Positive Feedback Loops

All the pro game designers say you should be open about what you’re working on. Going through the process of sharing your game design ideas forces you to articulate the concepts clearly to an audience unfamiliar with your game. You get to practice explaining it, especially to yourself. When people ask questions, you’ll have to come up with an answer. The more eyes on your game and brains thinking about it, the more solid it will become.

Further, the game design community is generous. People are always ready to share the ideas that pop into their brains when they read your words or answer your questions. You never know what bits of inspiration you’ll gather from conversations with strangers. Your game will be better for it.

Any fears about someone stealing your design (and investing hundreds of hours of work over years and years to bring it to market to make a few bucks) are unwarranted.

So, I wrote my first few design diaries for this game with some trepidation. I’m a nobody. Why should our game idea be worth anyone’s time? I’m not a salesman or a social media marketing expert. I probably won’t get anyone to even look at it. Lots of self-doubt, etc etc. I checked in with Collin to make sure he was okay with all this sharing.

Me: “Do you have any strong feelings about me posting design diaries for this game project?

Collin: “I have strong feelings that you continue to post them, but I haven’t read any of them yet.”

Me: /eyeroll

We don’t get a lot of traffic on our little blog, so I posted these first few design diaries over on Boardgamegeek in the game design forum hoping to get more eyes on it… and I waited.

It didn’t take very long. People started chiming in right away with which ideas they really liked, new ideas they had while reading about our game, questions about how something works, and overall a real interest in what we’re working on. It felt… really good! It’s so hard to maintain motivation in a vacuum. So thanks to the boardgamegeeks for their comments so far, and for encouraging me to stay focused on getting the core game working before entertaining all the cool ideas we have.

Elevator Pitch Update

I’ll continue tweaking this as the game design progresses. It helps me maintain a fixed point in space for what we’re trying to create.

_________ is a tactical tile placement game where players are Greek gods competing to have the most influence over humankind by creating the world, completing quests, and gaining the most followers before they run out of tiles.

It’s like Carcassonne + Fjords + Kingdom Builder …with quest cards that fuel what happens on a shared, player-built map.

It’s for 1-4 players, taking about 20 minutes per player, and is for ages 8 and up.

(I don’t have a clear picture of the solo mode yet, but it will likely be some kind of variable “challenge mode” – beat a certain score, construct 3 temples to your god, …something. I dunno yet.)

What is the core loop?

– at the beginning of your turn, place a tile onto the map (you always place at least 1 tile per turn)
– then, optionally, if you are able to resolve one of your quest cards with that tile placement, you cash in the card for one of the listed immediate rewards or socket it into your god for its on-going ability.

Examples of immediate rewards might be:

– take another turn
– gain 1 follower to your supply
– place 1 follower onto the map
– move 2 followers on the map
– remove 1 follower from the map
– draw more cards
– place 1 follower onto the map for ever card you discard
– gain 1 follower to your supply AND draw 1 card
– etc

On-going Ability rewards might be:

– look at 2 tiles each turn and place 1
– place 2 tiles per turn
– increase your hand size
– increase your on-going ability sockets
– gain 1 follower to your supply each time you resolve a card
– gain 1 card each time you place a follower on the map
– gain 1 card each time you resolve a card
– move a follower each time you resolve a card
– place a follower each time you complete a forest
– reduce the resolution barrier of a forest card by 1
– etc.

So the actions you can take with followers are limited by your ability to resolve quest cards*, or by the cards you chose to socket in for their on-going ability, or by your unique god powers. With the right tile placements and on-going actions, you should be able to trigger a nice set of combos.

Place tile > resolve a card > gain a follower reward > your on-going ability moves a meeple that resolves another card > place a meeple reward > draw 2 tiles.

These combo chains are very close to the heart of what I imagine to be “satisfying gameplay” for this game. As the game goes on, your turns start simple and grow in complexity as your power grows.

[Verbose Aside…]

I sat on this post for a few days mulling over what I’ve written so far. Here are some concerns I have that won’t be resolved until we start testing things on the table.

  • The early game will feel slower (and less fun) than the late game when you’re resolving cards and creating satisfying combo chains. Is that ok, or is that boring? Should we shift things around so combo chains start happening right away? Or is the feeling of growth and empowerment satisfying in its own way?
  • I think gaining 1 follower to your supply as one reward, and on a future turn placing 1 follower from your supply to the map as another reward, is an unnecessary delay. Carcassonne gives you a supply of followers at setup and you have the option of placing them whenever you choose. The same is true in Fjords. I’m wary of just letting players choose to add a follower whenever they want. I think a core idea is that you have to earn that follower by manipulating the map to satisfy the quest card. I think the reward should simply be “Place 1 follower onto the map.” Each god starts with the same potential in their supply and it’s up to them to convert that potential into true believers.

*Alternatively (Action-Selection instead of Reward-Selection?)

I’m mainly worrying about how often cards will trigger, and if it’s not often, then I think it won’t be as satisfying as we want it to be. How can we solve this potential problem?

Rise & Fall is a civ-building game where all players have the same hand of 6 action cards. Each card has a variety of actions listed. On your turn, you discard 1 card to perform only 1 of the actions listed on that card.

Perhaps we could use a simpler version of this.

At setup, shuffle a deck of action cards. Each player draws a hand of 3 action cards.

On your turn, place 1 tile and play 1 action card, performing 1 of the listed actions.

Examples of actions might be:

  • move a follower
  • place a follower
  • gain a follower
  • draw a card
  • place another tile
  • socket the card for an on-going ability (removing it from play, along with the other actions listed on that card… a difficult choice!)

If you choose an immediate reward, discard the card to your personal discard pile? Maybe you can pull from that again later, but no other player will have access to those cards (except maybe Hades).

At the end of your turn, draw a new tile and draw a new card.

This changes things from completing quests via your tile placement to just choosing an action independent of your tile placement. I’m not sure I like that as much. I’ll run it by Collin and see if it’s worth pursuing.

Editor’s Note:
I slept on this and woke up feeling like it’s no good. It’s a different game. I like being rewarded but having to choose 1 of multiple things I want. I want that uncertainty. Which reward will increase my momentum? Which card should I work toward first, second and third? What is the next step in my journey to victory? I like that your success in this game will be determined by the choices you made along the way, and you might not be able to pinpoint exactly which choice cost you the victory. I’ll leave this idea here for posterity’s sake.

The Extra Idea Pile

  • This one came from @backwardscapgames on BGG: A mechanism for the influx of non-believer meeples in a neutral color. Players can move neutral meeples into enemy territory, upsetting their plans. Non-believer meeples can be converted into believers.
    • How do you convert an athiest meeple into one of your followers? Does each god have a different approach? (Surround them? Exchange points for additional followers? Discard 1 card per follower gained?)
    • This is akin to placing the cathedral in Carcassonne in your opponent’s city, hoping the city remains incomplete, earning them zero points, but there is a risk that they do complete it, and earn extra points because of the cathedral you gave them. A double-edged sword is fun to play with.  
    • “If an area had more non-believers than believers it could cause you to lose all points in that area. One of your action choices can be to move meeples, making this another interaction axis with your opponents.”
  • Additional pantheons could be created as expansion modules. Buy a deck of cards and some extra map tiles or tokens.
    • This one with the help of @pikaburn on BGG: Each pantheon follows its own overarching theme. Greeks might be about creating the world, Norse would be about gaining glory through combat, Egyptians would be about constructing monuments, etc. (rough ideas just to communicate the concept). This allows players to shift the feel of the game by choosing a different deck. Nice and unobtrusive. If they’re feeling frisky, they can mix all the pantheons together and duke it out.
  • A mechanism where your followers construct temples to their god. Results in points for each follower surrounding the temple and points for the temple itself. Perhaps each god has a different approach to constructing a temple: surrounding, 5meeples in a row, 5 meeples in an X-pattern, 5 meeples around a mountain, etc.

Next Up

We’re resuming our weekly meetings tonight. What’s on the agenda?

  • Discuss the ideas we’ve had during our summer break.
  • Revisit the key problems with the core loop.
  • Revise the deck of quest cards.
  • Revise the stack of landscape tiles. I think we should remove roads (at least for now, they’re too problematic) and just keep things idyllic and pastoral. Sorta like the Fields of Elysium or some sort of divine Eden.
  • Review the list of game names I came up with so far. See if anything resonates. Discuss the difficulties I’ve run into.

Last minute update…

Welp. Dorfromantik is turning their video game into a boardgame. I can’t say I blame them. It is their game after all.

Earlier in our design process, I would have been concerned, but our core loop is drastically different now. Pegasus Spiele and the Toukana Interactive folks have done a very good job of translating their video game to a tabletop form factor. Their game is cooperative and the goals follow the same pattern as they’re presented in the video game, continuing with the very relaxing vibe.

Our game is aiming to be competitive, tense, and driven by card combos. So long as we pick a different enough theme, I think there’s plenty of room for interesting tile games in the market. Gods competing for believers seems like we’re off to a good start in that regard. As you were!

Question for the audience:

What game design advice do you rely on most often to guide your thinking?