Isn't this dreadful.

Game Design #1 – Sphere of Influence

I first logged into Board Game Geek in June of 2012 and by February of 2013 I had come up with an idea for a game. The idea was so brilliant I had to share it with the world.

In the game players took on the role of revolutionaries staging an uprising in a grid based card game that I would describe as Pixel Tactics meets Arkham Horror. All I needed now was a game. Let’s see we’ve got:

  • A couple of card driven mechanics
  • A theme, lightly pasted
  • The ability to write letters and numbers on scraps of paper and put them in card sleeves

And that’s it. The first iteration of my very first game was done.

It was absolute rubbish. It was so bad that I threw it all away and started over.

I worked on the theme and the mechanics for another couple of weeks and the game transformed into something I called Sphere of Influence. A game of global politics and conflict, it appealed to me in a way that the initial prototype didn’t.

I played it all over and over in my mind. I had a spreadsheet full of cards that I merged into a template in Open Office. I was ready. So I printed out the second iteration.

The game play was… not great, not even good, really. I was disappointed, but I felt optimistic that with a few more iterations those problems would just work themselves out.

Isn't this dreadful.Fixing It Again?

I spent the next few months working on graphic design. I focused on making the cards looks really cool (or at least what I thought looked really cool at the time).

After spending about $50 in toner I had a set of cards that we could really play the game with. The cards looked great(snicker). There were unreadable fonts and sci-fi brushes galore.

This iteration would play so much better than the last one because everything had been fixed in my mind.

My partner and I sat down to play the game. I went over the revised rules with her and after some hesitation she was ready to play. The game play was only slightly better than the last iteration.

When to Fold ‘Em

I spent the next few months trying desperately to make it work. When I was done I ended up with little more than a glorified hour long game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Development continued until September of 2013 when I found design contests at BGG.

What I Learned

  • Game design is hard work.
  • Know when a design is bad and be able to move on.
  • Iteration is key to the design process.
  • Fix things on paper not in your mind.

What I Wish I’d Learned

  • Take notes during game play in a special design notebook.
  • Don’t waste toner on fancy cards that will be in the trash the next day.
  • How to find the fun in a game.
  • I needed to play more games.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on the game at the time you can look back at this thread on BGG. I look back at what I thought I knew and have to laugh.

This week’s recommendation for serious reading will be The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. I wish I would have read this book before I started designing games. It is easy to read and it opens your eyes to so many different ways of viewing games.

The Wrap Up

Sphere of Influence was abandoned in September of 2013. The remains are kept in storage in the vault, should they ever prove useful to future generations.

Sphere of Influence: Status – Abandonded

February 2013 – September 2013

Up Next

Our plucky hero faces the psychological brutality of Franz Kafka’s The Castle. Can he withstand the endless nightmare bureaucracy of the castle and the relentless torture at the hands of the Villagers. Tune in next time to find out. 


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