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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Michael Fox Allows Me to Ramble On and On (Little Metal Dog Show)


Little Metal Dog Show's Jump Gate Ship

Oh, Michael! What has your dog been eating?!

Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show — an always-interesting podcast about board gaming — recently interviewed me via Skype for the show.

That conversation is now part of the latest episode of the LMD Show!  And he lets me ramble on and on about things … for over 20 minutes! :)

I will suggest that you listen to the whole show, because he starts with a very interesting industry topic — board games getting develop for iPhones and iPads — and ends by interviewing Stephen Avery and Tom Vasel about a game they have in the works by the name of Capo.

However, if you really just want to hear *my* nasally monotones counter-point with Michael’s brilliant and lovely pear-shaped lilting, you can start around the 23:15 mark.  And, yes, I was serious about my part being over 20 minutes long … and that was after some skillful editing!

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

-Matt

Spotlight on … Keeps & Moats Chess

Keeps & Moats Chess ScreenshotThe game Keeps & Moats Chess is my example of the phrase “oldie but goodie”.  I came up with the idea for the game sometime in 2003 and released the PC game a few months later.  I am still getting contacted every few months about the game, and the free demo keeps a pretty consistent download traffic.  It does not use any special graphics or sound libraries (like DirectX), so it should work on most Windows machines found today (from Windows98SE all the way through Windows7). 

Like with a lot of abstract games, I’m not a very good chess player.  I’m way too impatient and aggressive and don’t have a natural ability to see the whole board and envision how things will play out a few turns into the future.  This was the initial basis for the design … Continue reading