. They had holes in their heads so that specially created wooden castle sections with pegs could sit nicely on top. :-) The board was made of wood and had peg holes as well.

Unfortunately, it wasn't something that other folks could easily make, so I ended up with the flower pots. Eventually, I could imagine custom molded plastic pieces.

If anyone manages to build their own version of the game, let me know...I'd love to see a photo.

Danc.

Nazhuret
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Board Game Design Methodology

i just spent about an hour looking over your artwork on your website danc.

i love it.

i'm curious what medium you use. i didn't see it on your site (i may have missed it)

by the way, i'm afraid you might have to take me to court.
i do, in fact, covet some of your work.

FastLearner
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Board Game Design Methodology

Wow, your art is truly amazing. Fantastic and beautiful, thank you.

-- Matthew

DarkDream
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Clarification of the Rules

I am dying to really understand how the game should be played.

Are the rules perfectly clear to you guys? I made a previous post regarding the rules. Do any of you have any answers or comments on it?

Thanks,

DarkDream

sedjtroll
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Re: Clarification of the Rules

DarkDream wrote:
Are the rules perfectly clear to you guys?

No, I think there are some ambiguities. Most of them have been mentioned already.

- Seth

DarkDream
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Clarification to the Rules

I went ahead and corresponded with Danc on the clarification of some of the rules. Here is a summary of the input I got (if you would like the e-mail of the exchange, please send me an e-mail and I can forward it to you).

In the "Goal" part - the [] is mine -,

Quote:
The game ends when someone has collected all four treasure rooms [and built a palace with them on their starting place].

The action points can be allocated over a total of four actions. The first action:

Quote:
Move to an adjacent space. This can be top of a giant or castle.

A player can move their giant to an adjacent space forward or backwards but not diagonally following the connected dots. Besides moving through on top of a giant or other castle, a giant can finish its move on top of another castle or giant. When a giant moves, its entire stack on top of him moves as well, including any other giants piggy-backing giants and their stacks.

The second action,

Quote:
Pick up an adjacent room from the top of a castle or giant's stack

Danc said should be changed to:

Quote:
Pick up an adjacent token from top of a castle or giant's stack.

According to Danc, a "token" is a room or a giant. Therefore, a giant can go ahead and pick up another giant (provided the giant is on the top of a stack) and carry him around in exactly the same fashion as a room.

Danc also made the distinction between a giant's stack (all the tokens on top of a giant) and a normal stack (rooms just sitting on a square without a giant).

As such the second action should be edited to,

Quote:
Pick up an adjacent token from top of a castle, giant stack or normal stack.

Maybe a normal stack is just another name for a castle? Danc?

The third action of

Quote:
Place the top room of your stack on an adjacent square

Danc explained as:

- A player must have a token on top of his giant.
- The token can be placed on top of an empty square or another token (another giant or normal stack).

As such you can give an opposing giant some of your rooms. Also to throw off a piggy backing giant, you will need to go ahead and remove the rooms from his stack first until you come to him and then place him on an adjacent square.

As for the fourth action,

Quote:
Cast a spell, provided you have enough rooms to give to the local sorceresses

I wasn't sure if the giant had to be next to the sorceress square to do so. Danc, says that when you cast a spell the rooms are teleported (moved to) the appropriate sorceress (stacked on the square). Where you are on the board does not matter when casting a spell.

Finally I asked him the question whether you can use the rooms from a piggy backing giant's stack. Danc responed:

Quote:
Good question. I've played it in two ways, both of which are enjoyable:

- Treat the Giant as a room that can be donated to the sorceress.
- The giant on top blocks the lower giant's ability to cast spells. You
can't donate a giant as a room and you can't get to the rooms underneath
the giant, therefore you can't cast spells.

For all of you interested in Danc's game. I hope these rule clarifications helped. Danc, if I misrepresented you or misinterpreted what you wrote to me, I apologize in advance. I think you have a neat little game, and I think people will grow more interested in it if they better understand it (and even play it).

I hope this helps,

--DarkDream

DarkDream
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Miniature Wooden Flower Pots

Thanks to FastLearner, he posted a link to www.woodcraftssupplies.com that had some nice cheap pawns.

Scanning through the site, it has miniature wooden flower pots that look ideal for playing Danc's game. Danc mentions in his set up document that the pots he uses is 1 1/2". They have medium pots 1 1/4" at 14 cents per pot and slightly larger ones (1-3/4") at 30 cents per pot. Also they have a small pots at 11 cents. The link is at:

http://www.woodcraftssupplies.com/mini.html

Please scroll towards the bottom of the page.

The rules state you need around 56 plant pots. Purchasing 56 of the 1 1/4" at 14 cents would be $7.84. 56 of the 1" would be $6.16. Unfortunately, the shipping fee is rather steep ($6.00). If you are really interested in getting these pots, I would only do so if you buy other items as well.

--DarkDream

ensor
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Board Game Design Methodology

Cheap flower pots, great! That's a better deal than I'd found at http://larascrafts.com/mall/flowerpot.asp, where they have 1 1/4" pots for 40 cents, and 1 1/2" pots for 70 cents.

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