Evolution and rebirth

July 19, 2016

board game evolution Nothing works the first time you try it. Even the best ideas require a lot of iterations before they turn into something remarkable. When people ask where the idea for Gloomhaven came from, I tell them that the game started as dice-less tactical game where players controlled an entire squad of characters. It was clunky and slow and I threw it away for a long time until I hit on some new ideas that allowed me to take some aspects that I liked out of that game and evolve it into something completely different and more streamlined. Even with Forge War, I completely changed the mechanics for the market very late in the design process when I realized the old mechanics weren't very interesting or fun. It wasn't a complete rebirth, but you have to be willing to scrap any part of your design that isn't working and rebuild it from the ground up. There's no room for sentimentality in game design. I love the new game I'm designing, but it has problems. Mainly, it was a problem of player interaction. I originally envisioned the tile-laying aspect of the game to play out sort of like Blokus, with everyone building their networks of resources among one another, blocking each other when they could, but never feeling completely suffocated by the other players. Or, I don't know, maybe Terra Mystica is a better example of something to strive for. Either way, it wasn't really happening. There was player interaction in the action selection mechanics and jockeying for first place in the turn order, sure, but out on the main board, people were either sticking to one corner to build in isolation, or an aggressive player would move into someone else's corner and it became very easy to completely block them off, leading to a lot of bad feelings, which isn't what I want. I tried many various ways to encourage more player interaction on the board while reducing a player's ability to completely block off someone else, but the game setup just kept getting more specific and I got uncomfortable with the amount of extra rules and exceptions. I was trying to fit the proverbial square peg into the hex-shaped hole, and it wasn't working. It was time to scrap all the bad stuff and completely rebuild. thinking I was on vacation last week, which was a great time to not do any physical work on the game, but just sort of mull it over in my mind and meditate on how to change the foundation of the game so that it would have the player interaction I was looking for. It also allowed me a change to mull over all the feedback I got from my previous post on the theme of the game, and I happily settled on the idea of building the city of Gloomhaven. It wouldn't be about mining ore and making weapons, but instead different races would be importing different resources like livestock, stone or even knowledge, with the goal of turning them into more advanced resources that could be used in the construction of various important buildings around the city. And the key was loosening the restrictions on building so that it was much more difficult to get blocked from your goal, while also introducing asymmetry into the races in terms of what resources they can import, such that players are forced to use each other's resources to construct buildings. I haven't tested it out. I'm sure, like always, it will be a disaster initially. But, like always, I have high hopes. I am particularly pleased that even though the foundation was completely changed, I was still able to include everything from the old version that I really loved, so I think I'm on the right track. Time (and lots of play testing) will tell!

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