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Designer Diary: The Potion, or Finding the Right Formula

Kasper Lapp
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Board Game Designer
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Board Game: The Potion
There is a whole genre of games in which all players play a card at the same time, then reveal them. Whether you played the right card or not depends entirely on which cards the other players have played.

Most of those games take some time to get started because the cards have special abilities, and you need to know all of them and how they interact before you can play. I wanted to take the core experience of such games and build the simplest possible game around it — a game that could be explained in a minute.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

The basic concept I came up with was this: Each player has six tokens of three different colors, and they want to get rid of these tokens. In each round, each player secretly plays one of their remaining tokens, then reveals them. They are trying to fulfill some "goals" that are unique for the round, such as "Be one of exactly two players to play a black token" or "Be the only one to play an orange token". If you succeed, you get rid of the token you played. If you are down to one token, you win. There is no difference between what the colored tokens do, so there is nothing to explain about them.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

Initially, the goals were given by cards. Each round, a new card was drawn to decide the goals for the round. All goals were about being a certain number of players playing a specific color token. And since you always needed some way to win with any kind of token you played, I found that it worked well when cards had a rule like "If none of the other goals succeed, anyone who played an orange token gets rid of it." (That's what the star means on the bottom of the card at right.)

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

My tests showed that all the cards that worked best basically had the same formula, so it didn't feel like I was taking proper advantage of the cards. Also, you would need quite a lot of them for variation. I wondered whether you could draw several cards and combine goals, but then a friend suggested I use dice instead. That worked much better. Rolling dice is quick, there is no card shuffling, and you get a lot of different combinations.

But how should the dice be designed? One of my first designs looked like this:

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

The stars still meant "If none of the other goals succeed, anyone who played an X token gets rid of it", but many dice rolls gave only one choice as to what was correct to play because you could win with only one color. I realized that the "star" rules should instead be implicit. If a color didn't have a goal — that is, if it wasn't represented on any of the dice — you could get rid of it if no other goals succeeded. In that way, you could always in principle get rid of any color.

The dice above never gave the possibility of "1 or 2 white" because all the white goals were on the same die, so I figured that dividing the dice by "amounts" instead of colors would work better.

I wanted some blank spaces, so the amount of goals would vary, but I always needed at least one goal, therefore one of the dice should have no blank spaces. I found that the goal of being the only one to have chosen a specific token was the most fun, so I wanted to make sure there was always such a goal by making this die:

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

Which meant that I needed to leave blank spaces on the other dice:

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

On my first playtest, I expected the game to be a very "thinky" game, one in which you would go through endless loops of "He'll probably do this, so I should do this, but he expects that, so I should probably do this instead..."

But what I found was that the winner of the game would most often be the one who best followed their gut instinct instead of trying to think everything through. This is probably the reason why the game turned out to go so well with non-gamers — and of course the simplicity of the game also helps with that.

From gallery of Kasper Lapp

I found that the winning condition of playing down to one token had a problem: If you ended up with two tokens of the same color, you no longer had a choice of what to play. Of course, this situation would be your own fault, but it was an undesirable situation anyway. Thus, I changed the rules so that you would win the moment you had tokens of only one color, instead of when you had only one token.

The theme of the game was weak when I submitted it to FoxMind. The tokens were just the elements earth, wind and fire (black, white, orange). Why no water? Because if both fire and water were in the game, you would expect them to interact, which they wouldn't. You would expect water to beat fire somehow.

Board Game: The Potion

Luckily FoxMind had a better idea and turned the design into a potion-brewing game with a nice brewing bottle, which is both part of the gameplay and at the same time functions as the game box. We are on different continents, so I have not yet held The Potion in my hand, but I can't wait...

Kasper Lapp


[Editor's note: For those who might want a themeless version of this design, German publisher Steffen-Spiele released this design under the name POK at SPIEL '17 in October. —WEM]

Board Game: POK
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