Game Design #2 – Das Schloß (The Castle)

The Castle - Cover Art

On the heels of my first project was Das Schloß or The Castle. The game is based on Kafka’s unfinished novel of the same name. No, I’m not kidding; I tried to design a board game based on a novel by Franz Kafka.

Das Schloß was my submission (see work in progress thread here) for the 2013 Solitaire Print and Play Contest. Up to this point my only experience with solo gaming was Arkham Horror, and it was much as the title describes. So I had little to no experience with solo gaming let alone solo game design. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t win.

What I did have was a concept. I was going to play on the double meaning of the word schloß, which can mean both castle and lock. For the record, I still think this is a good approach and would like to go back and play with it at some point.

The premise for the game is that you are the protagonist K and have just arrived in the village. Every location is locked except for the Bridge Inn at the near end of the board. As you meet with new characters, you can move to new locations and unlock them. Ultimately, you are trying to unlock enough locations to climb high enough up the bureaucratic ladder to meet with Klamm. If you meet with Klamm, you win the game.

It sounds simple enough, right? Then why did I spend 200 hours toiling over what now amounts to a couple gigabytes worth of files in my Dropbox?

Because I kept forgetting what the description was. I got lost in: this mechanic vs. that and, where this character goes and, whether it was all thematic. Then I jumped off the deep end into graphic design.

Sample Card from the Castle

This project taught me a lot about graphic design, it made me want to learn even more, and it brought me to the realization that design is design. From the Louvre to a Coke bottle, from Google to Galaxy Trucker, there are certain properties which carry through in nearly every great piece of design. So if I become a better graphic designer, can I use that knowledge to become a better game designer and vice versa?

That’s what I’m banking on.

I watch Project Runway. I’ve seen every episode even the post show interviews. Some of the best fashion designers who’ve appeared on that show have been architects and graphic designers.

Granted, my work here wasn’t anything spectacular or even good, really. The card designs are overwrought and unprintable. But everything is legible. I only used one font instead of ten. I was learning graphic design and game design at the same time. And no one had to back my Kickstarter to make it happen.

I’m still quite proud of the cover art. Granted, I’m no artist, but I do think it captures something about Das Schloß. And I worked tirelessly tweaking the typography to make the E’s look like keys.

Mechanically this game was dead on arrival. As much as I tried to force this masterwork of literature work down the narrow pipe of game mechanisms I’d welded together, I just couldn’t make it work. So, the game was never finished. Just as Kafka would have wanted it.

I was going to call this one abandoned, but do you know what? I might just come back to this at some point; I guess I have a little something of K about me.

Status: Shelved

September 2013 November 2013

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