One piece of writing advice that has filtered into the game design world is “kill your darlings,” or in other words, ruthlessly eliminate the elements of your writing that are most precious (or “clever,” as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch put it) to you. The blog Quirkworthy has an excellent write-up on this principle’s application to game design; essentially, if a game mechanic or rule doesn’t serve the core purpose of your design, you must scrap it–you matter how much you may personally love it.
Why bring up this topic? Because it’s exactly what I had to do with Frog of War.
One of the earliest incarnations of Frog of War–then codenamed Crownhunter–had a rock-paper-scissors form of combat, with minions designated by one of three subtypes: Peaceful, Defensive, or Aggressive. The RPS combat system was soon dropped in favor of a straight “Power level” system, but the subtypes remained and formed the basis of many early minion abilities.
Playtest after playtest revealed balance issues with these subtype-specific abilities and one by one they were replaced with abilities that instead rewarded strategic deployment or positioning. Eventually, not a single minion card had an ability that referred to a subtype.
Desperate to find some way to preserve my treasured subtypes, I took my plight to the Card & Board Game Designers Guild on Facebook. There, I explained how my game needed to add about three cards to fix unrelated issues with the minion:action card ratio and I expressed my interest in making the subtypes a more prominent part of the design. My ideas were largely met with enthusiasm; several respondents mentioned that it could be a useful thing for a future game expansion, if not the base game itself. I was vindicated–for a moment.
Then, I listened to a recent episode from the Board Game Business podcast about scope creep. It was a blisteringly accurate diagnosis for a problem I didn’t know I had. Why keep an extraneous card classification for a mechanic that doesn’t exist? An entire subtype should not be printed so that two or three cards will use it and definitely not so that an unknown future expansion might use it.
The entire podcast episode was useful, but it was their #1 warning about scope creep that drove this point home: some game designers will always ask for more. Hobbyists and designers tend to like longer and more complex games and thus ironically are not the best audience to playtest mass market board games (I sorta touched on this topic in my previous post about simple games).
Frog of War is light fare; it’s a quick game meant to be played between rounds of a much larger game by hobbyists, or as the main game in a play session with casual gamers and people new to the hobby. This isn’t to say that the game lacks strategy–in fact, there are numerous meaningful decisions involving when and how to play cards that enable the more skilled player to win more often. Above all, I have come to learn that identifying, understanding, and catering to my game’s target audience is a huge relief and achievement–even if it means that some people will be unsatisfied with the final product.