Getting the Creative Juices Flowing. Not So Easy!

Jesse Schell in The Art Of Game Design, says “[g]ame design is the act of deciding what a game should be”, a statement which may make you want to throw up your hands in protest saying “what does that mean?”. Schell clarifies this with “[t]o decide what a game is, you must make hundreds, usually thousands of decisions”. This is not the only thing that one must worry about when designing a game. There are “[d]ecisions about rules, look and feel, timing, pacing, risk-taking, rewards, punishments, and everything else the player experiences […] So I wonder how on earth I am going to design a game. As I was brainstorming a list of ten ideas for a game, my brain was screaming out “this is ridiculous! You have no ideas, don’t be absurd”. My entire being was fighting this on every level. I am dumb, I have no ideas. Schell has some answers. He states:

Good game design happens when you view your game from as many perspectives as possible. I refer to these perspectives as lenses …, small sets of questions you should ask yourself about your design.The idea is that even though we can’t have one complete picture, by taking all of these small imperfect lenses and using them to view your problem from many different perspectives, you will be able to use your discretion to figure out the best design.

That sounds great. Schell says that game design is based on the same principles as human psychology and that if you understand the fundamentals you can master any genre. Yippee! But wait, this is just the beginning and I have a long way to go.

Some of the game ideas I generated were as follows. Discover a new planet and populate it board game, exotic animal collection card game, ‘Catwalk Capers’ – discover who killed the fashion designer board game, raise a family role playing game and my favourite, build a time machine card game.

10 Board Game Ideas

Time travel is a theme that I would like to explore further. Perhaps there could be different time machines each with specific attributes that could then be utilised to carry out some type of mission. The mission could involve rescuing a child who has telepathic powers who can either save or destroy the planet depending on which timeline is activated (the basis for this idea was taken from Rian Johnson’s Looper ).

At this point in time I have no idea what the mechanics will be, other than using a board and cards,  but am hoping that the theme of the game will guide me. Did I mention that I was a complete novice at game design. Oh that’s right! I am a game designer-I am a game designer etc. Thank you Mr Schell.

I would like this game to appeal to the over 50’s market as this is an area that is currently under capitalised in the board game industry. The difficulty I will have in creating a prototype will be in tackling the time travel beast and taming it. I am hoping that brainstorming and some solid research will open pathways for the next stage of development.

Lets Pitch a Prototype!

The last five or so weeks of toiling and planning culminated this week in our group presentation of the prototype pitch for Trivial Bullshit. My role in this twisted tale of lies and deception, was to write the rule book. The rules of any game are probably the most important element because without them, chaos prevails. In The Boardtastic Guide to Explaining Rules, Chris J Davis comments;

I have seen it happen too often that a gaming session has been spoiled by a botched rules explanation, with no one enjoying the game because they haven’t got the slightest idea what they are doing. This guide now exists to help reduce the number of those occurrences.

Good for you Chris! The difficulty of writing game rules lies in the fact that one is endeavouring to explain the often complex workings of a game to someone that may never have played it before. I found Davis’s nine step guide very helpful as he clearly laid out everything that needed to be included in a rule book and how it should be dealt with beginning with step 1 ‘the theme’  and concluding with step 9 ‘strategy’. I also referenced the Pixy Games UK Website How To Write A Board Games Rule Book. This site also references  A Board Game Rulebook Template which was very helpful for the prototype process and one that I will use for developing my own game.

That brings me to the issue of my final project – the conceptualisation of my own board game. My experience with board games and gaming in general is very limited so at this stage it feels like a gargantuan task. However, I have learnt a great deal over the past weeks, and I would like to continue with the theme of time travel which I have dealt with previously in my Cybercultures subject last year. Robert Carroll who has compiled a Top 10 list of Time Travel games, states that these were chosen because they “meet all of the following criteria:  (1) focuses on traveling through time; (2) addresses some aspect of time travel in a unique or interesting manner (e.g., paradoxes, altering the past, etc.); (3) compelling “theme” (not too abstract); and (4) fun to play”. Carroll ranks the game Khronos at number 2 as it “succeeds at introducing a novel way to simulate time travel effects”. This gives me a place to start exploring.

Screen Shot 2018-04-06 at 9.35.20 pm
Khronos Time Travel Game – Screen Shot from https://boardgamegeek.com

I also believe that researching the games on this list may well give me some much needed grist for the mill.

Pick A Card – Any Card

Well here we are at the point of no return! It is time to formalise the mechanics of our game That’s Bullshit. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the mechanics of the game in its entirety, so I will focus on one part which is the use of cards (inspired directly by the 1981 version of Trivial Pursuit) and how they produce the movement in the game. Everyone who has played Trivial Pursuit will remember that the cards are the most important part of play i.e. without the cards there is no game.

Screenshot -www.zibbet.com

The cards are the storehouse of knowledge of a very specific nature. In 2010 when co-creator Chris Haney died, Bryan Curtis wrote an essay questioning the survival of Trivial Pursuit in the Google age citing himself from 2005 stating the game ‘was once “a great repository of middlebrow culture“’. He goes on to say: 

The game concerns itself with useless information, yes, but useless information of a very specific sort: detritus from the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, which flattered the baby boomer by making his golden years seem vital, even historic.

That’s Bullshit follows through with the notion of ‘useless information’ but with the added twist that it is based around lying. The original knowledge categories as conceived by Chris Haney and Scott Abbott have been kept in play albeit slightly updated i.e.  “Geography” (blue), “Pop Culture” (pink), “History” (yellow), “Science and Nature” (green), “Sports and Leisure” (orange) and sadly, for all those literature gurus, “Arts and Literature” (brown) has been replaced by a “Random” category. As previously described, the player whose turn it is, is the only player who doesn’t know the answer to the question on the card. The correct answer to the question, which is located on the back of the question card, is revealed to all the other players who have in turn drawn another card from a ‘truth or lie’ deck (there is only 1 truth card in the deck). It is their task to put forward a plausible claim to make the card holder believe that their answer is correct. Arguments abound, however the card holder must eventually choose the player they believe is telling the truth. Points are awarded to the player who is most convincing in their lie, or at telling the truth and is chosen as the one who is telling the truth.

I image the audience will be made up of millenials and Trivial Pursuit hanger-ons. It is interesting to note that Curtis comments on the new Trivial Pursuit audience and says:

Gone is the proud generalist of the original Trivial Pursuit, who knew the most common Russian surname (Ivanov) and the international radio code word for the letter O (Oscar). In his place is the specialist, who knows every inch of Return of the Jedi.

Regarding the cost of production, I did some research which was fairly disheartening and I’m glad that we are only taking this project to prototype stage. You can read more about production costs at Plankton Games Journal specifically, Indie game publishing costs, or the grim reality of game economics, and Game Printing Costs.

Also see

Making A Game Part 2: Arguing As A Rule

Group Project: Trivial Bullshit, Mechanics