September 28, 2011

Brainstorming the Witch

I've begun pondering my new game! Farmageddon is in a bit of a holding pattern as I wait and see if anyone wants to publish it. Frontier Scoundrels is finally, finally entering a playtest phase. I know that the game is far from complete and will probably still require an overhaul or two, but the time between playtests can be long and I hate sitting idly. This means I have the time and bandwidth to think about what I want to create next.

I've been watching a lot of Law and Order at night before bed, plus Beth and I tend to watch CSI: Miami on Sunday nights. Crime dramas are fun and I started thinking about the fun of being a detective. I love being the good guy and many of my favorite games are ones that let me feel clever. Unfortunately, the detective genre is jam packed for pretty much every form of entertainment. Every other show on television is a crime drama. LA Noire recently came out. Everyone's talking about Elder Sign. I want to do something unique, so instead of modern crime I shifted my thinking to an alternate setting.

One inspiration was Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, where a monk must solve a mystery. It's not a detective novel, but there is a problem that must be solved and it doesn't involve gumshoes in 1950s New York City. Then, a friend reminded me of the hilarious witch scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail.

This far better fits my personality and desire for silliness. It also evokes a quick laugh from almost anyone nerdy enough to be playing a board game in the first place. Witches immediately intrigued me.

However, I wanted to go a different direction than the dark ages and headed to colonial America. In case my selection of Lewis and Clark as the setting for Frontier Scoundrels wasn't a tip off, I love American history. My mind focused like a laser attached to a mutated sea bass onto Salem. Although Salem is already the focus of an upcoming MMO by the same name, I feel like it's a great source for interesting mechanics and theme. 

Currently I'm toying with two different concepts: Finding the Witch and Trying the Witch. Finding the witch could have similarities to other games with traitor mechanics, including Shadows Over Camelot and The Resistance. It leads me to think about different town personalities with different abilities, like the constable, the farmer, and the magistrate. I think about a larger number of players (3-6), which is a definite departure from the 2-4 that has been my focus. Any of these roles could be the witch, or there could even be a team of witches, so no two games would be the same. It's a great premise for a game. 

Trying the witch seems to be less worn as a theme, but also harder to design. One player could be the accused, another the judge, another the accuser, another the witness, with the jury acting as a system for the game to pass judgement. Each role has a motive and desire to see a particular outcome. The game could play out in phases, like Opening Arguments, The Procession of Evidence, and Final Arguments. Each phase could have different quirks and rules to modify things. I am currently very enamored with the phase gameplay of 7 Wonders and how the gameplay evolves as you enter different quest phases in the Lord of the Rings card game.

My next step will be creating a list of cool potential moments and scenarios, then pairing that with cool mechanics. I started using dice for Frontier Scoundrels and I'd love to continue to learn more about using those delightfully random instruments of pain. 

I'm trying to increase the complexity and depth of my new games past Farmageddon, but not too much. Accessibility and short play sessions are really important to me, so I can't get too crazy. Plus, I am still learning a great deal about designing more robust and complex systems. For example, Frontier Scoundrels has some very solid ideas and some good content, but I still know I have a long road ahead of me to really bolster those features so that they are tight, interesting, and full of great choices for players to make. 

Designing more robust games is really difficult, but then again, if I just keep designing Farmageddon I'd quickly tire of this hobby I enjoy. We'll see what the witches brew for me. Shall I curse the town from atop my broom, or end up as kindling?

As a final note, I really want to play Witch's Brew, which is designed by one of the TGC designers. 

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