Hi! This is the first of hopefully many blog posts detailing my attempt to design a board game.
Why am I writing this instead of just working on the project?
Well, I hope it accomplishes a few things. First of all, I want to use these blog posts as an outlet to work out my ideas throughout the design process. It’s a good exercise, and gets things out of my brain and into a more organized form.
Along those lines, I think it would be worthwhile to keep a record of the journey for myself and others. Hopefully this can be valuable or at least an interesting read to someone down the line attempting the same goal, and to look back on for myself as I get further in the process.
Finally, I watched a video by Jamey Stegmaier (designer of Scythe, Viticulture) about board game design and he suggested sharing your ideas early and often to receive feedback from the earliest stages of development. Ideas are cheap anyway, it’s execution that makes a game great. Hopefully going this route can convince me to seek feedback early and often turning this project into something better than if I kept it in my head for a year, unveiled it after extensive planning, and found I’d forgotten some easy things or missed the mark completely.
I’ve wanted to design a board game for a few years, but in each attempt I found myself meandering through random mechanics and half ideas rather than building outward from a core concept. Because of this, the attempts fell apart pretty quickly. This time I have a clear idea of what I want to accomplish, inspired by one of my favorite things: Japanese Kaiju films.
A handful of monster games already exist in recent board game memory. Kings of Tokyo/New York is a classic duo of games where you compete as giant monsters to see who can cause the most devastation or survive the longest. Skulk Hollow has players scaling giant monsters like the wanderer from Shadow of the Colossus. Recently, even licensed Godzilla games have emerged in greater numbers. Of note of great quality is Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, which plays a lot like the classic video game, Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee.
Let them fight
For my project, I want to approach the genre from a different angle. Instead of euphoric city destruction and kaiju boxing matches, I want to capture the terror of a nation watching an otherworldly creature rise from the sea, scrambling to figure out how to stop it with limited information and changing goal posts.
While this scenario is common in the genre, I’ve taken specific inspiration from a recent favorite film. In essence my game is directly and thoroughly inspired by the 2016 film Shin Godzilla.
We’re gonna need a bigger meeting
Shin portrays a nation’s government and workers struggling to unify through the limitations of their own bureaucracy to stop a terrifying threat. The premise of my game is essentially that, minus the endless bureaucracy part (although I did toy with the idea). Here’s the incomplete pitch:
Untitled Kaiju Game is a 1-4 player asymmetric cooperative game where players control different branches of a nation’s response to stop an unknown invading creature.
Eh that’s kinda rough, and explains nothing beyond the generic bits but it’s a start. Let me get into a few specifics that I think make it interesting. There are three aspects of the Shin Godzilla setting in particular I want to incorporate in my design:
Each player represents a different branch of the response: Current four are Government, Scientists, Military, and Main Characters. Each player would have a different role and actions in working to stop the invader. Communication and effective planning are key to success. All roles are incomplete by themselves but function as interlocking parts of a greater whole.
The Fear of the Unknown
Players begin with limited understanding of the threat’s abilities, weaknesses, and goals. They must both uncover and predict them as they try to fight back, threading a fine line to get the right amount of information and experience before formulating their final counter strategy in the 3rd Act.
Pressure from a Global Community
The ticking time bomb of the game is not complete annihilation, but the threat of a 3rd party stepping in with the nuclear option “for the greater good.” Can the players keep the trust of the global council, even when it’s obvious things are spiraling out of control?
But how does it feel?
That all being said, the game is currently at the million and a half ideas stage so what sticks or doesn’t will change wildly during development. To keep myself grounded I’ve come up with a few design goals of how I want the game to feel.
Cinematic and Exhilarating
Mirroring the experience of the humans in a kaiju film is essential. The players should be terrified while they watch the monster’s destructive path, tense as they make decisions, and equal parts courageous and fearful as they unfold their final plan to fight back. The suspense at the end should last right until the final action is taken and the threat is defeated. The experience succeeds when players are high fiving and cheering at victory, or shouting and cursing as they barely fail. This game should produce stories and memories through its mechanics first and foremost.
Terror and Chaos
The board state should never be completely manageable. The players should always feel two steps behind, scrambling to make their plans work every step of the way. Players should be unable to mitigate damage completely and more often than not be forced to decide between bad and worse for most of the game. When giant monsters run through your city few things should go well and even victory is full of regret. A big focus will need to be how to make this terrifying in fun and interesting ways instead of just frustrating.
Player contribution is unique and exciting
As of now the asymmetry is really important to how I want the game to feel. The military player should be doing completely different things than the scientist player and each should have a unique feel and contribution to the game state.
Clear as mud? I think so. Here’s to the first of many ramblings on this in the future. In the next blog post I’ll explore the current state of the core objectives and game flow, as well as how each branch/player works within them. Thanks for reading!