Over at the Board Game Designers Forum, there is a monthly game design competition. A theme and a few parameters are given for a game—say “time” and “has dice, but no more than three”—and from that, you have roughly two weeks to turn around a 500 or 800 word description of a game. Not the complete game, but the idea behind the game and some expression of how the game would play. The winner of the competition gets nothing at all; all that participate get the experience of starting a game design in public and gathering criticism from other designers1. From these proto-games, real, finished games may emerge.
This month, my friend Seth posed a 500 word competition about a game that increases in complexity as the game goes on. The main thing about this month’s contest (called Grow Up!) is to create a game “where the late game dynamics are bigger than in the early game and encompass much more… stuff. This month’s Showdown challenges you to create a game that increases significantly in scope from beginning to end…. To go along with this month’s theme of ‘growing up,’ entries must include pieces (cards, tiles, bits) that grow each time they come into play.”
That last bit is what spawned the idea for Wheel. I’m going to develop this game here on the blog, perhaps with one or two more posts this month to see how it goes.2
Wheel is a two (possibly three) player abstract strategy game,3 which plays a bit like a deckbuilder—no, no, hear me out. Think of a color wheel/mancala board. Six areas, each denoted by color. Players choose complementary colors, so you might be blue and I might be orange. Our goal is to get our color’s pieces into the opposite location.4 The winner is the player with the most pieces locked into their goal space at the end of the game.
There are eight copies of each color card in your hand (we used A-6 of two different card decks, although you could probably cannibalize a copy of Candyland if you wanted.). Each card has the same instructions:
Place one of this color’s markers on that color’s space.
Then, if there are:
- 1 or 2 of that color on that color’s space: discard your hand.
- 3 or 4 of that color on that color’s space: move one marker off this color’s space, discard two cards, and then add one of this color’s card to your deck.
- 5 or more of that color on that color’s space: move one marker of that color, then discard one card.
Colors cannot move off their complements. There can be no more than 9 markers on a single color space. Once a valid card play cannot be made (or all available spaces are full), the game ends.
Tamara and I did a quick playtest of the game last night and it really ran well. Grabbing the intermediate colors (red, yellow, green, and purple) helps to start to block your opponent’s path and lets you start moving your pieces upstream to your goal. Loading up on your home color starts to fill your home space—denying your opponent places for scoring points—and allows you to start shuttling your pieces around the color wheel. Playing your opponent’s color adds one to their home base, but lets you move their pieces backwards.