Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Design Tip of the Week #17 (Building on the Shoulders of Greatness)

What happened to you last week?

Life.  All kidding aside, we have really been focusing on The Last Bastion development.  Trying to get it ready for the blind playtest portion of it's life.  We are going through the challenge that all designers go through.  Trying to add more theme without messing with the streamlined gameplay.

On to the topic of the week.  Lets talk about stealing ideas from other games.

I first want to quickly dispel the idea that building on the success of other games is somehow wrong.  This is how we progress as a species.  Without building on successes of those before us we would never be where we are today.  Without why reinvent the wheel, or electricity every generation.  Instead lets take the concept of electricity and combine it with the concept of a spindle to produce a sewing machine.  Lets take factories and the assembly line process and build boardgames.  Lets take printers and peoples desire for miniatures and make 3D printers.  Without building on the successes and failures of those before us, we wouldn't be in the golden age of gaming.

So I should just play every game I like and just copy it, maybe adding a different theme?

No.  But the part of that sentence I liked was playing games.  You shouldn't just play good games, but bad games too as we discussed on the last Design Tip of the Week #16.  You should also not restrict yourself to games you think you will like.  you can learn from different genres and bring the best parts of what they do to your game.


Lets start with Memoir '44.  Currently ranked number 78.  When it came out there weren't very many light wargames that tried to simulate specific battles.  It took a simple concept of card based movement and combined it with dice based combat to come up with a fun game.  It also used scenery such as forests, hills and buildings to make the board more dynamic and realistic.  None of these were new concepts, but they were combined to make something more than the concepts themselves alone.  If Richard Borg the designer hadn't played wargames before, he may not have tried to put together a cinematic experience that lets players control an army.  If he hadn't seen the trends in Europe of streamlining gameplay, he may not have been able to distill the experience into such an easy to digest product.

Lesson Learned: Don't be afraid to use what works.  Make it your own, but don't always try to reinvent the wheel.

Combat Commander: Europe

Combat Commander: Europe is currently ranked 47 on BGG.  It took some of the card based movement and scenario play of Memoir '44 and added some extra complexity and granularity to it.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage ranked 57 as well.  Hannibal came out before Memoir and also had card based movement and action selection.  There were probably many other games that influenced these as well.  Combat Commander was the next logical step after Memoir.  But it wasn't designed by the same designer.  In fact, I don't know that it could have been designed by the same designer.  Designers have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else.  Some excel at getting the math right.  Some create thematic experiences.  You will develop your own style.  Even if you design a similar game to someone else, it should feel like your own creation even if the parts are borrowed.

Lesson Learned: Whether you are adding complexity or taking it away, the end design should feel like your own work.

Ticket to Ride

This to me is the ultimate game to introduce new gamers to the hobby.  Is it totally unique?  Not really.  At it's core it is Rummy with a board added.  Obviously it is more than that, but that is the basic element.  I think that works in it's favor.  People immediately know how to play part of the game without you having to explain it.  The rest of the game can be easily explained in a couple of minutes.  It feels very different from Rummy when playing it though.  And that is the point.  You recognize the main elements of the game, but it is clearly not the same game.  It has made an evolutionary step forward.

Lesson Learned: Using familiar elements can lead to easier teaching, learning, and playing experiences.

Bottom Line

If you want to be a designer, get out there and play games.  Play a game even if you don't think you will like it.  It may lead to a great idea for something you were working on.  Don't shy away from popular mechanics.  It will decrease the barrier to entry of your game.  But always, make sure you are brining something to the table.  Using familiar mechanics is good, as long as you are adding something.  Who knows, maybe some day we will be borrowing your mechanics.

What's Next?

That's it for this week, next week I am going to talk about cram sessions.  Until then, I am Peter, keep designing great games.

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