As a last thing for the year, we’re trying out something at home this Christmas. Most of the fun at Christmas is about making the things the way you want them. Food, especially. But also the people you invite, the presents you give, the things you do… and even, perhaps, the games you play?
Most families, I reckon, like a board game at Christmas. Santa used to bring one to us every year, long after we knew it was Mum and Dad. This year though we wondered about trying to make one instead.
Why make a board game? I’m no proper game designer, of course, but I’ve spent a lot of this year looking at the crossover between Work & Play (a proper write-up of that to come).
And over the last few months at Smithery, we’ve been using a specific game-like structure to help the prototyping of ideas. Essentially, there are two decisions in the game you can make at any point; improve the thing you’re working on, or share it with other people. There are various complexities in it beyond this, of course, but one morning earlier this month, the kids and I tried it at the most basic level we could… and it worked just as a game, seemingly.
So we bought the basic materials to turn it into a board game of sorts, the last of which arrived this week. Then yesterday we started drawing out the game on a blank board game and started testing how it might work by playing it over and over again.
It’s the best way of finding out how well a game plays, as I’ve learned from working with games masters like Alex Fleetwood and James Wallis over the last few years. I was also inspired by Dan Catt’s talk on the algo-generated Snakes and Ladders boards a couple of years ago at Playful, on the search to find the perfect balance in a really simple game.
The kids have been adding in different elements (like the ‘Hazard Cards’, featuring monsters, electrocution, cats, giraffes and Minecraft).
You realise at times like this there is nothing as productive as a kid with a pen, a stack of blank cards and a mission to create. It also started me thinking that there’s perhaps a fun version and a work version of the game, though they should reflect each other (what is the ‘monster’ in the prototyping process?)
Hopefully though, the simplicity remains enough to make it enjoyable, and repeatable, tomorrow on Christmas Day? We’ll find out after pudding, I guess…
All that remains for now is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas – have a wonderful time, everyone. And happy playing, when you get round to your board games…