I had this cool idea to combine two totally different types of games into one game to see if it would work. The two games? A dungeon crawler and a word game. I had this idea that players
would walk around the dungeon in a Scrabble-esque kind of way, and they would interact with monsters and search rooms for treasure. Each monster they interacted with would be a mini-word game that used these letter dice and we had figured out over a dozen really cool mini-games. We weren’t sure if the game was going to be a co-operative game or if it was team play, with one team playing the adventurers and one team playing the dungeon. As we tested the game, the battles with the monsters was definitely a highlight. We added some asymmetry so that each player could do different things, and then figured out ways to increase the monster encounters. At first the monsters were printed on the board, but then we added AI to have them move around the dungeon – chasing after the adventurers.
It was working ok, but there was a disconnect between the slow and thinky movement phase and the super quick and engaging mini-games. We kept trying to tweak the game in order to put more focus on the monster battles, but players had too much agency and they were able to evade the monsters for the most part. We tried increasing the amount of monsters but then it lead to a lot of upkeep during a player’s turn to move each monster. It wasn’t until one specific playtest when one playtesters, also a game designer, just said, “Why not get rid of the dungeon part and just focus on the mini games?” At first this seemed wrong. How can it be a dungeon crawler if there’s no dungeon to crawl around in??? I think we actually still tried to hang onto the dungeon for a few more tests, but then finally succumbed and focused on what players were having the most fun with: the mini-games! This actually made us change the theme from a dungeon crawler to trying to communicate with aliens. This led us to a great title: War of the Words. Awesome.
While we got rid of the dungeon we added another slow and thinky kind of puzzley word game to it that again conflicted with the real fun part of the game. Now we’re back to the drawing board and trying to figure out a way to get to the fun faster. How can the mini-games be the core of the game, while still giving enough depth to create an interesting story arc for the players? I’ll write back in this blog once we’ve figured it out.
Where have you had to focus on the fun to guide your design? Did it improve the experience?
There are columns beside where you put your playtesters names. While it’s usually used to keep track of scores, it can also keep track of how long it took to reach a specific point in your game. For the game above, we could have timed how long the ‘slow’ phase was taking for each player. This would have been an eye opener to compare how long those phases were lasting to the more fast-paced and fun moments!