Lean Design

24 hour game design jams are becoming a popular way to turn off that part of your mind that doubts your creative process. One of the tenants of these jams is the notion of finishing. Steve Jobs is famous for the quote: Real artists ship. This saying emphasizes the need for creatives to actually deliver. It's easy to come up with hundreds of game designs, but balancing them out, playtesting, finding artwork, and getting them produced is perhaps the larger indicator of successful design. 

Let's look at design governed by a 24 hour scheme.

A prototype copy of Deep Space D-6 a game designed in 24 hours. 

Deep Space D-6 is a print and play game I designed for contest on BoardGameGeek. This particular contest had a few design requirements: Solitaire, minimal components, and small table space.

I started with the theme. I wanted a game to capture the experience of being a Captain on a starship. What does a captain do? Give orders to a crew of course! There are many scenes in Star Trek of the captain sitting back in his posh captain's chair telling his crew to "route power to the shields, tactical maneuvering, and fire everything!".

This translated well to a worker placement type game. However, worker placement games often use a lot of components. To keep things spartan, I moved the workers to faces of a die. This gave me 6 possible faces of workers that you could assign to parts of the ship to perform common functions. 

 Simple icons that represent each crew member type. 

Simple icons that represent each crew member type. 

Now I needed an antagonist. This is where things get tricky. Solitaire games don't get the benefit of a human opponent. You either create a rudimentary AI system to act as an opponent player, or develop a system that acts as a counter to decisions and goals of the player. If you think about it thematically- what would the captain be giving order for? Perhaps the ship is under attack? So let's make some enemies.

If the goal of the game is to survive, these aspects of the game are directly in conflict with that goal. To keep things simple, there are 2 types of threats. External threats like enemy ships require the coordination of your ships weapons and shielding to eliminate. Meanwhile, internal threats like ship boarders and viruses, will require the attention of your workers.  This is the core decision structure Deep Space D-6.  As a captain, your major decisions revolve around deciding in which threats to deal with. Do you attack the hostile enemy Corsair that is slowly destroying your hull? Or do you take care of the invaders that are sending your crew to the infirmary?

Each threat lists d6 die faces on the front. During the enemy phase, you will roll a single d6. Any threats that match the rolled number will get activated. Cards with more values and matching values are more dangerous because they have a higher chance of activating. 

Decisions in games should be mostly transparent. Your choices should have results that can be looked at later and assessed as good or bad based on the outcome and possible alternative decisions. There should rarely be an obvious and best-case choice. If the best possible action is always evident, the game could just play itself. 

Using all your workers to power your ships weapons and ignore defenses is a viable strategy as is shielding and repairing until you get a more efficient spread of workers. 

And that's it. There's no complicated systems here. You have a goal (to survive) and there are things (the threats) that oppose that goal. There is a system put in place for you to deal with those threats with multiple paths to victory.

The bulk of this game design is modifying the values of the threat health and damage to provide a challenge to the player. 

Now, let's look at some user experience design choices:

As a quick, and component-light game, you don't want to weigh your player down with a ton of components to move around and manipulate all the time. A common practice in board games is to use an object to track a value. For example: when you take a wound in a dungeon crawler, you place a wound marker on your character sheet to represent the damage. This is simple and effective but requires a lot of extra pieces. 

For the enemy threats in Deep Space D-6, damage is collectively tracked on a single damage track by using the ship itself as the tracker. As enemy ships take more damage, they move downwards on the track. The benefit of this system allows the player to at-a-glance evaluate all the threats. The lower the ship on the track, the closer it is to being defeated. With this system. we saved the need to have 20+ chips to track damage on each individual threat card. 

Additionally, the enemy cards have such little information, I put them on mini-size cards, allowing much more to fit on a single sheet of paper. 

In many ways the limitations set by the contest had informed the major design choices. It's arguably harder to design a game with a blank slate than it is when you're given limits. 

To read more about Deep Space D-6 or play it for yourself, visit BGG.

-Tony