Going Down the Sidetracks of Game Design

I started designing board games around the end of April last year (2014). I’ve been a Magic player since 1996 and enjoyed playing all kinds of board games throughout my life. Hero Quest was a favorite when I was a kid. Playing Magic I was always on the edge of the hobby board game world. I played a few things like Race for the Galaxy and Carcassonne but I was largely unaware of what was out there.

Last April I got together with some friends and played Eclipse. I enjoyed it. But something else happened. I thought I could make a board game.

I’ve always enjoyed the creative side of games, designing my own quests in Hero Quest or building Magic decks. But there was something about the elegant way Eclipse got so much information across that made me think about the structure of a game.

And as I thought about the structure of games I couldn’t help but start designing one. I was still unaware of most of what’s out there and was very heavily influenced by Eclipse. I designed a very slow and tedious war game with a lot of resource management. I wrote several revisions of rules and built a prototype that was quite expensive and time consuming.

With a few play tests I figured out some major issues with the game. Like that nothing interesting happened for the first 2 hours. I was working on revising it when I hit my first sidetrack.

I had started listening to board game podcasts. With 3 hours of commuting each day I was listening to a lot of podcasts. And they were introducing me to games and mechanics I had never heard of. And with every new idea I heard I had a new idea for a game.

I never did get back to finishing that first game. I’ve been on a series of sidetracks ever since.

One of the earliest sidetracks was Space Station Disaster. It was originally a co-op with resource management. I had never played a co-op at that point, but I’d heard a lot about them on podcasts.

In paper prototype form the game was very fiddly but people enjoyed it. When I really dug into the design to streamline things, especially the resource management, I ended up stripping away most of the game. The result was splitting it into 2 very different games. One is the Space Station Disaster that is available on the site and the other is a space colony co-op that I haven’t gotten to the prototype stage yet. Again, because of sidetracks.

I think what helped me push through the distractions with Space Station Disaster was that it was very simple to prototype. My more complex games stall out in design because I’ve come up with dozens of new ideas and some of them are more interesting to me. So I change my focus and eventually get sidetracked again by dozens of new ideas.

So here I am, almost a year after beginning this game design addiction, and I only have 1 game that I consider “finished” enough that I would attempt to publish it. I also have 15 pages of game ideas that are each just a sentence or a few words. Most of those I haven’t gotten to. But I have 82 different, more developed game designs in various stages of completion, not including Space Station Disaster.

I’m starting to realize this is a problem for me. I want to create games, not endless pages of half realized ideas. So in an attempt to force myself to complete a game I will be writing design updates on this blog. Hopefully that will keep me on task. Though I’ve had a few new ideas just this past week that have started to split into variations of themselves.

The game I’ll be working on is a 4X game inspired by Eclipse and Xia. My major goals are to make it quicker playing than those and have a karma system that will reward and punish you for your choices. So let me know what you think as it goes and if you don’t see a post for a while feel free to yell at me.

-Chris

One thought on “Going Down the Sidetracks of Game Design”

  1. I’m so excited by some of your ideas. But so far the best idea is that you gave me permission to yell at you! I will mainly just yell one word…FOCUS!!! And someday I would like you to explain to me how Space Station Disaster is two games. Have a great day!

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