The Easiest Game Design Exercise Ever (Really)
Without commentary, here you go:
Create a “Race to the End” Game.
Understand the pattern. We have all played race to the end games. Think Candy Land or The Game of Life. Basically, you start at point A and get to point B. That is all you need to know. Draw a straight line on a long sheet of paper. You are now over 1/4 of the way finished. You can make the line squiggly if you want, but it probably won’t affect gameplay.
Find a narrative. What are you racing toward or what are you racing from? You can go as simple as Candy Land and say, “We’re racing to get to the end first” or something a bit thicker like:
- A bank heist (catch the robbers or get away if you are the robbers)
- To freedom from X
- To the pot of gold
- Toward the partner of your dreams
- Toward the top of the corporate ladder
The first one there wins. There are about a zillion more ideas from real world races to any contest in which one person tries to excel above another. If you cannot think of a narrative, pick one here or just keep going without one.
How do you race? What’s the game mechanic that allows you to move forward? You could use an element of chance (dice, random draw or whatever) or you can use an element of strategy (though this takes it out of the easiest design exercise ever) or skill (i.e. one point per foot a person can jump… though that would just be weird). Keep it easy and go with dice.
Add conflict. The easy as toast version of “adding conflict” is as follows. As a designer, you need to figure out a way to make the race interesting:
- Speed people up
- Slow people down
- Make people change places
- Make people lose a turn
- Give people an extra turn
Once you figure out how you will do this, let players do this to each other. So, I get to make you miss your turn. I get to change spots with you, etc. Add a few players so they have to decide who to affect or who to reward. The simplest way to do this is to put spaces on the board that force these actions. A modified version of this uses spaces where a player gets to draw a card. They may use the card on themselves or on another when they choose. So, I draw a “Skip a turn” card, and I play it on you or someone else whenever I want to.
You’re done. Will it win awards? Never, but you will have actually created a game, and the process will be satisfying enough that you just might want to make something else a bit more complex.
There was some talk over the last couple of days on my Fear of the Game post. This exercise is designed to get people who have never designed a game, but who want to design a game no valid reason not to do so.
Every single week, I am currently putting people through a design bootcamp of sorts. I declare on Monday, “By Wednesday, you will have a playable game,” and no one believes me, but by Wednesday, there they are playing and fixing and playing and fixing. All this is happening in a summer design workshop for rising high school juniors and seniors that I am presently teaching. It’s one of the most fun gigs that I get to do, because I truly see people get passionate about game design for the first time in their whole lives. I don’t know what they come in expecting (It’s called “Game Design Basics”), but I push each and every one of them from standing still with a bag of 100 wood tiles to a complete non-digital prototype in the space of a week. Granted, the prototypes are of varying quality and conviction, but each and every one of them is a real game that someone made. I hear “I love game design” daily, and for a geek like me, that’s poetry.