January 18, 2012

Thoughts on General Staff

I'm deep in the midst of Poor Abby Farnsworth content creation. There are many cards to design in a deckbuilding game (shocking) and it's slow and time consuming work. But, the fundamentals remain strong, though slightly modified since I last discussed them.

I think there are two phases to design: big design and little design. Big design focuses on the systems and mechanics. The concept. The theme. The big, fun ideas that come to us quickly in a flash of inspiration. Little design is less glamorous, more tedious, but ultimately more satisfying. And in my opinion, more important. The two phases use different parts of my brain, or at least tax my imagination differently, and I had a few thoughts today regarding what I may work on next.

I like to try new things each game. My first game, Space Encounters, was a big space civilization building game (that sucked). Farmageddon was supposed to be a light, quick game that I think has grown into something a little more, but light nonetheless. Poor Abby Farnsworth is a highly thematic 2 player deckbuilding game. I wanted to try my hand at the fantastic DBG mechanic and try to create something deeper. I decided this morning that I should distance myself a little from cards and try my hand at a board game. New things to learn!

Which way to go? Euro? Perhaps. Design-wise I'm more inclined to lean into the cleaner mechanics, though I like a little theme and prefer games that are an hour or less. Then I thought of a war game. I've been eyeing 1812: The Invasion of Canada, which many have said is a great blend of euro and war game design philosophies. It seemed like a good direction to go. After all, I've always wanted to make a better Risk.

Beautiful cover. I hear the components are top notch.
An idea I've had in mind for a bit involves the two sides of war. Two sets of soldiers engage in war: the old, crusty generals safe in the capital send orders to the young officers, conscripts, and volunteers on the front. There are two different experiences here for two different players. The old Marshall must think upon the grand strategy, supply his field commanders, and please his political masters. The field commander must use the resources given to him, try to carry out orders, and request assistance to better fight the war.

Really, it's perfectly captured in this image (I couldn't find an image of old Prussian men pushing blocks around).

It's a team game with two teams, though obviously it would need to work with as few as two players. I even thought there could be a 3 player variant, with one team of two and a third controlling a guerrilla faction. But that's getting ahead of myself.

There's also room, I think, for competitive cooperation. I.e. both teams most work together to win, but each team only has one true war hero, the one the people love and the fans remember.

Key innovation number one, at least I hope, is this dynamic of strategic versus tactical and the teamplay based upon it. A question I'm asking myself is whether there's an interesting mechanic whereby sharing information is difficult between teammates. For example, is there a fun and interesting way to make it such that a letter takes time to reach a front line commander? It'd be awful to force all players to sit behind screens and not talk. But there could be something.

I have some interesting ideas regarding a dice mechanic that acts for both the supply and the commanders. It's not ready to discuss, but it made me smile when it popped into my head. It felt unique and interesting. But also, really straightforward with lots of interesting possibilities.

Finally, though the game will be greatly inspired by history, especially the tactics, weaponry, and politics of the Franco-Prussian War, I want to create my own world. This lets me distance myself from the well-tread European battle map. It lets me remove myself from the history to create something new. There's approximately a 97.57% chance one of the sides is a very Germanic sounding group. The second side will probably be a bit less, well, Prussian, and more slapdash. Something fun like frontier American types or Australians. It'll be fun to push the flavor in a few key areas and create some interesting new scenarios.

I'm excited by this game. There are some ideas I've been trying to create for some time that I think can finally exist in this game. For the time being I'm calling it General Staff, though I pray I'll conceive of something better. As Poor Abby enters what will be a long test phase, it'll be fun to dive into this new idea.

Wooden blocks, dice, und Krieg. Mein Gott!

No comments: