Designer’s Den is a game design blog by Derek Conrad covering a wide spectrum of gaming including mechanics, art and graphic design, world building, and more!
This will be a short entry, mainly because I’ve got a lot going on lately but I don’t want to neglect this blog for too long.
The topic of writing is one I didn’t consider to be a major component of game design when I started work on RotG a few years ago. That isn’t to say I was neglecting things such as writing the game’s lore and ignoring world building. Quite the opposite—world building is often the kernel where my new game ideas start.
Instead, I was forgetting about the importance of writing as rewriting, the painstaking process of lassoing everything you’ve written—or in our case, designed—turning it around and upside down, whittling away the fluff, and starting fresh with only the core intact.
It’s a daunting practice and something I always dreaded when I was still writing creative fiction. However, rewriting almost always produced a better second copy, and if not then, it undoubtedly produced a better fifth, sixth, and seventh. Sometimes the small changes between generations of a draft are hard to observe and appreciate, but taken as a whole, like in the case of biologic evolution, the extant copy is unmistakably improved.
I’ve mentioned the board state in RotG quite a few times already in this blog, but considering the game is about spatial relationships, it bears re-mentioning, and often. But to keep it relevant, I’ll take about how the board evolved, and how my reluctance to allow it to do so ultimately crippled development unnecessarily.
Originally, the game was played with “leads” and “reserves.” Each consisted of a row of three spaces apiece, where the lead (as you might have guessed) was positioned in front of the reserve. Unlike today’s iteration where the neutral (or middle) territory is shared, my lead and reserve were mine alone. Your cards couldn’t enter, just as my cards couldn’t enter yours. There was a clear line cut down the middle of the board where nothing crossed over.
The game consisted of playing cards to the lead and using them to attack the opponent’s cards, also in his or her lead. Cards in the reserve were safe from attack unless an enemy card in the lead had the equivalent to Long Range (whatever it was called back then). However, a card couldn’t be placed in the reserve until the lead was filled up, preventing a player from stalling out with valuables way in the back. If a player managed to clear out his or her opponent’s lead completely, then he or she could start to target the opponent’s shrine (precursor to the god cards today), and earn points.
Now, why didn’t that model work? Generally, games tended to be very one-sided, as whoever managed to clear the opponent’s lead often maintained that edge throughout the game. Plus, forcing players to always stock the lead first meant combos were harder to pull off because it took multiple turns to assemble the pieces but in the meantime they were getting clobbered.
But rather than recognize that the layout of the game wasn’t conducive to the play style I wanted, I continued to design in spite of it, instead of with it. It would take about a year of fruitless attempts at card overhauls before I realized just what the game’s biggest asset was, and it had been staring me in the face this whole time.
Up until now, I was essentially designing for two: the game I wanted and the game I had. The mishmash proved unsustainable. Then one morning, for whatever reason other than “Why the hell not?”, I set up a game and moved a card from my lead across the field into the opponent’s. Immediately, the traveling mechanic was born and the game was forever changed.
It still took a few more months of re-calibration to arrive at the current layout. I tried a version with five rows instead of four, but these games were too long. I even tried a version where the shrine/god was on the field itself, but that exacerbated the inherent restriction of spatial relationships and made it difficult to “rush” the enemy’s shrine/god when there wasn’t enough room to maneuver around it.
However, the point is that I was on the rewrite—or redesign—train, moving full speed ahead. Leaving behind the original concept that I had held onto for so long was indeed scary, but I urge other designers who’ve been resistant to change to just let go for once. See how it feels. If you don’t like it, you can always go back. Although, I have a feeling that once you depart that dusty, broken-down station of the past, you won’t want to. And anyways, the way forward is always so much more exhilarating!
Thank you for reading, and until next time!