My Finished Unfinished Work
There are a few games that I have designed to the point that they are playable, fun and a good representation of what I want them to be, but stopped before attempting to push them up that steep hill the stands between goodness and greatness. Mostly, this is because of how much of our time is dedicated to Floating Islands and our attempt to be diligent toward that one.
There is a significant drop-off in the effectiveness of time spent in game design at a certain point – the point when things have stopped being bad, when there stops being a clear list coming out of every session of things that will make the game better. To get a design from good to better to really good to whatever comes next requires a lot of what feels like pulling things out of the air and breaking again what you’d spent so much time fixing.
There are so many games out there, especially in this time of self-publishing and people just trying to get their own thing into this over-stuffed market, that I feel like they get to the good point and just don’t care to push it any further. This is what puts me in a strange position with these games, a precipice of two options: I could start shopping these games around and trying to find a publisher – I feel like they’re ready for that – or I could wait until I’m ready and start to polish the gold. Do I want to try to be a designer who has a ton of games or one who releases games slowly but hones them into something specific and meaningful?
Fools and Prospectors
Fools and Prospectors is the first game I made that I felt got to a good place but I had no clear path on how to make it great. In 2017, there was a 24-hour contest on BGG. These are run every month and basically require that, from the moment the idea leaves your head, you have 24 hours to present a finished product. The theme that month was Gold.
I had an idea that I liked which dealt with mining for gold, but not knowing how much you would get or if the mine was filled with real gold or fool’s gold. This turned into a 2-player game with multiple mines where players spent turns moving between mines, mining gold and inspecting the gold. The idea was solid, and in 24 hours, I had one of the few ideas that I’ve had that Shanna actually enjoyed playing.
I had a few ideas for how to improve it, but at the time, I hated the idea of breaking something that worked. I think I got a little stage fright and put it aside.
Since then, I’ve designed a new version that increases the bluffing part by requiring you to spend some of your gold, secretly. I’m not sure if it’s really better or not. Shanna thinks that it’s too complicated. I have a handful of other ideas, such as adding new card types, but the amount of focus that’s required to add these things is more than I can afford right now.
Last year, for a children’s game contest, I designed a strategy game for adults and children to play together. It included a mix of abstract-like strategy with push your luck. Basically, players put lily pads in a pond, attempting to place as many as they could in certain rows and columns. That was all strategy. But at points throughout the game, frogs would come out and jump onto these lily pads. They would fill them up from one end to the other until a red frog came out. This was basically luck. If you placed your lily pads in certain places you were guaranteed at least one frog, but after that the chances got lower and lower.
After a few tweaks to some bonus spaces on the board and an attempt at making the board larger which didn’t work out like we’d hoped, we had a fun game on our hands. It didn’t really win anything, but everyone who commented on it in the contest liked that it was really easy to learn, short, kept their young children engaged, and felt like, while the scores were close, their decisions still made a difference in the outcome.
This was everything I was going for, but it’s not everything I want. I could, and have made a small attempt to, search for a publisher and let it go as is. I keep going back and forth on it, though. I feel like there’s so much more to this game, but I don’t want to abandon the core audience in the process. I have a plan for a different version, with a different them, that will be targeted at older audiences, but I want this game to be more than it is now.
At the moment, our next plans, whenever we get back to it, are to add flies to the game in some way and make all of the symbols on the board meaningful to everyone. These things could improve the replayability for adults (I want this to be a good filler for adult-only groups), but any additional complexity in the rules or the amount of work needed to make a decision could elevate it to a point that leaves younger children out. I think I’ll come at these from the perspective of “this is a more advanced game for when your kids are ready” or something like that, thus allowing me to move on a little bit without leaving the initial group behind.
The First Island
This is a new game. I actually started designing it since the last update that I had. It’s currently, at the time of this writing, in a roll-and-write contest on BGG. The First Island is mechanically a spin-off of Honey, but thematically it’s basically a direct prequel to Floating Islands. It’s a roll-and-write game where players are drawing a on a map of the first floating island. They have to develop a plan to section off the island into camps for each of the 6 groups. Each camp has a minimum size, each group has different wants, and the heads of the colony also have their own requests.
It’s a good game at this point, but development stopped on it a few weeks after it started. Without the benefit of more external input, I feel that I have gotten it to a point where I’m happy with it for now. Roll-and-writes are a different sort of beast to other types of designs. I’ve attempted a few times to make one, and this is the first time I’ve been even remotely happy with the result.
The final game that I’d like to discuss is also a new one. I created this for a contest a couple of months ago that it did not win. I know it’s still rough around the edge, and there is still a lot more left to make it shine.
PhotoFlower was created based on a game that my family played at Easter this year. Because the pandemic meant that there would be no egg hunting this year, my wife decided that we would go on a flower hunt. We were to take pictures of flowers while on a bike ride. At the end of the ride, whoever had the most unique pictures won. We decided, when coming across flowers that we weren’t sure if we’d captured already, just to take the photos again rather than checking. But I wondered, what if we were using a film camera. With limited film, and no option to check your older shots, that would present an interesting challenge.
PhotoFlower tasks players with doing just that, while also giving them goals for specific flowers and even changing up the game midway (this is based on my daughter’s idea, halfway through our hunt, that bugs should also give you points). Again, the execution is one I’m happy with and others have told me they enjoy, but there still so much more to pull out of it.
Again, we are at the point where any idea could easily make the game better, worse or pretty much the same, and the game is shelved until we have some time to dedicate to that level of development.
I don’t make new games too often anymore – not the way I used to. The fact that I got two new ideas within the last couple of months that wound up being solid foundations for something worth pursuing surprises me. Honestly, the next of my own designs that I plan to focus hard on will be Lily Pads. Letting designs marinate after they’ve been realized seems to be part of my process. Some games that were shelved get tossed because I realize that I don’t care about them anymore. Some get pushed down the list, and some, as a continue to not work on them, find themselves climbing further and further up it.
That being said, I still have a lot of ideas for new game designs, things I’d really love to do, and I really hope that some day I’ll have the luxury of being able to devote large amounts of my time to realizing them.