Sometimes games are fully formed and come out of the mind of a great designer. There may be small issues here and there, but small tweaks can fix these issues. The initial vision survived the playtest guantlet and the other side hasn’t changed much.
In my experience, most games aren’t perfect when first conceived. Often games start with small pieces and stack up. A designer may have an idea for a novel theme but not sure how to implement it mechanically. Or maybe she liked the mechanic she was hanging out with for another game that didn’t make the cut. Now she wants to make a whole game to show it off in real life. But it does happen, but many of the games I design are and will be designed by you. It takes a lot of experimentation and support to start with a humble and crude start and prepare for prime time.
One of the main reasons I wrote game elements The League of Game Makers series is because I’m often in this situation. I have a rough, basic idea of what parts of the game are, but I’m not sure what the game really needs. By identifying what most games need or can benefit from, we hope to make it easier to build around the parts you’re already comfortable with, and to identify when certain parts aren’t working.
I recently had this experience, so I thought I’d share a little story today. let me tell you everything strange ritual.
2nd grade act
Back in early 2013, I finally finished the file. corporate usa, my first big game. Self-publishing is a long and difficult process and has been my focus for almost a year. But as I was submitting files to the printer, I suddenly had more free time. So I did what any proud designer would do. I started designing a new game.
strange ritual Born one night in a sleepy corner of California when my car broke down and I found myself unexpectedly staying in a messy motel in the small town of Hodunk. There was very little distraction, so I sat down and raked up a few cards to get some weird ideas. It is a game in which the player performs several simple gestures to create a complex “ritual”. Gestures are divided into facial gestures (stick out tongue, look very happy, gibberish, etc.), body gestures (jump up and down, stand on one leg, moonwalk, etc.), and hand gestures (peace sign, fist wave, etc.). , chicken wings, etc.). Combining one face gesture, one body gesture, and two hand gestures, the player performs ridiculous actions such as hitting the chest and sticking out the cheek, wiping the shoulders, and squatting. It can be surprisingly difficult and it’s always been very fun to watch.
The playtest went well with lots of laughs. But I was skeptical about the game. was so different corporate usa, how do existing prospects respond? I also imagined how expensive it would be to build and buy a game using boards, player markers and other components. How can you sell such a game? So, I’ve been playing a lot of games since then, so I put it on hold thinking I might be able to do it again someday, but I knew it probably wouldn’t.
Five years later, my partner unexpectedly asked me to bring the game out to a birthday party. She said it was fun and she wants to try it again. I hadn’t thought about the game forever, but thought it could be fun to play with again.
A lot has happened in those five years. I have designed many games, experienced many new games, and have a much better understanding of board game creation and marketing. So I dust off strange ritual I’ve approached it from a pretty different point of view. And it was the perfect opportunity to apply the ideas I explored in that game element series.
for someone strange ritual, I’m having a very fun activity, but I’ve found that there is no game structure around. I knew doing stupid things should be the focus of the game because it’s inherently fun. But why do people do this ritual? Is there a winner? Who performs the ritual in what order? How do you judge whether a ritual was performed well or not?
As we approached the new design, we found that, above all else, we wanted the game structure to be simple and intuitive. Performing silly rituals is fun for a variety of players, and I didn’t want to scare people by making the rules too long or complicated. strange ritual A game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels.
The second biggest requirement was to keep the components simple. We recommend using only cards whenever possible. Party games should be cheap and adding boards, tokens, dice, etc. is a great way to inflate production costs.
The third subtle crease is that there can be no hidden information in this game. in many party games Dixit or card for humanity, players have some degree of anonymity because their actions are card-based, allowing judges to evaluate actions without knowing whose actions it is. for someone strange ritual, players perform actions with their bodies, so there is no way for players to judge each other without risking judgment based on player standing rather than quality of performance. Why should I vote for you if you’re already winning?
With these constraints in mind, I started brainstorming how to reframe the game around consciousness. We considered many options, but in the end decided on the following. Players start the game with 3-5 cards. It can be any gesture. When it is a player’s turn, that player must perform one of two rituals placed on the table. If the player succeeds, swap one of the ritual gestures with one of the cards in his hand to change the ritual and reduce the size of the hand. The goal of the game is to get rid of all cards. Each player gets a rank based on the number of cards remaining in their hand at the end of the game. To increase the difficulty, players have to hide gestures or perform different rituals depending on how many cards are left in their hand. So there is no single winner, but each player ranks according to their performance, so it might seem silly.
It went well when the partner party brought this game back to the table. There was a lot of laughter and everyone seemed to be having a good time. But I was still dissatisfied. The problem of judging between players still persisted, and the rules felt more clunky than necessary. So, a few months ago when I went to Pacificon Protospiel I wanted to discuss this issue with other designers, and that discussion came up with a very promising new direction.
The first great insight was to change the performance goal from simply performing a gesture well to actually communicating. Instead of judging how well the player performs, the player wants to identify the gestures the performing player performs. This helps to change judgment from subjective to objective. However, there are still two problems.
The first problem is that you need to know what gestures the player you are acting can perform to guess the gesture, but if you can see the gesture, guessing will be nearly impossible. The solution to this problem is to get some inspiration from: code name. A grid of gestures is placed (one row for facial gestures, one row for body gestures, and two rows for hand gestures) and players are dealt cards showing the gestures to act on the grid. Given that there are only a few options, it’s not too hard to guess what gesture the player is making. But who cares? The fun comes not from the game being difficult, but from performing silly rituals.
The second problem is that players still have basically no motivation to help each other. If I guess your consciousness will help you, why would I do it? Surprisingly, the solution that took me some time to arrive was strange ritual team game. Each player is working together to increase the team’s score instead of earning their own. So the actor and the guesser are always on the same side and motivated to succeed together.
The final twist was to add a time element. In all previous versions of the game, players perform one or two rituals on their turn and then pass them on to the next player. Players now have a short amount of time (eg 1 minute) and try to perform as many rituals as possible during that time. The more rituals a teammate helps in guessing, the more points the team earns. Instead of each player having success or failure on each turn, there is a differential measure of success, which is determined by how well a player is actually doing, not how well other players think.
These changes may seem obvious to you, but it took me a lot of work to get there. In a big way, we had to identify and isolate the fun parts and the weak parts of our original vision, and then figure out how to best support the fun parts. The human mind tends to cling to the familiar and reject the novelty, and my mind is no different. The changes may seem small as we describe them here, but it took a bit of gymnastics to discover and embrace each change as promising.
And it will keep changing because the game is not over! Today I’m just getting a snapshot of the design process, and the final product will be very different in minor, if not major, ways. And who knows, it will be put back on the shelf and will never see the light of day.
But that’s fine. For the first time in five years, I feel good about the future of gaming. Would love to go back to the table for more laughs. And I’m very proud of it because I think the game is so much better compared to the years of design experience I’ve accumulated. The core fun came from a lack of experience, but it took a seasoned veteran to know how to support it.
How about you? Have you ever had a similar experience where a piece of the idea starts the game? How did you go about determining the appropriate level of support to get the game started? Did you discover any unexpected lessons or dynamics along the way?
Teale Fristoe is the game designer behind Nothing Sacred Games. He has self-published Corporate America, Shadow Throne, Birds of Feather, and several digital games. His passion for gaming knows no bounds. When not playing, designing, studying, or writing about games, Teale can usually be seen roaming the forests and mountains.