Game Design Diary #2: Mechanics Inspiration

Compared to the board game geeks and designers that I’ve read online, I haven’t really played a lot of board games, especially all the new ones that have recently come out. I have to say though that I thoroughly enjoyed discovering all these new Euro games like Settlers of Catan. Swapping cards with 7 Wonders; deck building with Dominion; worker placement with Lords of Waterdeep; cooperative gaming with Pandemic — these were all incredibly new and fun concepts to me! So when Elbert and I decided to start thinking about Halalan, I thought that I could start first by reviewing existing mechanics and see which ones I can copy and combine into something new.

Lords of Waterdeep is one my favorite board games these days! Image source.

The game definitely needed three main components: the Politicians who are running for office, which represent the players; the Voters who the politicians are vying for, which represent earned victory points; and Strategies, which represent the various activities that the politicians do during campaign season.

Out of the games I mentioned above, Lords of Waterdeep was something that really stood out for me and my wife. Apart from the beautiful art and overall D&D theme, the rules were very simple to understand, and the game felt very balanced and competitive at the same time. The Quest card mechanic from Lords felt like a good mechanic to use to represent Voter cards. The player can accumulate a certain number of resources and use it to win over (or buy) the voters to their side.

Sample of Quest cards from Lords of Waterdeep with a requirement and a reward. Image source.

We initially thought that these resources could be a combination of “Intellect”, “Wealth”, and “Influence”. But after much thought, I really wanted the experience of getting the voters to not feel like a purchased item. In real elections, an undecided voter demographic is being pulled back and forth by various politicians through their campaign jingles, speeches, debates, public appearances, and mudslinging at their opponents. Having a politician “pay” a fee to outright “win” a voter didn’t seem to fit the bill. Rather, I imagine it to be a tug-of-war, where players are paying actions and resources each turn to bring a voter to their side, while their opponents try to pull them away at the same time.

Android Netrunner, a fantastic two-player game of bluffing and intense strategy! Image source

Given this situation, I decided to look at other games for inspiration. One of my favorite card games is Android Netrunner, originally designed by the legendary Richard Garfield (creator of Magic the Gathering), and recently revived by Fantasy Flight Games. In Netrunner, there are Agenda cards which has a requirement number and a points number. The player has to spend actions (clicks) and currency (bits) to place tokens (advancement tokens) on the Agenda card. Once the number of tokens meets the requirement, then the player wins the Agenda and receives its corresponding points. The design of placing tokens on the card seemed to answer my problem.

Sample Agenda card with a requirement at the top, reward points at the left side, and reward ability in the center text box. Image source.

Imagine a Voter card that requires five tokens to win, and gives out three victory points. Players can spend one action and one resource to place one Influence token on the card. The first player who places enough tokens to meet the requirement wins the card. So each turn, the card would be covered with colored tokens from the players. A player can spend their resources campaigning to the voter, but an opponent can still snag it away as long as they reach the required amount first.

Strategy cards can help create more efficient ways of generating influence tokens. Players will also have to be strategic in choosing their battles if there are more than one Voter card available at a single time to choose from. Do they go for an easy Voter card that gives less points or do they invest in a bigger fish? Do they abandon a card that a lot of other players are fighting for and switch to an ignored card? I haven’t play tested the idea yet, and I’m definitely open to changing the idea if this doesn’t turn out well. But so far being able to tweak a mechanic from a game I love into something new feels very exciting to me! I’m really hoping this leads to something challenging and fun.

Tomorrow I’ll focus on the thoughts I currently have for the Politician cards.

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