My first project whilst studying Game Design MA at LCC was to design and create a board game.
My initial approach was to consider games which I myself enjoyed playing. This led me to a focus on collaborative games. The experience of working together with others and collectively feeling a sense of triumph or failure appealed to me. My mind rushed with ideas of collaborative games, and a simple four player connection game was born.
In this initial game, every player has a certain number of tiles in their possession. Each player places a counter on their side of the board (in the grey area). Then each pair tries to create a connection between their counters by placing either ‘line’ or ‘turn’ tiles onto the board when it is their turn. At the same time, they try to stop their opponents from producing a connection by placing obstacle tiles. Besides the connector tiles they can place, they also have a set of ability tiles which will allow them to remove or rotate tiles on the board, allowing them to take out obstacles or change a path.
It is a very simple game. However, play testing identified some issues. Firstly, the gameplay didn’t seem to flow well at all – It was a cycle of blocking the opponents’ path, removing the obstacles, blocking, removing the obstacles and so on and so forth. There were occasional moments where a pair could advance, but it was an overall frustrating experience and the play testers just wanted to give up. They also commented that they didn’t get much of the collaborative feeling that I was aiming for. They didn’t know what tiles their partner had and so they placed their own tiles without any regard. They didn’t feel there was any benefit to working with a partner and even said the game felt cluttered. The simplistic design of the prototype was also not visually enticing enough to the players.
With this first initial idea, I had completely failed at getting the sort of feeling I was aiming for. As I tried to think of a way to get rid of that frustration element, I eventually decided that a speed game (where players try to place their tiles as quickly as they can) would be more engaging. I had moved on from my initial thoughts of creating a collaborative game, but I kept the idea of creating connections, which now held more appeal to me. I created a new set of tiles which could be used in the speed connection game.
In this new game, players have to be quick at finding colour connections. the first player to get rid of all of their tiles wins. This is still a simple idea, but when play testing, a sense of player engagement emerged that the first game didn’t have. Each player looked around the board for opportunities to place a tile and interacted with each other by continuing the path before another player could, or by blocking a path entirely. The fact that players aren’t restricted to a board allows the game to spiral outwards and open up. Then, players can step back after the game has finished and see the map they have created in its entirety. The new tiles are much more aesthetically appealing due to the use of 6 different colours and the certain types allow different types of connections.
The play testers gave their opinions and constructive criticism. Firstly, they felt that there weren’t enough multi way connector tiles. This is understandable since I had quickly produced the tiles for the purpose of testing and hadn’t yet considered balancing. The other point to consider was that it was difficult to keep track of all the cards in their hands at once, since there were many.
Another aspect which I am concerned about is the fact that the game as it is can be finished in under 30 seconds. There is the possibility to play multiple rounds, but the cards would have to be shuffled and distributed again, which will take some time itself. Play testers mentioned an idea of players being able to play another game on the map produced (with the winner of the speed game having an advantage on the second game). This is an interesting idea, since the speed game produces a nice map that seems to be wasted at the moment. Playing a game on the map would expand the gameplay and add another unique layer to the game overall. There may be other ways to expand the gameplay as well and so I will keep an open mind about the directions it could take.
Keeping with the same idea of a speedy connection game, I produced some new colourful tiles. When placing these tiles next to each other, they actually connect and create a map which is linked together.
This set, unlike the previous iteration, only includes 4 colours. With these 4 colours, I calculated every permutation there would be for 2/3/4 way tiles. In a 52 tile deck, all these combinations are represented (taking into account that the tiles can be rotated to produce other orientations). Since the asymmetric 3 way tile has many combinations, I was curious to see how the gameplay would change compared to the previous iteration, where people complained about the lack of multi way connectors.
The set doesn’t take into account repetitions (i.e. two of the same colour on one tile), since there would be too many combinations in that case. There is an elegance to having all possible combinations in a perfect set, but it means that there is a lack of consideration on the balance of the tiles (e.g. thought on the ratio of end tiles to connector tiles and so forth).
The image above (right) shows a possible ‘map’ which can be produced after the game is finished. Since no tile can have repeating colours, gaps are created which no tile could fill. This could be interesting in a game of strategic play. Although in this case of putting down tiles as quickly as possible, there’s no time for strategy, (although as a side note, I did attempt to try a strategic version on a limited size board – it seems that additional game mechanics would be needed to make that an interesting game, and not just placing tiles one after the other).
Unfortunately, when play testing this new speed version alongside the previous one (with 6 colours), people preferred the previous iteration and said it was more fun to play. With this new 4 colour version, it seemed that the problem had reversed and that there were too many multi way connector tiles. Players could simply form a long chain of tiles on their own side and didn’t need to interact with other parts of the board at all. The previous version had fewer multi way connections and more end tiles so the players frequently had their paths cut off and had to look elsewhere to continue. In this version, players had no issue putting down tiles and it was simply a matter of who could put them down quicker. The fact that there are less colours also added to the point that it felt simpler and less challenging.
It has emphasised to me just how important the balancing of tile types is in terms of shaping the experience of this game. I also need to consider that since players are working outwards, there may be limitations on how the game can be played (there will be problems playing if the table is too small for example). The limitations of the game would change from case to case. Also, how nicely set the map looks at the end depends on how the players place the tiles. When trying to place the tiles as quickly as possible, sometimes little regard was taken in connecting them nicely.
At the very least, there was a consensus that the new tiles are more visually attractive than before. The prototype was made of a thicker card material (rather than the flimsy paper from used previously), and so the tiles felt much nicer to handle as well.
With further play testing, I received more useful feedback I could use to improve my game. I kept using the same deck as last time, but I addressed the fact that it felt too easy by only allowing the player to see one tile at a time. Therefore, they were forced to look around for a match, rather than just taking a different card. The first piece of feedback I received from the testing was that players found it difficult to identify who was making mistakes with the matching. Since it’s a speed game, mistakes can occur frequently, but players felt there wasn’t any penalty to those who put down their tiles quickly but made lots of errors.
on the third iteration of the game, I split up the 52 tile deck into 4 decks of 13 tiles, each with a different colour on the back. Each player uses a different colour deck. Then if there is a mistake, the tile could simply be flipped to see which person caused the problem (later I also placed the colour on the front so you don’t have to flip it over to see who it belongs to).
The third iteration also includes a new component called ‘star tokens’.
Each player has 3 star tokens (which match the colour of their deck.)
The star tokens work in the following way:
You can place your star token anywhere on the board, and you can match any colour to your token, therefore you will be able to make matches that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Since you can only see one tile from your deck at a time, it may be necessary to use a token if you don’t see any potential matches.
You cant match any colour to your opponents’ tokens besides their colour. If your opponent’s colour is yellow for example, you can only attach yellow sides to their yellow token.
At the end of the game, the players receive one point for every same colour match to their token (i.e. a red star matched with 1 red, 2 blue and 1 yellow side will only receive 1 point since there is only 1 red match).
With the new point system and star token mechanic, the player has to think a little bit more about their matches and the most effective way of using their tokens. The players also get more points depending on the order they finish. Therefore, they can aim to move quickly to get those points or to slow down a little to focus on their token matches. The player who finishes placing their tiles down first may not necessarily be the winner overall if they didn’t use their tokens effectively.
Therefore, on the third iteration of the game, I split up the 52 tile deck into 4 decks of 13 tiles, each with a different colour on the back. Each player uses a different colour deck. Then if there is a mistake, the tile could simply be flipped to see which person caused the problem (later I also placed the colour on the front so you don’t have to flip it over to see who it belongs to).