Last weekend I attended Uprising in Brisbane. It was great fun, for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, I ran an awesome game of The Beast of Limfjord, a game where the players threw themselves into their roles and everyone had a blast. Thanks to everyone in that game – you made it THE highlight of my weekend and helped me work through a few things (in terms of explaining rules) that I was struggling with. Secondly, I got to catch up with some good friends that I only get to see once a year, met fans of Here Be Gamers! and made a bunch of new friends. I had the chance to try out Burning Wheel – a game that has in the past scared me because the book is so thick. Thankyou Peter for running that session, I am no longer afraid! Finally, I participated in the inaugral Iron Chef Board Game Design Contest.

The rules to Iron Chef Board Game were simple. You formed small teams, Chairman Kaga gave you the secret ingrediant (a theme) and everyone had exactly 2 hours to create a boardgame. There was a table full of paper, pens, counters, dice, cards and other odds-and-ends to draw from. The theme that the games had to evoke was “The End of the World” and it produced four very different games. I was teamed with Kieth and Claudia, two new friends who turned out to be incredibly friendly, energetic, imaginative and creative. We called ourselves Platinum Chef! We worked together to create Come With Me If You Want To Live!, a fast-paced game where each player had to gather the most followers before the end of the world. We had a blast creating it, playing it (at least 6 times!) and showing it to the judges. In the end our enthusiasm was rewarded when we were voted as the overall winners and Iron Chef 2010! Apparently we have to return in 2011 to defend our title!

Creating a game in 2 hours is not easy. In fact, it could have been impossible if we approached it with the wrong attitude. But I like to believe that anything is possible, and our job was made easier by focusing on a few important questions. When You attend Iron Chef Board Game Design next year, you might keep the following in mind;

What can we do with the theme? Begin by talking with your team, brainstorm ideas and write everything down. There will be some really obvious stuff, good solid ideas to run with, and then there will be some real gems you didn’t expect. There are no right or wrong answers, just ideas. Get them out on paper and see what you have to play with.

What kinds of games do you like to play? Do you like strategy / thinking games, logic puzzles, cooperative games, games with lots of random elements, resource management, tile placement, or card games? It is going to be easier to make a good game if you choose a form you enjoy playing.

What makes those games fun? Whatever type of game you enjoy, there will be one or more things that make it fun. It is different for every game, and that is what makes them unique. Take two card games, Munchkin and Magic. Munchkin is an incredibly straightforward game of addition and subtraction, but the outrageous and silly card descriptions, and the ability to screw over the other players make it fun. Magic, on the other hand is fun because of the deep strategy involved in deck building, hand management and mana control. Decide what is going to be fun about your game.

What are we going to do? Okay, now you have a bunch of ideas about theme / goal / concept for your game, a bunch of games that you enjoy playing, and an idea about what makes the games fun. Now you just need to do something! Do not get bogged down in deliberation – choose a concept, a key thing (or two) that will make your game fun, and go with it. You only have two hours, afterall.

Here is an example of how Platinum Chef put those questions to use in this year’s Iron Chef contest.

What can we do with the theme? Our giant page of butcher’s paper was pretty much divided into variations of two concepts; you have to end the world, or survive the end of the world – and we had a variety of ways for both. On the “End the World” side we had things like “4 horsemen”, “kill things” and “World War”. On the “Survive the End” side we had “escape”, “protect” and “stop”.

What Games Do We Like? We shared the sort of games we enjoyed and it was at this moment that we had our first major breakthrough. Kieth said he enjoyed Squatter, a game similar to Monopoly, but where you aim to increase your flock of sheep, rather than gain cash. The word “flock” rang bells for “followers” and we suddenly had our game concept – gather the most followers and protect them from the end of the world!

What makes these games fun? We were going to use Squatter as a starting point, but needed to know how to make the game fun. Knowing it was like Monopoly I asked the question the other way around “What makes Monopoly (and possibly Squatter) not fun?” Straight away, we knew our game had to be fast and there needed to be something for all players to do every turn. We liked “roll and move” games because they are easy, so that stayed. We liked cards that affected your ability to win. Claudia was a fan of Munchkin and we decide our cards should be funny, and should screw-over other players.

What are we going to do? To be honest, from there it was all pretty easy. Our “Questions and Answers” took about 30 minutes in total, and the writing of our cards took about an hour. We had a blast coming up with funny things to do with the cards and every time we got stuck Cluadia asked another great question – “If You were facing X-type apocalypse, what is the most awesome thing to ruin your opponent?” We sketched a rough board out, crossed off things as we went if they didn’t work and just kept moving forward. Everyone had different ideas and knowledge to bring to both game rules and the thematic elements (in particular the cards), which I think was the biggest advantage of working in the randomly created groups. We completed our game with enough time to have two run-throughs and adjust our “sales pitch” for the judges!

I am working on a prettier version of Come With Me If You Want To Live!, with attractive cards and board (ther is a glimpse in this post’s picture), and you will be able to download the game soon!