Wednesday, November 30

Which Came First? The Mechanics or the Theme?

With my earlier games: Border Reivers and Carpe Astra the mechanics definitely came first, and the same is true of It's Alive! one of the games I published on behalf of someone else. With Border Reivers I started trying to make a game like Mighty Empires that played faster and less randomly; I really liked the networking mechanic in the submission by Ted Cheatham that became Carpe Astra, though the theme changed quite dramatically. It's Alive! had been through several themes before I changed it to building Frankenstein's monster. So in my experience, mechanics first seems to work ok.

To further reinforce this, most of the many games I've started designing but failed to finish/lost interest in/couldn't get working started out with a theme first, which I tried to find mechanics that fit after the initial idea.

The theme acts as a hook for the game to interest people, hopefully enough that they want to play or buy the game. It's often possible to re-theme a game by picking something that roughly fits the mechanics and then tweaking the mechanics, action names or card wording to get the game to make sense with the new theme. In my experience it's often possible with very few changes to the game.

As I mentioned earlier this week after a conversation with The Wife a new game idea sprang into my mind almost fully formed. Theme and mechanics combined. Since then I've tweaked the theme slightly to distance it from a couple of similar new games (which I've added to my Christmas list so I can play them and ensure my game develops differently) and the mechanics have begun the long road of changes that will hopefully lead to a great game.

For me personally, I think the mechanics-first approach is the way to go. What are your experiences? Are you a theme-first or mechanics-first designer? How will my new game idea develop: theme and mechanics in lock-step, or will the theme change as time goes on? Stay tuned to find out!

Monday, November 28

Hello? Hello? Anyone here?

Well, it's been nearly six months since Reiver Games officially shut down. The email addresses and website will be disappearing this week probably, the bank accounts are shut and the only time my games are mentioned on BGG is people trying to offload their copies in trades or auctions.

It's Alive! is now available on the iPad (a version which the designer arranged, I gave him the rights to the game and let them use the artwork for free, but otherwise had nothing to do with it).

I've moved back to Newcastle upon Tyne, where I lived when I first designed Border Reivers (hence the northeast theme), and I'm back working for the company I worked for at that time again too. I'm still into games, hosting a regular weekly gaming night at our house and trying to get along to Newcastle Gamers when my busy schedule allows.

Games design-wise I've done almost nothing for a while now, I've had a couple of ideas over the last few months, but it's been hard to drum up any enthusiasm for anything with the spectre of Reiver Games hanging over me, reminding me how bad I was at it. In the meantime, I've been moping around the house clearly bored: "In need of a hobby".

Until yesterday. Yesterday was a day of driving, at the end of a weekend of driving. The Wife and I were coming back from Bristol where we'd been visiting family and we had a five and a half hour drive on which to amuse ourselves (I was supposed to be driving, but driving-schmiving). We got to talking about Reiver Games and The Wife asked how sad I was about it. I admitted that I was disappointed that I couldn't make it work, and that every now and again I thought about how I could have done it differently: smaller print runs, not make the leap from hobby self-publisher to selling to distributors and trying to make a living from it in one go, etc. And then something weird happened.

You could do it again, you know. As a hobby. I'd help.

Wow. In the (para-phrased) words of Wash from Firefly: "Good wife". I'd tried. I'd failed. Miserably. To the tune of several thousand pounds of (almost) our money. And The Wife was willing to let me try again!

We got talking about the sorts of games I'd make if I had a chance to do it again differently. We talked about the sorts of games I think sell really well and the sorts of games she likes. And then I had an idea. It sprung from something she said and suddenly my mind was whirring with game ideas, I had a fairly well-formed concept in my head and I was fleshing out mechanics and card examples in my head instead of the things I should have been doing (like sticking to my lane and avoiding HGVs). It's Codename: Vacuum by the way, more to come on that front hopefully (especially if anyone is listening!).

So where now? I'm designing again, and I've got a load of enthusiasm back. I'm making notes and hoping to do some prototyping in the next couple of days. Will I have another go at a publishing company? Probably not. But the possibility is there and you never know. I'd certainly do things differently this time round and I know so much more than I did when I started Reiver Games, so it would definitely be less of an uphill struggle.

Reboots seem popular these days (Star Trek, X-Men: First Class, the new Spiderman), maybe I should hop on the bandwagon...