Sunday, December 28, 2014

Designing My First Game - Part 2

Alright then...back in Part 1 of this series of blogs, I described my motivations and interests in getting into the game design process.  Now what I want to do is retrace the specific design process, including various decisions I've made along the way. 

So...let me start giving a brief overview of the game.  Santa's Workshop is a worker placement style game, where your "workers" are a team of elves.  The elves can be placed in various locations around the workshop, and earn points primarily by crafting and assembling toys, but also by turning in coal for the naughty kids, and taking care of the reindeer. 

The first gift cards. Complicated with various colored letters & borders.
Gifts are built out of primarily 3 different resources - Fabric, Wood and Metal - each with a separate room to collect the material.  In the original incarnation of the game, players placed their elves in the material room and rolled a die for that material.  The game was designed so that fabric was the easiest resource to gather, wood a bit harder, and metal the hardest of them all.  This was reflected in how the scoring was calculated as well - in the formula I originally used, fabric was worth 2 pts, wood 3, and metal 4 points.  However, you can replace some of the materials with plastic (worth only 1 point), to more quickly build gifts.  The concept of being able to replace some materials with plastic was a key element from the beginning of the game.  I "borrowed" that a bit from the game Colosseum, in which you can put on Roman shows, but can accept a lower score for using less "resources" (in this case, gladiators, chariots, actors, etc.)  I wanted the player to have to make a decision on whether to try and churn through gifts rapidly or try and score as much per gift as possible.  Also, in the original versions of the game, there were completely optional components...for example, the player could choose to put metal on the electric train (for extra track).  So, not only was there components that could be replaced by plastic...but components that you could not build altogether.

In addition to the materials, when players had all the pieces of their gift, they had to go to the assembly room and roll another die to see how many assembly points they would get.  Larger gifts required more assembly points.  Originally, the assembly room was the only room on the board that a player could place multiple elves in one action.

The original tableaus - just for elf training.
Another key aspect of the game from the very beginning was the ability to train the individual elves.  This meant that over the course of the game, the individual elves would become unique as they trained in fabric, wood, metal and assembly - and so the elves were numbered.  It took an action to train an elf, so again the player is left with the choice of whether to use his actions to train or to just keep plowing ahead by gathering resources.

The reindeer stable was an outlet for the player to get points by different means.  Originally, it was just a scoring track, and every time you sent an elf to the stable, your marker would move up that track, which was added to your overall score at the end of the game.  The first player to the reindeer stable could also claim the first player token.

Stable in V2.0.  Diminishing returns as it was used
Lastly, was the coal mine.  In my original vision of Santa's Workshop, I envisioned the players trying to create finish their gifts, as they wreaked havoc with other players.  One issue with some euro games, is that it often feels like multi-player solitaire.  I wanted to have plenty of player interaction.  My inspiration here was the game Wiz-War.  So, at the "coal mine", I had a separate deck of cards.  Every time the player went to the coal mine, they could draw cards, and turn them in for coal points (i.e. supplying Santa for the naughty kids) or use the "spell" printed on that card.  Better spells were worth more coal points if turned in.  I had spells that would help you, mess with the other player, and even "shields" and "mirrors" that could block and/or redirect spells that were targeting you.

That first playtest down in Blacksburg went well.  It was a 3 player game, with myself, my wife and my friend Tom.  I certainly learned some lessons about how to phrase rules, and some text on the coal cards that didn't make sense.  And my wife and I brainstormed a lot on the ride back.  But by and large, it played pretty well for the first time.

The coal cards.  Lots of complex symbols on what could be blocked or "reflected".
My next playtest was over Thanksgiving with my family.  One thing I noticed was that the plastic option was not being used.  In one of the earliest "why didn't I think of that before", I added in the concept of "Santa's Inspection" - at the end of each 3 rounds, the player that had completed the most gifts in the preceding rounds would get a 12 point bonus.  That made it more worthwhile to complete gifts quickly.  I also tied in the reindeer stable to these days, and the reindeer points would be scored at this point as well.  Note that the first few locations on the reindeer track were negative, indicating Santa's unhappiness if you were ignoring the reindeer.

I playtested it with my regular Tuesday night gaming group, and got more positive feedback.  One woman, Tracy, who is normally pretty quiet and reserved, later wrote me a very nice email telling me how much she liked the game and that she would definitely buy a copy.  I was very flattered.

So here I was, barely 3 months into my first foray in game design, and I'm thinking I have a huge hit on my hands.  And then I went to Unpub 4, where a dose of realism set in.  More on that in the next installment....

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