Friday, 28 June 2013

Game Design - Piece abstraction

As I have been working through the logic of the Loch Maiden game it is interesting to think through the process of game design and in this case the specifics of board game design. There are a host of specific things to think through that all come into play at the same time in the design process much like Architectural design which blends the aesthetic/emotional side and the more pragmatic/scientific ideas.

Take the design of the little monster playing pieces for the game. They are one of the fundamental components to the look and logic of the game forming an important part of several gameplay moments. Testing out the pieces with the 3D printer shows just how tactile they are and importantly the game has 'space' for people to play with them in the leadup to each placement round. This downtime for the pieces is one of the ways that the roleplaying opportunities arise - players can act out with the toys their silly interactions or the perils of an event or the fickle perspective of the monster maiden.
Getting the balance, size, weight and texture of the pieces all go to how nice this tactile component of the game is, but there is one big decision to be made. Should the game pieces be somewhat generic, iconic and representative of a monster (like a meeple or the bishop in chess) or should the pieces be much more detailed highly evocative playing pieces? There is something nice about both options, the first allows the generic shape to be important and the card/board artwork to flesh in the details of the more generic form. The other makes the pieces really come to life and elevates their 'cool toyness' above the cards.

This is all about the level of abstraction. Some games maybe abstract things too far, take Dominant Species which has each player using just various coloured cubes to represent their amphibians, birds, mammals etc. You could argue that the diversity in those 'species' suggests a very high level of abstraction being good - but it does push the theme into the background much more-so than I would like and the same goes for Pandemic or Flash Duel.
There are games with chess-like abstraction which is more thematic than cubes. There are quite a few 'woodern meeple' games like Stone Age that imply a little character, but if you look at a game like Agricola that has generic pieces to start with but people just love creating more thematic versions for themselves - check the images section on the BGG site. Games like Ticket to Ride and Castle Ravenloft step things up from there before we get to full tabletop miniature gaming with the likes of Warhammer.

So where does that leave the Loch Dreagan pieces - at the moment I want to go with the more detailed pieces as they help bring the player into the world, help you feel like these are real monsters striving for love rather than just abstracted game pieces.