Finding a position
So, last week I redesigned my game and eventually tested it. The redesign was intended to target the problem areas of my game:
Heavy mechanics and Magic nerds quickly become board with it.
A player who falls behind early tends to remain behind.
The experience the game offers remains the same for too long.
I couldn't think of a solution for problem 2, but I figured the easiest solutions for problems 1 and 3 would be to add an additional mechanic and slim down the game. So, I added:
An ultimate card that provides a powerful effect for a high cost.
Reduced deck size from 30 to 20 cards.
Reduced track size from 30 to 15 cards.
The result felt awful. The game was now too short, and I wasn't finding the ultimate cards to be very interesting. I put the project aside, lay down on the carpet in my office, and set myself to the task of figuring out what specifically I'm trying to capture in my card game.
I no longer believe I'm actually trying to capture racing, per se. In a realtime racing environment, be it on the street, NASCAR, or a videogame, someone is always going to fall behind. Under such circumstances, it's rare for the person in last place to make a comeback so extreme as to take 1st.
Videogames tend try to add abilities to allow the player in last to make some comeback. The Blue Shell in Mario cart is the best known example. The Blue Shell also sucks, because it's simply a fuck you to whomever happens to be in 1st when it fires. Put another way, the Blue Shell's only purpose is to slow down or otherwise inconvenience the lead player to the extent that the lead player is almost guaranteed to lose his or her position regardless of racing ability. It punishes a player for being good at racing and changes the meta to be about gaming 1st place rather than holding it.
I don't have much interest in designing a system that, by its very nature as expressed in the real-world equivalent, is so inherently unfair as to make Nintendo think the Blue Shell is a good idea. So, is there an alternative for a racing game? After all, by the very nature of a race, someone has to take a lead while someone falls behind.
After extensive thought, I believe I've arrived at a new approach that will aid racers in staying neck and neck without boiling all of the interesting choices out of the game. My inspiration comes from the movie Initial D.
The live action Initial D movie, based on either the manga series I've never read or the TV series I never watched, is about street racers who use drifting to race down a mountain in Japan. The plot amounts to an attempt at a heroes journey filled with characters I never cared about. Frankly, I'd advise most people to avoid the movie.
The inspiration I extracted from the terrible Initial D movie comes from the racing sequences. Participants spend a majority of their time as close together as they can manage. The reason for staying so close is simple: The opportunity to pass another racer only comes during the drift in the turn. If the lead racer drifts too far out in a turn, and if the racers behind can manage a tighter turn, then the racers behind have an opportunity to accelerate and pass while the lead racer is still trying to straighten out of the turn. Here's a clip from the movie to better illustrate what I mean (feel free to mute, as the person who posted this video dubbed anime music over it):
I have no intention of making a game about drifting. My point with focusing on the closeness of the racers in Intial D is that it's what I want to capture more of.
My past thought processes included those rare moments when a racer in the back surges forward to take the lead. However, attempting to balance in such a way as to allow for that possibility without providing even more tools for the lead player to stay ahead, or for the game to descend into randomized chaos, hasn't been working. So, as many racing movies have done, I'm cutting out the stragglers and attempting to set the players as the dueling protagonists of the race.
My initial tests on my own have been promising. I've simplified the actions available to players, and the Event Deck is now the Track Deck. The Track will be randomized with each play, and I'm aiming to make it complex enough to invite repeated plays while simple enough that players will be able to understand the board state in a glance. I'm planning on adding a bit more complexity with tokens and a special central deck instead of 4 separate decks.
I believe I'm doing something unusual in the board game space, and I can still see the skeleton of the previous versions of this project in the new design. I don't believe the actions I'm taking will make the game more generic, which is something that is always a concern when you're attempting to appeal to people.
Until next week.