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Designer Diary: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game

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Board Game: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game
I'm sure I'm not alone here, but I love The Princess Bride. It is easily one of my all-time favorite movies, a timeless classic that I've watched countless times. Heck, I even played Westley in an improvised comedy version of the film. It's a highly quotable masterpiece, from the writing to the filming to, of course, the unforgettable performances. It's a dweam wifin a dweam!

So how in the name of the Guilder Frontier was I supposed to design a game for it?

Once Upon a Time...

Right from the start, I wanted this game to be a love letter to the movie. I wanted to make sure that anyone who played the game knew that its designer was a huge fan and wanted to do justice to this amazing film. Simple, right?

Picking a theme was the first task. Many years ago, I had joked with my friend Luke that a game based on The Princess Bride should be a co-operative game in which you're trying to keep Fred Savage from getting bored. That was the whole idea, and I dropped it after that.

While I was working up the theme for this game, that memory popped back into my head. Was it crazy? Would it work? Would people enjoy it? I decided to find out.

The adventure book idea was something I had been toying with for a different unreleased project with little success. While thinking about this game, suddenly a book of boards made complete sense and felt like a nice connection to the source material. It would call back to the original book, and also allow me to zoom in on various parts of the story without having to make a huge board that encompassed everything.

So, a co-operative game with a book full of boards. I felt I had something, and it was time to give it a try!

You think it'll work? It'll take a miracle.

We'll Never Survive

Co-operative game design is something I'm really passionate about. I love the experience it tends to generate, with everyone working together, coming up with plans, fighting the clock. It's a blast!

Designing co-operative games also comes with a unique set of challenges. In a competitive game, we designers can rely on your opponents to add things like surprises, pressure, and fun. In a co-operative game, the challenge itself must provide the lion's share of these aspects.

For The Princess Bride, I attempted several avenues. At one point, it was a dice allocation game. Dice are fun, and people understand them quickly. The problem was that there wasn't enough control over the variance. Getting the difficulty level right with that much randomness was taking up too much rules space.

I switched to cards, and things started to click. I'm a fan of hand-building, especially when it comes to co-operative games, so I came up with a basic "recipe" style game in which you had to get the right cards to the right players so they could overcome challenges in the story.

The book also added some interesting design elements. I could start with chapter 1 having only the basic rules, then in each subsequent chapter, I could fold in another rule or concept, while others may take a break. This allowed for great accessibility since you can use the first chapter to teach the game.

Finally, every co-operative game needs some sort of "clock" to keep the action going. This is where Fred Savage — or rather his character, the grandson — came into play. If you don't tell the story correctly, he will interrupt. Each chapter has its own ways of making this happen, but the second time the grandson interrupts the story, you lose.

This mechanism also came with some unique challenges. Since each chapter is a twist on the main mechanism, the clock had to morph with the game. A simple set of "event" cards wouldn't do since you couldn't control in which chapter an event would be drawn, forcing the events to be generic and a bit bland. Having a different deck for each chapter also has its problems; asking players to find each deck every chapter, and adding more points to possibly confuse them was too risky.

The solution I chose to go with was to have a plot deck that has cards numbered 1-20. Each chapter has a plot table, so at the end of each player's turn, you discard a plot card and consult that card's number on the plot table. This allowed me to have a single deck across all chapters, but to have the effects tailored to each one.

I might one day go as high as 50, but I really don't know what that would do to you.

Board Game: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game

This game went through round after round of playtesting. The people at Ravensburger really worked with me to make sure the experience was as good as we could get it, and that involved lots of playtesting on both sides. Gamers across the spectrum, from hardcore to relative newbies, each got a chance to give the game a go. Getting playtest feedback is a vital part of any game design, but it's how you implement it that really makes the game shine.

Playtesters, especially the veteran gamer variety, are generally quick to propose solutions, but I try to keep the questions to how the experience felt. Ideas for solutions are great, and sometimes can be right on the money, but as the designer I am responsible for the entire play experience, so I must carefully decide how to fix problems without creating new ones.

Skip to the End...

Once I was done with the game and handed it off, Ravensburger continued to playtest the game, often coming back to me with feedback and seeking potential solutions. They also went to work on the art, and I have to say, they have produced a stunning game. The attention to detail is superb, from the layout to the icons to the original art. This game was truly made by people who really love the source material!

The result is The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game, a game that I feel captures the swashbuckling whimsy that the movie is well known for, while being accessible enough for newer boardgamers to grasp. I hope you and your group enjoy it!

Ryan Miller

Board Game: The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game
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