Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Abstract Games

Did you know how many abstract games there are in this world? Take a look at http://www.abstractstrategy.com/ for a quick peek at a just a few published games. How many ways are there to push black and white counters around on a board?

And how many mechanics have been invented to support these games: board size and shapes, connection lines, initial piece holdings, initial piece positions, goals, win conditions, piece movement, capture criteria, piece removal, piece addition, jumps, stacks, lines, combat, turn alternation, free moves, special configurations, etc..., etc...

To think that Gipf could come up with 5 unique games in such a short time, in such a crowded space, and yet have their games be considered so good, is just amazing. I have only played Dvonn, and I have watched Yinsh.

I have some ideas for a game I have been toying with for a long time. I really have only a theme. I have tried numerous times to create something new and interesting from this theme with pieces and some unique mechanics. I did succeed in coming up with some unique and interesting mechanics (I think they're unique, but just look at all these games. Who knows?) What I haven't succeeded in doing is coming up with an interesting game with these mechanics and theme.

How does one go about it, anyway? I sit at the table and lay out the tiles of a Settlers of Catan board. Stare at that for a while. Then I flip the tiles over so I have 19 white hex tiles. Stare at that for a while. Next to that is an empty chess board. Stare at that, too.

I place colored counters on the board in different positions. I lay down cards, pick up cards. I consider how the pieces will move. Combat mechanics? Pick one - there are already so many to choose from. Goal? That's tough, but I have several I toy with. Game buildup and excitement? Scritch scratch. Can't figure it out.

Every once in a while something clicks in my head. But, when I try it out, it always seems to have some fatal flaws which don't go away with simple cosmetic changes to the rules. Fatal, deep flaws. Back to the drawing board. Very frustrating, as you can imagine.

I try all sorts of different ideas: big boxed type game, connection game, abstract game (I can't really do abstract - how can I compete against such a vast sea of games?), all loosely based around my theme and with many different variations of elements from the mechanics I thought up. Still nothing.


OTOH, I seem to be pretty good at taking existing games and adding or tweaking them. I have added tons of material to PR and San Juan, tweaked Princes of Florence and Amun Re - definitely for the better, etc....

Does tweaking hit a different brain space than actually creating a new game from scratch?

Is there a way to take an existing game and change it significantly enough to call it a new game, rather than an adaption of an existing game? People do it, but it sounds kind of ... to me.

Anyway. Anyway anyway.

Nose to the grindstone, and all that.



Mikko Saari said...

Here's a career idea for you: if coming up new game ideas is hard, but you find tweaking existing designs easy, you should definitely aim to become a game editor. You know, you could be next Stefan Brück or Bernd Brunnhofer!

Yehuda said...

I would be more than happy to do this. I would even be happy to start out as a volunteer.

Know of any open positions where I can telecommute from Israel?