|Version Zero: minimum viable prototype.|
I made a quick prototype with a bag of gems in three colours that I had lying around, a quick, hand-drawn board, and some cards scribbled on the back of some old cards from a previous prototype, to provide something to spend the gems on. This was all perfectly fine for a proof-of-concept sketch of a game. I had a couple of plays with this, playing multiple virtual "players" myself, and it seemed to be not terrible. Bear in mind that this was pretty much the minimum I could do to make something that was actually playable, intended to check that a core mechanic is at least plausible, and as such I think I gave myself a thumbs up on this one, so decided to try progressing the game a little.
At this point, the game was just an abstract mechanism, and experience has taught me that I cannot develop an abstract game: I need some sort of theme to guide me in future decisions. This theme might change later, but it would be something to work with along the way. Fortunately, another project came to my rescue: this year I have decided to draw (and share online) something every day of the year if I can. This is old school: drawing on paper, though the implement I use to make the drawing can be whatever I fancy at the time, as can the subject matter. As I was putting together this prototype, I drew a page of random steampunk-style gizmos, and this actually looked like it could be the start of a theme.
|My first sheet of steampunky things, based on pics found all over the place.|
So, what I ended up with was the idea that players are apprentices in a workshop, tasked with putting the finishing touches to various gadgets before they are dispatched to their final owners. You might even be able to make use of some of these gadgets to help you in your task, but if you break it you have to fix it! The resources are still abstract coloured gems, but I can work on that later.
With this all in mind, I made use of the artwork I had, with a cog icon as a default for cards that didn't have their own picture, and made a new prototype for some solo testing once again, this time setting up a NanDECK script, pointing at a Google Sheet, to build cards that I can quickly print and cut out. Some of the gadget cards had special abilities and a chance that they would break when you use them (they always work, but you roll a die to see if they then break), a cost in resources to complete, and a score for completing them (based on the resources -- which are of varied rarity -- required to complete them).
|Version 1: more like a game, but not a good one yet.|
It turns out that a bunch of MDF discs I had lying about were handy instead of having an actual board (though it starts looking a bit like Azul) and a silicone cupcake case is perfect to sit in the middle to collect discarded resources.
So at this point, the game works mechanically, but is somewhat dull. My idea that you can use the abilities of gadgets is fine (though the abilities I had here weren't great) but the risk of breaking them was really harsh, and disincentivised using them quite dramatically. I really should have learnt by now that there is a tendency for players to want to avoid risk of loss, and this sort of mechanism rarely works very well when I try it.
I am now overhauling the game, removing the potential punishment for using actions, but doubling down on the idea that there are actions to use. I'm aiming to make this a game that has a similar complexity and pace to, say, Splendor, and to be fair, the flow of play (gain resources, then use resources to acquire things that win you the game) is fairly similar. I'm not too worried about that at the moment, and there are solid differences, but I will need to be sure that having an inspiration does not result in the game being too derivative.