BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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The Prototype Diaries: Plus ça Change

So my last post was really two posts inexpertly welded together in an effort to make my thinking sound a little more joined up than it really is, and I just wanted to follow that up first. The nature of games is indeed interesting, but I am happy to concede that their nature is more interesting than the words used to describe them. But I do like words. Words are good. And important, at least in as much as they allow us to better describe our ideas, which are the really important things.

I drew a distinction between cooperative and collaborative games, but Seth Jaffee is right in his comment that such a distinction is only as good as what you do with it, and worrying about the words is only helpful if it really does bring the ideas into sharper relief. But, I don’t want to be or become prissy about the words themselves, and I was being just that when I pulled Seth up on his “Solitaire by Committee” label. It is, after all, a fairly accurate description of (often) how cooperative games get played, and an entirely valid reason why some will simply not enjoy playing them.

But, as I say, the post was really two posts in one, and the second bit — the part about how game design is a collective act — was the important bit, since I was writing it primarily to remind myself that trying to do it any other way would be a failure not just in practice but in principle too. So, with this self-proclaimed proclamation ringing in my ears, what’s new?

Oracle Pathway

[Gets out trumpet and burnishes it on sleeve.] Quick update on my prize-winning prototype: Portents are indeed good that it will be published in Europe (and tomorrow the World!) soon, or at least as soon as normal board game production schedules will allow. Consider this a pre-announcement announcement, since the paperwork isn’t quite done yet. There’s no news beyond that, other than I now notice that game designer and ebullient blogger Tony Boydell — a man who surely is to writing what Alan Coren was to game design — actually gave an account of the game in a recent epistle to the gaming community. And he definitely didn’t hate it. I think.

Brethren of the Coast

This is the brand new name for my old, old prototype Treasure Fleets, which has recently had two very productive playtests, the first at Surprised Stare Games HQ on the same day Messrs Boydell, Breese and Paull took a quick spin round Oracle Pathway, and the second in an unremarkable corner of a London pub with Rob and Brian who were both instrumental in running the highly successful Playtest Zone at the UK Games Expo. What’s remarkable about the outcome of these playtests is how much a game that has already changed drastically can continue to do so and yet — and yet! — remain staunchly the same game, if you get my meaning.

The new name does signal a thematic shift, which has helped to crystallise a more meaningful story for the game (which was never, I freely admit, a terribly thematic game in the first place). This change, along with a streamlining of the components, big changes in the nature and timing of the scoring, and an abandonment of the determinism of the deck (it’s really a ‘card game with bits’), all seem dramatic, but somehow their sum has brought only greater focus to the game’s core idea. It is now very much more of the game it set out to be, not less. Funny that.

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