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Design by restrictions

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

I'll start with an illustration. Let say you need to design a room and you have no restrictions about size, furniture and budget. It will be pretty hard to design the best room you can sice many variables can be altered. Or it will take a lot of time.

For example, you might be required to increase the room size during the design process to make a specific piece a furniture fit it which will impact the position of other furniture.

But if right at the beginning, you have a restriction of room size and budget, then it is much more easier to design because you know your limits. So you will be able to maximize the interior space of the room to it's full potential which would not necessarily be done if you could simply make the room bigger.

That situation could be transposed to board game design. Yesterday, I had the idea of make a pocket version of a pacific WW2 game. The restriction is that it must fit on a small board the size of a letter page where there will be around 25 hex on the pacific map. There must also be a minimal use of components (I am using dice and cubes so far) and the game must not last more than an hour.

At first, I thought that it would make a very simple game with lack of depth and details, but I realised that many details/features like Weather, Pinning, Supply Routes, could be implemented even in a very small game.

So it's like if I am optimizing every inch of space I have. I get a similar feeling when designing variants, because, again, you are restricted to use the components supplied with the game.

I don't know if this technique could be useful for everybody, but I seem to design more efficiently when bound within restrictions.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I made a mirror thread

I made a mirror thread here:

Any suggestions on what kind of restriction can be setup, I was thinking of:

Components: Type, Size and Quantity
Game Stats: Nb of players, Play time, etc.
Mechanics: ex: must be a deck building game, must not use dices, etc.

Joined: 11/07/2008
It's funny you should mention

It's funny you should mention this now. I just had an experience recently that I would consider my most efficient and immediately rewarding game design experience over the last week. As a little background I've been working with my design partner for about 10 years. We've made tons of designs, and tried out all different sorts of processes and communication methods over the years, and delved into lots of deep and expansive designs. We're in the middle of pre-production for our first published game, which is a very big expansive product with lots of components. It's a scenario-based cooperative storytelling adventure game (much like a kid-friendly roleplaying game, with a lot of board game elements sprinkled in)

ANyhow, because of some art decisions and other factors, our game ended up having a really detailed map board, which is not used to the full extent it could have been if we knew it would have been part of it from the beginning. We were looking at it and thinking "what could we have done/do with a gorgeous map like this?" and we started talking about all the components, cards, custom dice, and art assets we had for the game already. Immediately an idea was born, what if we *could* make another game that played with some of the pieces, what would we want that to look like? We knew right away it would have to be simple (because the other game is so complex), would have to use the map in an important way, would have to be playable by young kids (our game is targeted at families to play together), would have to be cooperative and play in 30-45 (due to the nature of our other game), and couldn't detract from the learning of our other, more complex system... what that meant is that the dice and certain names/abilities had to do a similar thing or provide a stepping stool towards our other game (after all, its been in development for a long time, and has so much resources.effort put into it, anything else we include would have to compliment that design and not take away from or confuse it). Additionally we are locked into some art/templating issues and because of complexity couldn't add any extra text to any of the cards. We also have a very strong setting/flavor/theme, and needed this new game to reinforce that and help tell the story of our world.

This was a lot of restrictions! I mean honestly after listing out what we were limited to I thought there was no way it could be done. Then the ideas starting coming... my design partner and I started talking about what we COULD do and the ways we could use certain pieces. We have some wooden "meeples", we have lots of plastic gemstones in several colors. We have 4 different types of dice. We have card "slots" on the game board that can hold these tarot sized art cards vertically or horizontally, plus 20 really well defined regions on the map. We have character "classes" with very flavorful roles and powers. We have these gorgeous art cards (2- of each) in 3 different types (locations, allies, and enemies) which basically only have distinct (and different) art showing on one side. We have a list of specific design goals.

Just shifting perspective from restrictions to assets was amazing, it opened up so many ideas. In just a single session of brainstorming, we had what looked like we could make a playable prototype out of... which is SO different than our usual pattern of weeks of discussing every possibility for mechanics and such, and spending a lot of time trying to decide what our design goals even are. Should it be X or Y? We were locked into so many things there really weren't a lot on tangential conversations to get lost in! Since the backs of the card text was not finalized, we started to figure out what we could add to the backs of the cards that wouldn't cause confusion for the base game, and it actually helped us define what we wanted on there anyway. We figured out a couple of symbols we could add to the ally and enemy cards that would help organize them for base game play, and would make them interesting for the new game.

The next time we got together we sat down and just started playing the game. We playtested, and iteratied, and then playtested some more. We started having a LOT of fun with it, so we called my husband in to join us and played again. By this point we were getting into the strategy of it, and only making little tweaks between sessions.. adding in special player powers and trying different combinations of those.. Then we decided to give it the kid test, and my 6 year old daughter joined in. It was even more fun!

The end result is we made a very playable cooperative board game oozing with flavor in which the players work together with their various player powers and skill arrays to race around the map, recruit allies, fight enemies, close dark doors (enemy "spawning points"), build bastions of light (to keep the darkness at bay) and roll tons of dice! There are interesting choices on each turn, emergent strategies, and in plays in the 30-45 minute window we were looking for... honestly I feel like it's one of our best designs ever, and it took the absolute shortest amount of time to design and fine tune. We ended up adding 6 player role cards so that the abilities could be similar to the base game but not have to worry about the mechanics crossing since the play so different.

We're going to do a lot more playtesting and development, and if it ends up holding up after many more plays we're going to try to include it in the box, or as a small bonus expansion. We would need to layout and print the additional 6 cards, which is a consideration, but for the fun and unique-ness of it we'd really like to find a way to get it out there for people to play. It doesn't replace or really even compare to the base game, but I think it's really cool.

Point is, so many restrictions= one of the best design experiences ever and a game we're really excited about! It would be interesting to see how imposing strict restrictions could improve (or at least speed up) design processes, and what new, innovative ideas might come out of looking into design spaces you've never considered because you HAVE to. It makes me look at something like the Stonehenge Anthology board game with a whole new light, i never considered making a design using that because of all the restrictions and set components, but now I wonder what the results would be? would it inspire a brand new creative spark?? I absolutely think that if you haven't tried designing with strict restrictions that you should give it a try! As Lareinna says, it could really prove to be a useful exercise!!!

Joined: 07/23/2012
Wow, this is a really great

Wow, this is a really great exercise; I'm updating my game design experience around this tidbit immediately - the last time I felt an impact like this was when I was introduced to anti-fun concepts.

Just goes to show, that the less you know about something, the less you know you don't know!

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
My grildfriend studied in

My grildfriend studied in interior design and they had to make a limitless project to design a building. It hapens that everybody was lost in the clouds and ended-up making a spa Hotel in the carrabean in a paradise location that does not exist. As for her, she took a place that exists and built a project that could actually be realized.

She also said that restriction could make project progress faster. But again, I think it's a matter of balance, too much restrictions can also be bad and prevent to give the game wings.

Even if restrictions are set, it does not mean that you could eventually open a few doors to see if you could expand beyond your initial restrictions, but at least the core of the game will be developped more rapidly with strong restrictions.

So now, I might re-open my old design and see how I could add restrictions and if it could make the game progress better. I think being able to define most of the components of the game is the most important restrictions. This is the case when designing variants, you have a set of components to work with.

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