While my glorious victory at UKGE is fresh in my mind, I hope you’ll excuse a moment of slightly self-congratulatory retrospecting. I promise you it has another purpose. 😛
The objective of this design blog is for me to muse publicly about games design in order to be more considerate and deliberate about my process. As I continue to work on expansions for Gaslands, as well as future projects, I want to put down what I think might have contributed to this games success.
Nine months after the game’s release, from my slightly wonky too-close-to-the-thing viewpoint, the elements that have proven to be important to Gaslands success seem to have been:
- Putting fun first
- Having novel mechanics
- Maintaining a strong vision
- Having tons of playtesting
- Sticking to my guns and pushing the race angle
- picking the right niche
- Having a viral hook (toy cars/the price point!)
I’ve talked about playtesting at length elsewhere, but I’ll dip in to the other topics.
One of the things I love seeing in the community is when a new player asks why a particular rule works one way rather than the “obvious” other way that would have been “more realistic” and someone other than me answers “because it’s a game and it’s more fun that way.” It’s such a cool support of my core design philosophy. If I have a hallmark as a games designer I want it to be that fun is always put first.
Originality of Mechanics
This is a slightly tricky one to discuss as my own inspirations for Gaslands’ core mechanics come from of lot of sources, most obviously X-Wing, but perhaps less obviously Thunder Road, RoboRally and Luchador. The point for me, when designing a game, or looking at other people’s designs, is not that the ingredients are all new (as there very few truly new ideas) but rather that there are things that are new and exciting to differentiate the play experience (ideally tightly tied to the theme), and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m slightly turned off by games that feel too similar to other games and don’t have a unique mechanical hook. Examples that I love include Malifaux’s cards, All Quiet On The Martian Front’s asymmetry, and SAGA’s battle boards.
To be honest I think this is just how I approach most wargames I’m delighted by novelty.
When explaining the game to people at UK games Expo I found people first intrigued by the idea that moving faster gave you more activations and then delighted by the placement of the slide template. Finally, they would begin to understand the way that the skid dice and hazard tokens interacted and found themselves drawn into the originality of this system.
This is good. I want my games to draw people in with unique feeling systems that then turn out to be really fun during play.
A third factor which has caused other projects of mine to stall is the strength of the vision. I set down several principles at the start of the design process for what I wanted Gaslands to feel like, and I worked hard never to work against these principles in the decisions I was making during the design process. Some of the most interesting debates with John Brindley or Glenn Ford were when they reminded me that a new “cool idea” didn’t actually seem very “Gaslandsy” and forced me to return to the design principles and come up with something better.
The Race Angle
I was pushed a little bit by Osprey before turning in the game to tone down the racing angle, as they wanted the game to have a more direct “Mad Max skirmish” appeal. I felt that literally ever other car combat game had going with this brief, so I’m pleased I stuck to my guns as I really believe that the racing angle is what makes Gaslands stand out from the crowd. I also think the racing scenario is what makes the first actual play experience so refreshing tense and immediate, when compared to a more standard wargame skirmish setup of “kill the other guys, maybe take an objective”.
I really thought that there were more car combat games out there, but for one reason or another, none of them had quick broken out. When you asked a regular wargamer about car combat, they were highly likely to mention either Car Wars or Dark Future, rather than anything more recent. I’m sure that not picking either a mass combat game or a skirmish game really helped my first effort stand-out from the crowd.
“$15 and you’re all in.” So many podcasts, videos and community members have used this sell. In a hobby necessarily filled with expensive games with phenomenal custom miniatures and tremendous post launch support, it’s basically impossible for a small designer to complete on the same terms.
The trick I pulled with Gaslands (without really realising the scope of this decision (although I suspect this was Phil’s masterplan all along (thanks Phil!))) was changing the rules of engagement. No need for expensive minis. You likely own all you need, or it’s £1 a car. The toy cars are also really charming and extremely varied, so Gaslands is also tapping into both the joy of being a kid playing with toy cars, and also the carefully honed addiction-powered business model of Hot Wheels!
It’s not within the scope of this blog, but I am trying really hard to transfer as much of this successful formula to my new game for Osprey. A Billion Suns also contains a host of very unique mechanics and one or two elements that I may again need to twist my editor’s arm on! 😉 If you are interesting in seeing how that project evolved, check out the site and register interest for playtesting.