July 15, 2014

Towards a Grand Unified Theory of Boardgamery

There has been an interesting series of articles on the League of Game Makers about the whole mechanics-first or theme-first approach to designing games (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3); and in turn how important theme is or isn't in terms of shaping a game's overall experience and long-term success or failure. That debate is always interesting and illuminating, and arguments for or against one approach over the other simply underscores the diversity of approaches and methods for working on a design.

Part 3 of the series, Theme vs. Mechanics: The False Dichotomy, presented an interesting Venn diagram showing how "theme" manifests in relation to a game's rules, its components, and what we imagine about the game at hard. The blog post I'm writing today started off as a desire to refine the concept Mark Major proposed; but consequently has cascaded into a watershed moment for me. This moment has coalesced a number of threads of game design and theory I've been wrestling with since starting this blog. For my thinking at least, this moves me a few steps closer towards a Grand Unified Theory of Game-Stuff. No way! you say? Yes way!

July 8, 2014

Emissary's Thematic Conundrums

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Emissary was originally designed for the PnP Express/In-a-Tin Design contest using the Decktet. It was envisioned as a card game "express" version of Hegemonic transplanted into the fantastic and odd world of the Decktet universe. If you are curious about the gameplay of Emissary, check out this prior post on the topic: Emissary: A Study in Brain-burn and Emergence

As much as I love the Decktet, using the Decktet cards posed some playability challenges. Players had to mentally map the card's ranks into a Tier structure used in Emissary, each of which had certain implications for the cost of using those cards. It was hard for players to keep it all straight in their mind (and required a reference card at a minimum) and as a consequence the flow of the game bottlenecked a little bit.

If the game was to mature beyond its roots I felt it had to deviate away from the Decktet. Custom cards could facilitate learning the game and streamline the play considerably by using clear iconography to identify the various ways of interacting with the cards (costs, build allowances, etc.). But this opened up a whole separate question, what to "theme" it around. I was torn whether to embrace the games forefather (Hegemonic) and go with a spacey theme, or do something more subdued and landscap-y. I couldn't decide so I did both!

Onward to the eye-candy!

July 7, 2014

Designer Diary: Hegemonic, or Reimagining the 4X/Sci-Fi Empire Genre from Sketchbook to Publication

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This Designer Diary was originally published at BoardGameGeek News on January 14, 2013.

The Short Version

I've always enjoyed tinkering with and designing games. In the summer of 2010 I started designing a space empire game called Hegemonic, inspired in part by the many sci-fi authors I enjoy. I endeavored to break the mold and create a space empire game with a big open decision space, lots of room for creative and dynamic gameplay, and mechanisms appropriately abstracted to match the theme of galactic domination.

The first prototypes were tested in early 2011 after spending months in a sketchbook working out the concepts. With the help of space artist Alex Skinner, I had an attractive prototype to use and share with willing test subjects. I then spent the next fifteen months, until mid-2012, developing the game, testing with external (blind) playtest groups, and polishing the gameplay.

Towards the end of the summer of 2012, with the help of some BGG friends, I began pitching the game to interested publishers. Minion Games was quick to pick up Hegemonic, and we've been working feverishly this fall and winter getting the game ready for production!

Hegemonic is a space empire game wrapped around an area-control style game. It is has a high level of direct conflict and interaction in the game, yet also feels more "Euro" than many of other space empire games. It is distinct because players' industrial, political, and martial systems all contribute toward their economy and area control, and all of them can be used to initiate conflicts.

If you like big, deep, conflict-driven Eurogames, please continue reading!