Hi folks! Welcome to Fun Problems Issue #2, the newsletter for board game lovers.
This week we have:
Board game design tips from Peter and Sara
An easter egg in Jaipur
Black Orchestra, a game that takes an unpopular mechanic and makes it fun
Weird history: the real life Molasses Gang of 1870s New York
Mistakes beginner designers often make
Hope you like it!
— Peter, Sara, AJ & McKinley
Game Design Tips
Focus on the foundations first: your game's "core loop"
When you’re starting on a new design, it’s easy to think of a hundred cool mechanics and fiddly bits you want to include. But focusing on those obscures the game you currently have and makes it more difficult to develop what's called the "core loop" of your game.
The core loop of your game is the primary game system that the players interact with. It’s everything that’s necessary for your game to function.
Giving your players variable powers that change how the actions work for each person may be an awesome idea, but it’s not critical to your game functioning. On the other hand, a mechanic that everyone uses every turn (like card drafting or worker placement) is probably vital -- the game won’t function without it.
Stay focused on the core loop of your game, and cut everything else until the core loop is solid. Losing the fluff prioritizes the most critical part of your design, and ensures you have a solid foundation before you start adding sprinkles on top.
All those extra bits will come with time (if they’ll truly make the game better) but if you don’t have a solid core of fun, all the extra bits in the world won’t fix your game.
— Sara Perry & Peter C. Hayward
Board Game Easter Eggs
The story behind Jaipur's hidden panda
I love it when creators add “easter eggs” to their games. Hidden nods to other things they’ve created, or clever references to media – anything that rewards you when you go hunting.
Every camel in the two-player card game Jaipur is identical… except for one.
One camel card features a dead panda (see the crosses for eyes) squashed under the cargo, with no explanation for it anywhere.
When the internet discovered it, they were baffled. Eventually, Jaipur's designer jumped into a BoardGameGeek thread to explain. It was inserted as a reference to a fierce competition between two games from French designers – Zooloretto, which featured a panda on the box, and Yspahan, a trading game with a camel on the front cover.
The card comes with no special powers or rules, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of people creating their own. Some people have decided this specific card is worth an extra victory point at the end of the game. One of my friends treats it as a special commodity: if the panda card comes up, she’ll take camels on her turn, regardless of what the rest of her hand looks like.
That little panda might not look like much, but it’s won me more than a few games!
— Peter C. Hayward
Black Orchestra: The game where you try to assassinate Hitler
Black Orchestra is a cooperative game where you attempt to assassinate Hitler. It uses a mechanic that designers and players often look down on – rolling to decide the outcome –but uses it to deliver an incredibly immersive experience. (Rolling to determine starting resources is much more common.)
Winning or losing the entire game comes down to a simple roll of the dice, although you can improve your odds by gathering illicit weapons and intel on your target. This sounds like it would be unsatisfying, but it works. It captures the feeling that, if you were really trying to assassinate Hitler, there would be many factors outside of your control. You'd be desperate and praying for luck.
If you get caught, you'' be interrogated by the Gestapo. At this point, you have to make a secret choice that's not revealed to your teammates. You can escape the Gestapo by giving up crucial elements of the assassination plan – it’s not always the best strategic move, but it selfishly gets you out of prison and back in the game.
Black Orchestra is full of thematically intertwined mechanics. If you want to see a game that takes unpopular mechanics and uses them effectively, I highly recommend it.
— A.J. Brandon
The Molasses Gang: Part criminal organization, part comedy troupe
On February 3, 1883, three apparently drunk men walked into a grocery store, laughing and joking with each other.
They told the store owner they'd made a bet – who's hat could hold the most molasses? They wanted the store owner to decide (and they'd pay for the molasses, of course).
They held out the first hat, and once it was filled to the brim with molasses, they jammed it down on the store-owners head. By the time he'd managed to get it off and clear his eyes, they'd emptied the till and looted the store.
This seems genius, but really relies on stores keeping huge barrels of molasses around, so I guess that's why criminals these days mostly defraud people online
— McKinley Valentine
Fun Problems Podcast
Podcast: Common mistakes new board game designers make
Board game design is a deep and often challenging pursuit. In Fun Problems, AJ and Peter explore all aspects of game design and the fun problems (and solutions) that come with it.
In this episode, AJ and Peter discuss the most common mistakes they see new designers making. Both AJ and Peter started as new designers (that’s just how time works) and made many mistakes along the way, so they know what they're talking about.