Hi folks! By now you’ve probably guessed I like a board game or two, and if you’re reading this you also know we at Tinkerbots are aspiring to become published game designers ourselves. We have a couple of titles getting pretty close to meeting you guys and gals out there (more on this soon, I promise!) but this week I’d like to talk about a game we’ve got at a much earlier stage of development: Wyrm Farm.
Ostensibly, Wyrm Farm is a deck builder where the players are building a farm for dragons, to breed and develop bigger and better dragons whilst helping the local villages with their problems. However, Wyrm Farm is a very much ‘early days’ design and the traditional deck builder mechanics may not be the right fit.
Fortunately, I been lucky enough to get a bunch of folks local to me to agree playtest my games regularly and last week I asked them to try out WF. To my horror, the 6 months the game had spent tucked away on my cluttered designer shelf have left the cards horribly curved and peeling where the glue had shrunk and started to come away from the blank playing cards. Note to self: print or draw cards, don’t glue paper to them with a Pritt stick!
Despite this, we managed to get a game underway. I was a little rusty; many of the original mechanics and rules hadn’t been set in stone the last time I pulled it out and this showed as I filled gaps on the fly. This wasn’t a deal breaker though. The guys were really forgiving and since nothing I dropped seemed too outlandish, the game was able to flow just fine.
It became clear that the game worked, but I was suspicious; whenever a game seems to work right off the bat, I get this tickle in the dead centre of my brain that says ‘THIS CAN’T BE RIGHT, WHAT HAVE YOU MISSED’. It took the car journey home for me to realise what it was; Wyrm Farm just wasn’t fun yet. The mechanics were solid, the theme was engaging and the cards looked ‘OK’ for a prototype this early on in design. The problem was that it just wasn’t different enough from all the deck builders already out there. The mechanics worked only because I hadn’t innovated it, it was already there in Ascension, Dominion and even the DC Deck builder.
This is a major challenge for me as a designer. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel (see my previous blog post about the essay by Richard Garfield on this subject), but equally you can’t just slap a new theme over the top of an old design and call it done. You need to make the game yours, to make it something people will say ‘Oh, this is kinda like X’, not ‘This is just X again with dragons’.
Needless to say, Wyrm Farm is back on the drawing board. There’s no way I can give up on this design; I love the theme a heck of a lot, plus the fact that it already works makes it easier to make the small tweaks to make it mine. Will this make the game more fun? I sincerely hope so!
Have you ever found a game that worked fine, but just wasn’t fun?
Ever encountered a game that relies on theme far too much to keep the players at the table?
Is ‘more of the same’ good enough for game designers?