Teeny Tiny Awesome Games
Please tell me you've heard of Love Letter. Everyone is talking about it. The game features 16 cards, plays up to 4, and plays in about 20 minutes. It's a micro-game and it has everyone in a flurry. It is this year's "deckbuilder!" like craze in that everyone wants a piece of it. Perhaps for good reason?
I've been obsessed with designing a really simple card-only game for a month or so now. The reasoning is less Love Letter, which I haven't yet played, but more that I want to do something simple that is purely within my control. It can be nerve-wracking and exhausting to chase a publisher. It's also expensive to make a game as big as Empire or even Farmageddon look good with art. My hope is to create something simple and delightful then put it on DriveThruCards.com and not worry about it further. From time to time we must control our own destiny or GO INSANE.
What makes a simple game good? Hell, what makes a simple game? I think this goes beyond components, though that is a key, uh, component of this equation. Here is what I believe defines a simple game (Note: Not a "micro-game," which isn't what I'm creating):
- Cost: The game should be under $20, ideally at $15 or less. This is the no evaluation, let's do it purchasing point for consumers.
- Length of Play: The game should play in 30 minutes or less. It should have that "let's play again!" quality. People can play this 2-3 times over lunch.
- Learning Complexity: Rules should be a few pages at most. Explaining the game should be 5 minutes or less.
- Components: Ideally one component, often cards (as they fit in a small box and fit that cost requirement nicely). The number of cards should be around 52 to 100. A few counters are fine, but should be avoided if possible.
- Play Complexity: The pacing must be fast and the difficulty of a player's decision must not be too hefty. A player's turn should consist of 1, maybe 2 Actions. Do this OR this. Card text should be minimal at most.
Now, that shouldn't be too difficult, right? Honestly, I think it's one of the most difficult problems before us as designers. How can we create something deep, simple, and cheap? To be honest, Farmageddon doesn't meet this criteria. Turns are too complex, cards are too complex, and there's too much going on.
My target game is none other than the beautifully wondrous Coloretto. I bought this game for inspiration a week ago and have already played it 14 times. It's outstanding and delightful. It cost $15 at my FLGS no less and has been enjoyed by all of my friends, gamers, non-gamers, and even my hyper critical girlfriend! I'll save you the Google search. Go buy it. Go on. I'll wait.
Coloretto has a very small number of card types.
- 7 Color cards, literally only distinguished by their numbers. Zero text. Zero symbols.
- Wild cards. Can be used as any color card.
- +2 cards. Worth 2 points apiece at the end.
- The Last Round card. When drawn...it's the last round.
Furthermore, on your turn you have 2 choices:
- Draw and place a card in a row. Any row, you just can't have more than 3.
- Claim a row and all of its cards. Once you claim a row, you're out for the round. Everyone will get 1 row.
This all builds into a simple scoring mechanic. You score your best 3 sets of color cards (their point values multiply based on how many you have). You lose points for any other sets outside of your best 3. Most points wins.
This game has been massively inspirational and as a result my design will be potentially derivative. But, it happens and my plan is to not copy Coloretto, but to learn from it, test, and emerge with something special of my own. There are a few key things I'm considering at the moment:
- The importance of color. Deeply tying this property to all things, including scoring and how cards can be played.
- Simple scoring, even simpler than Coloretto. Sum the numbers on your cards. That's your score.
- Simple actions, also baked into the color scheme mechanic. I'm a fan of Action driven games. See Farmageddon, Empire, Molly's Last Hope. Without the complexity of combo play, this is greatly streamlined.
- Up to 5 players. I've never designed a game for more than 4. I really want to include that 5th!
- Cards only.
I have the outline for an initial design and mechanic. There's some neat stuff that is definitely different from Coloretto. My hope is to build it out and self test to see how it goes. Look for updates here, as per usual.
What are some of your favorite simple or micro games? What games have inspired you lately? What are you working towards? Share below.