Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cleaning Out My Closet

Recently, I've been digging through my game shelves, purging the collection down to a manageable number.  In addition, I've also been cleaning out my prototype closet, and it has been interesting to rediscover several long lost game ideas that have been buried under the rubble of cardboard and laminated paper.

For example, I found a game idea I once worked on titled Double Agent, a game that was meant to accommodate a larger number of players.  In the game, the players were international espionage agents, who organized missions in order to score points.  Each mission would only require a portion of the agents in the game, so choosing the right agents to complete the mission was an important decision, as not everyone would have the correct cards to make the mission successful.  One of the agents, however, was secretly the double agent, and she could choose to sabotage any mission for which she was unknowingly picked. Players could try to guess the double agent's identity during the course of the game. If correct, the earlier the better.

If you've played The Resistance, than the above sounds awfully familiar!  My prototype was admittedly a bit more complex, and I was unable to get it playtested before I moved on to other things, but the success of The Resistance (one of my favorite games from last year) does leave me to wonder what would have happened, had I chosen to focus on Double Agent a little longer.

It reminds me of another game idea I had when they first started pouring into my head. At the time, like many wannabe designers, I was thinking about how to take inspiration from commonly known games--the kind that everyone knew and played, but were somewhat boring or devoid of decisions.  I remembered playing War with a deck of cards as a child, and I challenged myself to come up with a variant that allowed the players to actually decide how to distribute their forces, adding actual decisions and tension to the game.  I decided that there could be three battles happening simultaneously, and that each battle would be decided by which side had the best 3-card set, with Poker-like scoring.  A player could concede at any time, but would always have to play a card and draw a card on his turn. As soon as a battle was won, the player who won the battle took all the cards played. And that was it: War was now a game that I could actually have fun playing.  Moreover, I thought that I might actually have an opportunity to share this idea with a publisher.

Again, if you've played Schotten Totten or Battle Line, this sounds even more familiar.  My only comfort is that it must have been a good idea, if designer Reiner Knizia came up with it first, and the game is still selling decades after its initial release (most recently as a Chronicles of Narnia retheme).

Of course, not all game ideas stuck in the back corners of my prototype closet have this kind of potential.  I dug one out recently that, despite its age, has a central mechanism that has still not been used in a game.  I dusted it off, built a new but simple game around it, and tried it recently at my playtesting group.  I held my breath, as I wondered whether I had the next Resistance or Game-That-Knizia-Could-Have-Designed-But-Hasn't-Yet.

When the game was over, I had to ask the difficult question:  "So, is this mechanism worth pursuing further, or should I have left it in my closet?"  The unanimous answer was, "Let this one die."

Sometimes, the decision as to which idea to pursue, and which ones to let go can have just as much tension as the decisions a designer tries to build into the games themselves.

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