• Andrew Jonhardt

The design of Elemental Slight

Remember the ButtonShy 18-card contest from last month? My submission, Elemental Slight, has officially failed to make the cut. Today's post is regarding my design for the project.

For the unfamiliar, here's a video ButtonShy put out introducing the challenge:

Elemental Slight had issues from the beginning, so I'm not surprised that it failed to reach the top 20. However, before I go over all that, I'll use my submission video to ButtonShy to explain how Elemental Slight works, for anyone who is unfamiliar:

So, as I mentioned, Elemental Slight had some issues.

First, Elemental Slight is played in its current form using Poker-styled cards:

Personally, I enjoy the Poker-style cards. A player can glance at another player's board and actually guess what their opponent may've played, whereas perfectly square cards would introduce a greater level of randomness. However, a number of the people I tested Elemental Slight with immediately suggested using square cards instead.

The reasoning for switching to a square card is solid. Poker-style cards make certain plays too obvious. 3 cards facing the same direction can only ever be 2 or 3 of a kind, can never be 3 random elements, and it's clear this bothers people. It feels like a reduction of strategic possibility.

I never tried using purely square cards for Elemental Slight due to the requirements of the challenge. However, if I return to the project, it's one of the first things I'll be curious to try.

The second issue with Elemental Slight is due to how the elements are used. The majority of play and scoring occurs through the relationships between the elements, such as when 3 of a kind beats 2 of a kind, and the natures or aspects of the elements themselves is irrelevant. I could be using birds, dogs, cats, and snakes instead, and the gameplay wouldn't change in the slightest.

Over the course of testing Elemental Slight, I asked my fellow designers for advice on what to do about the theme. I had absolutely no idea how to enhance the feeling of theme in the game without pushing it outside of the limits of the challenge. Unfortunately, the designers who helped me test the game didn't have any ideas, either.

Even now, a month later, I'm still unsure how I could re-enforce the feeling of theme in Elemental Slight. However, I love the name so much that I'm going to stick with the theme of elements for a while longer.

Finally, there's the issue of the extra cards. I could've pulled a 6-player game out of the 18 card limit, yet I wanted to try and do something more with the design space I had. So, I designed the game to always include extra cards for score tracking and to clarify turn order.

In hindsight, score tracking was something that wasn't needed. I set 3 rounds as an artificial limit on the game, both to draw it out to at least 2 minutes and to hard set a "win" condition. However, in testing, the 3 round rule was almost always too short to confirm an actual winner. Games tended to extend to 4 or 5 rounds instead. So, the extra cards I had were never enough, and the number of total rounds was always so low that players could just self-track.

The extra cards were far more useful for designating turn order. A big addition I would be happy to make to Elemental Slight would be a set of cards explicitly for this. Cards that just have 1, 2, etc printed on them, instead of forcing placers to remember who picked up which card first. Using the extra cards in this way easily transformed a simultaneous-play game into a series of 1v1 hand match ups, where tension grew as each player beat or lost out to another individual player. Best of all, there was typically a clear winner at the end (assuming the players present understood my rules, which wasn't always the case as I'm still working on my rule writing).

So, now the question of what to do with Elemental Slight. My original plan for the game was to make a free PDF of the cards for self-printing and a paid Gamecrafter page to sell physical cards to anyone who wanted a set. However, over the course of writing this article, I've changed my mind.

I don't like the current version of Elemental Slight. It was the best game I could make for the September challenge, but the game itself is not all it could be. It needs more work, and I'm not afraid to try a little more with it. The problem now is time.

I have a set 2-game limit these days. Working full time just doesn't allow me all the space I want. I'm already working on Masks of Undying, and ButtonShy took so long to process the 200-odd submissions they received that I've moved on to a new board game project. I'm not ready to talk about the new board game project yet, but I'm excited by the testing I've done on my own.

Elemental Slight isn't dead. I want the chance to take it back to the drawing board before I set it free.

Until next week.

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