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Designer Diary: Light & Dark, or The Power of Constraint

Trevor Benjamin
United Kingdom
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Constraint breeds creativity, they say. Well how's this for a constraint? My five-year-old daughter regularly pulls games off my shelf — Kingdom Builder, Splendor, For Sale — and tells me she wants to play them. These are not children's games, of course, so as I pull pieces from the box I have to figure out how to turn them into children's games — and quickly! (Patience is not a virtue shared by many five-year-olds.) This high-pressure design challenge has led to many awful games, but it has also led to the flick-and-flip mechanism that became Light & Dark.

In this case, the game on my shelf was Ding!. Ding! is a trick-taking card game in which players can opt out of a hand if they don't feel they can make the required number of tricks. This decision is tracked through a set of player-colored plastic disks that say "in" on one side and "out" on the other. My daughter and I had just finished playing a stripped-down version of the trick-taking game itself when she said, "Okay, Daddy, now I want to play a game with these", pointing to the disks. So my challenge was to create a child-friendly game using only a set eight double-sided disks, all in different colors. Fun!




As I fumbled with the disks and slid them around the table, inspiration struck. "Okay", I said, "each turn you flick one of the disks. If you hit any other disks, you flip them over. My job is to flip all the disks to their 'in' side; your job is to flip all the disks to their 'out' side." Three rules. That was the game. For the next twenty minutes, we played and, rather surprisingly, it wasn't terrible. It needed work of course, but there was something there.

A few days later I met Matt Dunstan and pitched him the idea, and we quickly hammered out the details. There should be two types of disks, one which you can flick (what became druids) and one which you can't (torches). To win, you need to flip only one type of disk to your side. This sped up the game and added some tactical variability and depth. We also added special power cards for additional variability and texture. Playing on a bar table with condiments and glasses also inadvertently alerted us to how much extra variety you can get from simply changing the amount of clutter in the playing area!

Theme was the next hurdle. It was clear that there were two factions, but who were they and what were they fighting over? Once we recognized that flipping could be "conversion", the rest came quickly: the druids, the torches, and the name. (Bonus points if you can identify the character we borrowed for our prototype druid!)

We brought Light & Dark with us to SPIEL 2015, pitched it to a few different publishers, and got very positive feedback. Perhaps not surprisingly, the best comment came from AEG. After finishing his first game, CEO John Zinser said, "If I can have this much fun with just eleven disks, I definitely want to publish this game!" We were very happy to sign with AEG on the spot, and we love what they've done with the game. (Rita Micozzi's artwork is wonderful!)




So that's the story of Light & Dark. It is an incredibly simple game, but it's a game with a heart. We've really enjoyed making it and hope you enjoy you playing it!

Trevor Benjamin & Matthew Dunstan

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