I love designing games, board games in particular. The inherent problem that troubles me with such endeavours is that designing things all by your lonesome is unmotivating and dull. To battle this ennui, I suggested a board game design challenge to Mikko Hyvönen, a good friend of mine. He's been working on a couple of games of his own, and I've found his tenacity in playtesting and developing them very inspiring. So, we decided that we'd start a design challenge together, to benefit from each others' skills and abilities. I will document my work process here in a series of articles, and eventually maybe even post the actual game out for download (once it turns out to be good enough).

The goal is for each of us to design and produce a board game prototype. We started by determining some parameters for each of us to design around, two universal ones and three personal challenges. As a basis for this preliminary work we used Gigster, a game idea generator by LudoCraft (check it out, it's pretty neat).

The two keywords we have in common are ”mythology” as the theme of the game, and ”continuity” as the design challenge. My personal design cues are ”co-operation” as the core aesthetic, ”sneaking” as the goal, and ”phase based gameplay” as the genre. (Please take note that we applied the Gigster framework very loosely, and purposely left our keywords very open to interpretation, to better suit our creative flow).

So, from this basis I started formulating a game. Mythologies the world over are full of stories about intrepid heroes sneaking to greater glory, either to murder some poor unsuspecting monster, or to rob it blind at the very least, so this particular combination seemed fruitful as a beginning. Phase based gameplay can support unpredictability pretty well, so the inherent danger element necessary for a good sneak should be reasonably easy to build in. Co-operation can be interpreted in many ways: obviously, the players will be working towards a common goal, but optimally there will be a possibility for interaction and assistance between participants as well. The most challenging keyword of the set is obviously ”continuity”, but I figure that if I can get the rest of the bits to play nice I'll eventually run into a way to work that in there somehow.

So, as a first premise for the game I think I'll use the story of Odysseus in the cave of the cyclops. It is fairly well known, and the hero and his crew form a natural basis for co-operation. In the story, Odysseus and his crew are imprisoned by the cyclops Polyphemus in the monster's cave. The exit is blocked by a boulder too big to be moved by anyone except the host, so there is no point in killing the monster: the crew would just starve in the cave. Thus, Odysseus decides to blind the cyclops, and eventually the crew escapes by holding on to the bellyhair of the unseeing giant's sheep when he lets them out to pasture in the morning.

So, the game consists of a board representing the cave, with the cyclops sleeping fitfully in the other end, and Odysseus and his crew (represented by tokens or something) starting at the opposite side. The first half of the game consists of the crew maneuvering themselves towards the cyclops. The cyclops may wake up at any time though, and the sheep that the crew can hide behind can move randomly as well: if the giant wakes and catches one of the crew out in the open, something bad will happen. The game uses two decks, one for the players to plan their moves (similar to Robo Rally) and one to determine which phases happen during a turn (player movement, cyclops stirring and sheep movement as basic types in this one). Since in the story, the adventurers blinded the cyclops during the night when he was sleeping, game lenght can be the a set number of turns representing the duration of the night.

Once enough of the crew has made it to the cyclops, they can blind him (I think it's safe to assume that blinding a cyclops is not a one man job). After this, they have to scramble away to grab a sheep to hide under, as the pained monster flails around. Once all crewmembers are either hidden or dead, the game ends: if enough of the crew made it out of the cave, the players win. If not, they can't operate the ship and escape, and are eaten by the cyclops anyway.

So, that is the basic premise of my game for the challenge. Obviously there are several glaring questions to be solved. One of them is player interaction: can the players affect each others movement? Some sort of player interaction has to be included into the game, as co-operative games are mostly about the social experience, and planning the optimal actions for the group together. What happens to players who are dropped out? (Actually, rather than a challenge, this can be a chance to fullfill the ”continuity” clause of the challenge, if I can think of something for the drop-outs to do) In addition, the overall difficulty can only be gauged after experimenting with the functionality of the design. Anyhow, this is the framework I've come up with for the challenge. The next time we sit down with Mikko I'll get some feedback on these ideas, which will probably warp my design to some entirely new direction.