Asking the Questions


Have I mentioned I’m working on a board game design?

The other day I ran head-on into a solid wall.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.  The wall in question was a huge roadblock in the continued development of my board game.

But as they say, every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise, and this was a good opportunity to learn something about game design.  And now i’m sharing it with you because I can.  Because that’s what I do.  I blog about things.

The design of Armyland has been going very well.  At least recently.  This project that started 9 years ago in Bryan’s basement, ground to a complete halt for 2-3 years, resurfaced, re-halted, and then showed up once again has had its fair share of ups and downs, but progress has been moving forward.  Each test run has revealed not only major flaws within the system, but major parts of the game that are actually very fun.

The most recent test run was the last in the first series.  I could make no further progress via testing without updating all the cards in the game, taking into account new rules, new ideas, new fixes for balance and play speed, and adjusting of stats.  But I had also pulled in a significant amount of useful feedback and was incorporating that into the next edition of the rules, while updating the numbers on the cards.  I thought I was to the point of just typing in new stats and running off another set of cards.

Unfortunately, that’s when the roadblock jumped out.  With the redefining, reclarification, and streamlining of several major rules, as I was going through the card list again I ran into some special abilities that were blaringly unclear, undefined, and even broken.  This started a domino effect as I ran through several other of these special rules that just didn’t seem to be clicking, and I wasn’t coming up with answers to the problems I was facing.  I wracked my brain for answers but nothing made sense.

That’s when I stopped, I pulled back, and started a new approach.  See, I was standing there punching a solid wall with my bare fists, trying to figure out the specific rule and it was getting me know where, just causing me distress.

I stopped and remembered something important.  I had written a list of core ‘philosophies’ that I wanted Armyland to be about.  And instead of trying to “solve” the rules in question, I started looking at the concepts of those rules as they related to the core ideas of the game. I ended up writing out a page of questions for each ruleset in limbo – questions such as, “what is the purpose of this rule? What does it add to the game?  What happens to the rest of the game if this rule is removed or changed?  What is required if this rule stays? Does this rule make sense in the context of the rest of the game?  Does it fit within the theme?”

Obviously I’m leaving out specifics here – as far along as Armyland is at this point, I’m not ready to reveal much to the general public (soon, my friends, soon! And it will be totally worth it by the way.) – but the point is, I had to ask those questions.  Once I had the answers written out on paper, I was able to answer the questions.  And through answering those simple questions, I was then easily able to fix the rule (in some cases a complete re-write, in others a slight modification) in a way that seems simpler, more fun, and that is consistent with the core “values” so to speak of the game.  I eliminated a lot of messy ‘requirements’ by changing certain rules, which will streamline the learning process.  I moved the focus from macguyvering a complex rule into the rest of the system, to a rule that jived with the fun part of the game.

If you yourself are working on a game design of your own, don’t forget to ask those important questions.  You may need to come up with some of your own, but certain questions – such as, “what does this add to the game? Does this help make the game more fun?  Does it affect the strategy?  Is it really necessary?  Does it fit in with what the game is supposed to be?” – these questions can help unify all the many parts of your game to ultimately fit into one cohesive, fun, whole.

At least I hope they will.


Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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