Thursday, September 28, 2017

Board Games Aren't Video Games

At first glance, creating a board game seemed pretty easy: I already have the game and the rules, so all I need to do is make things printable and, presto, a fun board game!

Now I'm a few weeks in, and I'm developing a healthy respect for good board game design and all the board game designers who make them. I've run into an assortment of discoveries, although obvious in retrospect, that might be worth sharing.

Real-life assets cost more than digital assets
When I first began designing the board game, I started with the largest hexagon tiles The Game Crafter had to offer. In my mind, Entanglement tiles have always been large. In the online game, there's not really an absolute size or reference to compare them to: they just auto-resize themselves to make sure the whole map fits onscreen. But deep-down, I knew they were at least the size of Catan tiles, maybe much bigger. Maybe they were over-sized garden stepping stones in a Sakura Grove somewhere, and you could actually walk on them and follow a path to some remote destination.

Digital works just fine that way, but in real-life each tile comes at a price. I quickly realized that Entanglement became really expensive with large tiles. So I trimmed the tile size down a bit, and the price-to-content ratio seems a bit more reasonable now.

Different media require different visuals
This was a quick and easy discovery. I already knew about printing offsets due to thoroughly reading The Game Crafter's online documentation, and made sure I used their templates with plenty of bleed room and the like. Aside from that, I pretty-much mimicked the web game's tile style.

I ordered the first set of Entanglement tiles from The Game Crafter, thinking at most I may need to update the paths to make sure they match correctly on all 6 sides. That turned out just perfect, but my other assumptions didn't.

I found that the thin lines didn't look great and could be a bit confusing. Especially since they didn't light up or do anything fancy when they're connected (print is so 20th century). So for my second run, I thickened up the lines and they look much nicer.

Real play is sloppier than digital play
This should have been a no-brainer. Coming from a job where I deal with math and numbers and precise values, anything sloppy is probably a bug... ...and finding bugs requires testing. Interestingly, I was so confident in how solid Entanglement's game-play is, I hadn't thoroughly tested the real-life version. Why check and change the rules if things work so well already? That was a mistake.

I decided to record a game to have snippets for an online promo, so my boys played with me. We started by placing the starting tile, and then placing the outer wall. That was a feat: we never seemed to be able to get all the wall tiles to line up in that classic Entanglement hexagon, the start tile never seemed to be in the exact center, and setting it all up wasn't particularly fun.

Finally, once that was out of the way, we began playing. And the tiles moved. A lot. It wouldn't have been that terrible in of itself (map-building board games tend to have this problem), but when the growing set of tiles played out from the center start tile rotated ever-so-slightly, suddenly all 24 of the pre-placed wall tiles were in the wrong positions: the game-play grid had virtually moved without the walls moving along with it.

So after some additional real-life play-testing, I've decided to take the game in a Sakura Grove direction. Like the online Sakura Grove experience, this variation of play doesn't require walls: this allows players to jump right into the game at the beginning -- no more tediously laying out walls of tiles and no more "OCD Derek" rearranging tiles during play to make sure tiles and walls always line up.

There have been a number of other things I've learned, and I'm sure I'll learn more on this journey. This journey down a tangled path, with so many paths to choose from...

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