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Building a game as you play

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

One thing that seems easy to do in video games is to build the game as you play. It's what I call additive design. You start with 1 mechanic, play it. Then add another mechanic, play and repeat until satisfaction. The objective is to have a playable game ready during early development.

In board game design, it seem more complicated to achieve as most mechanics are entwined with each other. Which creates the egg and the chicken syndrome. You cannot design and test mechanic A because you need mechanic B. And you cannot design mechanic B because you need mechanic A. So you must design everything at once.

So I am wondering if there was some game genre or mechanics, especially for solitaire play, that would be more friendly to additive design.

For now, special text abilities seems to be a plague for such kind of design. They have to be used sparsely and probably at the end of the design. You need to have a working game before adding text abilities.

One idea I had in mind was a solitaire worker placement inspired by Lords of Waterdeep (LOW) and Ancient World. Maybe that could be playable as design as you play. Here is an example from what could have been LOW's design process.

- First you need to design objective: In LOW it's make the most VP.

- Second: How to I made VP: Completing quest and buildings. That implies, I'll need actions to collect quest and make buildings. So I can design them immediately.

- Third: Since making building by just selecting an action, Building should cost money, so I need money as a resource.

- Fourth: As for quest, how to I complete them: Money and resource cube. So I need actions to collect those cubes and money.

So as you can see, it seems possible to be able to play the game very early and constantly add stuff and make adjustment while playing.

Is there other genre that could allow such type of design?

Or is my theory wrong, and there is still an egg and chicken syndrome in the example above?

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
D&D Reboot, Gamebooks, etc.

This is a pretty awesome question! :)

TL; DR: Game books, choose-your-own adventure, RPGs, roll n' move, race-to-the-end.

I remember when there was a reboot of D&D back in the early 1990s and TSR released a game-box set. They started an adventure for a solo player - ostensibly, the person who would be the DM/referee for a multiplayer session - and had a series of indexed, tabbed cards to help someone learn the ropes.

You start with Card 1, right at the front of the packet, and it didn't even mention anything about dice throws, Ability Scores, or anything like that. I think the paragraph began with something like, "You wake up in a musty, damp dungeon cell. How did you end up here?"

My point in mentioning this is that so long as someone can read, I think it's possible to introduce a game a single mechanic at a time. I think that gamebooks and the classic "Choose Your Own Adventure" books took a single mechanic and turned them into entire game experiences.

So if you want to rely on a single mechanic and stop there, a gamebook is the way to go.

Other game styles that can be created in such a way would include roll n' move or more broadly, race-to-the-end games. Look up the book, "Challenges for Game Designers" by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schrieber and you'll see their first exercise is to create a race-to-the-end game. I used to teach game design workshops for complete beginners, and that's the game everyone would create by the end of the first session.

Craeneium's picture
Joined: 06/13/2022
eggs for omelet

I know a few games that teach the player a little at a time, easier for them to learn an otherwise complicated game. Legacy games tend to do this. With them hiding mechanics the players won't know about unless they finish the game, this might be your egg / chicken answer?
As for developing the game, if mechanics are your ingredients, then the finished game is your omelet. So you could start with an egg, good on its own. Then after a bite, add your salt. I believe some mechanics naturally work together, while others are situational. For your example I feel the player could learn one at a time. However, I don't see the game feeling complete until all of them have been added.

And I agree, this is an awesome question. Somewhat of a challenge too!

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I think "legends of Andor"

I think "legends of Andor" have that idea of teaching as you play system. Many video game tutorials, use the same technique.

Maybe there an idea in there that could be used for designing games as you build them since it's the same principle, but you're designing and playing at the same time.

It could also overlap some ideas with Toy Play design methodology I had in the past, where you play the game as a toy. That means in an environment without rules, or with rules that can be changed on the fly in order to explore possible game mechanics.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
That is a good question

For me, it started as addition on top of addition.
But only for the proto-type version.
But it resulted in a chicken and the egg story.

I think the genre of Wargames does lend itself for a 1 mechanic at a time.

After all.
I added attribute after attribute.
Action after Action.
And my Event Cards where added later as well.

Other mechanics like the use of XP for stronger units where discarded eventually.
Also the specialized weapons with their own rules.
And there are plenty of attributes that have bitten the dust.

It kinda went like:
Add 1, remove 2, add 2, remove 1.

But I was very inexperienced back then.

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