In the mind of a game designer

What is a good game? What is the history behind a good game? What does it take to design a good game yourself? With the intention to find answers to those questions, I set out on an exciting journey in the world of game design. The more I travel, the more I learn how much that remains to discover, and I cannot claim that I have found the answers yet. Nevertheless, I would like to send small post cards along the way, sharing my experience both with you and with my future self. All comments will help me on my journey because there is one thing I have learnt: no game is better than its players.
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Designing Find the Treasure! - The Card Game

Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This is the twenty-seventh of hopefully many blog posts where I reflect upon my first tentative steps as a game designer.

The card game version of Find the Treasure has an interesting background that well illustrates my creative/chaotic process. The Game Crafter contest Hook Box Challenge was using their new 18 card hookbox and I had considered submitting a card game version of Turn of Time (which is basically a retheme of Iconoclasm - The Card Game). However, I thought a game of laying and flipping cards would be too simple and abstract for the contest. An unexpected sales of Turn of Time almost made me reconsider but I still wanted a meatier game.

How about a game where you lay cards to build a map instead, similar to Akrotiri? On a Thursday evening, during a floorball session and with only three days left to the deadline, the idea began to form in my head. Cards could be played either as maps or as clues, showing the way on the map. But wouldn't players just build their own routes?

Well, what if the routes all starts from "holes" (cards spaces never filled) and where routes are followed in turn order. The turn order could be based on pass order, hence creating a tension between passing first (and take treasures first) and passing last (and decide starting points). That would add a turn order struggle in addition to the map/clue card management.

With that, I thought the game was interesting enough to pursue, not as Turn the Time - the Card Game but Find the Treasure! - the Card Game. I then spent the Friday evening drafting rules and making art, mainly reusing art from Find the Treasure.

Still, I thought the game lacked some action and when I realized that you could use shards as well, new ideas emerged. During a jogging session, I thought of how to make the map more dynamic and the solution was the addition of pirate flags as movable starting points. By letting the players choose between different starting points, altering them and exchanging used clue cards with new ones, I suddenly had a a GAME not only in the first "map" phase but even more so in the latter "treasure" phase.

The rest of the day was spent completing the all the cards and rules, before leaving for a dinner. Some final details were modified on Sunday morning (thankfully, so that I could get the game out of my head during the following chess game) and I could then spend Sunday evening preparing the shop page, the print and play documents and the draft game video.

Find the Treasure! - the Card Game also got a solo version, something that is increasingly popular in today's board games. As a player, I'm not a fan of solo games where you play against mechanics rather than opponents (although I did add solo versions to my small puzzle games Iconoclasm - the Card Game and Turn of Time - the Card Game). However, the contest encouraged games with many different player counts and I realized that the same rules could be used for solo play as well so why not?

Three days' work is way too little time for designing a game, even a small one like this, but the deadline helped getting the idea out quickly and find the simplest solution at all crossing paths. Nevertheless, subsequent testing revealed that the game was solid enough for the contest and it almost reached the semi-finals in spite of the huge competition (130+ games). Find the Treasure! - the Card Game will definitely be revisited and further worked on in the future!

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