Tales from Wyrm Farm: Designing with the Kitchen Sink
Hi all! So this week’s post should be short and sweet, as we made a big announcement on the podcast regarding Ghostel, a board game we’re hoping to bring to the general public in the near future. I won’t repeat what was said, you’ll just have to pop over to the podcast and give it a little listen (I promise it’s a interesting listen!).
What I really want to talk about here is something linked to the design of a different game called Wyrm Farm. I’ve already written about the general idea of this game here for those you want to catch up.
So one of the major bug bears I’ve been having about this design is trying to give it a hook to differentiate it from the hundreds of other deck builder games out there. I’ve been concerned that about the recently developing trend of people being ‘turned off’ the deck builder archetype as more and more of them are released with little or no innovation shown in the set up (the numerous Cerberus engine for example).
So what did I do to distinguish Wyrm Farm from the crop? Well, the initial game already included a system whereby players could breed new, more powerful dragons as the game progressed, and a set of ‘requests’ the players could complete alone or with other players to gain additional Gold (the chief resource of the game). But I still felt this wasn’t enough.
At this point, I fell into a trap I’ve seen several game designers (myself included) have fallen into: the Kitchen Sink approach. Basically, take a game design and throw in a whole heap of mechanics and rules in an attempt to satiate a burning desire to create something strategic and evocative, complex yet straightforward. For Wyrm Farm, this included a dice system to ‘time’ how long it took for dragons to breed or eggs to hatch, new dragon abilities that affected the ‘timers’ and the other players, a new hand limit, a new card play limit, stacking of your deck as opposed to having a discard pile, a shared selection deck instead of individual decks, and so on and so on.
As you can probably guess, the first thing my playtesters said ‘This is too complicated fella’. In my pursit of an individual identity for Wyrm Farm, I’d created a Frankenstein’s monster of bolted on and contradictory systems that utterly disfigured the original concept. It didn’t help that many of the new abilities affected mechanics that directly interfered with each other.
Now sometimes, the Kitchen Sink approach is a great way to start a design, as the designer can then see what works and pare away the dreck that masks the glittery core of an awesome game. But all I managed to do for Wyrm Farm is leave my playtesters confused and almost lost me their participation in future iterations.
For Wyrm Farm, I think I need to hit the drawing board again and just start swinging the Editor’s Hatchet until the floor is littered with the grubby hangers-on that obfuscated my original concept. I may sweep these bits up for something else later on, but for now WF needs to go back to basics and have some gentler tweaks as I polish it.
Have you ever had a design just bloat until it was unrecognisable?
How have your playtesters reacted to radical changes to a design?
Do you have an tools for determining the ‘sweet spot’ between rule complexity and making a great game?
As always, we’d love to hear from you! Contact me on twitter: @bluecatgames and send me your thoughts, or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org