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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Birth of a Game Designer

I appreciate that Chris is covering the history of Sunriver Games as a publisher. Some great memories there! My plan is to somehow have my stories arc into his, but I have to go back a bit further in time to make that work out.

So some more reflection today about going from avid gamer to avid designer. I credit the RipCity gamers for most of my deeper game education. After GameStorm, I started making it to sessions regularly. These guys (well a few of them) were packrat-collectors like me, but they had different tastes so they had lots of games I’d hardly even heard of. I didn’t love every one, but I loved the gaming experience and the social aspect that Mike talked about last week. Funny how much of this sounds or feels like addiction.

First I only looked at the “hard stuff” – Die Macher, Fresh Fish – but then I had to play them . I had to have more, and more often. I’d sit at home, reading online accounts of other people’s sessions. I saw that someone made “player aids” for games, and I thought, “Man, I could do that…”

And that’s how it starts. I made a new player’s mat for Ra – it later got posted to Boardgamegeek and apparently is still in use. I made a score sheet for Carcassonne that looked like one long road, going through a walled city every five squares. I also made a scoreboard for Meuterer, and made a replacement set of cards for Hammer of the Scots, even though I didn’t even play the game until 2 years later!

So October 30, 2002, and Erik Arneson announces: “About Board Games and Abstract Games Magazine are sponsoring the 3rd Annual Game Design Competition, this year with the theme of Simultaneous Movement.” And I start thinking, “Man, I could do that.”

In fact, I’m convinced that it’s the challenge to fit a fairly narrow set of parameters, even self-imposed, that kick starts the game creation process for me. For this one, the rules were (a) easy to replicate board, (b) materials from around the house like go stones, chess men, dice, etc., (c) no cards, (d) 2 players but may also play more and (e) simultaneous movement must be the core mechanic of the game.

I thought it would be cool to have an area control game where you and I each drop multiple seeds in nearby areas, and move at the same time so we may end up going for the same lucrative board position. Essentially the basic design was a day. A lot of judges played my game Acorn, and it made the finals (top ten games). It’s still available for free, and Sunriver Games will have an updated version, as a free download, available soon.

I spent the rest of 2003 expanding, niggling, testing and hallucinating the core mechanic of Acorn into a really big science fiction game called New Eden, which Chris has a session report on and some cool pictures. My stalwart RipCity friends got tired of playtesting and re-testing. At that point, I think I was in the place where you think, “This is the big one for me. This could be great.”

Such drivel! Like a guy in our town who spent ten years making a simple game about politics and getting into a few local stores. What a waste. Bless my friend Chuck who also writes here, since he’s the one who said to me, “I think it’s time you work on the next game.”

And starting in January 2004, I designed the first versions of Pizzza and Isla Nova, soon followed by Northwest Trek and Tres Amigos. And maybe a few others before Havoc: the Hundred Years War in June. I still like New Eden (it still needs some tuning), but getting a lot of games going is much more fun for me.

Maybe you won’t like some of them.
Ok, I have another one that I want you to try.
Are you game?

PS – we’re testing “Sphinx of Black Quartz” later
today at Chris’s house. Stay tuned.


  • At 2:58 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    The "challenge to fit parameters" is a part of any creative endeavor. Igor Stravinsky said that he composed by what he couldn't use in a particular piece as much as what he could.


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