Dealing Cards

Most of my games and prototypes lately are very board gamey and almost always involve dealing random “cards” to create a hand of cards. For example, in Subterfuge players have the choice of one of three specialists every few hours, which is similar to dealing 3 random cards and having the player pick one.

You would think that dealing cards at random would be trivially easy to implement. You would also be wrong.


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Lasting Legacy Rulebook

There’s nothing like writing down all the rules for a game to keep yourself honest. You can quickly see if complexity is spiraling out of control, and, most importantly, you get to see if your expectations of the design match the reality of the game.

So I decided to write a “rulebook” for Lasting Legacy. I put rulebook in quotes because Lasting Legacy isn’t 100% a board game. There’s a light simulation component behind the scenes that is opaque to the player, but everything else can be treated like a board game. I figured it would be a good exercise for me, and maybe a good reference for early testers so they know what’s going on without a fancy tutorial.

Family tree

I’m happy with the final result. It’s about three pages of generously-spaced rules without any images, which beats a lot of board games out there.

A word of caution: This is not trying to be a funny, engaging rulebook. It’s a dry, to the point, description of all the rules in the game, arranged in the best way to understand all the concepts in a single read. It’s also not a “How to play” document. I think that could be another interesting exercise for down the line, where I just focus on the bare minimum to get a player playing. Continue reading

Isomorphism As a Game Design Tool

In the early stages of developing a game, once I have the idea and the feelings of the game down solid, my approach is to throw everything I can think of at the game and see what sticks.


My early-in-development creative process.

I don’t usually bother fleshing individual ideas out in design documents because it usually takes just as long for me to implement those things and see them in the game instead. And who would want to read about an idea when you can see how it works in the game directly?

During this phase I need to generate lots of different ideas because only some of them are going to stick. The more varied the better, so I like to approach my idea generation from different angles. The two most common approaches are starting from the theme, and starting from the mechanics

For example, in Lasting Legacy, we quickly came up with occupations like Family Doctor or Ball Organizer from the theme, and figured out what useful things they could do in the game (heal people, and attract new friends respectively).

We also came up with several occupations starting from a mechanics point of view. For example, we knew we wanted someone to increase the income of other people, so we came up with the Savvy Businessman occupation.

This time around I also used a third approach to generate ideas: Isomorphism.

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Using SQLite to Organize Design Data

I haven’t written purely about tech in a long time, but this is a particularly interesting intersection of tech and game design, so I thought I would share it with everybody. Be warned though: This is one of those posts that’s just about the thought process I went through for something and the solution I reached. I’m most definitely not advocating this solution for everybody. Think about it and pick the solution that works for you the best.

By now you’ve probably heard of Lasting Legacy: you’re managing a family around the 19th century through several generations, socializing, choosing good marrying prospects, and helping family members pick an occupation. Ah, occupations…


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The Feelings of Lasting Legacy

When I start working on a game, one of the first things I decide is how will the game make the player feel. Different designers have different ways of driving and focusing the design of their games: some will use a short elevator pitch, some will use key pieces of art, some will let the mechanics dictate the rest. I prefer to use the way I want players to feel to anchor the design, and I flesh out the rest of the game around it.

Once you have defined that feel, you can run every single design decision by it. Every game feature should support those feelings in some way, if not, they’re a good candidate to cut. And if some contradict them directly, you can veto them right away and not go down that path any further. Continue reading