Sunday, January 31, 2016

History In The Making: Deprecating the board

It's been a year since I've last revisited the core game mechanics the board game History In The Making. Instead any time I've spent towards designing the game has been to collect more historical content. I've been passively amassing a list of anecdotes throughout history; real world examples of government policies with both good and bad historical outcomes. My greatest source of content as been from the one-a-day history books, which tend to give a good variety both temporally and geographically.

Eliminating the board?

I've known for a while know that the playability and longevity all hinges on the event cards; to the extent where I am now even considering phasing out the hexagon board altogether (and just making it a card game with a resource tracker). Whenever I give my elevator pitch about the game I exclude any mention of a board, because any interested party is already sold by the prospect of laying down cards corresponding to historical events.

But before I give the board the axe, I should review why I wanted to have a board in the first place:

  • Territory and resource contention to force disputes between players.
    I want conflict in my game! Am I a blood-lust fiend? Possibly, but mainly I want to encourage a multiplayer interaction that is more than just 4 players keeping to themselves quietly building an empire (at which point the game might as well be single player.) Also history is filled with conflict; I want to re-enact it.
  • Something visual and tangible when growing an empire.
    Imagine if the game Risk were a card game with no board. Lame right? In order to get the feeling of world domination, you want to see your color spread across the world. To make victory all the more sweeter and to feel the stakes when defeat is knocking on the door.
  • "Randomly" generated maps to inject variety into the game.
    I do not want the same starting condition for each game. Why? Because it prevents a 'solved' strategy from trivializing the experience, and it will encourage losers to continue trying the game. Example: when losing Ticket To Ride three times in a row, it's easy to give up on the basis that other players have memorized the fixed map.

Thus if I want to drop the board, I need to find a way to retain the above mentioned gameplay properties via cards. This is where most of my brainstorming currently lives.

Larger Cards

While I haven't yet pinned down the added mechanics to the cards, I do need to consider the increased amount of information that the player will need to see on the card. My card layouts so far have been assuming the standard playing card size (to make it easier for people to hold a bunch of cards) however more and more I'm accepting the idea that I'll need to go with larger cards. A good example of larger cards being feasible is the game Betrayal at the House on the Hill.

Even if the added mechanics don't add information to the cards I want to include text blurbs about the historical events being played. As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest allures to this design has been using real historical events. So, in order to enhance the experience, players can choose to read the flavor text at the bottom of the cards (i.e. the information in the text blurbs will not be mandatory to play the game). The text blurbs could also have the added benefit of giving the players something to read if they are bored between turns (kind of like Apples to Apples).

Iterations on the game has been slowing down; however is it something I keep in the back of my mind. And at the end of the day it's a great excuse to read about history.

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