Awhile back, I started talking about Star Runner, the game I'm designing. That was mostly in this post.
Well, a lot has changed since April. With the help of a good friend, I've taken the game and trimmed it down to the core. I had a lot of ideas that sounded really good in my head and even on paper, but when they were put into a game, they weren't elegant. A lot of things felt too clunky, or too math based, and because of that, the game was taking 4-5 hours and not even getting played to completion. At first I chalked this up to a completely new game taking far longer than any other play but when play 2 came and took about as long, even after changes, I was growing weary. Then, the best thing happened. I brought the game with me on a weekend to LA, and got a chance to pull it out and just explain things to my friend. It became very clear to both of us that there was too much going on. Set-up for the game took 45 minutes, and I hadn't even explained all the rules.
We left the game set-up and talked about the core ideas. Essentially, what made the game tick? It started the process of trimming the fat. In a way, I had built a shorter version of Twilight Imperium 3, maybe something like Eclipse, but that wasn't what I was going for. I wanted smuggling, not combat, and stealth, not blatant aggression. Perhaps the downside of being 22-23 is that you want to play games that have a "cool" factor. Lots of pieces, lots of cards, abilities, etc. The simple fact was that 500+ cards was never going to be feasible for a game with so many other components.
So that was end of crew and unique ships. Players had too much to worry about that they didn't need to decide which one of 3 ship types, and then which of 3 ships in each type to buy. I also didn't need to worry about how to balance 30+ crew members on top of everything else. Maybe an expansion someday, or something to add later, but nothing for now.
Let's get back to the core ideas. You're probably asking yourself something along the lines of "what is actually driving the game?" Here's the elevator pitch(a conversation in an elevator where someone asks what you do, or something like that) in a very rough form. Star Runner is a smuggling game in space. You have contracts to complete. In order to do so, you go to various planets, buy resources, and then sell them to the planet that needs the resources. You use money to buy more ships, upgrade your ships, and by technology for your ships. The person who does that the best, wins the game.
In an effort to further explore these ideas, let's dig into each one.
Contracts are what they sound like, a list of resources to be delivered to a planet with a reward for doing so. Nothing too original here, contracts exist is many games. The twist for these contracts is that players have far more choice, and when they pass on a contract, it doesn't get discarded, it gets incentivized. I'm leaving the details of that vague for now, but I'm going to talk more about it later.
Like any good smuggler, you want to be known for great exploits. A good way to go about this is to have multiple ships to carry out your nefarious activities. Players have to balance having multiple ships versus upgrading the ships they already have. Again, probably nothing too original, but these work well and have a nice blend of attributes.
This is the area that underwent the most changes. They started as cards that came from a randomized deck that players could buy with special resources. They transformed into a common pool that had several different techs which could always be purchased. This was a good step, and I liked this place, but no one seemed to want to buy tech at this point. So it changed one more time. This time, tech is something you buy for your entire fleet. The costs are simplified, the abilities are straight forward, but the choices each player has to make in regards to technology are tricky, and sometimes subtle.
The core of the game is contracts. At the heart of contracts is the market. Everything else revolves around that. The game is economically driven, you're trying to gain money, use it to do stuff, and have the most stuff at the end.
In the span of 3 weeks, I took a game that had tons of stuff going on, 25 resources, 18 planets, a black market, mining, mining resources, 50 tech, 9 different ship types, passengers, crew with abilities, and a some other things, and boiled it down. Now there are 8 resources, 12 planets, a black market, mining which now uses the same 8 resources, very modified tech, very simple ships (down to 4 types).
For all that work, the game went from taking 5-6 hours to now taking 2 and a half hours. I'm fairly confident that I can get that down to 2, maybe even 1.5 with some streamlining. At that point, I feel like I have a game that people will enjoy, but moreso that I will enjoy. As an aspiring designer, I want to design something I want to play. If I can't enjoy my game, how can I expect others to enjoy it?