That’s were I usually come up short as well, especially when starting with a blank slate. Drawing ideas from thin air is NOT my strong suit, but luckily my better half (Aricin) is blessed by more ideas than either of us have time to develop during our lifetime. Some games are designed based on an idea, while others start with a specific game mechanic and expands from there. The latter approach suits me better, so in this post I will give some examples of this.
What has often helped me to develop an idea is to look at games I already love, and then try to distill it down to the different mechanics that make it fun and engaging to me.
One such example is Spirit Island by R. Eric Reuss where you play cooperatively as spirits. You have to defend the island and its inhabitants against endless waves of invaders. The invaders are then steadily increasing in number while you’re trying to increase your spirit powers to fight back.
One of the best aspects of this mechanic, in my opinion, is the feeling of despair. You and the other spirits are constantly trying to stop the spread of blight and deaths of Dahans, until finally the spirits are strong enough and are able to scare off, or destroy, the invaders. Having fought back the invaders together, against terrifying odds, always feels like an awesome achievement!
For our first board game, Aricin and I wanted to recreate that feeling with a different theme. As this was October 2021, our first thought was of course viruses. Having lived with the Covid-19 virus among us for one and a half year already, that didn’t really feel like a fun and engaging theme. Many people play games for an escape from reality, while viruses was very much a part of our current reality.
Our second idea for a theme was aliens invading other aliens on a distant planet. This would fit the bill for being a bit more fantastical, or science-fiction-ish, but it also felt more like a copy of Spirit Island, just renaming the place, the invaders, and the inhabitants. Our mechanisms of the game would have to be quite different, of course. Still, strife over land has been used in a lot of board games, so we wanted our theme to be something else entirely.
Third time’s the charm they say, so here goes! We had been playing the digital version of Earth Rising by Stop, Drop & Roll since backing it on Kickstarter, and loved how they made a thematic game so fun. I have been concerned about global warming as long as I can remember, so this theme really resonated with me.
We wanted to shed light on other problems that the earth is facing, while combining it with the overwhelming generation of something that the players would have to combat together. One such problem is the accumulation of garbage that is drifting out to the sea. They are clumping together forming garbage patches, like the Western and Eastern Garbage Patch in the Pacific as shown below.
Within this theme, the players would then control one organization dedicated to cleaning up the garbage from the ocean. Each round, the cities around the world would generate more garbage, and the winds and currents would transport it out into the ocean and move it about.
By the end of November 2021, we got the game to a working prototype stage using printed paper and scissors, as well as some 3D printing of money stack tokens and other components. We had a great time brainstorming and testing, but the game didn’t feel as fun as we thought it would be. Moving the garbage tokens each round was fiddly, and we wanted more modularity to the game.
We tried a few different board mechanics, like one world map, several board pieces of the map, and smaller hexagon-shaped tiles. This post is already starting to get quite long, so we would like to discuss the pros and cons of these different variations in a future blog post. Currently, “The Sea Garbage Game” is on hold, but we hope to pick it back up some day. In any case, we had lots of fun, and learned a lot about game design along the way!
This March we started with our current game project, originally called Luminous. It took a completely different turn, starting with the thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool to experience life as a wolf, living your life from pup to old age?”. We wanted to capture the feeling of a narrative-driven game with an open world where your actions influence the story and your growth. It was partly inspired by Skyrim (the digital version), Legacy of Dragonholt and Sleeping Gods, which we’ve had many awesome game nights with.
A true solo board game, where you play as a wolf. “Choose your own”-adventure campaigns set in Norse mythology. Focused on narrative, exploration, battle, and character building.The current “short description” of the game
The title has been a work in progress, briefly being called “A Wolf’s Tale” internally, then “The Lost Saga of Fenrir”, but now known as “Ancient Souls: Fenrir”. We’ve come across many different and challenging design decisions that we’ve had to research, and we’re really looking forward to sharing our experiences in future blog posts!
Re-iteration of existing mechanics, by adding a twist and combining it with other mechanics, themes and components, is a normal way of designing a new game. It is neither a copy-cat nor a re-imagining of the original game. In fact, Jamey Stegmaier has previously released a video where he highlights mechanisms in Stonemaier Games that he wishes that others would iterate on. Maybe you can find inspiration among his suggestions when creating your games?
Another great source for ideas for mechanisms is Board Game Geek’s list of Board Game Mechanics. Here you can click on individual mechanics, read their definition and see which games that implement this mechanic in one way or another.