This weekend’s work on the game happened in three phases. First was some brainstorming about what resources might be involved and how those would be represented on cards. Then I tried to actually “play” two AIs against each other with some proto-rules and proto-cards. After that I had a much better idea what a playable game would be and codified the hand-written changes on the brainstormed cards onto the first thing that could actually be called a “game”.
Brainstorming and Bootstrapping
Something I’d forgotten about the first week or two of Calvinball is how hard it is to get a game off the ground when all you have is a vague idea. Once you have a game that has rules and an end condition you can follow a pretty simple pattern to make it better:
- Trick or cajole 3-4 victims into playing with you.
- Play and tweak the most egregious problems as you go.
- Revise the game to account for the biggest of the problems you found on step 2
- Go to step 1
If your game is sufficiently horrible and stays that way for a long time you might run into problems with step 1, but as long as you’re willing to laugh at how far it has to go that’s not likely to be a problem.
The real problem comes with being able to do step 2. If you don’t have a game yet you are going to have a hard time learning anything from sitting down with other people. You’re just inviting some of your friends to brainstorm game ideas with you which may or may not be productive. This is the part of building a new game that I wanted to get through this weekend.
I started in Word. I wrote down half a dozen or so resources that I wanted players to manage in the game:
- Brainpower or CPU – Controls the complexity of what players can do
- Hands – Represents ability to take actions in the real world
- Money – Represents financial capability in the economy
From there I came up with a quick design for cards that looked like this:
Then I printed a bunch of blank cards and started writing down singularity-inspired names that might be useful concepts in the game.
The game still wasn’t playable at this point, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I went through the cards I’d scribbled on and starting writing down some rough stats on each one. It was during this process that I started to think it might be useful to have a state that represents the AI’s awareness of the world. So I started drawing little eyes on the cards and include that as one of the stats.
The resulting cards all looked something like this:
Then it was time to play. The basic rules went something like:
- Three cards form a “river” that any player can purchase cards from
- Player draws cards equal to their total Eye rating.
- Player can do one of two things each turn:
- Buy a card from their hand or the river
- Put the card face-down in front of them. These cards can be “spent” on subsequent turns for a value of three bitcoins.
- To buy a card the player must have stats equal to all three (CPU, hand, and eye) requirements. If the player doesn’t meet a requirement they can spend bitcoin 1:1 to make up the difference. If they don’t have enough coin but have other stats to spare they can spend those stats 2:1 for whatever they need.
- At the end of each turn the player discards whatever is left in their hand.
This kinda worked. It didn’t have any kind of win condition, so the game went on until I felt like I had enough to make another revision.
Hard Takeoff V1
Here are the cards that resulted from that first sort-of playtest. Significant changes from the hand-scribbled cards include:
- Bitcoin is no longer a “cost” on any card. It’s just used to make up the difference. I started out with a bunch of cards about renting machine time or hiring temp workers but abstracted all that away into exchanging one resource for another.
- The AI cards come in a stack that lets you level up over time. The first player to hit level 5 wins.
- The primary way to gain additional CPU is to level up. Most of the other ways seemed a little silly when I actually tried to play them.
- There are three bitcoin symbols on the backs of the cards to indicate that they count as temporary bitcoin when played that way.
- All the numbers on the resource counts turned into icons.
The PDF is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license. Feel free to download it and give it a try. I haven’t actually tried to play it myself yet, so I make no guarantees about fun.