Requiem for a Game Designer: My Journey Towards Creating My Dream Solitaire Game

Come along with me as I work on my second (and first truly serious) solitaire game - I don't know where the journey will lead, but I'm sure we'll all have some laughs and learn some lessons along the way!
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BoardGameGeek Scrutiny: Take 2

Steve Hawkins
United States
Missouri City
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Well, Star Requiem: Humanity's Last Stand is well on its way to becoming a viable entity on BGG. It's been a long journey from beginning to now. My journey in board game design actually goes all the way back to my 6th grade year, when I was designing dungeon games for 50 cents a pop. They were pretty cool, actually - you moved to a room, then opened up a 'door' behind the room to let in the light and reveal what was in the room, like a key, a monster, or treasure. You either escaped the dungeon or you died trying. Hey, it was 1988.

Moving forward, I have been fascinated by wargames, specifically solitaire games. Some of my favorites include Raid on St. Nazaire, Ambush!, Patton's Best, and more recently Hornet Leader II, which really started to pique my interest in the whole 'one person can design a game now' if it was print and play!

Falcon Ace was my first attempt at a solitaire game. I actually wanted to take a more detailed version of a flight game and actually get 'in the cockpit' but not quite at the level of exact speed and maneuvers. So FA was designed as a hybrid RPG/tactical game of air combat. It was detailed as hell, it took me almost 2 years to balance and get all the bugs out of the rules, and it was redesigned visually at least 5 times. It was, and probably remains, the most accurate and detailed single-player flight game ever created.

And I consider it a colossal failure.

Not because it's not a fun game, per se. If you have to time to get into it and really learn the game, it can be an amazing game. But therein lies the problem. I was designing a game for a subset of gamers so tiny as to be almost invisible - namely me. I wanted a game where I could designate my pilot's skills and wingmen. I wanted to be able to arm my plane and buy better weapons. Add fuel, an ECM pod, weapon load ratings, plan my mission and range, do advance scouting for SAMS, and create a living battlefield where targets would move and act without my input, giving me the freedom to engage or not (or to order my wingmen to do it!) And for the most part, it was a success... once you got through the 40 page, Avalon-Hill-style 6 point manual. And nobody was going to fight through all that just to maybe get some fun out of the game. Lessons learned:

1) Make your rules simpler!
2) Make your counters bigger!
3) It's OK to not offer the player every option under the sun.
4) Feature creep exists, and it is malevolent.
5) Be true to the shining core of your game.

This last one led me astray. I started with a modest ambition - to create a top-down flight combat game - and ended up with War In The Pacific of solitaire games. I kept adding THIS idea and THAT idea and DOESN'T THAT SOUND COOL idea... until the game had lost its way.

So with SR:HLS I'm trying to streamline. There is ONE enemy. You must kill your enemy or it will kill you. There are a limited amount of options - but they are all important and will make the game play differently. The rules will be written in conversational format with lots of pictures. The counters will be 3/4 inch at least. Etc, etc.

Have I learned my lesson(s)? We'll soon find out!
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