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Platoon Command Design Diary, Part 4 – Combat Cards

Each Combat Card is associated with a counter on the board, representing an element the platoon. Combat Cards are used to move these counters, attack with them, or perform other special actions. In this entry, we cover the three core teams elements of the platoon – Riflemen, Scouts, and Machine Gunners.

Riflemen

Riflemen are the core of the rifle platoon. In Platoon Command, this pivotal role is encapsulated in the Rifleman’s Control Objective action, which no other unit possesses. This action is used to claim control of objectives on the battlefield, the core goal of the game.

US Squad B Riflemen token

Scouts

A leading platoon covers its zone of reconnaissance with scouts. They act as a screen to investigate possible danger areas, seek out the enemy, and prevent surprise hostile fire. The distance the scouts precede the platoon is governed by orders of the platoon leader and varies with the ground and with the probable position of the enemy. (FM 7-10, pars. 106f and 142d.)

Scouts play a pivotal role in the platoon’s advancement across the battlefield. Each tile must be explored with the Scout action before it can be entered by other units. However, with each newly scouted tile, a player must add a Fog of War card to their deck, reducing the efficiency of their platoon. The Scout’s Recon action can be used to remove these Fog of War cards, but at the cost of slowing down the advancement of the platoon.

US Squad A Scout card

Machine Gunner

The automatic rifleman supports the rapid advance of other members of the squad from flank positions. (FM 7-10, pars. 144b.) The assistant automatic rifleman and the ammunition bearer also carry ammunition for the automatic rifle. (FM 7-10, pars. 139a.)

The Machine Gunners’ Suppressive Fire action can be used to neutralize a key opposing unit before it has the chance to act. Other units in the platoon can then seize this opportunity to advance or attack, free from interference. Machine Gunners are also more effective in combat than both Scouts and Riflemen. They roll two dice instead of one, doubling their chances of successfully hitting an opposing unit (Attack 2 vs. Attack 1).

US Squad B Machine Gunners

 

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Platoon Command Design Diary, Part 3: Command Cards

Command Cards represent members of the platoon command group as well as the squad leaders for each of the three squads. Command cards are not used in direct combat. Instead, they are responsible for command, control, communications, and support. Command Cards share the same attributes as Combat Cards, but they do not have associated combat counters on the board.

Each Command Card offers a player a choice of two actions. One of these actions — Bolster Force — allows players to add extra Combat Cards (e.g. Scouts, Machine Gunners, Snipers) to their deck, either supporting existing units or adding new ones. Managing the cards in your deck lies at the heart of Platoon Command.

Platoon Leader

The platoon leader is the first fighting man of the platoon. He is responsible for the training, discipline, control, and tactical employment of the platoon. (FM 7-10, par. 101a.)

Because the players take on the role of the platoon leader, there is no platoon leader card. Rather, the platoon leader’s actions are reflected by the gameplay choices made by each player.

Platoon Sergeant

The platoon sergeant is second-in-command. He assists the platoon leader in controlling the direction and rate of movement of the advance. During all operations he takes post as directed by the platoon leader so as best to assist in the control of the platoon. (FM 7-10, par. 101b.)

The Platoon Sergeant is the single most powerful card in Platoon Command. The Platoon Sergeant allows a player to either add 3 Combat Cards to their deck (Bolster Force 3) or to take additional actions by drawing and using the top 2 cards from their deck (Command 2).

Platoon Guide

The platoon guide prevents straggling and enforces orders concerning cover, concealment, and discipline. His position is usually in rear of the platoon, where he observes the situation on the flanks and the rear. (FM 7-10, par. 101c.)

The Guide is an extremely versatile member of the Platoon, allowing a player to add an additional Combat Card to their deck (Bolster Force 1) or to take an additional move action with any unit (Guide).

Squad Leaders

The squad leader is responsible for the discipline, appearance, training, control, and conduct of his squad. He leads it in combat. The squad leader must train his squad to use and care for its weapons, to move and fight efficiently as individuals, and function effectively as a part of the military team. (FM 7-10, par. 134a.)

While critical to the success of the platoon, Squad Leaders are less versatile than the Platoon Sergeant and the Guide. They can be used to add new cards (Bolster Force) or perform additional actions (Inspire), but only for the units in their Squad.

 

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Platoon Command Design Diary, Part 2: Modeling the Rifle Platoon

Platoon Command is a thematic abstraction of skirmish-level engagements following the Allied invasion of occupied France in WW II. To that end, a core part of the game is modeling gameplay around the rifle platoon construct. The US rifle platoon model from June 1944 was used as a reference. German rifle platoons follow the same composition as the US model, which was due to two factors: inconsistency in the composition of German rifle platoons during this period and a preference for gamplay over historical accuracy.

Rifle Platoon
The rifle platoon consists of a command group and three rifle squads.

Command Group
The command group consists of the platoon leader, platoon sergeant, platoon guide, and two messengers.


• Note: Platoon Command does not include representations of the command group’s two messengers. That is because the primary role of the messengers is to allow for communication between the platoon leader and his upper echelon commander in the rifle company. Interaction with the rifle company is beyond the scope of action in Platoon Command.

Rifle Squad
Each of the rifle platoon’s three rifle squads consists of a squad leader, an assistant squad leader, an automatic rifle team (automatic rifleman, assistant automatic rifleman, and ammunition bearer), and seven riflemen, two of whom are designated as scouts.

• Note: Platoon Command does not include an antitank grenadier with an M1903 and M1 grenade launcher, as antitank combat is beyond the scope of action in Platoon Command.

Platoon Command models the Rifle Platoon by providing US and German players with decks of command and combat cards. The cards will be covered in depth in later posts. However, it is worth noting that the cards are not designed to reflect a 1:1 correlation to men in the rifle platoon. For example, the three Scout cards in Squad A exceed the number of actual scouts (2) in the squad. Instead, the cards serve as a high-level abstraction of the efficacy of each element of the rifle platoon.

List of card breakdown in the decks:

Command (5)
• Platoon Sergeant (1)
• Platoon Guide (1)
• Squad Leader – Squad A (1)
• Squad Leader – Squad B (1)
• Squad Leader – Squad C (1)

Combat (39)
• Mortar (3)
• Sniper (3)
• Scouts – Squad A (3)
• Scouts – Squad B (3)
• Scouts – Squad C (3)
• Riflemen – Squad A (5)
• Riflemen – Squad B (5)
• Riflemen – Squad C (5)
• Machine Gunners – Squad A (3)
• Machine Gunners – Squad B (3)
• Machine Gunners – Squad C (3)

In the next post I’ll talk about the command cards in greater depth.

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Platoon Command Design Diary, Part 1: Introduction

Greetings all. Sometime soon (an official date hasn’t been set yet), Lock n Load will be releasing Platoon Command. I thought it would be a good idea to start posting a design diary to show off some of the background info, design decisions, art, and more for the game. If you have any questions about the game, please feel free to ask here.

In 2014 I moved from the US to the UK. Just before the move, I started brainstorming the idea of combining elements of deck-building card games with the spatial elements of a board game. I knew I wanted the game to be a skirmish-level game, with the cards tied directly to counters on the board, but I wasn’t sure what the exact theme would be. While I was working through some of the initial mechanical concepts, I went on my first vacation after the move – a visit to Normandy. My first stop was Omaha Beach, where my grandfather landed on D-Day +4 with the 30th Infantry Division (ID). Instantly I had my theme. The game would focus on the exploits of individual rifle platoons within the 30th ID as they made their way through France.

My son and me at Omaha Beach.

My grandfather

The 30th Infantry Division arrived in England in February 1944 and trained until June. It began landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy on June 11, secured the Vire-et-Taute Canal by June 16, crossed the Vire River on July 7, and spearheaded the Saint-Lô break-through of Operation Cobra on July 25. The 30th relieved the 1st Infantry Division near Mortain on August 6, the same day Germany launched a massive counterattack called Operation Lüttich. From August 7 – 12, the 30th clashed with elite SS Divisions around Mortain, frustrating enemy plans and breaking the spearhead of their assault.

Game Overview
In Platoon Command you take the role of a platoon leader in the 30th Infantry Division, guiding your platoon into combat in order to capture critical battlefield objectives. Platoon Command is a quick-playing game that uses cards for combat, command and control, fog of war, and attrition. The goal is to gain Objective Points by controlling areas of the battlefield. You accomplish this by issuing orders to your command group, three rifle squads, and specialized personnel.

Upcoming Posts
• Part 2: Modeling the Rifle Platoon
• Part 3: Command Cards
• Part 4: Combat Cards (Riflemen, Scouts, Machine Gunners)
• Part 5: Combat Cards (Sniper, Mortar)
• Part 6: From Design to Development
• Part 7: The Campaign

Here’s a pic of the game in play. Huge caveats: This is a screen grab from Tabletop Simulator, which is what I use to playtest the game online. Also, the graphics are the in-work prototype graphics from Lock N Load, so they are not final and include stuff like bleed areas, etc.

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How Does a New Designer Get Their Game Noticed? 2

In recent years, there has been an explosion of new game designs and works in progress threads on Board Game Geek (BGG) and Board Game Designer Forum.  This drastic increase  is the result of the rise in popularity of board and card games, the availability of software to facilitate design and prototyping, and the potential use of crowdfunding to self-publish designs.  It’s an exciting time to be a game designer.  The community of enthusiasts has never been larger, more engaged, and more connected.  But there is a drawback to this proliferation of designs – how does a new designer get their game noticed?

Here are my suggestions for increasing exposure for your game designs. I’ll underscore than I’m not saying this is fair – games should stand on their own design merits; however, that is an unrealistic stance given the number of new designs and works in progress posted to BGG daily.

Make sure the game is print and play friendly

Limit the amount and complexity of material needed for others to print, play, and test your design. This is only important if you want broad interest and numerous testers. If you just want one or two dedicated folks, you can go with a more complex, larger design. My first BGG design was Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse. It is an absolute beast to print and play. The rules are 40 pages, and there are tons of components. The game has a very loyal following now, but it has taken two years to build its community. Contrast that to Quest for the Open Tavern, which is very easy to print and play. Is Quest a better game? I don’t know, but it definitely received a lot more interest in a shorter period, most likely because it is print and play friendly.

Try to make the game visually appealing

Your game doesn’t need great art or graphic design, but it should be visually appealing. You can use resources like the Noun Project and game-icons.net for symbols and basic art elements, programs like nan-deck for semi-automated card design, and free software such as gimp for graphic layout. You don’t need to be an artist to use these. Try to layout your rules in an easy-to-read format with clear section breaks, headings, and simple fonts.

Take extra time to make the rules clear and concise

Present your rules in a logical flow that ties back to gameplay. I struggled when I read some of the rules for entries in BGG’s 2014 Two-Player Print-and-Play Contest. Quite often I had to go to work in progress threads to figure out the intent of the rules. Most of your playtesters will be conducting blind playtests, meaning you will not be able to answer rules questions.  When playtesters struggle with rules, they often either provide erroneous feedback or just quit playing the game design altogether.

Try to present a fairly polished initial version of your game

Make sure that you give a strong showing when you initially post the rules and components for your game. That’s not to say it needs to be the final version, but try to make it fairly representative of how you want the game to play. That means you need to actually test it yourself (numerous times) before making it available. Many folks rush out an untested game, hoping that others will help them design the game. That’s the purpose of works in progress threads. Hammer out the basics, test the game yourself and with your local test group, then post the game for others to try.

Do NOT be shy about asking, begging, and pleading for playtesters

Not everyone has this luxury, but I always try to craft playtest copies of my game and send them to folks for feedback. You will never get a high percentage of feedback (expect less than 50%), but every bit counts. Letting people know that you’re willing to invest the time to construct and mail out playtest copies gives them faith in your game. Each playtest copy of Allegiance and Quest that I’ve mailed out to playtesters has included high quality components from Printer’s Studio, Print and Play Productions, and the Game Crafter.

Engage the community

If you’re going to ask for feedback, you should be willing to give it, or at least provide content to the community. That can be in the form of providing art, graphic design, copy editing, or other contributions. A little help for others goes a long way. When I first started posting designs on BGG I didn’t really get this. I wanted to post my design and wait for comments and feedback to roll in. It doesn’t work that way. This has never been more true due to the number of new designs being posted daily. You can propose “playtest trades” with others, but I’ve found the best approach is to be genuinely helpful to others in the community.  Believe me, it will pay off in the end.

Resources:

Icons and design elements
The Noun Project
Game-icons.net

Card design
(*caveat: I actually do all of my own card design in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, but these are two of the most popular options for streamlining the process).
Magic Set Editor
Nan Deck

Raster graphic design
Photoshop
The free alternative: Gimp

Vector graphic design
Illustrator
The free alternative: Inkscape

Desktop Publishing
InDesign
The free alternative: Scribus

Services for printing playtest copies:
Cards: Printer’s Studio
Full game prototypes: The Game Crafter
Custom components: Print and Play Productions

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Creating Allegiance – A Shared Experience: #7 Storytelling and the Three Act Structure (Part 2)

In the previous blogpost, I discussed how the traditional three act structure can be used to provide a story arc for board games.  This time, I’ll talk about how I applied that concept to Allegiance.

Even at its earliest incarnation, Allegiance was designed to follow this basic flow: Decide on a route to victory (i.e. choose an Allegiance).  Then, adhere to that allegiance or be swayed into changing allegiance.  Finally, maximize influence (and allegiance, if you have allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild). Let’s review in detail.

The first and third acts of a story arc are typically shorter than the second, which is true for Allegiance.  In the first act, players draw cards and determine whether they should support the Temple or the Thieves’ Guild. There are some external considerations the players have to take into account, such as the difference in difficulty between working cooperatively for a shared Temple win or going it alone for a solo Thieves’ Guild win.  But typically this choice is predominantly driven by card allocation, coupled with player intuition and potentially deduction of other players’ choices.  For some players, the first act can be over as soon as Turn 1 is complete.  For others, it can last 2 or 3 rounds.

The second act of Allegiance, like in most media, is where the dramatic problem is addressed by the players and where confrontation begins.  During the second act, players will begin to deduce the allegiance of others.  Those with allegiance to the Temple will begin to flood the Temple with cards that boost its influence, while maintaining a sometimes razor thin allegiance to the Temple.  They will often protect high value Temple cards so that their allegiances can’t be easily swayed. Or they may signal their allegiance to other Temple players through the use of the Initiate card and other more subtle methods.  In some cases, players with allegiance to the Temple might decide to talk openly, strategizing more complex methods of interaction.

Meanwhile, players with allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild will most likely take a different approach.  They may  try to make it difficult for others (especially players with allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild) to deduce their allegiance.  They might try to emerge as the player with the highest Thieves’ Guild value in their hand and tableau through the aggressive use of cards such as the Assassin and Double Agent.  Using the Cutpurse card’s Follow action can be a double-edged sword, as it boosts the Thieves’ Guild’s influence at the expense of signaling the player’s allegiance.

During the second act, players will learn the allegiance of others and play cards to either directly affect other players, optimize the influence of their chosen organization, or a combination of both.  The second act often lasts from as early as Round 2 until the last round or two of the game.

The third act brings resolution to the game. During this round, players with allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild are typically willing to make bold moves, hoping to optimize their positions.  For example, they might be willing to reveal their allegiance through the aggressive use of an Assassin card against another suspected Thieves’ Guild player.  They might also play a high number of cutpurses on the Thieves’ Guild as a last ditch play to boost the Thieves’ Guild’s influence.  Meanwhile, Temple players will likely be feeling the tension of needing to maintain allegiance to the Temple, increasing the Temple’s influence, and avoiding interference from Thieves’ Guild players.  In short, the third act is about optimizing.

In summary, the three act structure introduced in the previous blogpost serves as a great model for Allegiance.  While it may not be a perfect fit for every game, it’s worth considering when you set out to integrate the theme and mechanics of a game.

 

Good references and source material for this post:

Jonathan Degann, The Games Journal: Game Theory 101 – Part 1

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Jeff Tidball, A Videogame, in Three Acts (Escapist Magazine)

Yves Lavandier, Writing Drama

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Creating Allegiance – A Shared Experience: #6 Storytelling and the Three Act Structure (Part 1) 2

Movies, books, plays and video games all rely on a three act formula for storytelling and establishing a story arc. A board game, in many ways, tells a story. And that’s why the three act formula can be an essential element of board game design.

In the writing and screenwriting world, the first act introduces the main characters.  The second act usually revolves around the protagonist’s attempts to solve a problem, or around a critical confrontation.  The third act includes the resolution of the story and its subplots.  You can read more about the three act structure in a long list of references, but a good starting place is Writing Drama by Yves Lavandier.

This three act structure model informs storytelling in board games.  In game design, the three act structure translates to the initial setup and posturing as the first act, the central gameplay as the second act, and the closing actions as the final act.  Consider the critically-acclaimed, fan-favorite game: Eclipse.  In general, the first act translates to the first two or three rounds of the game, when players are exploring new areas and expanding their empire.  The second act translates to the exploitation of resources to build an economic engine and outfit ships.  The third act can generally be linked to the last few rounds of the game, when there is a spike in combat as players race for victory points.  While there is no clear delineation between the acts, as players will most likely try to use different strategies, this general structure plays out across most Eclipse games.  It makes for a good story and a good game.
Even games that you might not expect to have a three act structure, such as Chess has a first act (initial deployment), second act (maneuvering), and final act (checkmate).

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher of Pulsiphergames.com has constructed a simple chart that depicts the three act structure with example games, but he has also gone on to provide how the role of timing – or pacing – impacts the three acts.  Dr. Pulsipher’s table can be found here.

Pacing also plays a critical role in media and board games.  Pacing determines the length of time spent on each act, and the transition period between the acts.  In general, the first and third acts should be much shorter than the second.
In the next post, we’ll examine how Allegiance is designed to follow this three act structure.

Good references and source material for this post:

Jonathan Degann, The Games Journal: Game Theory 101 – Part 1

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Jeff Tidball, A Videogame, in Three Acts (Escapist Magazine)

Yves Lavandier, Writing Drama

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Creating Allegiance – A Shared Experience: #5 Design Goals & Game Objectives (Part 2)

In my previous blogpost, I discussed the importance of having clear design goals and game objectives.  This time, we’ll explore how I applied this advice to Allegiance.

The basic premise of Allegiance – to include its theme, objectives, and core mechanisms – was conceived in a single brainstorm session.  In early December 2013, I learned about Dice Hate Me Games’ 54-Card Game Design Challenge.  It inspired me to come up with a simple card game that could be played with a deck of just 54 cards.  I spent the evening deciding first on an in-game objective (and the feeling I wanted it to evoke), then the theme, and finally the mechanisms.  That night I created prototype cards.  The next day I played the first session of the Allegiance with my local gaming group.  It was met with some success and a lot of optimism.  Ultimately, Allegiance would grow beyond the 54-card limit for the contest (to its current form of a 96-card deck), but that is a subject for a different time.

In that first night, I asked myself the same questions I posed in the previous blogpost:

What are the in-game objectives?
I knew I wanted to base a game around a variation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.  I also knew I wanted to base this prisoner’s dilemma type choice on the players’ ability to choose which side they wanted to be on (the Temple or Thieves’ Guild).  Very few deduction and deception type games allow players to choose their side during the course of the game, instead opting for hidden, but assigned, roles. The objective of Allegiance is to have allegiance with the organization (the Thieves’ Guild or Temple) that has the most influence at the end of the game.  The catch is that multiple players can have a shared victory if they are allied with the Temple and it has higher influence.  However, only one player wins even if multiple players have allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild and it has the most influence.

What is the theme of my game?
The theme of Allegiance is that a Thieves’ Guild has emerged in a medieval city, and the Guild members are vying for influence with the established Temple.  The stark, minimalistic black & white artistic design reinforces the differences between the two organizations.

What are the core mechanics of my game?
The mechanics for Allegiance are fairly simple: players simultaneously draw cards, which they allocate to the Thieves’ Guild and Temple to affect the influence of those organizations. They also keep cards in their hands, which affect their allegiance with the Thieves’ Guild and Temple.  Some cards also have actions players can use to affect their own hand of cards or those of others.  Each card has two values: one for the Thieves’ Guild and one for the Temple, so player choice on what to do with each card is multi-faceted.

How complex should my game be, and How long will it take to play?
I wanted Allegiance to be a lightweight card game with some interesting – and unusual – decisions that played in less than a half hour. My goal was 15 – 20 minutes, though I was willing to sacrifice play time if it meant achieving other goals.

How many players should the game support?
Because of the nature of the game, I knew it would not be able to support two players.  That was never really a goal of mine.  I didn’t set an upper limit to the player count, though the practical component limitation (cards in the deck) essentially established the player count for me.  Even now, the only limiting factor to the player count is the card count, and you could expand the player count by adding a second deck.  Because of the simultaneous draw nature of the game and the fixed number of player actions based on the card count, scaling the player count doesn’t affect the length of the game.

Who is my target audience?
Ultimately, I think Allegiance could appeal to a very broad audience.  The theme is not restrictive or inherently limiting, at least in my opinion.  The art is designed to appeal to a broad range of players. Admittedly, there is a little bit of “strange math” in the form of slightly unintuitive card placement, which may be off-putting to some on the initial play. However, the card allocation mechanism is really one of the key elements to the decision-making process in Allegiance, and what makes it standout.

How much direct player interaction should my game have (and should it be competitive or cooperative)?
I wanted there to be a full gamut of player options, ranging from a fully cooperative game (where all the players are allied with the Temple) to a completely cut throat game (where all the players are allied with the Thieves’ Guild).  But, for the most part, the core decision that each player will be forced to grapple with is whether they should go for a solitary victory, or work collaboratively for a shared victory.  In this regard, the level of player interaction can range widely, according to player strategy and choice.

How does the game build tension and provide for interesting decision-making processes?
A lot of this is addressed above, but tension is primarily created through two methods:
– There is a strategic-level tension of each player’s choice to ally with the Thieves’ Guild or Temple, and
– There is a tactical-level tension of choice for card allocation every round, wherein players must decide which cards to allocate to the Temple and the Thieves’ Guild and which card to keep in their hand.

How much luck should be in the game, and how can the luck be mitigated?
Luck in Allegiance is based on the card draw.  Because of the end-game mechanic (deck exhaustion), low player count games are inherently less luck-based because of the higher card draw count players experience.  However, the final card draw and allocation mechanism used in the game allows for a high level of player control over their allegiance and the influence they give to the Temple and Thieves’ Guild. Players can also opt to keep cards that give them actions as a way of mitigating luck.

In summary, I used the basic questions presented in the previous blogpost to help construct the core premise of Allegiance.  The game’s design has evolved considerably, but my design goals have remained consistent.  This consistency helps focus the game design process.

 

Good references and source material for this post:

– Dice Hate Me: 54-Card Game Challenge

– Prisoner’s Dilemma

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Creating Allegiance – A Shared Experience: #4 Design Goals & Game Objectives (Part 1)

You must have a clear understanding of your design goals and the ultimate game objective when designing a game. You can craft a game around core mechanisms or a theme, but it is impossible to test the mechanisms if you don’t know what you hope to accomplish in the game. To that end, you should ask yourself a series of questions when you start a new game design:

  • How complex should my game be?
  • How much direct player interaction should my game have (and should it be competitive or cooperative)?
  • How many players should the game support?
  • How long will it take to play?
  • Who is my target audience?
  • How does the game build tension and provide for interesting decision-making processes?
  • How much luck should be in the game, and how can the luck be mitigated?
  • What is the theme of my game?
  • What are the core mechanisms of my game?
  • What are the in-game objectives?

Although the answers to these questions can – and almost certainly will – change during the course of the game design process, you should have a well-defined structure from which to start.  You may find one or more of these foundational questions changes considerably along the way, but that’s okay.  For example, you may discover during playtests that your deck-builder works best if you change it to a deck construction game.  Don’t be afraid to make sweeping adjustments to gameplay in order to achieve your ultimate goal: integrating theme and mechanics to create a fun play experience for your target audience.

When I set out to create Allegiance, I brainstormed the answer to these questions, but I also sought out thoughts and feedback from my local game group and friends.  Inviting insight from others in the earliest stages of a game design can be a great way to include elements of a theme or mechanics you wouldn’t otherwise have considered.

You should have a firm understanding of the in-game objectives at the beginning of the design process. When I conceived the basic concepts of Allegiance, I first established the theme and the in-game objectives. Only then did I decide on the game’s mechanisms. Alternatively, you can craft in-game objectives from a core mechanism or theme, but you should never start designing a game without a clear understanding of what the final goal of the game will be.  Going down that path will lead to countless wasted iterations of re-design.

A final note: make sure you always have something available to jot down notes for game concepts, design goals, and game objectives.  You can use your phone or an old school notebook, but have it handy.  You never know when and where inspiration will strike. Typing or writing notes to yourself will help flesh out concepts, and it can serve as a reminder about your thought process in the earliest stages of design.


Good references and source material for this post:

– Tracy Fullerton: Game Design Workshop (CRC Press)

Jamey Stegmaier: The Top 10 Things I Learned About Game Design in 2013

Oliver Kiley:  A Brief Crash Course on Game Design

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Creating Allegiance – A Shared Experience: #3 Which is More Important – Theme or Mechanics?

NobleWhich is more important: theme or mechanics?  The answer is yes.  It sounds like a cop-out, but it’s the truth.  This issue has been debated at length on BoardGameGeek, the Board Game Designers Forum, and in many blogs and articles.  Those blogs and forums helped guide the early development of Allegiance.  I’ll discuss how I applied the lessons of others, and maybe you can learn from my experiences.

Mechanics Matter Most: When I first conceptualized Allegiance, there were a few core tenets I wanted to achieve.  I wanted the game to be informed by elements of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.  I also wanted players to have control over their “roles” in the game – in other words, I didn’t want them to be arbitrarily assigned to the Temple or Thieves’ Guild at the beginning of the game.  Finally, I wanted players to make tough decisions when assigning cards to the Temple and Thieves Guild. The actual mechanisms to achieve these goals changed over the course of the game design, but the goals did not.

Theme Matters Most: As I was conceptualizing the mechanics of the game, so too was I brainstorming the theme.  I wanted the theme to be something interesting enough that a wide variety of players could relate to it.  I ruled out popular gamer themes  such as fantasy and sci-fi because I wanted the game to have a low barrier to entry and appeal to a broad audience.  I love the medieval and Renaissance periods, so I drew from those.  I decided on the Temple and Thieves Guild because of their opposing nature, which is easy to grasp and relates back to the game’s core mechanisms.  Some card ideas were scrapped over time and replaced by better fits for the game, especially as the card Actions were developed.

While Allegiance could be re-themed for a different genre, the card values were carefully crafted to both reflect a general tie to the theme as informed primarily by a body of fiction based on the period and the impact on the actual gameplay.  This is where the true integration of the theme and mechanics is so important. It’s not whether you start a game design with theme or mechanics, but rather, it’s how you integrate the two.

In the end, I agree with Daniel Solis, who wrote on his blog, “The truth is, if your game is working as it should, no one should be able tell whether you thought of the theme or the mechanics first.”

Good references and source material for this post:

– iSlaythe Dragon: Why, Why, Why?! #1: Theme Matters

– Daniel Solis: Theme first or mechanics first? It doesn’t matter

– Gamesbyplaydate: Mechanics, Theme, & Other?

– Andrew Hardi: Is it Really About Theme vs. Mechanics?

– Bruno Faidutti: Theme & Mechanics 101

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