So a blog buddy of mine (Hi Jeffro) posted a little while ago that game design is problem-solving and I completely agree. Sorta. I suppose different kinds of problems exist for budding or amateur designers. It’s a good post, I’m happy to wait if you’d like to stop off at his place and read it.
As I think about 2014, one of my resolutions is to keep making games. The problem I’m trying to solve is that I never seem to have the time to do it just the way I want to and that’s just an excuse and it’s time to admit it and get to work. I’ve made two little games I’m proud enough of to host on my downloads page. They’re not perfect (oh god, far from it) but I really made them for me and mine so… you know… I can be happy.
But as I think about making new games the first thing I always think of is the fact that I really don’t like dice. I have like, a bajillion of them – heck – I’ve lost and given away more dice than the board game shelf of your local toy store and I still have too many. But I just don’t like dice. I specifically like Diceless games and I’m still working on my own little diceless game. My other love is games that use cards.
Card based games are an interesting category of RPGs and the card-based RPG has been implemented with varying degrees of success over the years. Some of my personal favorites are R.Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein, the Marvel Saga Adventure game from TSR, and the minis game, Malifaux. All three are brilliant and really show the value of card-based play. Castle Falkenstein was a watershed moment in my gaming history as the combination of beautiful graphic design, sparkling backstory, and basically a steampunk game before steampunk was all the rage (god, I’m such a hipster) mixed with a series of painfully awesome card-based mechanics just blew my top. Hell, I wish I could run this game today so much that I don’t know why I’m not doing it…
Thus, a lifelong love affair with gaming using cards. And as I began to think about the new little game I wanted to make I started thinking about cards. The game is nothing particularly unique, it’s a “World War I and supernatural stuff is going on” concept. I actually thought of it years ago when I was running a Buffy game and one of the vamps the party encountered was an ex-Watcher who had lost his humanity and his Slayer during World War I and the party would have eventually found out his secret and stuff would have happened. Game ended before they got to that part but I’ve been carrying this idea around long enough. It was time to make it real.
So, thinking about WWI and wanting a card-based resolution system got me thinking about the old kid’s game War. I loved War when I was little. Slapping the cards down, totally stealing an Ace from the kid who was winning because you played a round of I-DE-CLARE-WAR when you both slapped down treys. Oh, good times. We always played with Jokers in the deck, aces where high (remember that), and with a four card play down when we had a face off based on playing matching cards with the fourth card being the one that settled it and the winner taking the whole bunch.
Naturally, I started with research. There are a crap-ton of ways to play this game. Check out all the variations I found here. So much to dig through. Some of the variants are pretty interesting, some just tweak a rule or two. I found it pretty fascinating. I spent a comfortable evening just browsing the variants and learning about how it gets played in other countries, versions with card-stealing, reverse versions, oh, so amazing.
One thought that was on my mind as I considered how this game could work out as a WWI RPG resolution system was the idea of trenches. I’m not sure where I’m going with this yet but trenches were a ridiculous, horrible, terrifying part of the war and it seems that there is a problem to be solved here to make a variant of war that could involve trenches in some way – maybe it’s a variation on a hand you can pull from? Maybe it’s a series of your cards you have to leave face up in front of you during play and cards “die” in the trenches and are lost if you don’t use them based on some attrition-like mechanic. Still kicking it around.
Another thought revolves around those high aces. The air war in WWI was a fascinating, glorious, almost pointless exercise (I know that is a gross oversimplification – but I’m not shooting for deep analysis at this point). My thought though is that face cards/aces are more than just high numbers. That the Aces should – in some way – reflect the air war and I’m not yet sure how to do this… but it’s a problem worth thinking on and I’ll get there.
I also love the idea of stealing. Maybe Jacks and Queens become spies of some sort and allow you to steal or subvert an opponent’s cards in a play down? Maybe they can instigate a round of War without requiring matching? So many possibilities.
Ultimately, I’m loving the mental energy that comes from working with this. I would say to Jeffro that for me game design is less problem-solving and more like a new romance. It’s all excitement and plans and a million little things to love and at some point you have to face reality and start figuring out how you can both brush your teeth at one tiny sink. Nope, he’s still right, it’s all problem-solving.
That’s about it for my wild ruminating tonight. Thanks for reading and it feels great to be back. I’m really looking forward to kicking the tires on this War thing and I’ll keep you all posted when it’s ready to see the light of day.
Until Friday – when my post will be brought to you from Marscon in Williamsburg, VA. Con season officially kicks off for me this weekend and I can’t wait.