Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Too Many Options: The Game Designer's Curse

How do you carve an elephant? Get a block of marble and carve away everything that isn't an elephant.

The failed process of game design goes as follows:

*Flash* Brilliant game mechanic, looks like fun. This will be huge. It's perfect.

How should the turns play out? Could be one at a time or simultaneous. I'll decide later. Should I add a board or just use cards/dice? A board's superfluous. Then again, it's more substantial than a card game.

How should the game end? A set number of round. No, until someone reaches a certain number of points. No, when the deck runs out. No, ... So many options! OK, I'll decide later.

How should the scoring go? 1 point per card. No, per set. No, more points are earned in later rounds. No, collect point tokens. No, print the points on the cards. No, ... ok, I'll decide later.

Wait a minute. Let's combine this mechanic with this other game prototype which has been sitting around. It makes a great fit. Now my simple mechanic is combined into a game that looks like a six hour, fifteen step civilization game from the 1980s with route planning, area control, auctions, set collection, special powers, mission cards, and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. (I've done this before.)

What was the mechanic again? Yeah, that, but it favors the first player. No, it allows a kingmaker. No, it makes for no way to catch up. No, your decisions don't matter enough. No, there's no way to stop people from ganging up. No, there's not enough interaction.

There's too much luck. I can eliminate the cards/dice in favor of selecting or an auction. No, then it's too dry and mechanical.

Why did I think this was fun again? I think I'll shelve it and get back to it.

(Repeat every day)

Lack of ideas isn't the problem.

Knizia is a successful game designer not because his ideas are better than anyone else's. He just knows how to avoid all this nonsense.


BrooklynWolf said...

Oh my goodness. As an amateur board game designer, you've just described a good deal of my free time (what little there is). Especially after playtesting a bunch of times and you ask "Why did I think this was fun again?" :)

The Wolf

Matthew Frederick said...

Though I don't know that Knizia doesn't go through the same nonsense, I absolutely agree about a lack of ideas not being the problem.

I see so many posts online saying, "I have this amazing idea for a game, how do I patent it, no I'm not going to tell you about it, it's worth a fortune!" I try to convince folks that game ideas aren't really worth anything, that I have notebooks full of ideas and could sit down at a table and come up with five new, solid ideas in an hour. It's a fully-designed, heavily-playtested, actually-fun publishable game that might be worth something, though even then it's quite possibly not.

Alas, these poor folks continue to hold onto their ideas like they're nuclear launch codes and the most pitiable of them spend the money to get a patent on the idea.