My “Aha!” Moment

In these pictures you can see a more complete version of the prototype hinted at in yesterday’s post. It is/was very colorful and reasonably well constructed, but almost impossible to play. Not only were the rules mind numbing in their complexity, but they were ultimately drowned out in an ocean of fine print I had conjured up to address every nuance my imagination was capable of.

Perhaps I would have made a good lawyer…

I was trying to keep it realistic, while simultaneously making it interesting. What I actually accomplished was making the game unplayable. I was then, and remain still, in uncharted professional and intellectual territory. This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I have no training, experience, or formalized knowledge about any aspect of this process. As a result I am essentially making this up as I go, and every decision is based on instinct, guided by intuition, and juxtaposed against other random knowledge I’ve acquired over the years. So with that in mind, what you see here, was me throwing every idea I had at the time, into the game, and then doing my best to streamline the process of executing those ideas.

Throw every idea you’ve got at the wall, and see what sticks.

I was reasonably successful at amalgamating my ideas into a coherent package that was decent to look at. But when the time came to actually play the game, it was problematic. We didn’t yet have poker chips to track money, which was a huge pain point. I attempted to track the economy with a mini dry-erase board, but that was about the most cumbersome and ineffective system I’ve ever devised. The rules I had concocted — all 14 pages of them — were so specific and hyper-nuanced that we never actually got to employ many of the mechanics I was most looking forward to. There were also far too many boards (9!) for a game with just 6 players. The abundance of real estate resulted in a rather peaceful game: the exact, polar opposite of what I was aiming for. Additionally, up until this stage of development, I was still running the game with fixed, preset purchase prices for the regional assets. These were the issues that drove me to make the most important changes to Frenemies yet.

There is value in keeping the game grounded in reality, but you have to find a balance between realistic, and fun.

Struggling to maintain the spirit of the game, it was during that session I had one of my most important Aha! Moments. First, I decided to cut the number of boards. Having total control of a single game board in Frenemies is massively powerful. But when the number of boards exceeds the number of players, it’s likely going to happen more than once. I also discovered the difficulty in trying to fix prices, rather than letting the market sort it out. If we couldn’t devise an effective price-fixing scheme in something as simple a board game, one can only wonder what the bureaucrats are thinking in Venezuela right now!

Reduce the board:player ratio, and settle all purchases via auction/competition. Cutting the number of boards, implementing an auction system, and the general redesign I will share in tomorrow’s’ post, are what I believe make this game work now, unlike before. Everything since then has been smooth, and I will get more into that tomorrow.