Designing a Player-Created Game

As mentioned in a previous post, I would like to design a game that’s played using blank index cards and pens (and maybe other convenient implements). I love games like Mao and 1000 Blank White Cards that are wildly unique every time because the players create the content and build the rules as they play.

On the other hand, I like having a real objective and a chance to win, in which case I think Rumble may be the holy grail: Players create content and may create rules, but the foundational rules of the game keep things focused and an auction system prevents the creation of overpowered rules.

As a third point, I like storytelling and games that develop in tension and challenge as the game proceeds. Werewolf has got this potential in spades, but mostly because it has a single storyteller. I would settle for a game with resources that run low toward the end.

Fourth, games that play cooperatively or just create unusual/asymmetric player roles are interesting to me. The Lord of the Rings TCG jumps to mind, where on a given player’s turn they are the good guys, and all the other players cooperatively run the forces of evil.

Finally, I’m kinda hooked on the idea of players building a map or board with the index cards as they play.

So, mechanics to consider:

  1. Custom content created by players on index cards, pre-game or in certain phases, as in Dvorak or Rumble
  2. An auction system like the one in Rumble or the optional one in Tikal, to balance content creation. Note: Does this require that the game be essentially competitive? It also requires something quantitative for players to sacrifice: points, health, money.
  3. A resource that runs dry over the course of the game, like the hexes in Tikal or cards in Island of D 2. Maybe a fixed number of cards? Maybe falling HP?
    Conversely, if a cooperative-competitive mechanic like LotR TCG is implemented, giving increased resources to the opposition would work too. In LotR TCG this is a property of the location cards. For this trend to be present in a player-created game, it must be part of the core mechanic.
  4. Hand management? Only in the case of a game with a persistent (constantly revised) deck, like 1KBWC, which takes more setup… and is probably impractical, given that a board-building mechanic probably dictates having different “types” of cards.
  5. Map building: I’m quickly realizing this might be the most complicated bit. The random map needs to have a significant impact on play, somehow, and it needs to be made up of player-created cards. Most random-map games work because there are only a few kinds of map tiles: All tiles are resources in Catan, everything’s temple, treasure or jungle in Tikal, and all the Carcassonne tiles are made up of castles, roads, fields and monasteries. So option A is to put severe limitations on what a map card can contain.

    Option B looks to card games for inspiration; LotR TCG or others for a single-location system, the Decipher Star Wars CCG for a line of connected locations, or maybe Island of D 2 for a grid. In these games, the relative position of locations is not much of a concern. Instead, locations have special actions or properties, and can even create the core mechanic of the game. This seems like a more suitable canvas for player-created content, but also that much more difficult to balance.

So, ideas:

  • Dungeon Crawl: Players each create a character and then shuffle and assign, or auction. Players then create locations with specified challenges and rewards at the beginning of the game (say, four apiece). Players select locations by auction or shuffle. On a player’s turn, his opponents compete for the opportunity to place a location. The player then directs his character through the ‘dungeon,’ gathering as much gold as possible. Last player standing or player with the most gold when all locations are placed, wins.
  • Towers: Instead of having the players build a typical top-down map, they are building a side view of a tower or skyscraper. You could give everyone a game piece and somehow challenge them to climb the tower. That creates an easy paradigm within which the players can create location cards, and could make relative positioning important. To determine: how players move up the tower, and how they impede one another’s progress.

Just an initial brainstorm. More to come…

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