Saturday, August 18, 2012

Theme and Mechanics in Party Planning

Last weekend, we experienced, for the first and last time, the Einschulung of our chidren (who happen to be twin sons). This is an enormous celebration for German children who are beginning elementary school. There is a ceremony at the school and parties for family and friends afterwards. The children receive paper cones filled with sweets and school supplies, along with gigantic backpacks that are so boxy and top-heavy, they resemble something the astronauts take with them on space walks.

The day for the Einschulung of our sons also happened to fall on their birthday, so we were celebrating two beginning-of-school parties (there really isn't any equivalent in the United States) and two birthdays at the same time, although we saved the birthday party for their Kindergarten friends for this Sunday.

As my wife and I were planning it, I realized partway through that we were both approaching it from different angles--in game design terms. My wife was looking at the mechanics of the party: what kinds of games, food and other fun elements we could incorporate, and what the schedule could look like.

I also participated in the brainstorming, however I soon found myself wondering aloud what the theme of the party could be.

"That doesn't really matter at this point."

"Yes it does"

"We first need to figure out what kinds of things we are going to do."

"Yes, but sometimes the theme can give me ideas on other things we can do."

That's when it occurred to me that I was approaching the planning of this party the same way I approach game design.  Oftentimes, I am first thinking about the mechanics of a game, or how many interesting mechanisms I can include in it.  But I cannot keep it abstract for long, because theme provides too much inspiration to pass up.

Once a theme is established, it helps me think about how to tie the mechanisms together in a meaningful way.  And more than that, it helps me come up with new mechanisms, as I try to abstract real-life (or fantasy) themes down to the accessible (and interactive) language of a board game.

And just as my board game design is influence by the themes I experience in real life, it seems that my life outside board games is unavoidably influenced by the process in which I design them.

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