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Game Design

Star Realms Frontiers Box CoverBefore we begin, you need a bit of background on what a Star Realms Automata is.

Star Realms, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a expandable, tabletop, deck-building, engine-building, science fiction card game with open drafting and a take-that mechanism.

And for all of you for which the previous sentence made absolutely no sense: Star Realms is a card game where you buy star ships and bases, then use those to buy better star ships and better bases, and use them to damage and destroy your opponent.

An Automata is an algorithm, a way of performing actions for an opponent when you want to play a multiplayer tabletop game on your own.

Put them together, and you get someone who plays Star Realms according to set rules. That’s my son. (more…)

Banner - DiceTainted Grail! The characters! The minis! The story! Oh, the story! It’s amazing! It’s fantastic! It’s a game that drove me absolutely nuts.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a review. I can’t write a review of Tainted Grail because, after playing some 45 hours of two-handed solo, and restarting four times, I never made it past chapter 4 of the original campaign. Not once.

No, this is letter of grievances. (more…)

Analog Game Design: First Solo PlaytestsSo there I was, a game in my hand, my game, my cards, my design. Felt great.

For about two minutes. Then I was ready to see if I could commit suicide by paper cut. That’s what my first, solo playtests usually do to me.

But let’s recap. I’ve written about the spark, the part where creativity reigns free and I spew ideas the way a first-year computer science student spews regurgitated lager[note]No, I’ve never actually spewed lager, even though I have been a first-year comp-sci student, and on the ölhäfv (speed-drinking beer) team.[/note]. I’ve written about building the first prototype. This post is about what happens next: the solo playtesting, where crappy games are beaten into gold[note]Or, to be truthful, slightly less crappy games.[/note]. (more…)

Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to PrototypeLast time I wrote about analog game design I took Magnet Puzzle from spark to idea stage. Unfortunately, that’s where it’s remained. For every 10 sparks, I take one through the idea stage. For every 10 ideas, I take one through the prototype stage. Magnet Puzzle hasn’t made that leap yet.

So instead of me waiting until inspiration strikes and I figure out what makes it fun, now that magnets are out of the picture, I’m going to backtrack a bit and show you how I’m working on another game: a quick, quite random, “take that”-inducing card game prototype named “Das Amt”. (more…)

Writing GamesI’m a writer. I’m also a game designer, game player and game lover. And, folks, I hate what writers do to games – most writers simply don’t know how to write games.

Let’s take a prime example: Harry Potter’s Quiddich. Harry’s the Seeker of his team, meaning that if he catches the Golden (or Silver, if you’re a fan of the books) Snitch ball his team gains 150 points and instantly wins[note]OK, there’s a plot point in one of the later books where the Bulgarians are 160 points behind when they catch the Snitch and thus lose.[/note].

So what would this do to the game, if it was real? Since catching the Snitch is worth 150 times as much as scoring a goal, why is there only one guy (Harry) chasing it? Well, those are the rules. I buy that. There are plenty of dumber sports[note]Such as competitive cheese rolling. It’s real. And don’t make me mention chess boxing.[/note]. But why should the players at Hogwarts be written as dumb? (more…)

Analog Game Design 101: From Spark to IdeaThis week I thought I’d try something different.

I get a lot of ideas, for stories, for games, for products or ways to save the world. Mostly nothing comes out of them, but some intrigue me enough for me to start developing them. I had one such epiphany a few days ago and this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to describe how I take a game from an idea to a tested prototype, and possibly more.

I’m writing this as I go along. The game might turn out to be crap. It might turn out to be impossible to make. It might turn out all right and be submitted. I don’t now. This, folks, is game design reality TV. Here goes. (more…)

Emotional PlaytestingIt’s hard to find good playtesters. A playtester has to be a lot of things: subjective enough to give valuable feedback, yet objective enough to make it constructive. Skilled enough to spot what’s wrong, yet innocent enough to see the game with fresh eyes. Set enough not to be swayed by minor graphics or trinkets, yet fluid enough not to try and push your game into something its not. Yes, it’s hard to find good playtesters.

That’s why I’m suggesting that we don’t.

That’s right. I’m saying that you shouldn’t try to find good playtesters. In fact, you should try to find the worst playtesters ever, the whiny, bitchy, annoying powergamers. Then ask them the right questions. (more…)

Plot any adventure game quoteYes, But, No, And.

There. Now you’ve got all the tools you need to plot any adventure game in the world. Or write any book in the world, since that’s where these tools come from.

Ok, I’ll stop being a Cornholio and unpack it a bit for you. These words (Yes, But, No, And in case you’ve forgotten) are a progression of plot point outcomes. Basically it’s asking yourself: our player needs to achive X, does she? Yes, But, No, And.

All right, all right, I’ll explain it better. Enough with the arm twisting already. But let’s start with an example.

Our hero, an intrepid fighter known only as the Vault Dweller, has to exit the Vault in order to begin his real adventure. That’s what he wants to accomplish: exit the Vault. Does he succeed?


Melodrama quote - Baz LuhrmannMelodrama. The mere word makes serious writers cringe.

Melodrama is simple. It’s overblown characters in improbable actions. It’s an appeal to emotion, the life of every 1930’s pulp novel. The Handsome Hero in his White Stetson and Pearl Handled Revolver rescuing the Damsel in Distress from the Dastardly Villain.

Melodrama is horrible in stories. It’s flat, overblown, overused and often based on idiot plots.

It’s perfect for games. (more…)

Action + Time = Twitch quoteI’m going to make a statement: no matter what game you’ve made it’s always possible to add a twitch on top of it.

So what’s a twitch? A twitch is a physical action element involving time. That’s a fancy way of saying “catch the ball, dummy!”

Twitches are anything that forces the player to physically act or respond in some way, and to do so before a timer runs out. It can be “catch the flying ball before it hits the ground”. It can be “place the T-shape in the T-shaped hole before it hits the bottom” (Tetris, anyone?). Now, twitches aren’t two things: they aren’t passive (just having someone throw a ball at you doesn’t count as a twitch) and they aren’t slow (picking up a ball that rests on the ground doesn’t count). Thus action + time = twitch.

Why is this so important? (more…)