Thursday, March 7, 2013

Analog Games: Rapid Prototyping at BoardGameJam (Part 1)

Last week me and a group of friends attended the 3rd annual BoardGame Jam here in Toronto.  I was interested in doing this 48hr jam because it could have been a good way to learn the process of developing an idea.  I've been working on a boardgame idea for a while now, but have been bogged down by all sorts of random delays, content production, and general "learning curve".  With that in mind, the key goals were:
  1. Make a game from scratch (or as close to scratch as possible) from start to finish (as in ready for playable)
  2. Try out a new idea/mechanic that I haven't written a doc about before (or thought about extensively)
  3. Go through at least one loop of play testing, seeing the feedback process, and iterate on it.

Picking the theme/mechanic:

So part of the entire pre-planning process was me talking to the group and thinking about what we want to do for the jam.  More specifically, I had been thinking about how would one actually come up with an idea.  Personally, I am really a mechanics kind of designer, and instinctively I was thinking about what kind of mechanics I wanted to work on.  

For a while, I had been saying I wanted work on something that uses worker/placement rulesets, but I had really struggled with coming up with a compelling theme/idea to use it.  I think partially, I attribute this to the lack of exposure to the genre outside of the few games I've played.  (And more importantly, thematically, most of them dealt with resources and farming).

So, a few of them ended up suggesting the idea of... "Pimps and Hos".  Yeah.  I'll leave it at that... 

...but, mechanically, it was sound.  A quick re-themeing, and a Food Truck game was born:

The theme/mechanic is quite simple: You run a fleet of food trucks, you serve customers on city blocks, you compete for profit.  That's practically the elevator pitch...

...only problem is that it's not actually a worker/placement game at all!  It's an area control game, with other undetermined game mechanics for other components.

There's a valuable lesson here for me: unlike video games, approaching mechanics -> theme doesn't exactly work; you do want to approach from a theme angle and see where the mechanics organically takes you.

Begin Construction:

I was pretty interested in doing an area control game, as the recent play throughs of both Zombicide and RoboRally had me thinking about the mechanics and concepts with re-configurable maps, so designing a food truck game with this mechanic was a natural fit.

I had decided early on that this would have been multi-configerable tile based experience, but defining how many tiles makes up a map, how the roads would be configured was a much harder challenge.  A few things to keep in mind:
  • Tiles needs to connect "most" of the time (repeatable)
  • Has varied patterns
  • Has patterns to allow "rule based" content generation
The last point is pretty awkwardly written, but in plain english: I need a setup that allows me to "make a map playable" with clean rules that govern "the generation of content and conflict".  In map based game, you see Zombicide's definition of zombie spawn zones and movement heuristic.  Intuitively, I went with a 2x2 road configuration grid per tile, which gave me 4 "corners" (you could use a d8 to determine randomness), and a 4x4 tile size to make the entire map.  4x4 map was quickly scaled down to 3x3, then to 2x2 just because it was a)way too big, and b)too much stuff for me to make.  Road shapes were randomly designed on paper, as was the tile configeration.

One of the key conflicts I was hoping to create in the game was the idea of competing food trucks within the same street/corner.  Multiple players would compete for the same space, so it becomes a competition to see who was there first/faster/better.  The difficulty would have been to define where/how people were spawned, and what how adjacency works as far as "serving people food".

Using the 2x2 road configuration, the food trucks would be positioned on the roads.  Each road would always be connected to an "intersection" where people would be spawned.  Food trucks must be adjacent to the street corner where they served food.  Therefore, people can be generated by a series of d8 rolls that determines which intersection to be spawned at.

Designing individual steps:

Sadly, this is where a time crunch really hurts the "design" process, as I started grabbing quick standby mechanics and ideas from games I'm familiar with, and most notably, Power Grid.  I pretty much lifted the key mechanics, but attempted a different approach on the numbers and ordering.  Trucks were first bought with a bidding process, each truck would have a cost value (which is a strength index value), a "serves" value, and a "revenue" value.  A food resource must be purchased (a constant cost) in order to sell food to people.  Ranking is dropped in favour of a turn order token, and turns are assigned in a clockwise ordering.  Action Points are used in the initiative phase to allow each players various actions in their own turn order, and the turn order within the initiative phase switches between in order and reverse order (a-la Catan rules) to balance out turn advantage.

By adopting a turn counter to limit the game to 12 rounds, I also ended up adopting a chart that dictates how many people are spawned per round, and on how many corners they spawned out of.  This "random additional spawning" is on top of the normal spawning of 1 person per street corner.

In Part 2, I'll go through in detail how the game plays at first iteration (as I'm sure this all doesn't make much sense), and the process of playtest/tweaking... Below is the scratch notes I had at the end of first day (not sure if it's of any interest)

Scratch Design Doc (Day 1):

Food Truck Game

4 players
Random Generated Map Tiles
2x2 grid
each grid has 4 corners
30 food truck cards - shuffle at start

Total of 12 "rounds"
Win condition: at the end of 12th round, most money wins. If tie, most food trucks wins. If tie, food trucks that can serve the most people wins. If tie, all winners.

map features:
trucks must be on streets
people are spawned in corners
each street segment holds 4 trucks
trucks can serve the intersection they are adjacent to (maximum 8 cars faces any intersection)

Init first loop-
Everyone starts with $40
Every Street Corner will have 1 person
Players deploy Trucks in reverse turn order (Turn order determined by last person to recently eat out of a food truck) Give first player Turn Token
game goes as normal game loop

Spawn customers
all street corner corner will generate 1 customer by default, additional done by rolling D8, which determines the tile (row,column), then rolling D8 again to determine street corner on tile (row,column)  Reference the spawn number to add people to that location

spawn more sets based on chart below, place additional people:

Turn 1 2 3 4 5 6
Spawn Type 1,1,1,1 1,1,1,2 1,1,2,2 1,1,2,3 1,2,3,4 2,3,3,4

Turn 7 8 9 10 11 12
Spawn Type 1,2,3,4,

Spawn # 1 2 3 4 5 6
# of People 2 4 6 8 10 12

Bid on Trucks
- Two trucks are revealed. Players can bid in turn order. Bid on value of card displayed. Highest bidder wins.
- Cards are not replaced, so only two trucks are ever available in any turn.
- Players can pass on turn
- if all cards are gone, bidding ends
- if a card remains once all players have passed/cards are placed in discard pile

Buy Food:
Food has a flat cost of $2 per unit. You can store as many as you want. There is no limit on resource board. Each truck will generate one food for free

Initiative turn:
Each player has 2 +(# of food trucks) action points, they can (all cost 1AP):
- Deploy trucks
- Move trucks
- Serve customers in that corner
Players execute this in turn order, then in reverse turn order... until everyone is out of action points. (IE: 1,2,3,4,4,3,2,1,1,2...etc)

(IE: Peter has 4 food trucks, so he has 6 action points to spend)

- Deploy - If you have bought a truck in this turn (or haven't deployed one), you can deploy it on any street.
- Move Trucks - You can move a truck to an adjacent street (as denoted by roads). Each movement cost 1AP
- Serve customers - Point to the food truck you are serving food out of, exchange food token, remove the appropriate amount of people in that corner, and receive payment as indicated on food truck income value.

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