Ghostel Design Blog 1 – Why a ghost game?

Design Blog 1

For the first blog piece, I thought I’d start at the very beginning: why a ghost game? Well, in a bizarre twist, it was actually the mechanics of Ghostel that I designed first, with the idea of a haunted house just kind of wrapping neatly around them. So where did the mechanics come from? Well, a lot of my ideas are inspired by something else, a trigger that can be literally anything; a song on the radio, a cool looking poster, a short story or even a cheeky picture on Facebook. But for Ghostel, it was actually a game that got my creative wheels a-turning. That game was Pirates of Nassau.

Great game!

For those unfamiliar with this cracking little game, players take the role of a pirate in an attempt to build the best ship and rob the most merchants before the British Navy turns up to see you off. The part that got me thinking was the movement mechanic, where the players rolled a handful of d6’s, then picked the result they wanted before moving to that space on the board. The beauty of it was that no matter what you rolled, you’d be able to do something. The kicker was how you applied the dice because your next move would be from your previous spot, so careful planning was essential.

Now this got me thinking. I loved the idea of a game where dice are used, but the outcome of each roll could be ‘played around’ so even a terrible set of results wouldn’t necessarily knock you out of the game. But how to apply it?

One of the ways Ghostel allows mitigation of dice rolls
One of the ways Ghostel allows mitigation of dice rolls

For many of the designers I’ve been privileged to chat to, two camps have become apparent. These are by no means definitive, and quite often people have transitioned from one to other in the space of a single game concept or straddled the border between the two, dreaming and designing in one creative flow.

The first are the Mechaniks, those who come up with how the game will work then find a theme to suit. These games tend to be a little abstract, with concessions made to gameplay over the style of the game so some actions can seem counter intuitive to what you feel the game is about. The theme can often be interchanged with any other, so finding a popular trend in the market is easier, such as the current rise in Steampunk games.

The second camp are the Theme-iks, those who say ‘I like robots, I should do a game about robots’ then sit down and think of all the things they want those robots to do. The mechanics are then designed to allow those robots to do those actions. This style comes with it’s own challenges, such as making sure the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how the game works all interact smoothly without over-complication or the dreaded ‘This Isn’t a Game’ factor.

For myself, I usually fall straight into the Theme-iks; I tend to get inspired by something I’ve seen or something I’ve read, and then the ideas flow of how I could make it work as a game. For Ghostel, it was  the other way around; I had the mechanic but no concept to present it. It was only after walking past my third shop front window festooned with fake spider web and cartoon Dracula cut outs (Halloween was only two weeks away), I knew what I wanted my game to be about.

So in short, I guess I’m trying to say that everyone designs differently, inspiration can come from anywhere and don’t let anyone tell you what your personal ‘process’ should be. Just stay receptive to everything around you, you don’t know when you might find that little spark of a concept that can be fanned into a full-on inferno of a game.

As part of this blog, I’d love to hear from all the players, designers, artists, anyone with a love of gaming. What’s your process? Where do you find your inspiration?

Thanks for reading!

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