Example of Play

Commentary on Games Design

Tight Briefs 2: Constricted Boogaloo

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In which Sam accidentally designs Talisman.

It was a dreary and inclement afternoon that was likely to become a dark and stormy night if it studied hard and applied itself. Sam and I were embroiled in a deep and philosophical GChat discussion:

me: the next dice game we do we are going to approach it from the point of view that dice enable players to make decisions. Even the really dense players that have trouble that only think that dice move you around a board.

Sam: OK

So the dice faces mark choices-

me: Yup.

Sam: -and they interact with the “rest” of the boardgame.

me: Branches in a tree of options, yes.

Sam: E.g.: one might be a foot logo that means: march forward a number of squares equal to the number foot symbols rolled

me: OK

You note that our GChat sessions are impeccably punctuated and the grammar is clean and clear with not an ounce of profanity. Yessiree- no editing here needed at all.

Sam: whereas rolling a sword might be you may attack with that much power (and that will increase your chance of defeating something)

me: foot + sword = move + fight

Sam: Yes! Foot + sword + sword = fight something big, near to you

me: Agreed

Sam: Foot + foot + sword = fight something small far away

And everything you kill you get vp’s


One other face = mana

Mana = power for spells

which you have 4 of, and finally, construction icon (hammer) which gives you points to build

You can build your base up (build up the mages tower for spells) or the training center (for +1 sword every turn free), or you can build roads (make it easier to run)

me: you realise you’ve just redesigned Talisman to make it playable and good…right?

Sam: umm


me: indeed

Sam: lol


never played


It’s at times like this I wonder how Sam has managed to survive his brief, brief life so far and still claim to be a geek. Anyway, this problem I could solve. I sent him to a good review of the game here:


Once Sam was up to speed with Talisman (roll and move game with more player choice than usual for a roll and move game), we got back on target and started thinking about a game with a board that player move around where what they roll determines their options for the turn. Keeping Talisman in mind in terms of its variable player powers and zonal board we resolved to make a game where dice rolling was a key element, but there were a lot less fiddly administration processes going on.

The exercise here is to find an example of a game that was designed without restriction and strip out the layers to get the same feel with a less bloated design.  The theme? A swamp.  No, really. Do you remember a Fighting Fantasy book called Scorpion Swamp?




Ah well. It’s the sort of thing that I wanted to applied this to. Trust me. It will be good.

Few games use swamp travel as a theme.

Can you believe that? The genre is wide open!

Talisman is a product of its time. Not a bad game at all, but dated, I feel. It has _so many_ different types of bits. There are different boards, decks of cards, characters, chits, tokens, cards on the board, next to the board, and with players. There are board effects, card effects, game effects and token effect- all of which need to be kept track of. Fortunately this is all hooked up to a roll-and-move wagon so it’s not deep and the layers and layers of ‘skin’ on top of the basic roll-and-move game don’t change the fact that that is what you are playing. What if we could make a game that gave the player the same sense of achievement in getting to a goal, but with a less linear journey and a more meaningful decision tree.

Also: less ‘stuff’

I proposed to Sam that we could design a game like this without cards. I am really, really, off designing card games at the moment for reasons that I will expand upon in a later post but I think that a stack of chits and effects generated by spaces on the board might serve a similar purpose. The rough outline of the game then becomes something like:

  • there is a board
  • spaces on the board do different things
  • there are dice, which may be different for each player
  • players have different ‘powers’ that might interact with the board and/or the dice
  • dice are rolled and players can make decisions on what they wish to do that turn based on the board state and what they roll
  • there are known and unknown chits that can be added to a player board in a form of tech-tree
  • these chits can be picked up from the board or earned by defeating monsters


I can’t wait to see what happens with it.


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