A game on the table is worth two (hundred?) in the mind

Over the last couple of years I have increasingly been giving advice to game designers who are even newer to the craft than I am that they should stop thinking about and planning their first game and make a minimally functional prototype that allows them to try out some small part of the game which can then be built on.  It is probably the biggest lesson that I have learnt and it has stood me in good stead.  But I still get caught in the trap myself.

Take the "TheoDemocracy" game I posted about a couple of times in May.  You might remember that this is intended to be a cooperative game with the feature that players are forced into attacking each other by external forces. I was spouting all sorts of ideas and trying to refine them and make a plan on how to build a worthwhile prototype.  I even started work on cards and player boards, but was struggling a bit of getting the full picture together.  Then I had to turn my attention to preparations for, and the aftermath of, UK Games Expo, and I have only just managed to get the brain cells back in line to work on this particular project.

WHAT WAS I THINKING?!  I was going against all the good practice I have learnt, and spent more effort planning and talking than actually doing.  To be clear, planning and talking is also really useful, but not as much as actually making a physical thing that can be played with.  Time to correct that mistake.

So I stripped most of the ideas away and pulled out my trusty piles of filing cards, flashcards, and random tokens and counters, and got to work.
Not much to look at, but that's not the point.

Within minutes I had three player boards, greatly simplified from previous plans, and a pile of 10 cards with simple objectives on them like "control 3 provinces" and "build a temple".  I had given up (for now) on the whole multi-purpose cards idea, and was simply turning up an objective for each player on each turn and seeing if they can fulfill the requirement; if a player fails, they gain an "unrest" token.  I basically made the rest up as I went along.

And, hurrah! This all basically worked for a dull and unchallenging game.  I am actually extremely happy with how that went for the couple of rounds I played solo.  What I can now do is add a few more objectives, add necessary economy/building/military rules to support these, and figure out a way to give a little more control to the players.  One idea for that latter requirement might be to deal everyone a hand of cards and you each get to choose one or more cards to send to each of the other players and yourself, and possibly discard a card or two that will come back later in the game; then everyone gets to deal with the cards that they have acquired in this way.  Just a thought.

So that is where I am now: the basics of an engine, with a few features that mostly work, and actually something that I can start building on.  Let the iteration commence.

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