I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A LOVER OF MECHANICS.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt the pull of new and exciting ways to take actions, of intricate methods to interact with my fellow players, and the thrill of formulating strategic plans to ensure victory. I would sit down at a game and become absorbed in solving the puzzle or working out the ideal turn. There really is so much to love about really elegant game mechanics.
BUT THINGS ARE CHANGING …
I have found my mind wandering. I have felt the pull from the other (dare I say dark?) side. I find myself craving more immersion into the world of the game, whether that is through components, flavor text, art, story or similar concepts. The abstracted concepts I used to love are no longer enough for me. And I’m not alone. I see this in the gaming world in general. Gamers sending Pandemic Legacy shooting to the top of BGG or coming out in record numbers to support the Scythe Kickstarter.
And this idea, this feeling I have of wanting to experience more from my games is affecting my own design and development as well. In the past 6 months I have taken a step back and looked at myself. I am realizing that I have been working to make my own games more immersive than ever before.
EXPEDITE: PLAYERS BUILD HUBS IN THEIR AIR SHIPPING EMPIRE TO EARN …. VICTORY POINTS?
We at Cosmic Wombat Games will be releasing the second edition of Expedite in 2017. For those unfamiliar, Expedite is a route building game where players are building up an air cargo empire by controlling hubs in various cities around the world. The game has always been a race to 100 victory points. But the more I played, the more that just didn’t feel right. Why would I as a CEO of a multi-national shipping company care about something as abstract as victory points? The concept was actually taking me out of the game. So, as you can see from the picture above, we decided that the victory condition would be based on something real CEOs care about – money. Now Expedite is a race to $100M which really keeps me, as the player, engaged in the game and makes me feel like a part of it.
CAMPAIGN TRAIL: POLITICAL CANDIDATES WHO HAVE A GENUINE BACKSTORY
When the Campaign Trail Kickstarter failed last September, it was clear a number of things were not working in the game. One of those was the candidate cards. Our reviewers and playtesters felt that they were out of balance and lacked real connection to the game. So, when I went to redesign them, I decided to take a different approach than I had done before. I sat down and came up with every type of political candidate I could come up with, every backstory, every aspect of personality and character traits that would make a candidate successuful. I created people who would be in the game as political candidates. Then I figured out how those people would interact with the game from a mechanics perspective. The result is the feeling of actually being your candidate in the game, of knowing what makes him or her tick, of really getting the sensation of being on the caampaign trail and having to deal with your own strengths and weaknesses.
THREADS: THEMATIC DESIGN FROM THE GROUND UP
Threads is a game that has always been about the theme. I wanted to design a game about knitting for knitters, a game in which a knitter would feel at home playing it. But first I had to learn about knitting in general. Thankfully, I had a good teacher (thanks, Danielle). After learning about knitting terminology and practices, it was pretty easy to bring those ideas out by various game mechanics while still keeping a strong knitting theme. An interested party on Reddit even said, “you can tell the designer is a knitter”. That, to me, shows just how deeply integrated the theme is since I’m not a knitter at all but have apparantly incorporated the theme well enough that I’m fooling people. While the game is not done yet, it has been an interesting journey designing a game that started out entirely about theme.
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
I’m not trying to answer the age old debate of theme versus mechanics. People will always have their preferences and that’s ok. I’m just trying to tell my story, about how one person, in this vast sea of people we call gamers, has seen another side to this question and has generally embraced the idea. It’s fun expanding my horizons and trying new things and new ideas. I love to look at this whole gaming experience from different perspectives. It’s been a great journey and I’m excited to see where it takes me next …