Monday, February 17

Designer Diary: Coalescence

As I mentioned last week, I’ve started designing games again after a crazy year of construction last year.

The first of these is Coalescence - a game of solar system engineering.

The theme for this one came first (I think it’s unique too!) - you start with a solar system at the proto-planetary disc stage (an amorphous disc of gas and dust) and take it to a finished solar system with planets and moons.

I first tried this game out with Paul towards the end of last year. At that point I was thinking of an action selection game with hidden goals that partially overlapped so there could be one or many winners.

As is often the case, that first game didn’t go very well (way too short and it didn’t feel particularly interesting).

The next step (at the end of last year) was to turn it into a dexterity game where the board mirrored the gravity well of the solar system - a layered board where things naturally fell towards the centre of the board:

The first dexterity prototype

I took that to the first session of Newcastle Playtest in early January. The dexterity element brought an immediacy that had been missing and also an element of chaos, which suits the theme of trillions of pieces interacting through gravity as they spiral round the new born star.

There were however a number of things that needed attention: the board was made of layers of 5mm foam core stacked on top of each other - the resulting steps were so high it was pretty much impossible to flick away from the star. That version was the first to feature the hidden goals, but they were very binary - by halfway through the game you knew you had won or lost, which made the rest a bit pointless. And there was no story for why you were doing it.

A couple of weeks ago I took a new prototype along Newcastle Playtest:

The second dexterity prototype

This one was made from layers of card so the steps (5 instead of 2) were easier to cross. I’d swapped out the wooden cubes for the gems in Incan Gold which had a much more interesting shape and added a time limit to the game rather than playing until you ran out of rocks to flick. I made the board bigger and I also came up with a story hook:

Captain, there is a new solar system forming in Sector X/A9-4. I don’t need to tell you how tactical important that location is. We need that system to be perfect for us to colonise. Your mission is to go there with a stealth ship and a fleet of mass-driver drones and give things a nudge so it ends up how we want it. Like everyone else we’ve signed the galactic treaties that forbid this, so your presence and actions must go undetected - this is strictly on the quiet. Of course we expect everyone else to do the same, so expect inference too. Get this right and your career will be stellar.

The final change, suggested by one of the playtesters, was to have hidden scoring criteria instead of goals. So you would spend the whole game trying to get more points rather than you play until you met your win condition and then lose interest. It was much better all round.

Next up is to swap the six hastily scribbled hidden scoring cards for a wider selection and then work on balancing them properly.

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