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Delving! - " That is when it hit me, it was starting to feel like other games"

This is sort of a first dev diary for the game Delving!

I have been developing this game for many years and it has had many names. I know this is a giant wall of text but I thought some of you might find it interesting, or helpful, or maybe you will find it boring, I don't know. It is just something that has been on my mind.

It is hard to say how long ago I started getting the idea for Delving!. I remember wanting to create a fantasy adventure game where you were adventurers going through a dungeon and defeating monsters. I created a prototype back in 1996 or 1997 and played it with a few friends. Needless to say it was a crude design and quite a big fail. The game I was calling “Lair of the Black Wyrm”, went into a shoe box, where all game ideas go to die.

Then in 1999 I moved cross country for a job and the shoebox was hastily packed into a moving box and off I went. Fast forward several years and a pipe bursts in the wall of my apartment while on vacation and I return to find so much of my game collection was severely damaged. I started going through the boxes and found the shoebox. Needless to say, the game was damaged by the water.

I pulled the game out and found that the dungeon deck, a deck of dungeon tiles, was completely ruined. But other cards like the monsters and magic items as well as the heroes were intact. I laid about six or seven of the monsters out in a line across the table. The minis I was using for the heroes were at one end of the line. And as I stared at them I wondered. Did I even need the dungeon itself? There were tons of adventure games where you built a dungeon and adventured through it. What if I went abstract and the heroes just fought the monster at the front of the line. I took out my dice and tried it. The combat still worked, and if was fun enough, but there was no way to rearrange the line of monsters. So back in a new box the game went.

Some years later and another move I was going through some boxes in an attempt to declutter my life a bit and I found the game. I started a google doc and wrote up some basic rules but as I pondered the game I decided that I could probably get rid of much or maybe all of the combat. I felt that an abstract dungeon crawl should play faster and be more of a family style game. So I stripped out most of the combat, leaving just the XP and treasure that the monsters granted and tried the game again. And it did indeed play much faster. But it still felt incomplete.

I started thinking about how players would interact, were they a party? Were they all just raiding the same dungeon? Eventually I decided I needed a hand of cards for player interaction. Moving monsters, and maybe some take-that mechanics like those in wiz-war. After a short while I had come up with cards that did just that. I put together a new prototype and tested it. This time the game seemed fun, the added line-manipulation and take-that mechanics made if feel much more alive.

After more tweaking, I removed all combat mechanics. You simply beat the monster at the front of the line. I decided that after completing a line player’s didn’t have enough victory points so I had them play two more lines of monsters. That is when it hit me, it was starting to feel like other games I had played years earlier like Guillotine. I searched for documents online to see if I could find a spreadsheet of cards for that game. And when I found it, I was bothered by the similarities. I thought, did my subconscious push me in that direction? I mean I had monsters with a XP (now Victory Point) value, I had cards that moved monsters, even the monsters had families and colors like dragons, undead, etc… And I had created trap cards that were not only negative point values but also gray in color. It was starting to get a little surreal.

I was determined not to not have created a game that already existed. So I put my cards side by side in that spreadsheet. I also found two other games that people say are a reskinned Guillotine in Opus-Dei and Maniac!. My game was indeed similar to all of these. I changed my cards that were similar where I could and I reintroduced a simple combat mechanic along with other new mechanics. I worked hard to not have made a copy of any of these games.

I created a new prototype and took it to board game meetups and playtest sessions in the local area. And no one mentioned any similarities. I started asking testers if the game seemed like anything they had played even going so far as to mention those other games. And almost every tester said they felt that what I had created was a completely different game.

I am still working on the game, trying to differentiate it from those games. Hoping that as I keep going, that while the game seems familiar, it isn’t mistaken as a copy or rip-off of them.

I cling to the hope that additional mechanics will make a big difference in perception. Such as the addition scenarios that add new cards and a bit of story to the base game, or heroes with their own special powers, quests that grant victory points as you complete certain in game objectives, challengers which are automated opponents that play by their own rules and even allow solo play, and even variants which change how the game is played.

In the end I really hope that what I have created is viewed as its own game.

I would love to hear from anyone who has also had a similar experience while creating their game.


Nobody designs in a vacuum...

I think almost every REAL "Game Designer", the ones that stick to it given more than just one game release (and realize that it's really HARD to make money making and selling games) have similar stories. All good things come to those who work HARD and TIRELESSLY to re-design, re-fine, re-imagine their "Works-In-Progress" (WIPs)...

I find that designing is an iterative process. It's rare you get the "Silver Bullet" off the first design. There are always things that work, don't and then there are (maybe) ideas that occupy mental thought and time which you would want to introduce but are not 100% sure HOW(?) to add them to your game.

While most designers don't wait YEARS to go from "A" to "B" (As in your specific case...) It usually in terms of a period of MONTHS (could be 6 or even 12...) But designing games takes a lot of TIME, thought and research to determine what it is you are going to put together for the players and SEE how a prototype plays out.

I have pumped-out a prototype in less than 1-Month and as long as 1-Year. It really depends on the design and how many initial ideas I had that I wanted to review and research (and playtest...) to determine what works and what does not.

So yeah, while designers all have original stories about how one game went from Zero to Hero ... Or how one game took little (or lot) of time to re-focus and come out with a better end-product...

Those stories muchly sing of the same type of attention ... Which is NEVER GIVE UP on a design. It may not be there TODAY... But believe me in 3-Months or 5-Months or even 1-Year ... It'll probably be back on your table asking to be streamlined, re-invented, re-skinned, etc.

Such is the nature of designing games!


Also ...

What is SMART is "Shelving" a design for a few months and working other products and/or games... Why? Let me explain with an example.

questccg wrote:
"Crystal Heroes" (CH) was a game that I felt had a LOT of potential in the beginning but as time went on... It became sort of a "LOST" design.

There were reasons for this... The cost of MORE "art" sky-rocketed, TGC didn't have everything I needed to MAKE the game, wanted a more lasting product rather that just a set of cards for four (4) players, etc.

If they sound like excuses they may seem to be... But everything that detracts you for MAKING the game a REALITY is a real-world issue!

But sometimes if you put a design ON-HOLD for a few months, when you come back to the design, you realize that the product/game STILL NEEDS SOME WORK. It's not quite as FUN as you had initially envisioned and requires some simplification or more meaty mechanics, whatever it may be... It requires more focus and more thought to get the product to the finish line.

And shelving does all that to put each product/game into perspective and in comparison with your other IDEAS or products/games.

So while it may have taken YEARS for you to figure this out... That is the NATURAL process of designing games: it's iterative and comes-and-goes. Sometimes one product/game is HOT and giving you a bunch of leads of new mechanics or ideas to research and TRY to see if the product/game can be solidified... And that's fine to have more than one design currently being looked at ... Even if you can ONLY focus on one (1) design at a time.

What you have learnt is the basic principles of designing games.

I don't care WHO you are... Designing games is an ITERATIVE process. People who claim it is not are either BAD DESIGNERS or BULLSHITTERS. Nobody gets the "Silver Bullet" on the first TRY. I don't think any REAL Game Designers would even say that it was ALL DONE by the time they simply put down their ideas to paper...

Anyhow best of luck(!?) with your product/game... Keep working on it and definitely put it to a real stress test which is "Blind" Playtesting where gamers read your RULES and TRY to play your game. That is in itself a challenge which is unique but necessary for any and all design if you expect to get it published.



Great reply thanks I appreciate it all. I have at least six designs at various stages but I am kind like a dog when he sees a squirrel. My attention pops from game to game depending on my mood. Maybe someday I'll catch that squirrel.

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