Designer Diary 2

In my mind this is an obvious truth, although I could be wrong: New games, like new ideas, don’t really exist. Everything is a modification of something else. The reason I am making this game is not because I think I can do something completely new, but instead that I want to create the game that is in my head, that I don’t think already exists exactly. But there are several games that I love that heavily inspired this one.

The elevator pitch for my game that is now tentatively titled The Dark Forest is this: Scientists on your homeworld have discovered that the true nature of the universe is not unlike a Dark Forest, with solar systems connected by branches of a Cosmic Tree. Your people have started to travel to nearby stars, but even so, you have not found other advanced life. Obsessed with the search for your cosmic brothers and sisters, you set out exploring from your homeworld. To aid in your exploration, your scientists have invented The Singularity Probe, a machine that can travel into space and speed up time, turning the millennia it would take to travel to the stars into hours. As a side effect of time speeding up however, life on nearby planets grows in leaps and bounds every time the Probe causes one of these leaps in time.

Now, I think the first 3 games I have to mention that inspired the mechanics in this game are: Barrage, High Frontier, and Innovation. Let me explain:

Barrage has been my favorite game for some time. I think the thing I love about it is that the essence of the game is in manipulation of a shared infrastructure. You look at the board, and all you see are possibilities. I can divert water this way which will fill up that dam that I can then drain to get this energy. I can just block my opponents dam upstream and bleed him dry. Oh there’s a stream over here that nobody else has noticed. I just love when the game allows for creative actions on a shared board. So many games these days use the main board solely as a score card or a bunch of tracks or a market or whatever. But in a game like Barrage or Brass, the game is in the middle of the table, not on your personal board or your hand. I just like that.

The second game to mention is High Frontier. This game has a lot of problems, and as many have mentioned before me, its more of a great simulation than a great game. But man, its a simulation that I can spend hours and hours playing. Partly that is just because of the fun of discovery! Can I get to that remote little asteroid? Maybe. What’s the best route? How can I modify my rocket to go further? Just looking at the board inspires you to play, literally. Without knowing the rules, you look at that board, and you want to play it.

The third game to mention here is Innovation, a game that is famously so broken that it is balanced. I say “so broken” because the powers on the cards are just too powerful to make sense, but if everyone has them, then what you really get is people building really fun, powerful engines, trying to interrupt each others, but quickly someone’s engine gains an edge and the game ends. In this way, the play time is really reasonable, but you also really feel like you’ve built something cool.

So, I chose those three games to mention here because I owe each of them a lot in trying to make The Dark Forest. I think that fundamentally, my game is a route-building game like Barrage. I want the primary fun to be in finding a clever route to the right planets to win the game. Then, the planets themselves will have powers on them that will be increasingly game breaking as the game goes on. My hope is that players will use these powers to break the game within 2 hours play time. And of course I owe a lot to High Frontier. I want this board to be one that people see, stop, and ask, What the heck is that? I want it to inspire the desire to explore.

And so we go from there. 

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Design Theory
Carla Kopp

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