Sunday, May 20, 2007

New speed record

I tend to take years to complete games (I do the development as well as the design, unlike some designers). I usually take quite a long time (sometimes years) before I get to the point of having other people play, or of writing full rules. Recently I set a new record for speed, however.

Last Saturday I was talking with my wife in the "parlor". I had on the table a set of plastic pieces I'd included in my last purchase from EAI Education, not because I had any particular use for them but because they are different. They are designed to be stacked. I said to Sue, "I ought to design a game to use these pieces." (Interjection: this has already happened once: I designed a game to use the colored glass beads or "jewels" that are sold in crafts stores, and that has led to several more games using those pieces.) We talked a little, and she suggested "asteroids" as a theme. I had been trying to think of how to use a connectivity board instead of the hex boards I have used for the glass bead games. In the end, I adapted a concentric circle board (for a stellar system) I'd devised 25 years ago.

By the end of the day I had a playable prototype of an "asteroid mining" game. The next day I played a four player and an eight (!) player version solo.

The following Friday four people played it at Rick Steeves' Game Night in Durham, including Rick and Jeff Dougan, who are big proponents of the glass bead games. It worked quite well, much as I expected, and now I'm in the phase of tweaking to get the game to work most desirably, rather than of making major changes. I should say here that I do not ask people to playtest a game until I think it works reasonably. I think players should be able to enjoy a game they're testing, rather than work at it. So I would never stop a playtest by other people part way through--it's a game, and it should be played to its end, just as any already-published game would be.

The following day I drafted most of the rules, and today (Sunday again) I'll finish the first draft.

Two years ago I would have said that I almost never design an abstract game. But that has changed. I have to say that it is immensely less work to design an abstract-ish symmetric game, than to design an asymmetric historical (strongly themed) game. I can see how people like R. Knizia can create so many games (and of course, he does it full time nowadays). Historical games also tend to be longer, which means they're more time-consuming to try. And much harder to get playtested a sufficient number of times. Asymmetry requires much more playtesting for balance, too. As many if not most Euros are abstract-ish (even if they have an official theme) symmetric games, it's easy to see why there are so many of them being published every year.

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