Game Design: Elements

By 11/05/2017 Game Design

That being said, I can’t stop writing and reading while I wait for each playtest.

Even if I can make ’em happen weekly, which is a big “if”, I need to read and write faster than that. Some of Schell’s questions will have to be tagged as “TC” (“to come”) until I can answer them with further playtesting.

So, about elements.

There’s a reason, apparently, as to why I became so invested in looks. It’s the most visible part of the game. In fact, a large portion of the modern gaming industry treads on looks and polygon count. Holy fuck, if I’m gonna shoot straight dice, my last two computer purchases were probably completely driven by that single factor. And the kicker is, I don’t even like those high poly games. I’m perfectly happy playing Monaco, or Fez, or WoW, or Crusader Kings 2. Never have I ever felt the need to really upgrade my computer because a game I truly, really, actually loved demanded more than what I had to give.

Except, maybe, Skyrim.

But yeah, aesthetics count. They’re just not important right now. Right now, what’s important is to get the mechanics right. It’s what’ll make the game fun. The right mechanics, the right story, underpinned by the right technology.

Technology? Right now it’s cards, so I think we’re OK.

Story? I still feel it might be a little bit dry, but if add a few mechanics which might make the game even more enjoyable there might be a story to tell there.

And mechanics? Well, that’s what I should be working on right now. That’s what I should’ve been grinding over these past few months. Zeroing in on the few interesting mechanics that either make my game a fun game to play or a piece of garbage.

So I need a goal for my players, which right now should be to survive.

  • How? By keeping a large enough bonfire alight.
  • How? By placing fuel on top/next to the already lit sections of the fire to keep it going.
  • How? By scrounging for resources.

There’s a lot to unpack right there.

At its core I want the game to be a sort of puzzle game where, turn over turn, the puzzle changes. You’re sort of managing a naturally dwindling fire that’ll go out if you don’t add enough fuel. To add fuel, you need to place the logs over or adjacent to other lit logs and in the next turn you flip them over to their lit side. The logs stay lit for a whole round and then go out, so players need to go out and get more. But there’s a trade-off, because each player gets only a couple of actions on their turn:

  • Search for logs: take a lit log from the burning pile to do this. It is consumed in the process. You may draw three cards from the top of the deck.
  • Add to the bonfire: you may take three logs from the general supply and add them to the bonfire.

This is not terrible, but it is certainly limited within the spectrum of decision-making. Firstly, you don’t get to choose the cards you draw when you search. You are just given the top three cards. There’s no strategy there. Secondly, when you return, you just get to add them wherever you want within the mosaic of unlit, lit and burnt logs that is the puzzle. Very, very thin strategy there as well. And I haven’t even figured out how the “general supply” factors into all of this, or why is it even necessary.

So the only interesting thing is figuring out how to place the logs to keep the fire going, which kind of sucks. I mean, there may be some meat on those bones, but it’s congealed gristle.

Let’s give it another shot.

How about we start with a little story?

  • There’s a miserable bunch of cavemen huddling beneath a tree while a storm rages around them. They’re cold from the rain and afraid of the wolves that are about to eat them.
  • Suddenly, lightning strikes the tree, lightning it on fire. Warmth seeps into the cavemen’s bones and the wolves disperse.
  • They are saved, and realize that fire is a powerful tool to wield. As long as there’s enough fire, they’re safe.
  • Not long after, they are scrambling to keep it alight.


So maybe the game can start with a few pre-lit and unlit logs? Kinda like a starting scenario that allows the players more freedom to explore? Maybe a roughly Y-shaped thing at the centre? So now the players can go out and search for fuel.

Searching for fuel, the cavemen find different kinds of things. Kindling, tinder, softwoods, hardwoods. These can have different effects when placed on the ongoing bonfire. Softwoods could be your standard kind of wood. If you place it, it lights up by the start of the next player’s turn. Maybe hardwoods take longer to light up but last longer as well? You can add some tempo considerations into the game as well. Maybe tinder or kindling lights up right away, allowing you to pull off a magnificent save or jumpstart something.

Now, what do cavemen need to survive? Assuming they have a ready supply of water, they also need food. Maybe, at the end of each month, the tribe needs to have a certain amount of food. Without food, the cavemen starve and die, losing the players the game. This is starting to sound a bit Agricoly, which is not a bad thing, but it may step into the realm of something more complicated than what I want.

… let’s cross out food for now. They just need to have X amount of lit logs at the end of each of the 12 rounds. If not, they lose. Is 12 rounds to much? Hmm…

My first test will be to see if this firebuilding puzzle thing has any legs. Maybe it doesn’t, maybe it does. I can think of a couple of ways the exact mechanic can be exploited to make the challenge trivial so I’ll also test for that.

#9 Elemental Tetrad

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