Friday 25 March 2016

Games People Play

I am going through a book that aims to help video-game designers develop their game-design skills by cross-training with non-digital games: board games and card games. As Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber, authors of Challenges for Game Designers: Non-digital Exercises for Video Game Designers state, "Game design is an art form" (1).

I am not a game designer, but I happen to be working on a novel with a character who has decided to create a board game, so I decided to educate myself on what the character would have to go through when he creates the game. The character can't use computers to do this (he decides not to, basically), so in solidarity I chose this print book over the sources of online advice, which are numerous, on making board games.

I'm not finished the book yet, but it's been fun so far. The book has many exercises, as though it were designed as a textbook for a game design course. One exercise led me to make a "fog of war" version of Settlers of Catan. Another was a "first past the post" board game that has characters race around the Mediterranean in an effort to control the region secret-society style (my character Pete's game idea). I also create a card game along the same lines as the board game. For lolz, I have the rules for my fog of war game below.

The game-design process was not alien to me, except for those parts that required me to draw something. (I am bad at that.) The book emphasizes the importance of play-testing, which for me is another way of thinking of revising in writing. Worth looking at for writers is the storytelling chapter.

Knowing how to play Settlers of Catan will help make sense of these rules.

Alien in the Desert
Use 5-6 player expansion set with the base Settlers of Catan and set up the board so all land tiles are face down and all sea tiles are face up, with ports distributed around the land tiles. Flip over four land tiles. Players pick a starting point among the four. The robber piece is in this game called the Alien. The desert and the alien are in the centre. Each player gets two roads and two settlements. You must put one settlement on the overturned tile and another at a port.
The play order is the same as for expansion set Settlers. People are still advised to build even if they don't know where they are building.  Until a player has two overturned land tiles under control, that player draws a resource at random plus any resources gained by the dice roll. The resource cards are shuffled together. Whenever the banker retrieves a specific resource from the deck, the banker shuffles the deck. Redeemed resource cards are put in a discard pile. When a resource card is required but missing from the resource deck, or when the resource deck is empty, the discarded resource cards are shuffled and turned into the resource deck.
Whenever a seven is rolled, the roller picks a face-down tile and flips it over (carefully). The robber goes in the centre of the tile with a roll token chosen randomly. Roll tokens are placed randomly on the overturned land tiles. No one can build a settlement on the land tile until the robber moves off it, but existing settlements continue to benefit from dice rolls that match the roll token. The development card "Soldier" moves the robber to wherever the player of the card wants to move it, just as a roll of seven does.
Once all the land tiles are flipped over, the alien in the desert becomes a limit on a hex's action, as it does in the normal game.
This game needs more play-testing to figure out a way to make flipping over times happen more frequently.