Clever Spell-Casting in Aether Magic

Aether Magic Card Art ExamplesAs I mentioned in my previous post, the Happy Mitten team has really focused on a handful of clear goals with the games they want to publish: easy-to-learn, engaging player interaction, and allowing players to be clever. That “Magic Sauce” post focused on the player interaction, so I thought I’d write another to explain how player-cleverness comes into the game.

For those who noticed my answers to the “Foxhole Fiver” at the The Meeple Mechanic website, you’ll see that I brought up the Spell Cards as an answer to a design challenge while developing the game. They weren’t in the game at first, but shortly after switching to the spell-casters theme, we got some incredible feedback from playtesters at one of the many cons that the Happy Mitten folks played the game at. Originally, the turn cycle ended after your Aether produced some Elements. The collection of Elements were then scored at the end of the game. But players (rightfully so) wanted something more … they wanted to be able to actually cast spells — and the spell cards were born.

The spell cards do a number of things in the game … Continue reading

The Magic Sauce in Aether Magic Player Interactions

Aether Magic on KickstarterIf you’ve listened to or read any of the player commentary about Aether Magic — like the player quotes on the Kickstarter page, or this succinct review on BGG — you will see a lot of references to player interaction, bidding/bartering, engagement, etc. This interactive style of play was the main driver for this game design, and was always our touch-point to come back to as the game went through its year-long development process, once signed by Happy Mitten Games.

Engaging player interaction, gateway-style accessibility, and allowing players to make clever plays are three of the pillars that the Happy Mitten team continued to stress throughout that process. In choosing a very familiar, comfortable theme like “magi casting spells,” they knew they would be able to get an artist, such as Jacqui Davis, to knock it out of the park (and as you can see, she definitely did!), but that it would also allow these mechanics to shine through.

Here’s my take on how the bidding works and why it adds so much to the game … Continue reading

Some Things to Like: Castle Danger, Keeps & Moats (first in a series)

A Montage of Matt Worden's Games as of December 2012As I mentioned in my previous post, Grant Rodiek is one of the designers whose blog I read on a regular basis.  He recently wrote an intriguing post on the idea of purposefully designing joy into games.  It got me thinking about my own approach to design — how I go about it, what I focus on, and why I put things together the way I do.

It made me realize that when I’m designing a game, I focus mainly on creating problems for the players to solve, providing them some limited tools to solve the problems, and then forcing some tough decisions on when and how to use the tools available.  Usually, those tough decisions work around the player choosing to give something up in order to gain some advantage.  This means that while I usually start with a theme and then form mechanics within it, I’m really a mechanics-first designer … since the mechanics play a more important role for me.

This does a few things:  It means that I usually am able to get the elements of a design to work together mechanically very quickly, making it easier to test things at a mathematical/physics level. But, more critically, it means that I’m relying quite a bit on the players to convert the theme and what I think may be a nifty combination of mechanics into the “aha” moments of joy that Grant wrote about. And, even more critically, it clarifies for me what causes some players of my games to respond with phrases like “missing that magic spark” or “dry” or (more painfully) “soulless.”  I’m not sure what this means for my on-going designs yet, but I think it it will cause me to take a wider view of the design, and focus more on the overall player experience. (I just don’t really know what that means yet … but willing to learn.)

So, as an exercise, I thought I’d walk through some of my more-or-less completed designs and comment on a piece or two that I really like about each of them. Quite likely, these will be related to the game’s mechanics (due to what I wrote above).  The first two games I’ll cover are a couple of my earliest — Castle Danger and Keeps & Moats Chess.

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