2012: A Year in the Game Design Lab

Stone Age dice & meeples Over the past year, I've posted numerous game ideas in various stages, but all have been considered "in the lab" because they're really not ready for prime time. I just wanted to share my thoughts a bit. Next year I'm ready to actually see some of these ideas come to fruition. Here's a pretty comprehensive list of ideas posted to this blog in 2012.


Games to Prototype and Test
These are games which are to the point where I could make a prototype and actually test at some point.
  • Dung and Dragons/Dragon Ranch has been a long-simmering theme: Hippie co-op farmers raising dragons for their valuable poop. I finally cracked a cool mechanic for this idea, it just needs to get tested and refined. I'm really excited about how these simultaneous actions could interact with each other in unpredictable ways.
  • Wine Collector: This was an experiment in deduction game design. Not sure how well it's actually going to work in practice, but I definitely like the notion of averages being on one side of a card with a single number on the face.
  • Haunted House continued that notion, replacing numbers with shapes. This was inspired by a particular sequence in the latest Mario Party games in which you must repeatedly decide between three doors, only one of which leads to safety.
  • Exodus: Earth wants to be a "worker removal" game, where effects are triggered by removing a meeple off of a space. The eventual goal is to remove all of your meeples from the board before a meteor hits Earth. I just need to figure out the basic mechanics of the thing first.
  • Sidekick Quests: The Card Game came into being when my wife and I visited Lyndsay Peters in Canada. We hacked together elements of Waterdeep, No Thanks and some other stuff to make this hodgepodge of different mechanics. This was eventually streamlined to a much simpler push-your-luck card game that you should see available for beta soon.
  • Pop n' Locke's Last Heist was released as a playtest PDF to Writer's Dice backers early this year, but never saw much testing or discussion. Thankfully Tom Cadorette had a good playtest of it in August. I need to hit the document again to see where things should be tweaked and finally release things thing to the wider public.
  • Proxima-3/3io was ostensibly a board game adaptation of Triple Town. I need to test this set and see how the game feels to play as a multiplayer experience rather than a single-player puzzle.
  • Picker began with some exploration of Libertalia's blind auction mechanics. I still need to figure out how to solve the inherent negative spiral of choices that players have available to them. As it stands, there is still a "correct" choice in every turn. That's not bad, it's just a problem when there is one optimal choice rather than several.
  • Step Right Up is a game about snake oil salesmen hawking their wares on a crowded boardwalk. They sell goods to hire different kinds of goons to do their dirty business. The mechanics feel sound, they just need testing. The theme is unfortunately getting kind of crowded lately, though.
  • Seven Minutes of Terror was inspired by the Mars Curiosity landing and its absurdly complicated landing sequence. I think with some thematic cards and stronger endgame goals, this could be a nice light 10min game.
  • Dead Weight: Parkour vs. Zombies finally got a board game execution this year. It needs testing, but I'm glad I finally put that baby out in the world.
  • The following Thanksgiving, I posted Black Friday, a racing game that was also an auction game. Your position on the race track gave you best pick of items in your space, but you also had to bring back your items to the finish line in order to have the best score without penalties.


Themes in Search of Mechanics
These are game ideas that have a strong theme, but still need mechanical refinement.
  • Swap Clops the Tile Game and Swap Clops the Card Game: I'm really itching to use this fun art that Kari Fry made for me in January. Who doesn't love floating, surly one-eyed monsters? I still think the Clops have potential as a long-term IP.
  • Rulers: This Hunger-Games-meets-Mage idea was one of the rare story games from me over the past few months. This neverseemed to hook folks much, but then again I was lax in my development efforts, too. I'm going to see what I can do to put these out in a more digestible form soon.
  • Towers of Battle was a weird letter tile and area control game idea I posted on February. In hindsight, I must have read about apps like Letterpress and Puzzlejuice when I came up with this thing.
  • Vulture Capitalist/Bird Brands was inspired by No Thanks, Amun-Re, and Empryean, Inc.  I still occasionally get some mechanical ideas that could fit in this silly theme.
  • Dr. Remedy Grove: I had thoughts about this as a game franchise, each entry focusing on ecological themes and components made from sustainable materials. Kind of a Carmen San Diego for ecology.
  • Monks of St. Honorat honor their vow of charity in an interesting way: They earn lots and lots of money from their world-famous wine, then donate it all to their various charities. "Earn more to give more" is an interesting take on Brewster's Millions.
  • Where is the Poison? is inspired by the poison scene in Princess Bride. These mechanics seem good enough, but they could be much more streamlined. I imagine that this could be even as minimal as Seiji Kenai's Love Letter, but it just needs some more attention.
  • The Everywheres was a dimension-hopping game based on the CC-licensed superhero Jenny Everywhere. I really want to explore this game further with a mashup of Split Decision, Talk Find Make, and Thanks and Complaints (below).
  • Thanks and Complaints as a replacement for the typical success/failure binary in role-playing games. It brought to mind much different reactions to typical adventure game violence.
  • This City-Building Tile game is has a reasonable theme already, but I think some more thematic tiles would do wonders to make the game more strategic, too.
  • Asteroid Mining is a pretty cool idea to me and I think I'm close to a good mechanic here. I need to decide what it is you do with the materials you're mining, though. May also need a smaller asteroid belt/card deck.


Mechanics in Search of a Theme
This is by far the biggest category in the lab. These are mechanics that as yet haven't found a good theme with which to be paired.
  • Dice Pool Action-Selection Mechanic: This was posted right after I played Yspahan and saw its very clever dice mechanic in action. I wanted to capture something similar as an action selection device.
  • Dice-matching resource management: I must have been on a dice kick last spring, because here's another dice pool based resource acquisition mechanic. No idea where this one will go, but at the time I imagined it as a game based on Maslow's Hierarchy.
  • Dice Puzzle was eventually cracked by my mathematically inclined friends, but it was a cute diversion. I may revisit the basic interaction again at some point. 
  • 3-2-1 had you roll three dice, keep two results, then give one result to the next player. It brought to mind a lot of co-op potential. Will tinker with this eventually.
  • Legacying was a popular subject last year. I even wrote three best practices for how to do it well, which got noticed by designer Rob Daviau. I look forward to seeing how others use the Risk: Legacy mechanics to design brand new games.
  • Secret Action Selection + Public Negotiation was one of the many mechanics I explored for Dung & Dragons last year. It turned out to have a critical hurdle: If you're co-operating, why keep action selection secret? I never revisited this idea long enough to answer that question, but I should.
  • Player-Controlled Resource Values struck my fancy as I explored stock market themes. In this case, buying and selling a commodity raised or lowered its value on an abstract tracker. The price you pay now influenced the price you'd pay later.
  • Memory + Action Selection was another one of those mashup ideas that never got explored too deeply. It may still have something worthwhile as a kids' game with some additional strategy for adults. Basically, if you found two matching tiles, you could do the action noted on those tiles. Thus, you're not just memorizing placement, but pursuing specific tactics.
  • Multi-Memory: I also explored multi-dimensional memory mechanics in this abstract card game, but it might be too dry a brain burner for the MENSA Select judges.
  • Vases, Crates and Barrels broke down the rarity and distribution of the Yspahan game board into a single deck of cards. I still need to suss out how best to use this information, but it's powerful mojo.
  • Then there was this Yspahan+Knizia+Cosmic Encounter mashup where you negotiated trades for certain goods with the other players. Ultra minimal, but with emergent behavior. (At least, that's the hope.)
  • Chibi Sweeper was a tabletop mashup of Minesweeper and Chibi Robo. Not sure where this one is really going, but once again, I like the idea of knowing half-information, then deciding whether to commit to the second half.
  • Recycling Decks is basically a typical deckbuilder, except your discarded cards go to your opponent. It really needed a strong theme to make that make sense, though.
  • Make Me an Offer was the first in a series of little ideas where I tried to take the basic interaction of games like Apples 2 Apples and Cards Against Humanity into the realm of a Euro board games. Not sure how successful it is without a better theme though. In hindsight, this might be a strong game with a deck of Sushi Go cards. Which led to...
  • A Co-Op/Competitive trading game that could theoretically work as a system for For The Fleet. It just needs more redshirts.
  • I had a handful of trick-taking mechanics this year, but this was the most polished. It just needs a good theme to justify and explain the mechanics.
  • And finally, this worker-placement spillover mechanic was an interesting idea that sparked a lot of discussion for themes. Scientific progress perhaps?
Phew! 2012 was a prolific year for half-assed ideas. That's being generous, most of these are quarter-assed at best. Goal for next year? Add the rest of the ass. Yes.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.