2013-04-11

Game Design Atom - Challenges


Chapter 2
CHALLENGE 1—THE PATH
For this game, you are going to explore the race to the end gameplay dynamic discussed earlier. The game should allow two to four players, be about progressing on a path, and make them go from point A to point B. The first player to point B wins. As the game’s designer, it’s up to you to figure out the theme, the game bits, and the mechanics.
Components Required

  • Materials to create prototype
Deliverable

  • Board-game prototype or
  • Card-game prototype or
  • Tile-based–game prototype or
  • One-page write-up of detailing a potential game design
Suggested Process

  1. Determine a theme and a goal. Where are the players going, and why are they going there? Choose a theme that involves some interaction between the participants, to make things interesting.
  2. Identify mechanics. Start simple. Visualize a track that goes from beginning to end that’s broken up into a bunch of different sections. It may be 100 spaces or tiles or cards that ultimately build the track on which your players are going to “race.” Now think of the mechanic that will get your players moving on that track. The simplest one is rolling a die. Next consider things you could do to make play more interesting. For instance, you could have an action that speeds you up or slows your opponent down. Does the narrative suggest any obvious mechanics? For example, if your game is about a relay foot race, you’ll need a way to pass the baton (perhaps suggesting a tradeoff where maintaining a higher running speed gives a higher chance of accidentally dropping the baton). To add some player interaction in a foot race, perhaps you’d change the theme so that the racers are robots with lasers that can shoot at one another, which suggests mechanics for shooting and dodging.
  3. Identify the conflict between players. How can you screw up someone else’s progress or accelerate yours? What’s the tradeoff?
  4. Playtest. Every time you add a mechanic to the game, test it. Does it make the game more fun or less fun? Does it support the core of the game? Does it work the way you originally thought it would?
  5. Create deliverable. Variants Try going through the process again and design a different game. This time, start with the mechanics (step 2 above) and then figure out a fitting theme (step 1 above). Notice that both ways can let you design a perfectly good game, but the thought process involved is quite different.


CHALLENGE 2—IT’S MINE!
For this challenge, you’ll be exploring the dynamic of territorial acquisition. If you haven’t noticed already, this dynamic is present in the great majority of board games made today. As in the previous example, this game should allow two to four players. The game must obviously have some kind of territory which will be acquired. You may select from one of two win conditions: The first player to get all the territory wins. The player with the most territory after X turns wins. As the game’s designer, it’s up to you to figure out the theme, the necessary game bits and the mechanics.

Components Required

  • Materials to create prototype
Deliverable

  • Board-game prototype or
  • Card-game prototype or
  • Tile-based–game prototype
Suggested Process

  1. Determine a theme, if you desire. Precisely what are the players trying to conquer here? A swamp? A piece of turf? Maybe it’s a wild band of monkeys who are determined to take over the zoo at night. Remember that you don’t need a theme, but having one often helps game designers new to the process identify potential mechanics.
  2. Identify mechanics. Start simple. Visualize a track that goes from beginning to end that’s broken up into a bunch of different sections. It may be 100 spaces or tiles or cards that ultimately build the track on which your players are going to “race.” Now think of the mechanic that will get your players moving on that track. The simplest one is rolling a die. Next consider things you could do to make play more interesting. For instance, you could have an action that speeds you up or slows your opponent down. Does the narrative suggest any obvious mechanics? For example, if your game is about a relay foot race, you’ll need a way to pass the baton (perhaps suggesting a tradeoff where maintaining a higher running speed gives a higher chance of accidentally dropping the baton). To add some player interaction in a foot race, perhaps you’d change the theme so that the racers are robots with lasers that can shoot at one another, which suggests mechanics for shooting and dodging.
  3. Identify the conflict between players. How can you screw up someone else’s progress or accelerate yours? What’s the tradeoff?
  4. Playtest. Every time you add a mechanic to the game, test it. Does it make the game more fun or less fun? Does it support the core of the game? Does it work the way you originally thought it would?
  5. Create deliverable. Variants Try going through the process again and design a different game. This time, start with the mechanics (step 2 above) and then figure out a fitting theme (step 1 above). Notice that both ways can let you design a perfectly good game, but the thought process involved is quite different.

CHALLENGE 3—WHEN I FIND YOU...
We’ve talked about two common gameplay dynamics in this chapter: territorial acquisition and race to the end. These are just two of a whole collection of dynamics, however. Other common dynamics include building, exploration, and stomping everything in sight. For this exercise, you will focus on the exploration dynamic. First, consider how it is used in MMOs, adventure games, and RPGs. In some adventure games, the “explore every location” dynamic is the whole of play. Consider how it is used in board games such as Clue. You are tasked with creating a game that two to four individuals can play. Since the game involves exploration, it needs some kind of space to explore, even if that space isn’t a physical one. You may use this dynamic in conjunction with another. It will be up to you to determine the theme, mechanics, components, and additional dynamics, if any, for this exercise.
Components Required

  • Materials to create prototype
Deliverable

  • Board-game prototype or
  • Card-game prototype or
  • Tile-based–game prototype
Process

  1. Determine a theme, if you desire. What are the players exploring? Anything from a parking garage to a treetop village to downtown Chicago to a fantastical world in the sky are up for grabs. Think of things your player might do while exploring, too. These dynamics will give rise to the mechanics you need.
  2. Identify mechanics. Start simple. Visualize a track that goes from beginning to end that’s broken up into a bunch of different sections. It may be 100 spaces or tiles or cards that ultimately build the track on which your players are going to “race.” Now think of the mechanic that will get your players moving on that track. The simplest one is rolling a die. Next consider things you could do to make play more interesting. For instance, you could have an action that speeds you up or slows your opponent down. Does the narrative suggest any obvious mechanics? For example, if your game is about a relay foot race, you’ll need a way to pass the baton (perhaps suggesting a tradeoff where maintaining a higher running speed gives a higher chance of accidentally dropping the baton). To add some player interaction in a foot race, perhaps you’d change the theme so that the racers are robots with lasers that can shoot at one another, which suggests mechanics for shooting and dodging.
  3. Identify the conflict between players. How can you screw up someone else’s progress or accelerate yours? What’s the tradeoff?
  4. Playtest. Every time you add a mechanic to the game, test it. Does it make the game more fun or less fun? Does it support the core of the game? Does it work the way you originally thought it would?
  5. Create deliverable. Variants Try going through the process again and design a different game. This time, start with the mechanics (step 2 above) and then figure out a fitting theme (step 1 above). Notice that both ways can let you design a perfectly good game, but the thought process involved is quite different.

CHALLENGE 4—PICK IT UP
Walking over an object to pick it up is a phenomenally common mechanic in video games, and leads to the collection dynamic. There are, of course, other ways to collect something. Consider how collecting comes into play in the Mario games, Poker, or Bejeweled. For this exercise, you’re going to take this mechanic and make a game out of it. This is slightly more challenging than starting with a dynamic, which, by itself, suggests both a beginning and an ending. You must create a game for two to four players in which players “walk” over objects and pick them up. What players need to collect (three of a kind, similar color, and so on) and how much they need to collect is up to you. Mechanics that modify the primary mechanic are acceptable. For instance, you could have players pick something up when they land on it, or have a wheelbarrow that they first must acquire in order to pick up the objects. You must choose the theme, components, and tokens, if applicable. You may also add additional mechanics, as needed. In particular, play attention to the narrative. It will help as you brainstorm. Think of this as a gardening game, then a gangster game, and then a car-racing game. Each theme brings different possibilities into play.
Components Required

  • Materials to create prototype
Deliverable

  • Board-game prototype or
  • Card-game prototype or
  • Tile-based–game prototype
Suggested Process

  1. The object of the game is... If you can’t think of how to begin, one way is to start by naming the goal or objective that ends the game. This will suggest additional mechanics and dynamics for you. For example, if the object of the game is to have the most points when time runs out, it immediately gives you two more questions: how do players receive points, and how is time handled in the game? The object may be connected to a theme, so you may find it easier to develop a narrative and objective concurrently, or start with the theme first and then find the objective. For example, if you are gangsters returning from a bank heist, maybe the object is to keep as much money for yourself and get out before the cops show up.
  2. Identify mechanics and dynamics. From the theme and goal, you probably already have all kinds of ideas for mechanics and dynamics in the game to support the core pick-up action. If nothing occurs to you, come up with a new theme and goal and try again.
  3. Identify the conflict between players.
  4. Playtest.
  5. Create deliverable. Variants: Think of another common mechanic in video games, such as shooting targets, avoiding collision with enemies, or leveling up a character. Repeat this challenge using this mechanic instead of picking up.

IRON DESIGNER CHALLENGE 5—WAR WITHOUT FRONTIERS
In games featuring the territorial acquisition dynamic, and especially in war-themed games, territories are rarely acquired through a comical foot race. They’re usually acquired through the death, regardless of how abstracted, of another player’s bits. As a result of that death, the player gets the other player’s territory. Whoever has the territory wins the war. Another common dynamic, “destroy the opposing side,” is used for games that don’t have territory. For this exercise, however, you’ll be pushing yourself beyond those traditional borders. Simulate and resolve a Civil War battle without using territorial acquisition or destruction of all units on the enemy side as the primary gameplay dynamic. Split into teams of two to four players. Each team should do its best to come up with a game that fits the above constraints. For a greater challenge, have each team choose an additional mechanic or dynamic that the other team is not allowed to use.
Components Required

  • Materials to create prototype
Deliverable

  • Board-game prototype or
  • Card-game prototype or
  • Tile-based–game prototype
Suggested Process

  1. Determine a theme. Which battle does your game simulate?
  2. Identify mechanics. Without territorial acquisition, does it make sense to even have territory? It might, or it might not. Consider how a player can win a battle other than claiming territory. What is the goal, if not territory? What kinds of mechanics can players perform to achieve that goal?
  3. Identify the conflict between players.
  4. Playtest. Every time you add a mechanic to the game, test it.
  5. Create deliverable. Variants Instead of the Civil War, choose a different conflict. World Wars I and II are obvious choices. You could also use other conflicts like corporate acquisition, feuding neighbors, or competing chain stores.