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Additive design instead of subtractive design

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larienna
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A famous quote says that "A design sis finished not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove"

When I design board games, I seem that have the tendency to start with a concept, abstract it with mechanics and remove unnecessary elements. That could be called subtractive design.

When I design video games, I start with nothing, then add a mechanic, check if it works, then add more, until I get a working game. This is what I would all additive design.

Now in video game it is more logical to use additive design because when you program, you add features one mechanic at a time. While in board game you have a thematic idea and try to see how that could fit into mechanics and components.

Additive design could be seen as a concrete approach to problem solving while subtractive design could be seen as the abstract approach. The same dichotomy exists between programming and mathematical approach. So we get the axis:

Additive, Programming, Concrete
VS
Subtractive, Mathematics, Abstract

-----------------------------------------------------

Now my problem is that I sucks with the Abstract approach, this is why I had problems designing board games. Now I am wondering if it could be possible to design a board game from an Additive/Concrete approach.

The concepts would be to start with nothing then gradually add elements to the game. But at each step of development, the game must be playable. Similar to software that must be functional after each feature added.

So I am wondering how that could possibly be achieved in board game design. How to make sure I am constantly using the additive approach. A few solutions I thought so far:

1- Make each step of development playable.

For example: I use an hex space map, with a ship token. I move the ship around the map. The mechanics works but is kind of dull. Then I add distance restrictions, like move 5 space max per turn. Then I add cards that has a distance value which must be played to move the ship.

2- Use unthemed mechanics. This is to make sure I am not tempted to abstract a thematic concept.

For example: You have a hex map, and you have a mechanics that place cube on various place of the map. But you have not idea what those cube represents. It could be population, a virus, cash investments, etc.

Do you have other ideas?

Else do you think it's possible to design a board game using additive design?

X3M
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I think, you are trying my method

I started from scratch with my "hobby" board game.
Then I added more and more to the game. Most of the additions got cut out again, or changed in the course of years.
Sometimes, I posted problems with my additions on this board game. And some called it creeping. Which is true. My game is a bit too big for normal audience.

For a "public" version. I shoud cut out a lot of mechanics that are too hard for children to follow. Also, the size of the number of units is bad.

Someone said to me, years ago, that my board game actually begs to become a video game. I declined back then, because I felt that my game is waaaay to underdeveloped at that time.

So, if you start building up a game. You might never really end. Unless you say, STOP, to a certain ammount.

Juzek
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For me design is very

For me design is very mechanics focused. I get a feeling of what a turn should be like. (I.e. I want to slide around some tiles, and calculate resources gained based on that) I usually get stuck on things like "now I have resources, now what should I be doing with them?". Then i steal from other ideas I tried in the past to add a new element, but also adapt it for a new circumstance.

It's a lot like copying and pasting bits of code from previous projects. I can't really say that it is a successful technique because I am not a published designer.

Juzek
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.

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wob
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adding to your game to fix

adding to your game to fix things is a valid technique that lots of designers use. the main problem is all the extra stuff.
card games are the best example i can think of. you start with a nice little game of 30 cards. then you add some resource, then some player powers,then some extra cards to balance, then you double it all to get a higher play count, then... now you have a game with 1000+ cards that costs £30 just to print.

this isnt always the case of course. adding just 1 rule could fix everything and turn your game from ok to brilliant. just make sure what your adding needs to be added and dont get carried away.

wob
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adding to your game to fix

adding to your game to fix things is a valid technique that lots of designers use. the main problem is all the extra stuff.
card games are the best example i can think of. you start with a nice little game of 30 cards. then you add some resource, then some player powers,then some extra cards to balance, then you double it all to get a higher play count, then... now you have a game with 1000+ cards that costs £30 just to print.

this isnt always the case of course. adding just 1 rule could fix everything and turn your game from ok to brilliant. just make sure what your adding needs to be added and dont get carried away.

let-off studios
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Restrictions

I find it useful to have a set of restrictions in mind at the start of a design process, and do as much as I can within those restrictions until the game calls for expansion.

In a game I've recently submitted to game contests, I've held myself to the restriction of a single deck of cards (54 cards or less, total). The game has undergone several changes and refinement as time has gone on, but there's been no reason to go beyond that specific restriction.

In another game I've been working on, the game outgrew my single-deck-of-cards rule somewhat recently, but after testing it's pretty clear that using coins to keep score and tiles/tokens for other aspects of the game is a definite improvement. Playtesting has borne this out.

I also have experience with software/video game development, and by starting with very few restrictions or design goals in mind, it's highly-likely that your game project will suffer from:

  • Feature Creep (adding more stuff)
  • Longer Development Cycle (variably from brainstorming, implementation, or bug-hunting)
  • Energy/Motivation Drain (the reality of any long, deliberate creative process)

Those three things are more than enough for me to shelve not just a video game project, but a tabletop game project as well.

The same kind of thing happens to many writers who write "from the seat of the pants," or without an outline/pre-determined structure to guide them.

To put it another way: if I were a sculptor, I would prefer to mold from bits of clay I can shape and then fuse together, instead of carve from a single, immutable hunk of marble. It's not the strongest metaphor, but I suppose the concept is there.

I strongly recommend novice designers provide themselves restrictions to maintain focus and carry the project through from beginning to end. This doesn't mean that it will end up being a "microgame," but that the designer has a clear idea at the outset of the kind and scope of game they want to create.

larienna
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The way I see things are

The way I see things are going, It's really hard for me to design new board games. So I might focus more on designing systems that could allow the creation of multiple games. New games would have different theme and twist while keeping the same core mechanics.

New games, would actually be adjustments of systems I already designed. This way, the design process will be easier. The drawback, is that any new design will be close to another game.

I always wanted to design theme first in mind, but I'll reserve that for video games instead. Instead I'll do mechanic first and find themes for it.

X3M
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Just a guess, don't think much of it.

Maybe give it a rest for a while.
When you add to much freedom to certain designs. This might be a sign that you don't exactly know what you want.
If even the design process is done this way without a clear goal. You just know that you are just experimenting. There isn't a real work in the process.

cybulskina
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Someones on the Same wavelength

I was going to start a forum today pretty much addressing this topic.
I'll expand on this idea, you basically gave me an epiphany as I was looking at your post here.

Additive vs Subtractive Design

This is a awesome topic to get into.
If you are interested in any or all of these topics:
Artificial intelligence
General Game Playing
General Description Language
The Language of Games
Game Theory
Rule Creation
Procedural game design
etc.
ALL within the context of "physical" board games, from tic-tac-toe to the most elaborate Eurogame.
I'm planning on continuing on a forum titled "The Game Language of T"
(A physical concept based approach to Game Design)

The cool thing about this project, please add here if people know of people already working on a project like this, is its specifically applicable to board games, especially the methods you have described.

The general theory is exciting, especially in the world of computing, but also in creating solid frameworks for us game designers
(hopefully creating new game mechanics that are here and now not even thought of as of 2019)
who then can use the Virtual -> Rule -> and Mechanic framework in a
PHYSICAL AND IMAGINED way, creating Contex of the game we plan on making.
http://www.leagueofgamemakers.com/theme-vs-mechanics-the-false-dichotomy/
The link I posted expresses what I'm talking about here at the end.

Anyway super interesting stuff and sorta a tangent.

But to ADD (*snicker*) to your post about additive design, I think top-down AND bottom approaches are also helpful. A multi-dimensional analysis (ex.in 2D) (top down----bottom up on one axis, additive --- subtractive design on another axis) would help us to elaborate on creative processes and methods to applicable situations: All in the effort to cause FUN, excitement and playability.
In short, also consider the top down-bottom up constructs of the process not as a replacement but additional dimension to the approach of game design.

Also, specific example of additive game design.. I start with a blank sheet of paper, then ADD to it by writing stuff. I mean it's pretty obvious but it's helpful to include basic things like this to help illustrate. Creating limitations is fantastic because it puts scope on the project. having infinite variables makes it tough to make a comprehensible project for humans to preform while Having fun.

Anyway thoughts? I'll take the tangent to my thread, but I'd love to keep discussing Additive Design here

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