Battle of the Bands – a design diary, #1

I posted a couple of weeks ago about an idea I’d had for a game design, claiming that I was “going to spend a little time over the next few days trying to piece together enough components to get some sort of first draft design going”. Well, yes, that was a little bold. It turns out that I’d wildly underestimated the ratio of ‘blank game components I own’ to ‘game components I’ll need to make this first-draft prototype’. Namely cards. I’m hand-writing the first-draft cards and by my reckoning I’ll need at least 157 cards to make this draft. And that’s without getting anything wrong first time.

So, while I’m waiting for more blank cards to arrive from good old spielmaterial.de (and I’m going to need hundreds for the iterations I imagine this initial draft will go through), I’ll give you the basics of the theme and the sort of game I’m hoping it’ll be.

The theme is ‘Battle of the Bands’. Note that in the very unlikely event this game were ever to be published, that probably wouldn’t be the title, simply because there’s already a game of that name. It’s fine for now though. This theme immediately grabbed me, because I’ve spent years playing in various catastrophically unsuccessful bands, and I’ve been in a few ‘Battle of the Bands’ competitions. I know the scene; I know the competitions; I know the sorts of characters who organise them, who get involved and who compete. This is the game-design equivalent of the writer’s adage, “write what you know”. This is what I know.

This is entirely a card game. Everything in the game is cards, from cash to audience members. Each player will be competing to build up a tableau of cards in front of them, representing their band members, instruments and other gear. These cards will be auctioned from central rows (refreshed for each round) and added to a player’s band line-up through the game. Each band’s Performance rating (how well they can play their set for the BotB) and Buzz rating (basically a measure of how cool they are on the local music scene) is tracked as the game goes on, allowing players to attract better musicians to join their band – after all, they want to be in a band with some buzz.

The final scoring represents the Battle of the Bands itself, with three randomly selected Judges (revealed a few rounds from the end of the game) awarding points according to each band’s Performance, raw musical Talent or simply their ability to get people through the door.

So, in a nutshell, I’ve crammed together some auction-based card-tableau building (Fleet) where some untaken cards drop off the end of the auction row but the rest remain (Morels), dual-track rating-monitoring (Suburbia) and randomised competition judges (Dungeon Petz) into something that should hopefully play quickly and simply. The aim is fun, intuitive and light play rather than brain-burning horrors, but I hope there’ll be enough in it to keep people interested.

I’ve already got a Cash/Buzz dual-currency system sorted out, as well as a draw deck for audience numbers (based on how much Buzz a band has) and the basic scoring profiles for nine Judges. What still remains is the real meat of the cards – band members, instruments and gear. By my reckoning, that’s about 90 cards to figure out roughly balanced values for; that’s a pretty daunting prospect. Especially when I realise that I could put the whole thing together and discover it doesn’t work!

Wish me luck…

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