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GDC 2016 Game Design Workshop Review: From Video Game to Board Game

gdc 2016 conference logoThis year at GDC I decided to try out one of the more hands on workshops offered in the days before the main conference. The game design workshop caught my attention.

Not knowing what the workshop would hold, I was intrigued by the bare bones setup at each table – 2 die, and a deck of multicolored cards. My session was hosted by Andrew Leker (@AndrewLeker), who proved to be an invaluable guide throughout the workshop; he has an impressive and lengthy history as a game designer and is currently CEO at 20XR, a company focused on creating new and expressive mobile experiences. After an intentionally brief introduction to the workshop, we dove into the hands on part of the workshop.

The workshop itself focused on developing paper prototyping skills, with an emphasis on rapid failures to bring you to success. Each table was to pick a video game (any video game), distill its core emotional experience, and then create a boardgame that captures both the spirit of the game as well as the identified emotional experience. Furthermore, we were urged to come up with a playable prototype within 15 minutes, play it, and suss out the problems in our game this way.

Trials and Tribulations

fallout 4 cover artMy table picked Fallout 4 as our subject. After a bit of deliberation, our table settled on the hallmarks of the franchise being exploration of the wasteland, experiencing its brutality, and mastering it in the way you choose. The emotional experiences we felt were important to emulate were pride, growth, and discovery. Thus began the quest for failure (and hopefully success).

Andrew Leker has an uncanny ability to design on the fly; throughout the workshop he scurried from table to table, assessing people’s design problems and firing out insightful feedback, whether it be for the Counter Strike or the Super Smash Bros table. Within 20 minutes our table had come up with a simple prototype for a game – one that focused on the loop of going out into the wasteland, gathering supplies, and returning to settlements to build them up. We were urged not to worry about fleshing out rules of the game in their entirety, but rather play as soon as possible and apply rules that felt right on the spot. This process is very effective. Playing soon and playing frequently quickly brings light to many issues that analysis will not easily reveal. More than exposing holes in the systems of the game though, the direction to the fun becomes clearer with every iteration of play.

Fallout 4: The Card Game

After a couple large scale reworks of our paper prototyping, a bit of gentle nudging from mentors, and a lunch break, our table found something that was “actually kind of fun”. Our final game featured a deck of cards that represented the quest to find your child in Fallout 4, each card being a hazard, foe, boon, or save point. A single player would progress through the deck, until death by radiation, or discovery of their child. We felt that we had begun to capture the brutal uncertainty of the wasteland, as well as the emotional experiences we set out to emulate. All in all this was an incredibly enlightening exercise.

wrecko games magic game paper play testing

Me & TK playtesting our initial game on paper, trying to “find the fun”. The Grapefruit was the evil boss.

This workshop served as a powerful example of the power of paper prototyping. At Wrecko Studios we have used paper prototypes from the start to test our games’ systems. However this workshop showed the ability of paper prototypes to go beyond simply simulating a game’s systems. Going forward I will most definitely use these techniques in my analysis of games, as an aid to find the core of what makes the fun in those games tick. Not to mention, distilling a video game to a boardgame is just plain fun. Perhaps I’ll try this on Hearthstone next…

I extend my thanks to Andrew Leker and all the rest of the staff at the workshop for giving me this intriguing experience. I certainly intend to see what future years’ incarnations of this workshop have to offer.

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