Category Archives: Game Design

Battle of the Bands – a design diary, #3

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about my attempts at game design. There’s a good reason for that, which is that the whole thing has been on hiatus.

Why? Simple: the game I had so far was just not my sort of game. I’d known what sort of game it was from the start – light, trashy, quick-playing froth – and I’d thought that would work to my benefit, but it turns out that if I design something I don’t want to play, I don’t want to carry on designing it. Sounds obvious, eh?

Also, it wasn’t very good. But it was never going to become any good with me at the helm.

So I’m going back to the drawing board. Same “battle of the bands” theme, but it’ll be a light-to-medium-weight euro. As it stands now, it’s got an action-selection-in-secret mechanism partially borrowed from Dungeon Petz, married to a picking-up-items-from-the-board mechanism largely stolen from Shipyard (although to be fair, you could probably trace it back to Through the Ages and others).

I’ve got a functional prototype bashed together from bits of cardboard and wood (how fitting), so I’ll be giving it a few run-throughs on my own before either (a) starting from scratch again, or (b) subjecting real live people to it.

Battle of the Bands – a design diary, #2

Just a little progress with the BotB game to report. I made up my first-draft cards (every single one of the 158 cards written by hand) and I’ve solo tested a few three-hander games.

The card artist deserves a medal.

Yes, I’m aware that my little red symbol for “Buzz” on the cards looks worryingly like an SS rune. I am not an artist, hence the prevalence of text and lack of iconography.

You know what? It works. It’s not irreparably broken on first sight. That’s the first hurdle cleared.

It’s a long way from being any good, though. The rough balancing I did by spreadsheet seems to have worked out OK… ish. It feels blandly balanced at the moment, rather than having the sort of balance that brings about tough decisions. I’ve changed (and need to change further) the mechanism by which the judges for the final round are revealed; it will probably work better if they’re revealed one by one over a few rounds, rather than all being dumped out three rounds from the end. That would give players a little more chance to gear their band towards the desires of the judges.

I’ve already made substantial tweaks to the number of cards that become available (and get ditched from the display) in each round, and I’m going to trim down the numbers of band members and instruments in the game so there’s a bit more recycling of cards. Ideally, I’d like to get down to no more than 110 cards in the whole game. That’s the number of cards in a copy of San Juan, and it seems like a sensible target for what is (conceptually at least) a light, small-box, theme-centred, filler-ish game. Getting down to 110 could be tough, but I’m prepared to get really heavy-handed with this thing. After all, it’s only an experiment to see if I can design a game. If it’s functional, great; if it’s actually fun… even better!

So the next stage is to trim the decks down and then try out some truly degenerate strategies to see if the whole thing falls apart. I’d be surprised if I can’t make it break somehow…

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 (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…

The Beginning of an Adventure?

I’ve had an idea for a game knocking around in my head for well over a year. It’s a heavy economic/resource game set in the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain with hints of Brass and Snowdonia, challenging players to create a nationwide empire of iron production, constructing great architectural landmarks and monuments to fulfil an ever-changing tableau of contracts. And I know full well I’ll probably never do anything with the idea. It’s way beyond me at the moment, and that’s not even taking into account my continuing illness, so it’s been a back-of-the-mind-dweller for a long time.

And then I stumbled across a video by the Board Game Knights detailing their Top 10 ideas they’d like to see as board games. I won’t say yet which it was, but one of them immediately struck a chord with me. It’s something I have real familiarity with, so the theme-to-mechanism transition seemed fairly natural. I gave it a little thought in the shower and, within half an hour or so, I had the basics of a potentially functional game sketched out in my mind. Completely different from the nascent game that’s been bubbling around in my brain for so long, and already way further on in the design process.

The weird thing about this particular idea is that it’s not really the sort of game that I play. It’s much lighter and, well… trashier. I’ll have to see how much I can swing it round into my sort of game. Crunchy. Meaty. But still fun.

I’m not saying it’ll ever get anywhere, but I’m 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. And because I’ve mentioned it in public, that might help me stay focused on it until it’s at least playable.

Watch this space.