Sunday, May 15, 2011

A New Start!

Welcome to my new blog about board and card game designing, also known as the dumping ground for my numerous ideas and designs in their various incarnations. My name is Matthew Dunstan, and I’ve recently founded the Sydney Board Game Designers group, seeking to develop and hopefully publish new and exciting games from new Australian designers.

I suppose I should start by outlining what my aims are for this blog (and so I can look back in a few month’s time and wonder where it all went astray!). Firstly, I want to gather my design thoughts and processes in one place, both to help myself and hopefully other people thinking of starting out in the world of game design. I’ve only been designing since the start of this year, so I am still very new to this gig, and I’m sure I’ve got plenty to learn. Hopefully my mistakes (and *fingers crossed* successes) will be of help to other designers.

I also want to talk about other exciting designs by other Australian designers, and raise their profiles. I’ll be including some interviews with some of the fellow members of the Sydney group, and other designers should they be ok with it. I’ll also hopefully have regular reports of our group’s playtesting sessions and updates about current designs.

Alright, enough with the introductions! What am I thinking about at the moment? Well, I just got introduced to Race for the Galaxy a few weeks ago and have been playing it whenever I can since then. I love this game! The interactions between the different cards, the duality built into some of these cards to function as miniature engines (an example being the planets which combine a simple produce with a simple consume power), and the many different intricate strategies that I am still discovering. Of course, towering over all of this is the beautiful design that is the role cards, and all the “surely he’ll settle this turn…hmm, I’ll produce then and get this settle this sweet production planet first then” thoughts that you go through in a game.

So of course I am led foolishly to design a game that emulates Race for the Galaxy. My idea started with this idea of you being some sort of space scavenger, scouring the galaxy for relics and technologies of long-dead alien civilizations. Players will place worlds as they discover them in a tableau of worlds, which they can navigate in their spaceships. These worlds serve two purposes: firstly, they will usually contain some samples of technology (represented by coloured dice – different colours will identify different alien races). The number showing on the dice will indicate the sophistication of the technology, or perhaps how well the player can use and understand the relic that they’ve just found. Either way, players will be able to improve the technologies they find (moving the dice to higher numbers), which will allow them to do more powerful things with the technology, or to sell it for more victory points.

These technologies are able to be scavenged by players without having to invade or settle the worlds, the idea being that these planets are basically deserted, with only ruins remaining. However, there will be some worlds which either need to be overcome by force (perhaps because the aliens left some defensive systems which are still intact) or need a research station to be settled on them to provide a different sort of benefit to players.

The other type of card in the game will be space ships – hulks, again left behind by more advanced races, which can be scavenged and attached to your spaceship to improve its capabilities. Sometimes these cards will help you fly further in a single action, or provide you with weapons to help invade planets for example. The catch is that often these parts will require to be powered by alien technology (the dice which can be scavenged from planets).

Spaceship cards will be split in half, with different capabilities on each half. As you play a card, you have to choose which half you’ll use, and then you’ll slide it under your current spaceship on the appropriate side.

So this seems like a decent start. But I’m still a bit stuck for an action selection mechanism. At the moment, I’ve figured out 6 starting actions for each player:

Military - conquer planets which are hostile

Discover - place new planets face down in the tableau, or place a research station on a planet which is already face up (and where your spaceship is currently)

Manufacture - various worlds and spaceships will have manufacturing powers, mostly related to improving the dice you currently have on board, or selling/using these dice.

Build - Add a new spaceship card to your spaceship

Fly - Move your spaceship to a new planet in the tableau

Scour - Draw new cards from the deck (containing both new planets and spaceships).

But I don’t know how they should be chosen, and how to make this sufficiently different to Race for the Galaxy. For now, I’ve decided that each player will choose an action each turn, and every player can take this action when it is chosen. Different cards will improve what you can do when certain actions are selected by you or the opponent, so this will hopefully provide some tension when trying to use the actions which most help you and least help your opponents. But I’m still thinking of how to make this better. I’m also concerned about how similar this is to Race for the Galaxy (even though the gameplay I think will be very different).

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