One To Many #3: White Whales

In our third edition of One To Many – we talk “white whales” of game design.

Welcome to a new edition of One to Many – where we ask a single question to many different designers and then publish their answers. We hope you enjoy the results. Today’s question is:



mobGenetics. I cannot count how many times I have tried to make a fun game about passing genes from parents to offspring that mimic the way genes are passed in real life. I have gotten close, and have made functional games but they have fallen flat on fun or practicality.

– Danny Devine (Mob Town)

wbMy white whale is trying to design a trick-taking game. I’ve made several attempts and none have worked out great. Trick-taking is so tough because there are hundreds of trick-taking games out there, so trying to find unique space is difficult. And if you do find unique space the trick-taking mechanisms are so well known and narrow that it becomes difficult to make a design that works really well as a trick-taking game without moving the design back towards existing designs. But I’ll keep chasing this whale because I love trick-taking games and I would love to publish one some day.

– Matt Wolfe (Wombat Rescue)

pic140031_mdMy white whale has been making a game without cards. My first one ever comes out next Gen Con from RnR games. We shall see.

– Mike Fitzgerald (Mystery Rummy Games)

pandemicI’ve been trying to finish my game about managing an ant colony for over 15 years. Some day!

– Matt Leacock (Pandemic)

pod-xDung & Dragons. You raise dragons on a ranch and they poop out gold nuggets. Some foods take longer to digest, but produce more pure gold. Some foods pass quickly, but the gold is unrefined and lower quality or requires more extensive processing. Dragons are also fickle, so they may abandon your ranch if they’re unhappy with their treatment. Opponents may even lure dragons into their own ranch if they offer enough of what the dragon likes.

– Daniel Solis (Pod-X)

zoolIf we talk about existing games i would choose “Tichu”, a really great game.

– Michael Schacht (Zooloretto)

rrLighthouses, they are a crazy cool idea. People setup homestead in the middle of nowhere to keep an light on just in case a ship happens to pass by. I have trying design games about constructing lighthouses, running the farm as the lighthouse keeper, and adventuring to the mountains to gather fuel for lighthouse. They all have sucked! One day I’ll designer a lighthouse game but I need the light bulb to go off first!

– Joshua J Mills (Rocky Road a la Mode)

cocaoOne common game design problem I find fascinating is getting the experience of civilization building game into a very short play time. For ages I have been thinking about doing a civilization-themed game only using a deck of cards. I had the idea that some of the mechanisms used in San Juan and Race for the Galaxy would really suit such a design. Unfortunately, I have never been able to get it working very well! When 7 Wonders came along, which is a design I really respect, I figured that it might be as close as anyone is going to get!

– Philip Walker-Harding (Cacao) 

eeOur biggest white whale has been the theme Space Vikings!!! We began working on this game in 2012, and it’s been through no less than 3 major implementations. Every time, the gameplay has been good but nowhere near matched the theme. Matt even went so far as to hire a guy to write us this amazing Gaelic poem “The Doom of Forkbeard” to put in the rulebook. It’s so good. I want this theme more than anything, but we just can’t nail it. The good thing is, that through these iterations we developed the Rolldel (a new dice rondel system coming soon in games from us through Dice Hate Me and Rio Grande) as well as the early workings of what became Wasteland Express Delivery Service. In that way, I suppose Space Vikings!!! has become more of a useful thought exercise for us over the years than a game proper, but I just can’t shake this image of a winged viking ship plowing through space with zany looking vikings hanging off the back and an angry looking Aegir, God of the Sea glaring down in the background. Coming someday from Ridback games, heads up, Space Vikings!!!

– Ben Pinchback (Eggs & Empires)

plI still feel like it’s doing something interesting with dice. One of the first games I did was the Quarriors expansion Quest of the Qladiator, but I was playing around in someone else’s initial design. Twin Stars and Nowhere To Run started to scratch that itch for me, but not enough yet. I need dice purity.

– Jason Tagmire (Pixel Lincoln)

My white whale, by far, has been a haunted house-themed design I’ve been playing around with for about 3 years now. It’s had a couple different names- Scared Stiff and Scarescrapers, but the basis of the game has remained the same: a Cabin in the Woods-ish modular haunted mansion/tower that players are controlling and configuring on the fly in order to scare the “victims” caught inside as much and efficiently as possible. Seems pretty straightforward and rife with potential, so in the early days of developing it I went ahead and paid to have all the art done for it (I love having full-art prototypes to work with, it’s a bad habit)- 50 separate and unique room cards, and 10 “victim” cards. Worst case scenario, I figured that having 50 room tiles worth of art assets would be useful to have around, even if the initial design didn’t work….at least that’s how I justified it. The art is amazing and really draws players in, but the actual mechanics of the game have been an albatross around my neck throughout the years.

jaI’ve just never been 100% happy with the directions I’ve taken it, it’s always felt like it was 30% “fun” and 70% “thinky/puzzley”, and I really wanted something that was a more fun experience, so I keep scrapping design ideas and starting again.

It started as kind of a Starcraft-esque RTS building builder game, where you needed certain rooms built in order to build better rooms, etc- but the game always ended up bottle necking at the beginning while trying to get the correct room combos, so that went out the door.

The second iteration was more of a gamified sliding puzzle game, where the rooms are placed in a grid and players can shift rows and columns and swap rooms to try and get optimal scoring by the end of 2 rounds, but end game scoring ended up being more difficult that I wanted.

The third swing at it I decided to try to integrate dice and have players use the dice to stack room cards into towers, but it ended up just not working both on a mechanical level and a cost efficiency level.

So now I’m back at the ground floor for it, trying to figure out what direction to try next. Thinking maybe about next trying a combination of my sliding puzzle-esque version of the game with some worker placement and a dusting of stock management and see how that goes. Not sure I’ll ever find something I’m 100% happy with, but it’s oddly comforting to have a game I know will always be there for me to go back to and keep hammering at…..even if it can be annoying at times :).

-Ryan Cowler (JurassAttack!)





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