This essay talks about the idea process, theme and issues of a board game prototype created as a challenge with a few requirements: Its multiplayer, has maximum 4 players, 1 loser and has a playtime for less than 30 minutes. It explains how the challenge was approached when designing the idea and theme, but talks as well about the issues and possible solutions, that could ultimately lead to a final game.
From bomb to Dating Sim to Leveling
It was decided from the start during the idea generation process, to focus on one aspect of the challenge given, being that the game had to be multiplayer but have 1 loser. So the mindset was not to play to be the winner of the game, but to avoid being the loser. The idea of avoiding being the last person with the bomb came to mind, similar to modded races in Grand Theft Auto 5, where the person in last would explode after a certain amount of time, unless they could overtake someone else. However an issue with that game that we wished to avoid was, if you were the person in first or perhaps even second out of possible 5 or 7 other players, it was unlikely you would worry about exploding. One race would typically eliminate 2 or 3 players before the race ending by everyone reaching the end goal, rarely giving the leading racers any sense of tension from the exploding bomb, and it would just feel like any typical race. The threat of losing had to be more or less equal to all players, so the bomb idea evolved with the board game Outrage; a game about stealing the British Crown Jewels. But instead of trying to steal the crown jewels first, the jewels were already stolen by the players, and the police was searching for the thief who had stolen it. This meant that the rest of the team had to set each other up by pointing fingers or setting up fake clues to make each other the culprit – like a reverse Cluedo. The glaring issue then was that it was easy to just quickly end the game by ganging up on one player. It could possibly be more entertaining if once one thief was caught, the game would continue until only one player was left. But then the game would be about finding one winner instead of one loser.
So the game we were aiming at had to: have a common goal for everyone, a time limit to reach it and limited space for the winners. In other words one would ultimately be left out as they did not have the qualities to overcome the others. We wanted a game about not being the loser, instead of a game about finding the loser.
Dating Sims can be about living up to certain expectations in order to achieve a partner. So perhaps the goal of the game could be about not being partnerless to a ball and only three people were left to choose from out of four players. It would have one loser, resource management in the sense that players had expectations to live up to by gaining points in certain qualities before the time was up.
Theme – the Tiger Mom
In Dating Sims, at least the kinds that we sought inspiration from, has game loops in form of days, where in each day the player can make a certain amount of actions to either gain currency for gifts, participate in activities that raises certain skills or just to go to places for story events or possible other goals like buying presents. But Dating Sims have a heavy focus on story and characters, which can take time. And considering that the game had to take approximately under 30 minutes per. game, the game could benefit from changing theme. There could be better motivations than going to a ball with a partner, since the player could just ask; why do I need a partner, or do I even need to go? A school themed game, with the exam as the ending goal could give an answer as to why the player needs to invest in certain skills, but it could not quite give a satisfied reason to; Why do I even need to go?
The intention with the player experience, despite being about not being the last, was still to have a sense of competition, allowing the players to feel better than the others, or have a better situation than others (the best at managing their resources). So instead of being the students with the best stats, the players had students that had to be better than the others – Hence the name ‘Tiger Mom’.
The game was now about the overbearing parent forcing their child to be the best, via. resorting them to a single brick in their board of time and resource management. The loop stayed the same: Gain either points or money to pay access to activities to gain points, which is working towards the goal of getting access to one of the available universities.
Issues of the end game
The prototype is not without its issues, and the biggest one is in its endgame. When the game starts there are four players and three universities – each with their own specific requirements. Having certain skills will give you an overall score towards a certain university, for example the Science university will give the player’s child a lot higher score with a high level in math than the Language University would. This means that from the start of the game the players are setting themselves by aiming towards one university and goes all out on just that. Because if you try to go for two universities hoping that your child will have a chance at either, you will quickly be outmatched by the other player who went only for that university. This means that there are two players who are safe with the competition and two others who have to battle. It is not revealed, unless the players does so out of their own agenda, what each player is going for, but it is easy to guess depending on the player’s choices. This issue has not been resolved at its current state, but ideas have been brought up that could potentially solve the issue.
The first attempt was the chance cards that had to be drawn at the end of each round. This resulted in random elements happening in the context of the game, forcing the players to change tactics – for example if a class was closed off the next day. Although it added more to the game, it did not change the player’s tracks, just forced them to take more risks or play more creatively.
Bribery was considered, meaning that the parent (the player) could spend their remaining money on trying to bribe the university into raising their kids final score. However, in play that gave money too much worth in the game’s entirety. When money was only useful during play, it encourage players to think more carefully about earning and spending. They would not focus on working too much, so that in the end they would have wasted too much time on money that was then never used.
The last consideration, which was never tested or discussed, is to merge the three universities into one university, with only three spaces left for the players to battle over. It would solve the issue of the players never changing path, by giving them all the exact same goal to aim for. The possible issue then would be, why then have different subjects to go for, if they each had the same value towards the end goal? Even if a random university was drawn at the beginning of the game, that had a specific requirements for entry, it would then change the game from management to a race and gambling of who can get the most points in the subject that gave the best score in the end results. And if the university’s requirements was first revealed in the end, it would be too random in comparison to the player experience we aimed for: The satisfaction from being the best at management the time and money.
Overall Concluding Statement
With a board game that spawned from the idea of a management game like dating sims, to become a fun game of management, as well as some commentary in play, Tiger Mom is not without its flaws. Unless the lack of variation or motivational elements to make the players change what they are aiming for, the game will be short lived and become predictable in play. Even though the considerations mentioned in this paper is assumed not to be the solution, they have not all been fully tested in play and the tests themselves has only been performed between the developers. So the game is not lost at further development, it just need more time.