Game Design #4: Out the Bathroom Window

Introduction: Out the Bathroom Window is not a game for the cautious optimist. Every play you make has the potential to backfire right then and there if you’re not very careful. Players play cards on their opponents hoping to shift the weight of their hands away, but watch out! Play the wrong card and a crafty player will sneak a huge card escape right under your nose.

Players: 2-4 or 4-8

Materials:

  • 2-4 players: one deck of standard playing cards.
  • 4-8 players: two identical decks shuffled together.

Setting Up: Shuffle well and deal all cards into equal hands per player. Excess cards are set aside. Play begins with the oldest player and proceeds to the left.

How to Play: On their turn, each player chooses one card from their hand and plays it on another player of their choice–this is called a knock, or knocking on the player’s door. When presented with a knock, the targeted player must answer the door and either surrender or attempt an escape:

  • Surrender: the targeted player accepts the knocking card into their hand and the knocking player’s turn is ended. Players must do this if they are unable to play an answer card (see below), but they may always surrender voluntarily if they so choose.
  • Escape: There are two types of escapes:
    • Simple Escape: The player holds a card that pairs the knocking card, called an answer card. When played, the knock and answer pair is collected and removed from play, and the turn ends.
    • Out the Bathroom Window: The targeted player holds an answer card as well as two or more cards that form a straight to that card. In the event the player can form a straight to the answer card, they may sneak those cards “out the bathroom window” before playing the answer card. The escape straight is played one card at a time concluding with the answer card; the entire escape is then collected with the knocking card and removed from play, and the turn ends.
      For example: A player knocks with a 3, and the targeted player holds 3-4-5-6 in their hand. They declare an escape “out the bathroom window,” lay down the cards in order from 6 to 3, then collect all the played cards and remove them from the game.

Winning the Game: The first player to run out of cards wins. Ties may exist in such situations where two players are able to go out on the same turn.

Next: Designing “Out the Bathroom Window” Continue reading

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Critical Series – Amun Re

The other day I enjoyed this one with my friends from high school, all back in town for the holidays. While not quite as avid about games as I, they were all stalwart members of our LAN group back then, and all certainly formidable gamers and strategic minds. It was my first time at the game, and their second.  The description excerpted from BoardGameGeek:

Everyone knows of the pyramids on the Nile – eternal monuments of a powerful and beautiful culture, that can still take our breath away. The pharaohs choose their sites, build their pyramids, and thank Amun Re and the other Gods for their bounty.

Each player wants, as pharaoh, to build the most pyramids. To accomplish this, he must first acquire a province, where he can trade and farm. With his profits, he can buy new provinces and building stones to erect pyramids. For all his actions, the player must make clever use of his power cards, and always offer appropriate sacrifices to Amun Re. Players must always keep their eyes on his goal of the building of the eternal pyramids or risk falling behind in points.

An empire builder in the classic sense and clearly centered around an “acquire-trade-build” mechanic, Amun Re walks a parallel path to old favorites like Settlers of Catan, but it is noteworthy in its incorporation of a multiple viable, balanced paths to success, similar to what you would see in a digital RTS. Many empire builders have options for the players that are all valid in certain circumstances, but Amun Re’s balancing is much deeper and more versatile than I have often seen in a board game… and  in a mere six game turns, too. Continue reading

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On Game Literacy – “Passage” with my parents

Recently, I had the pleasure to play the now-famous art game Passage (at Brenda’s suggestion, as usual). I found my reactions to be very similar to hers: I felt compelled to travel with the woman, I tended to disregard my score, and when my wife died, I was struck dumb and lost all interest in exploring further–I remained near her grave, feeling lost, waiting for death. The game, if you’ve not played it, is the first real example of a game as art I have ever seen, and it is a remarkable work. The metaphors and allegories are not subtle, but the power lies in the way the game uses long-standing gameplay conventions and assumptions to tell its story: it speaks the game language and uses it to express its art.

When I returned to my parents’ house for the holidays, I asked them to give it a try. My parents are in their fifties, their professions are minister and schoolteacher, and they are by no means gamers. They played board games once, when my siblings and I were children, but they are of a generation before gaming became mainstream entertainment. Thus, they have none of the “literacy” with games my generation takes for granted.  So when they sat down to play Passage, I was curious to see how they would interpret the work from their ‘external’ perspective. The results were very interesting…

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Aggro Moose

From an article on Wired a couple days ago:

Hans Jørgen Olsen, a 12-year-old Norwegian boy, recently survived a moose attack by feigning death, “just like you learn at level 30 in World of Warcraft.”

Seriously. Go read the article. I was stunned. With all the bad press video games receive regarding their harm to children–their “inherent evil” or “poisonous effects,” what are we supposed to make of this little beauty? I can’t even tell if it’s negative or not, it’s so incredible. If I were this boy parents, I would be terrified of the kind of positive reinforcement he must be feeling after witnessing the success of an in-game survival technique in a real-world, life-and-death scenario. Everyone (well, all cold-climate-born people) knows that moose are incredibly dangerous. For all their absurd, gangly, cow-on-stilts appearance, moose are fast, unpredictable, and very large, and they kill dozens of people in the northern wildernesses every year. “Taunt” and “Feign Death” are not the ways to deal with enraged moose. Yet the press seems to be amused, even charmed by Hans’ success. Am I crazy, or is this only making the problem worse? Many game developers will tell you that they do view games as a fully valid form of communication, and that they believe games can and should teach. I believe that too, and I can see only one way to interpret a situation like this: video games teaching a boy dangerously altered thinking that is completely out of touch with real life. I dread to imagine what’ll happen the next time he thinks he can diffuse a hazard by applying World of Warcraft moves.

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Game Design #3: Ice Dice

Introduction: Ice Dice may appear to be a simple game of “get to the other side,” but it’s a bit more slippery than normal. Stategic planning, timing, and a little bit of luck will decide the winner as players attempt to navigate the game grid while wrestling with their unpredictable and often adversarial movement rolls.

Players: 2+

Materials:

  • Six-sided dice, one per player.
  • Pawns or tokens of some sort to represent each player.
  • The game board, or a facsimile thereof. Any grid of spaces may be used as long as the starting spaces have equal positional advantage.

Setting Up: Each player chooses one of the gray squares on the game board and places their token there. Players roll off to see who goes first, then play proceeds to the left.

How to Play: On their turn, players roll their die to see how far they move that turn. Movement is along ranks and files only (except where stated below), and players must move the total amount shown if possible. Players may not land on or move through black squares. The following special cases apply:

  • On a roll of six: When a player rolls a six, they may choose either to move six spaces along any rank or file, or move one space diagonally.
  • On a roll of one: When a player rolls a one, they may choose either to move their own token one space along any rank or file, or move any other player’s token one space along a rank or file.

If a player is unable to move the number shown on their dice due to spaces, tokens, or the board edge, they select their direction as normal and must move as far as possible before they are blocked. Players may move through other players’ tokens, but they may not land on a space already occupied by another player.

Victory Conditions: The rule set and basic game board allow for a number of different types of competition. Some suggested game types include:

  • Sprint: Players move towards the starting (gray) squares on the opposite side of the board from their own start. The first player to land on one of their opposing gray squares wins.
  • There and Back Again: Similar to Sprint, but players must land on an opposing gray square and then return to their own start to win.
  • Around the World: Players must make a circuit of the starting areas in clockwise order and then return to their own start to win.

Further Suggestions: Players are encouraged to experiment with different board styles and shapes, and with different game types. Try a variable objective game, such as King Of The Hill, where players vie to occupy a randomly-selected space on the board that changes every six turns. Feel free to post new game themes to this post :)

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Critical Series – the aMAZEing Labyrinth

In an effort to populate this blog with a little more than just simple game ideas, I thought I’d start a freeform series of reviews and critiques of games both digital and traditional that have notably elegant or innovative concepts or solutions. I recently followed a link from Brenda’s blog to an article on Yehuda Berlinger’s blog about rejuvenating tired, old board games to appeal to an adult audience. It reminded me of many of the old games my family now has stacked in the basement, gathering dust because we have long since exhausted all they have to offer. It makes you wonder how games like these go on selling, and how companies like Parker Brothers stay in business. Surely people realize how limited these systems are? Yet they still buy them. I warrant that goes to show how attractive the experience of play, of gaming is to the human mind. We are willing to endure the tedium and triviality of awkward game design for that rare moment of cognitive bliss–the mental leap achieved when a system is “grokked.” But with the hundreds of new games entering the traditional space every year, people remain blind to this vibrant world of alternative play spaces and persist in their repetition of the two-dozen-or-so old games they remember from their childhoods. Whether this is a failure of the market to penetrate the mainstream consciousness, or a form of collective nostalgia for the carefree days of youth wistfully remembered, the games Americans tend to remember are a pathetic underrepresentation of the wealth of board games available.

Case in point: today’s review subject–a game I remember for its uncommon art style and strategic challenges–the aMAZEing Labyrinth. This gem holds a special place in my heart from when I was a small child. To quote the description from BoardGameGeek:

The board is covered with fixed tiles, leaving rows and columns filled by more tiles which can then slide in either direction. The tiles are marked with the walls of the labyrinth, making passages and junctions. The players have one spare tile which they push in from some point, forcing another tile out. This shifts all the tiles in that line, changing the passages in the labyrinth. Each player has a set of cards showing fantastical things: ghosts, witches, creatures, treasures, and the same symbols are all across the tiles. The player draws their first card and moves their marker freely through the labyrinth. When they reach their target, they place their card to the side and draw the next. Having reached all your goals, return to your start to win. An interesting but somewhat random path-making game which has successfully spawned further editions and a whole line of Labyrinth games.

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Game Design #2: Diced

Introduction: Diced is a simple game of attack and defense that blends all the conventional playing pieces of a traditional table game into one–just dice. Dice are your health, your tactics, and your attack and defense power. Use them wisely as you battle your opponents until only one remains.

Players: 3+

Materials: Six-sided dice–at minimum two per player, but any number beyond that may be used.

Setting Up: Each player receives one die, and all remaining dice are placed in a pool in the middle. Players roll off to see who goes first, then play proceeds to the left in turns.

How to Play: On their turn, players use their dice to steal dice (either from another player or the pool) and increase their power. Players first announce the target of their action, then the number of dice they wish to commit. Finally, they roll and determine the results.

  1. Stealing Dice from the Pool: To steal dice from the pool, players roll as many of their own dice as they wish and observe the results. For every six they have rolled, they acquire one dice from their target. Once the pool is exhausted, it is closed for the remainder of the game–only attacks versus other players are permitted.
  2. Stealing Dice from Another Player: When battling another player, both players declare how many dice they wish to use, then roll off. Every six a player rolls allows them to steal one dice from their opponent, just as they would from the pool. However, if both players roll a six, the net effect is null and the exchange is canceled. All opposing sixes paired in this way are disregarded; a player must have surplus sixes among his dice to successfully steal from his opponent.

Every turn, a player may declare as many attacks as they wish, but each dice may only be used once. They may select more than one target per turn, though not more than one target per attack. They may end their turn at any time, but must end it when all their dice have been used.

Dice Defense: Every dice a player chooses not to commit during their turn may be held in reserve to use for defense. For every dice held back, one re-roll is allowed per round, up to a maximum of three. The player is free to use these re-rolls whenever they wish, but they expire at the beginning of the player’s next turn. Re-rolls are for defense only, never attack. Unlike attack, where each dice may be used only once per turn, defending players may always commit as many of their dice as they like to defend each attack.

There Can Be Only One: Play continues until one player wins by acquiring all the dice.

Next: Designing “Diced” Continue reading

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Game Design #1: 4th of July

Introduction: Celebrating the 4th of July is tradition… as is the picnic, the family reunion, and baking all day in a crowded city park waiting for darkness so you can see the fireworks. And when you’ve got little kids, keeping them entertained and out of trouble can be a real chore. It’s easier to reign them in after you’ve picked your spot and settled down, but then again, if they can’t see the show very well, they won’t be happy no matter what. Your challenge as a parent is to find a way to get the best spot with the best view, while keeping your kids from throwing a tantrum.

Players: 3+

Materials:

  • Playing tokens (such as a penny or counter) to represent each player.
  • A six-sided die for each player.
  • The game board, or a facsimile thereof. The board is a triangular grid of circles representing “spots” players can occupy. If necessary, the grid should be expanded so that the back rank is equivalent to the number of players.

Setting Up: Players place their tokens in the back rank of the game board. The oldest player goes first, and play proceeds to the left in turns.

How to Play: On their turn, each player rolls their die to see what their kids do, and what their options are.

  • On a roll of 1: Your kids throw a tantrum. You must abandon your spot and move to any unoccupied spot in the back rank. If no spot is available in the back rank, simply stay where you are and end your turn.
  • On a roll of 2 – 5: Your kids are happy… for now. You may choose one of the following:
    • Stay where you are and keep your kids entertained: +1 to your roll on your next turn.
    • Drag your kids off to look for a better spot: You may move to any adjacent empty spot, but your kids become grouchy. -1 to your roll on your next turn.
  • On a roll of 6: Bonus! You may move to any adjacent empty spot, or you may trade spots with any player in a spot adjacent to yours. No roll modifier next turn.

The Fireworks Begin: After twelve rounds, the fireworks begin, and the player in the spot at the tip of the board (or the nearest spot to it, if unoccupied) wins the game. Tie games are allowed.

Next: Designing “4th of July” Continue reading

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The Beginning

After much impetus from respected game designers and developers, my peers, and my professors, I’m creating this game design blog to catalogue my thoughts on game design, game development, and the state of the games industry. I figure it’ll be fairly free-form, like the majority of blogs maintained by working game designers–thoughts on game design principles and practices, reactions to games and game design articles, notes on my own projects and schoolwork, and so on.

One thing I do intend to use it for, however, is to host a weekly game design. Inspired by the examples of various designers, the Experimental Gameplay projects at USC and Carnegie-Mellon, my fellow 2007 GDC Scholar Scott Jon Siegel’s “Game Design Friday” column at the Escapist, and the advice of my professor Brenda Brathwaite, I’m going to try and make a new game every Sunday and post the design here. So, without further introduction, here follows the blog!

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