At one point this year I decided to challenge myself to create 10 Icehouse game designs this year. The precise reasoning for my self-imposed challenge is lost to the dustbin of history (or perhaps at the bottom of a wine glass). That said, the challenge was set and amazingly I managed to meet it. The following games were designed by me in 2014 (sorted in order of my favorite):
Cydonia – I also think that this is a good game too, but the number of pyramids required might be prohibitive for some. I think that the “trick-taking” aspect is novel for a pyramid game.
Toripoka – A neat micro card game that could use a lot more play-testing.
Gorgias – My entry into the Yahtzee family with (I believe) a novel “battle” resolution scheme for pyramids.
Quux – A little connection game designed purely to be a “breakfast game.” Needs more play-testing to see if there are any killer strategies.
Pew Pew, Die – My version of Martian Roshambo using no pyramids at all.
CarboniteDice – A variant of IceDice meant for Solo play.
Initiative – A game of perfect information that sadly can be very cold.
Pungo – Basically a game designed just to explore the “controlled roll” mechanism.
Coin Hijinks – An adaptation of Pink Hijinks for pocket change.
Pink Poppycock – An adaptation of Pink Hijinks to use the “controlled roll” mechanism.
Nothing earth-shattering for sure, but all in all not too bad IMO. There are a few games on this list that I think I can see myself (and others hopefully) actually enjoying. This to me is a success. Additionally, I learned some valuable lessons over the past year that I’d like to share.
Game ideas are worthless
Over the past year I probably thought of many dozens of Icehouse game ideas, that didn’t turn into games. That is, there’s a huge distinction between coming up with an idea for a game and actually creating a game that anyone would want to play. Additionally, once you’ve come up with an idea that may be playable, there’s no guarantee that anyone will want to play it. Even further, even if you come up with an idea that someone might want to play then play-testing might highlight some fatal flaws or, at best, sticking points. By this I mean that I’ve come up with plenty of other pyramid games…
- Karankaron: Zendo, but for sound
- Pedestal: a blind bidding game
- Egyptian Whist: a(nother) pyramid trick-taking game
- Pyrametto: Coloretto, but for pyramids
- Hollywood Babylon: Babylon, but for pyramids
- Helmet: a 2p abstract checkers-like
- Panopticon: a 2p abstract racing game
- A Kamisado-like using the “controlled roll”
- Minimax: a 2p engine-building game
- A tile-laying game using pyramids and Iota cards
- and many others not worth mentioning
…but in every case writing out the rules and/or play-testing exposed some deep flaw (boring being the most prevalent). Therefore, it struck me that ideas alone are worthless and when they turn out to have been bad from the start they should be thrown away. More will pop up to replace them.
Additionally, you’ll notice that about half of the games listed are derivative. One thing that I’ve found is that it’s super-easy to take a game that already exists and “adapt” it to pyramids. However, often I’ve found that the vehicle of the pyramids doesn’t always fit the original game. Instead, either the derivation doesn’t work at all or the pyramids themselves inform a mutation of the original design to the extent that it’s practically a new game (e.g. Malice above). I think that this is likely the most important lesson that I’ve learned in the past year. That is, if you’re designing an Icehouse game then listen to the pyramids… they’ll help guide you, and wow are they lovely guides indeed.
Play-testing is a pain for all involved
I won’t harp on this point too much, but I will say a few words. First, I have a problem with play-testing. That is, I always feel very timid asking someone to play my own designs. I always feel like I’m burdening them in some way. Thankfully, I have two awesome kids who’re always willing to play Daddy’s games, no matter how bad they are. Even more lucky for me is that they are not shy about shooting down my designs when they are truly boring. That said, I still have a hard time asking people outside of my sphere of influence to help me to play-test. I’m getting better, but it’s not easy even after a year. This is my own psychosis.
Writing rules is hard
I’ve written a few books and so when it was time to start writing rules for these games I was confident. I was quickly humbled. Of this entire process I still think that writing lucid rules for even the most simple of games is damn hard. I’m still not sure that I’m even risen to the level of mediocre in this regard. However, I’ve found time and time again that writing down rules, even very early on, is a great way to find problems in the design itself. A few times (and more as I got more experience) the act of simplifying the words used to express the rules led to the simplification of the designs themselves. In fact, I plan to go back to the earliest designs and simplify the rules in hopes that I can find opportunities to simplify the games themselves.
When in doubt… Volcano scoring
Almost as hard as writing rules is coming up with fair scoring mechanisms. Indeed, devising solid scoring is directly antithetical to having a problem with asking people to play-test your games. That is, very often (or so I’ve read) scoring mechanisms are finely tuned via a piece-wise change process occurring over the course of many many many play-tests. None of my designs have gone through a process like this. Thankfully for me Volcano scoring already exists, and it usually works right out of the box, it’s simple, and has been in hard rotation in pyramid games since circa the year 2000. Perhaps when/if these games get more plays I’ll move away from Volcano scoring in those that use it, but for now I consider it a nice starting point.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope that by sharing my experiences I’ve motivated you to set a similar goal yourself, or at least to give my games a shot. :-)
Most of the rules for these games are found on my designs page. Feedback at
me -at- fogus -dot- me is always welcomed.