In previous posts (part 1, part 2), I’ve been talking about the Venture Africa board game I’ve got in development. My design philosophy behind it was pretty much the same as what I use while designing a video game.
The talk that Dan Paladin and I gave at E-for-all detailed this design process.
- Pick a market/platform
- Create a protagonist
- Create an antagonist
- Design the genre/ruleset around the protagonist and antagonist
As you can see, the genre and ruleset comes last in the design process, and it’s built around the character and theme of the game.
In my games, of course, the protagonist (not necessarily the player) is represented by the animals in the ecosystem.Â In Dan’s games, the protagonist is represented by the main character and his abilities.Â With my animals, the basic idea is that they are autonomous, but the player can affect their behavior directly or by altering their environment.
The antagonist in Dan’s games is usually a bad guy.Â In my games, the antagonist is the environment itself.Â The challenge in my games revolves around the difficulties presented by the level: how far the food sources are from water, how much shelter there is, etc.
The ruleset tends to just flow from there.Â A compelling character and antagonist or environment provides enough constraint to imagine the more difficult to conceptualize theoretical ruleset.Â It also makes the ruleset flow from real-world elements that are tied to your character, keeping the ruleset grounded in the theme of the game.
That said, I don’t personally believe in designing a complete story first, just the bare bones of the protagnist/antagonist relationship.Â The most common mistake* I see aspiring game designers make is that they write a complex story replete with minor characters and events before they design the utility of the game: the abilities of the main characters and their relationship to one another is all you need… back story can and should come later.
*However, I’m also of the opinion that great breakthroughs in game design can only come from ingoring the so-called experts, and in fact, one of my (and everyone’s) design heroes Tim Schaefer designs more complete stories up front.
So, how did I apply all this to making a board game?Â Despite the game being a two-player competitive game, the protagonist is not simply YOU and the antagonist is not simply YOUR OPPONENT.Â The protagonist is actually the herbivores and the antagonist is the carnivores.
Even though you are trying to eat all of your opponent’s herbivores with your carnivores, the game is player-agnostic, meaning that your lions can eat your zebras, and you have to be careful about how you position your crocodiles because you could weaken the defenses of your own herbivores by being too close.
I started with 6 species: Lion, crocodile, zebra, elephant, giraffe, and wildebeest.Â I designed each with one special ability.Â Then I just playtested and playtested and playtested until I came up with the right balance.Â In the process of balancing, wildebeest got switched out for monkey, and giraffe was switched for rhino.
In the end, I hope to publish the game with plastic molded animals (like plastic army men) on the modifyable board.Â Again, if anyone knows anyone in the board game industry that might be interested in publishing this game, please let me know!