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Making a Board Game (Part 1)

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I just started my first attempt at designing a board game. This is the first entry in hopefully a series of journal entries that takes me from the very start to a fun to play prototype.

I was spending time lately watching some of the presentations in the gdcvault including the ones about board games (here and here) which made me think about non-digital games again. I always had phases where I was thinking about board/card games from a more abstract perspective, especially back when I was a very active MTG player. So yesterday when I was walking by a toy store I decided to buy some material and give board game design a try.

[subheading]General Idea, Guidelines and Principles[/subheading]
Since this is the first time I am actually doing this I decided to not search for a super unique game idea/concept. It's going to be a rather generic dungeon crawling game and I will focus more on the details/rules. I always liked the idea of "realistic" board games where you are playing as an actual character as opposed to abstract games (I consider settlers or dominion abstract in this context). My main problem with existing games of that kind is that they tend to have relatively complex rules. While games with complex rules are completely fine for me, they just don't fit into the more "casual" circle of friends I usually get to play boardgames with. My goal is to get complex/emergent gameplay from rules that you don't need a whole evening to explain.
So since I already spent some time thinking about problems I'm trying to solve and things I want to achieve I figured I should build a set of constraints and guidelines as a mental tool. So every time I introduce something or make a decision I can also make a sanity check against "my rules". So here is the first one:

Constraint: The rules have to fit on one side of a A5 "rules card".

Clarification: That is the rules about the game you need to know during play. Setup and examples are allowed to go on the back of the card.

Another important aspect is that I don't want to keep players waiting. So there should only be a minimum of "mechanics". With mechanics I mean the part of the game where you are doing calculations, throw dice, move around stuff and such to figure out what happens as opposed to the part where you make decisions and are actually playing. As an example: I don't want a player to make the simple decision "attack" and then stall the gameflow by a plethora of dice rolls (hit, damage, dodge, armor etc.).

Guideline: Prefer (instant) deterministic behavior over time consuming mechanics.

Also waiting for your own turn shouldn't be boring. Having very elaborate turn structures or allowing players to in principle do an arbitrary amount of things in a turn (Dominion) can make watching other players turns very annoying.

Constraint: Turns have a constant upper "action" limit.

Guideline: Allow all players to contribute to the game every turn.

I'll probably add more of these as I go along.

[subheading]What I have done so far[/subheading]
I bought a pack of blank memory cards (6x6cm, 60 pcs) and lots of empty playing cards. I already knew that I want the playing field to be built from tiles (there just isn't any reason not to besides maybe setup time) so I painted dungeon walls on most of the memory cards.

In the rules department I so far decided that the interaction will revolve around playing cards. So this going to be kinda MTGish in the sense that apart from maybe some sort of health and level, all the stats will be determined by cards attached to characters/monsters and that it will be possible to play "spells" (during your own and the opponents turn).
At the moment I imagine the turn structure to look something like this:
  1. Draw a card
  2. Either move to a neighboring tile, attack a player/monster that is standing on the same tile or do nothing
  3. Starting with the active player each player may play a card
  4. Combat takes place (each monster on the same tile as you automatically attacks you)
This will possibly change, but I don't want it to get significantly more complicated. Obviously most of the action will happen during the card playing phase.

Combat will probably look like: Use the players/monsters level as base damage, apply any modifiers on cards, reduce the amount of health points by the resulting damage.

I'm not yet sure what the goal will be. Possible something as simple as "reach level 20 first" or "reach level 20 and escape the dungeon". Another possibility I am considering is to give every player a unique win condition at the beginning of the game. This makes it more likely that some sort of actual story unfolds.

Here is what a 6x6 dungeon with the prototype tiles looks like.

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