Two posts this week, since this post directly relates to the last. Originally it was all one post, but was much too long, so I've split it into two for ease of reading.
In the last post we talked about some of the qualities that the great (or at least, popular) gateway games (Carcassonne, Catan, Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Wingspan) all exhibit, beyond obvious stuff like "plays in 45 minutes", "not many rules":
Only teaches 1-2 new gaming concepts
Theme connects to familiar human activities
Game components are highly suggestive of how the game works
Turn options and goal remain unchanged for entirety of game (thanks to IndianaJonny for this one!)
In this post, I'll take a swing at designing a gateway game that exemplifies these principles, and see if anything comes of it.
As YSTWBF advises, we should start with a story, and tells us what kind of a story we should be seeking out. My first instinct here is to start with something that's pretty familiar and pretty well-liked, but that hasn't been covered in a great gateway game to date: theme parks.
It turns out there have been lots of games about theme parks: Alan's Adventureland, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Scream Machine (a personal favorite), Coaster Park, Dinosaur Island, DinoGenics, Imagineers (still don't know to this day how they didn't get sued into oblivion for that title...), Unfair, Funfair, World's Fair 1893, Meeple Land, Coney Island (as a Schacht fan I regret missing this one, will have to seek it out), Steam Park, probably others. Quite a lot of games actually! But all of these are about building theme parks, none are about the more familiar experience of visiting a theme park.
That may be partly because playing a game about a fun activity is less fun than just doing the activity, whereas building a theme park is unattainable for everyone and so perhaps it feels more escapist. But at any rate, we know that almost everyone likes going to a theme park. ()
One advantage this particular theme provides is that most of the game's action can be built on things that are straightforward and familiar: walking around, going on rides (and waiting for rides), eating food, buying souvenirs. ()
Moreover, the game's central gameplay problem can be the exact problem that park attendees face: time management, how to make the best use of your limited time in the park. ()
With these simple starting points, the mechanics are already writing themselves. A time track is obvious for a way of handling what you do, and though this is likely unfamiliar to most non-gamers, we are allowed one or two new things, so that can be our thing. ()
In our role/goal/struggle construct, we have the first and third, and what we need now is a scoring system that allows us to rate (and compare) our day at the park against that of our opponents.
Let's assume that the goal of attending a theme park is "having a good time", and ideally, when you go as a group, you want all members of the group to have a good time. It's a bummer for everyone if one player is miserable the whole day. So let's give each player a set of 4 person cards, representing your party. Think of it as your family, a friend group, whatever -- it's left to your imagination as to who these people are, thereby bypassing a stereotypical "Dad/Mom/Sister/Brother" dynamic.
Each person card has a list of 3 rides they really really want to go on, in descending order of importance, and your score is (partly?) dependent on each member of the party getting what they want. It may be that going on Splash Mountain over and over gives Dad a really fun day (in my family at least!) but if you don't also do The Haunted Mansion, it's for naught, because one member of the family isn't getting to do what they want to do, so loading up one member's fun at the expense of someone else in your group isn't a winning strategy. Thus, while we may have tactical considerations driving the order in which we go on rides, we have the same goal for the entire day: to emerge with a group that is collectively happy ().
And that suggests a Knizia most-of-the-least-esque scoring system. Going on a ride gives you "fun points", which are placed directly onto the person card based on how much that person enjoyed the ride, and at the end of the day, whoever in your group had the least fun sets your score. This system is maybe slightly unfamiliar but it makes intuitive sense in this case so we can argue it's congruent with , as a "second but more like one-and-a-halfth unfamiliar thing".
If it's just as simple as all that -- manage time to hit all the rides your party likes -- it's an efficiency puzzle, so let's add two things: something that we set in tension against the time management/efficiency puzzle, and something that creates interplayer friction. Ideally those are the same thing, and in this game's case maybe they can be.
There's another aspect to theme parks that we already touched on: it's expensive, it's a lot of walking, a lot of energy, a lot of waiting, a lot of time in the sun, and as a result of all this, people get cranky. ()
Thus, in this game, it's not all happiness and joy. The members of your party acquire "crankiness cubes". Waiting in long lines, not getting to do what you want to do, being hungry, all of these increase crankiness, and enough crankiness causes someone to have a meltdown. Thus managing each person's crankiness through judiciously chosen breaks, meals, and souvenir purchases, as well as choosing a ride order that keeps everyone happy, is part of the challenge. But again, this is pretty familiar to anyone who has been to a park, especially with kids! ()
Now crankiness also provides at least one potential form of interaction, namely the crankiness that comes from jealousy. If I walk by you and I'm eating a big snack, or carrying a great souvenir, that can cause crankiness amongst your party. This might make me want to go places "inefficiently" (if I can cause some crankiness) or not want to go places (if going there would incur crankiness), depending on where my opponents are located and what they happen to be holding.
Another opportunity for interaction could be from limited opportunities. Each hour, there's some fun experience that's available to the first claimant: a prime viewing spot for the parade, a meet-and-greet with a character, a seat at the best restaurant, a no-wait seat on the popular ride, etc. So, do you deviate from your plan to try to compete for that opportunity, knowing that if you miss out it increases crankiness? Or do you stay the course but miss out on the potential "magic points" that that experience would have delivered, had you gotten it?
Additionally, many parks now have "fast lane" tickets that let you get onto a ride you really want to ride without waiting, but these have to be claimed in advance and a limited number are available. This could be another thing players can claim: for the biggest rides, there's one fast-lane ticket per hour (or something like that), which you can claim at any time during the day, if it's still available. So, you're in "Adventureland", do you grab the Splash Mountain fast lane pass now and come back later, or just go on the ride now, or both?
This is a long post for what I suspect will actually be a rather simple game. I'm interested enough to see where it goes that I've taken to building this one out for actual playtesting. We shall see what, if anything, comes of it!
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