Board games


Back in May I entered the Redesign competition being organized at UK Games Expo by Leisure Games, Surprised Stare, and Playtest UK. The idea is that you’re given the components of an existing boardgame, and asked to design a new boardgame using them – bearing no relation to the original. The date for submission of designs is 1st January 2014, ie. pretty soon.

I thought this contest sounded right up my alley, and I threw myself enthusiastically into designing a new game. The original one is called Wilderness (we weren’t told in advance what it was going to be, but I don’t suppose it’s spoilering anything to reveal that now), and although I’ve carefully avoided reading the rulebook or any of the associated textual stuff, it seems to be about competing for survival in a harsh primeval landscape. It’s unusual in that it includes a vast array of components – dice, three decks of cards, hex terrain tiles, a spinner, a number of player tracks, various cardboard tokens, counters, dobbers, wild animals… In the competition we had freedom to discard/ignore any of these materials we wanted to, but I set myself the challenge of using all of them, while still keeping the game fairly smooth and elegant (rather than the confused and bewildering mess that one might imagine upon opening the box).

So, long story short, I’ve designed a game. The working title is Moonlight Marauders, and from an intellectual point of view I’m cautiously pleased with it. I’ve incorporated all the components, the game has a bit of depth but isn’t too complex to grasp, and it plays reasonably quickly and balancedly for anywhere from 2 to 8 players. And I’ve come up with some mechanics and rule interactions that I feel are quite nice and neat, and maybe even novel. Sounds good, right?

But… unfortunately Moonlight Marauders is just not a very fun game. It is kind of dry and trudgey. The sensation on completion is not one of triumph, but of mild relief. Not so good.

This might well be remediable with a bit of playtesting and some good thoughts and advice from other people, which has been of great benefit to others of my games. But we’re pretty much out of time for that, what with Christmas and family visits and so on, and having to get the prototype in the post to reach Leisure Games by New Year’s Eve. And I don’t yet have a decent prototype, just my own rough working one: it’ll be quite a bit of work to make up a proper one, and to write the rules out such that the game can be played blind (ie. without me there explaining things), and I haven’t got oodles of spare time to easily fit that in over the next couple of weeks.

So my feeling at the moment is to treat the design process as a learning experience, but not to send off the prototype to continue in the competition. I reckon Moonlight Marauders has got minimal chance of winning the contest or of featuring highly, because other people are likely to have come up with more entertaining games (being probably not so obsessed as I was with using every component). It does feel a bit of a wrench to write off the time I’ve put in: but on the other hand, I’ve had some good ideas that I can probably use elsewhere, and I’m still new enough at this boardgame design lark that any experience is valuable.

What would you do, though, if it was you?

4 replies on “Redesign”

Never be scared to throw stuff away once you get to an impasse. On the other hand, submission may garner useful feedback to learn from. The exercise is two-fold – you get the experience, and you get the feedback and reflection. The second part is also important to help the first.

If your not likely to get any feedback, then it’s possibly worth skipping.

I think only those games which make it to the next stage get feedback: if you fall at the first hurdle, you don’t get any. (Officially, that is: I know some of the people involved in judging, so I could always ask for some.)

I’d leave it for now – it sounds as if it may have potential for improvement if you have a chance to come back to it, but ‘binning it by submission’ after throwing more rushed time into it uhuwon’t do it or you any favours. You’ll have exposed your under-ripe version and be dissatisfied. I would tell them that you might be interested in developing the version further outside the competition, if they still want a game out of that book.

I don’t think they really _want_ a game in that sense, because whatever people come up with is unlikely to be publishable as it’s so heavily based upon the original material (and the publishers and authors of that aren’t involved). The competition was I think mostly intended to raise interest in game design as a hobby, with the winners to be used as examples of how designing stuff can be interesting and fun.

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