Designing a Board Game: New Love for Paper
For a few days I have been spending most of my leisure time designing a game. I must admit: that’s nothing particularly unusual for a game designer. But this time it’s different. Usually I’m working on concepts and ideas for computer games. And while this is a lot of fun and good practice, it most often tends to result in concepts too big to be completed by just one guy working on it in his free time. Code, art, sound, animation… computer games simply require an enormous amount of work. Not to mention my lousy art and animation skills that absolutely don’t live up to my own standards. So, this time the goal was clear: Finishing a game with just the available resources within a relatively short time span.
Motivated by the research for a lecture about Paper Prototyping I was giving at the SAE Bochum, I decided to do something non-digital this time (even though I never was a big fan of working with scissors and paper in the past). But the advantages are obvious:
- No need to code or animate
- No setup time for choosing an engine, etc.
- Full focus on the game mechanics
Of course a board/ card game also needs many, many iterations and assets, until it can be called finished, but (at least with my skill-set) it’s incredibly more likely to bring it to completion.
I came up with an idea pretty quick: A game about football set in a fantasy world with a good dose of humor. Yes, I am aware of the fact that this might sound similar to Blood Bowl by Games Workshop. But there are some important differences:
- This game is about real football (not the rugby-like American variation!)
- This game is aimed to be much simpler in its rules
The huge differences between American Football and European football (or soccer) would already be more than enough to lead to two completely different board games. But more important are the differences regarding the target audience. While Blood Bowl clearly aims at hardcore players, this game is also for casual players, who don’t want to measure ranges with rulers or read a 80 pages handbook.
So, the overall design goals are clear:
- The rule-set should be simple enough to get new players into a match quickly…
- … while still leading to highly tactical gameplay
- The game shall include all the interesting parts of football like spectacular goals, clever passing, precise tackling, tactical fouls, wrong referee decisions…
- … while leaving out the parts that only slow down the game like the ball going over the touchline or offside positions
With these goals in mind I created a very rough first prototype. While I was surprised how “playable” the game already was, the first playtest of course revealed a lot of flaws. In my attempt to keep it simple, I had designed a playing field that was way too small. This made it nearly completely unnecessary to move players in possession of the ball. It felt a bit like the famous soccer match from The Simpsons.
But this – along with a lot of other issues – was fixed quickly and the next playtest already was a lot more fun. One round in particular contained all the emotions of a good football match: My attack was stopped by a nasty foul that was not seen by the referee. The counterattack began. A really far and difficult pass to Mara Donna, the gnome striker waiting right in the center of my penalty area, was a success. I still didn’t worry, because my best defender was right there and did a nice and clear tackling. But Mara Donna used her special ability to dive and (of course!) the referee fell for it, so she got a (completely undeserved!) spot kick. It was extremely close, but my keeper couldn’t prevent the goal. I was outraged, while my wife celebrated the success of her completely unsportsmanlike behavior!
I retained myself from doing the hooligan. Mainly because she had agreed on doing the artwork for the game’s player cards and finding a new artist would be quite annoying. So while I’m further tweaking and optimizing the rules, she is busy drawing the first player characters.
In the end I really developed a new love for paper in the last days. The fact that I produced a fully playable prototype in just two days, was a motivating start. That the second iteration clearly showed progress and was already quite a lot of fun, made me even happier.
In my next post I will describe the game in more detail and report about the next playtests and balancing steps.