Tag Archives: game design

3rd 4P upd8

Great play test of Dungeon of Doom tonight! #doom

A post shared by Brett Myers (@brettspiels) on


On Saturday night I plied four friends with awesome homemade pan pizza in hopes of getting them to play test Dungeon of Doom. The pizza worked its magic and the play test was a smashing successes! All four ladies had a great time while playing and it inspired a stream of comments and suggestions in the postmortem I could barely keep up with. Excited, energized play testers are a wonderful thing!

Getting my ducks in a row.

After the previous play test, I made a few changes to the prototype. I simplified the scoring by rounding the gold values on Monsters to even hundreds. To improve the odds of a successful Delve, I reduced the frequency of Canardo symbols in the deck. Additionally, I took the Magic Item cards out of the main deck and added ‘item draw’ symbols; now, when a player takes a card with the symbol, she draws a card from the Magic Items deck. I figured these updates would give me plenty of data to analyze before the final 4P play test. Race and Class cards, which allow players to break the rules in small but meaningful ways, would need to wait until those rules were rock solid.

On the night of the play test.

This play test started out, as mine often do, with me fumbling my way through the explanation, hoping I remembered everything. By the time we got through the first round, though, my players had grokked the system and we were off to a rollicking start.

Dungeon of Doom has some bluffing and press your luck elements and a very silly theme which combine to generate tension, laughter and a lot of groan-inducing puns. We were on fire last night with groaners so epic I had to write some of them down so I could incorporate them into the game later on. I’d share them here, but that would spoil the fun!

After the game, we talked about what worked and what didn’t, what they wanted to see more of and how the game play compared to previous versions of the system.  More frequent access to Magic Items was big on everyone’s list, and I agree. The new system functioned, but I hadn’t added nearly enough of the ‘item draw’ symbols for it to actually work as intended and very few Magic Items entered the game.

There was one element that managed to surprise both my players and me.

There are a couple of Epic Monsters in the deck that disrupt the Delve when they appear. The first one they turned up took them completely by surprise; I’d sort of neglected to mention them when I explained the game. I could tell they were annoyed.

In the postmortem, their enthusiasm for them took me by surprise. At first, they explained, they didn’t like the Epic baddies interrupting their carefully planned Delves, but after they had a chance to reflect on it, they demanded more and various Epic Monsters! The wild unpredictability of them shot an extra thrill through the game that they really enjoyed.

What’s next?

I need to increase the frequency of the ‘item draw’ symbols. I’ll double it to start with, maybe triple, and I definitely need more Magic Items. Lots of possibilities here.

I’ll bring in a few more Epic Monsters. My play testers had some great suggestions for new Epic baddies and I’ve got some cool ideas of my own. I’m excited to get a few more in the game, but I will have to make sure they don’t become too disruptive.

Lastly, I need to finish writing and test the Race and Class cards. Simple, easy to understand and easy to use powers are called for here.

I’ve got at least one more, possibly two more play tests coming up this week, which I’ll post about here. And then? Then I’ll have won 4P.

game currencies in an economy of evolution

Kevin Nunn wrote about Game Currencies and gave us a definition of currency applicable to game design.

“something that players spend in the game to exchange for something else in the game.”

I’m designing a board game about Proterozoic organisms evolving in a primordial soup (think: the Cell Stage of Spore) and I’m pondering the sorts of currencies one might find in an economy of evolution.

Here are a couple of possibilities:

  • Population.
    • When an organism flourishes within its niche, it accumulates population.
    • Population can be spent to spread territorial range.
  • Change.
    • When an organism meets adversity and fails, it accumulates change.
    • Change can be spent to mutate and evolve.

What currencies would you expect to find in an evolutionary Ursuppe? I asked that question on Twitter and got some good replies.

a pattern language of game design?


Designer pal Carl Klutzke linked to an intriguing project the other day:  a wiki of Gameplay Design Patterns curated by the Swedish ICT Interactive Institute. They’re developing a game design pattern language, modeled after Christopher Alexander’s seminal works in the field of architecture and since adopted by software engineers:

How can we understand the possibilities of game design? Having a language to talk about existing or potential features of gameplay is a fundamental requirement for this.

Each gameplay feature is described as a design pattern, a way of describing repeatable design solutions in an accessible way.

It’s an intriguing idea that has been discussed in my game design circles for a decade (Justin Love‘s early work on one gets a mention on an episode of Design Time With James and Kory), and here, this academic group has been building one the whole time!

This is an invaluable resource for game designers.

To begin, what do they mean by “gameplay design patterns”? It’ll help to define the concept of a pattern language as coined by Alexander. Wikipedia is useful here:

pattern language is a method of describing good design practices within a field of expertise.

Like all languages, a pattern language has vocabulary, syntax, and grammar—but a pattern language applies to some complex activity other than communication.

Now, take a look at the entry in the Gameplay Design Pattern wiki for Token Placement (their more useful term for Worker Placement). It begins by defining the pattern “Token Placement” and how it fits within the Gameplay Design vocabulary:

Many games give players several different actions to choose from. Those using Token Placement let players compete with each other in picking actions to be played by placing tokens. By having limited number of tokens that can be played and needing to compete with other players for the actions, Token Placement can require players to make trade-offs between with [sic] actions to do and iteratively design their plans before performing them.

The entry gives a list of published game examples that use the Token Placement pattern, then goes on to describe common usages of Token Placement and situations in which it is more and less likely to be a good design choice (the syntax).

Token Placement systems require deciding what actions players can pick by placing Bookkeeping Tokens and how many such tokens players should have. Since one of the reasons for using it is that players need to compete for being able to perform actions, the pattern is primarily one for Multiplayer Games…

Regarding the actions, this not only means designing a Limited Set of Actions players can choose from but also considering if there should be one or several slots for each type of action. The actual amount of Tokens give[n] to each player each round is often designed to occupy a certain percentage of the total number of actions – this means that the number is often changed depending on how many players participate but at the same time the number of actions are typically set so that players at least get to place two or three Tokens (the pattern Role Selection basically supersedes Token Placement if one can only place one token)…

Additionally, it provides a list of consequences or gameplay effects resulting from this design choice (the grammar) and ways in which Token Placement can interact with other gameplay patterns (a cross reference of the syntax and grammar).

The use of Token Placement in games provide Planning Phases in which players have a Freedom of Choice to place Tokens (Bookkeeping ones even if they are referred to as workers in many games) to select future actions from a Limited Set of Actions. Since players have only a few Tokens to place, these are Limited Resources, and since these are used to decide future actions the pattern can be seen as a form of Budgeted Action Points (the places to place the Tokens may also be Limited Resources and when this is true the pattern modulates Limited Resources as well)…

Being a wiki, each pattern term is linked to its own page and cross referenced. Hours of link diving await the curious designer. Incredibly useful stuff!

I plan to dive into this rabbit hole and see what wonder awaits.

Gameplay Design Patterns