It’s all About the Mechanics And... Letting It Go If It Just Isn’t Working
Not too long ago, I was sat at a party, talking to a friend about their board game idea and I ended up thinking the same thing that I usually do when someone pitches their board game idea… this sounds great and wonderful and awesome and complicated. Snowballing enthusiasm from them as the pitcher and equally from me as the listener and a couple of minutes in, my face starts to contort like a dog eating a toffee as I consider the mechanics involved to achieve everything I am hearing.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I love complex board games and it is great to see that in the last few years, they have started to come back in a big way. Complex is fun when it throws curveballs at you. When you plan out a strategy in your head and think you have everything just right, a small little niggle comes in that upsets that strategy and forces you to rethink. In fact, a board game needs to be complex enough to actually facilitate a scenario where you are strategizing. The problem that I have with being pitched a complex game, is that I don’t know a single game out that didn’t get more complex as it was designed. I always found it very easy to paint myself into a corner if I started with several separate mechanics in a game I was working on. Before I knew it I would need 20 different card types, 30 different dice and a small man called Bob just to get each player onto the next turn.
When I started designing El Presidente, I had a fairly simple game loop in my head. The idea that you could go from one place to another to make yourself better or others worse and others could do the same. For variety's sake I had broken down these “resources” into several different categories and was fairly confident that this would be the core mechanic of the game from which I could build. The playtesters thought otherwise and I was forced to pretty much rebuilt the basics of El Presidente from the ground up. How easily a mechanic is to change, depends very much on the theme of your game and story you are trying to tell. If you imagine your board game is like a car, and you were trying to make it run on petrol and turns out it needs a bit of diesel, there can be a lot of tinkering under the hood to make the change.
I guess what I am ultimately trying to say here is - have that idea, and push it as far as you can go, but the more simple you can start, the easier it is to adapt and change to the direction your game takes you. Don’t be afraid to let it go if you need to, and start a fresh. There are many ways to tell a story, and there is so much more you can take away from the wrong idea moving towards the right idea rather than getting it right first time!
As Elsa said, “Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore!”