Final draft of Storyboard and what is actually important in a game

I’m into board games. That’s a real thing you can be into, and I am into them. I will research a new game for days, agonizing if it’s worth the cost and figuring out the right context to play it in, and if I (or anyone else) will be good at it, before buying it. So it is really important to me that the project I come up with works as a board game, and not just a storytelling tool. The storytelling tool is, of course, the point of this project, but if it isn’t fun, then what’s the point? It will be played once, remarked upon as (hopefully) a well-structured set of rules that promotes the telling of a complex, significant, and engaging story, and then forgotten. But stories deserve better than that, so I want Storyboard to be a good time in addition to being academically sound.

Well, I’ve spent most of the summer making it academically sound. And, as it turns out, that wasn’t actually all that hard. See, stories or narratives or whatever you want to call them, pretty much all have easily identifiable structures, and the things that make stories good are more or less agreed upon by most scholars. If I throw those elements together and organize them in a way that encourages choosing simple and significant plots, then I have succeeded. I think the 3-act structure and the character-driven mechanics I’ve come up with are the best way to do that.

But how do I make it fun? That is the question I have been tackling in this last month. Now that I knew what I needed to do, I had to figure out how I was to do it. My initial reaction was to just slap a resource economy onto it and directly link it to the fate of each player’s plot. That worked, but was a little crude, and really annoying to set up. So I’ve been working on a new system since then, and I think I’ve got it figured out. The long set up? Gone. Two decks of 60 cards each can provide as much randomness as you could ever want (with 5 players, upwards of the number of atoms in the universe–you will never play the same game twice. and if you do, go buy a lottery ticket).

Storyboards are still in, for all acts, but in a pyramid structure: 5 for Act I, 4 for Act II, and 3 for Act III (for 5 players). They no longer phase out, and you can claim them at any time, or not at all. I added a deck for Act I so that more stuff could happen–or, more accurately, more stuff COULD happen, if players wanted it to–and now that deck replenishes itself each act, meaning that there will always be enough action to go around. All of this serves to make the game more FUN. Instead of rolling 5+ dice and counting totals and combinations and picking out details from a long list, the cards make everything fast paced, happen concurrently, and preserve the random element. The more complicated way is a better way to do it–I stand by that. But the decks of cards is too elegant to pass up.

So then I turned to the action economy. I wanted there to be a balance between setup and payoff. In other words, since the point of the game is to accomplish your character’s goal, if you were allowed to both set up the circumstances in which you character acted AND control the events of the story, it would be too easy. That’s no fun. Having a limited effect on the circumstances of the plot is much more fun, especially given that each other player may compete with you using THEIR limited pool or resources. All this really amounts to, mechanically, is spending some of a limited pool of points to choose new cards during set up or to win a conflict between characters (argument, arm-wrestling match, footrace, battle of wits, etc), but it introduces a lot of player choices and makes the game more engaging.

Redesigning the way everything fit together was a trial and error process, but I am proud of the result. I am excited to finally print a prototype.