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Game Design Tool (Plus, Minus, Times, Divide)

Welcome Assassins,

Today I would like to write about a tool that I find helpful when designing something new. This is not the only tool someone can use for game design and there may be better tools that work for you. This is just an insight into what has helped me in the past and I hope that you find something useful from this.

The first thing I think of when I start working on a game mechanic is I try to apply thought experiments on “Plus, Minus, Times Divide.

For each of these four simple processes I consider:-

  • Plus: What can be added to this game? Are there any mechanics that can be combined together? What happens if I add another resource to the game? Can this game accommodate another player?

  • Minus: What can be taken away? Does this game really need this much complexity? Why are there multiple was to win, could they be streamlined? Could I remove the rule on starting position?

  • Times: What can be made bigger? Is the play area expandable? Should the D6 be a D12? Could the starting life points be 100 not 10? What happens if you mash two copies of the same game together?

  • Divide: What can be made smaller? Can the mechanics be broken down? Can this be a solo version or travel version? Could this get down to a single deck of cards?

This line of thinking helped me turn this:

Into this:

Looking at my original prototype you may be able to see a bit of a difference (only if you look carefully!), not only from an artistic viewpoint but in a structural one as well.

Many things have changed since the first home printed version. The core theme has remained the same but I have made many improvements to the mechanics.

It was an iterative process and required a lot of self reflection, play testing and help from friends.

The above tool was a great help on tweaking, improving and in some cases completely redesigning parts of the game.

Here are some examples of how using this tool helped me shape Temp Worker Assassins:-

Plus: When I first started thinking about TWA I wanted to see if I could combine two of my favourite mechanics (deck building and worker placement). Originally I tried to include a third mechanic on resource management (stealing petty cash from the office biscuit tin). This proved a little too much as a player could win out of nowhere and you ended up getting more money from an office kitty rather than fulfilling a contract kill (which didn't feel good and was off theme).

Minus: One of the first things to strip away from my original prototype was removing the board. This might not seem an intuitive step when creating a board game! This allowed more flexibility in the set up. For example, if you don’t want to have a trash outlet – replace the department, fancy a more challenging experience, only have on department where you can gain new cards etc.

Times: The original version of the game only had 20 targets and that’s all they were, targets. They had a defence and a reword in gold. Adding another 15 cards (some with additional bonuses like draw 7 cards rather than 5 after killing it) gave more depth.

Divide: One of the key lessons I learned when it came to attaining quotes on printing was the “54 card consideration”. Most manufacturers charge per full deck of cards so for example there is normally a price increase moving from 108 to 109 cards but not (normally) adding another card to your 107 card game. I had to focus on what was fun and central to the game to get it down to 3 decks of cards.

I hope that this tool is a help to anyone’s design.

I would like to also give a quick update on where the game is now. The first printed copy of the game has arrived and I am now in the process of asking people nicely for reviews. I hope to have more to share on this soon.


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