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Temporal Odyssey – Coming Soon!
Terrene Odyssey is a dueling card game with party based combat a la JRPG. While CGC Games was promoting it at conventions, we brought on various volunteers to help demo the game. Because the quality of demos was highly variant, I wrote a demo guide to help get all the demos up to the same level. I employed various user experience principles and marketing principles there, and you can find my work at the link above.
Dwarven Weeaboos is a satirical 100 card engine builder game where players take on the role of weeaboo dwarves and collect sets of anime and nerd culture references. Though it may seem like a simple game on the surface (largely because it is), serious design thought was devoted to the development of this project in hopes of maximizing its success. Like any design project, producing this game required analysis of our target demographic, innovation of ideas (in this case, game mechanics), and iteration to make sure each mechanic was hitting the mark.
In a game of Dwarven Weeaboos players acquire Collectible cards from 5 different categories: apparel, anime, internet, culture, and card games. Each card provides an beneficial effect for the player that collected it, thus accelerating the rate players increase their collection sizes over the course of the game. By building their collections, the players would also accumulate Waifu Parts, or body parts of an idol that players collaborate to assemble.
The value of each category of collectibles changes dynamically depending on the composition of the waifu and the player that has amassed the collection most to the preferences of the assembled waifu is declared the winner.
One of the prevailing stereotypes about anime culture is the social awkwardness bordering on (and sometimes crossing into) misogyny. Though in the game of Dwarven Weeaboos, the players participate in assembling body parts for an “ideal” waifu, we were intentional about subverting that stereotype in both the mechanics and theme.
Here are some of the measures we took to ensure the game wasn’t reinforcing stereotypes:
- Waifu Part cards contain masculine, feminine, androgynous, and non-gendered parts. This means, at worst, the players choose what they are creating.
- The parts were designed by anime trope, not fetish, and we even revised art to tone some stuff down. Assembling an “ideal” waifu is actually incredibly unlikely.
- The game incentivizes the players to assemble the waifu based on what will lead to them winning as opposed to what they prefer since the waifu determines scoring.
Dwarven Weeaboos was designed with anime and nerd culture fans intended as the primary audience. Our surveys and discourse with this demographic, revealed a number of important insights that shaped the development of the game.
The first, and probably most important, insight revealed an entire spectrum of commitment to anime and nerd culture themes. Some “just enjoyed the shows” while others fully participated in the culture, complete with joking (and sometimes not joking) condescension on fans that were perceived as less devoted. Furthermore, despite casual perception lumping both anime and board games fans together as “nerdy”, we found that it was not a good assumption that our audience would be familiar with board game conventions.
The other important takeaway we gleaned from analyzing our demographic was a minority but significant tendency of treating crossovers with jaded skepticism. The people in the intersection of games and other fandoms (the very people one might expect to be our most likely fans) often seemed most vehement about compartmentalizing, pointing to many earlier games as evidence that crossovers were typically poor quality.
This presented a double-edged design conundrum, where we needed to appeal strongly to accessibility and authenticity while not sacrificing the quality of the gameplay.
Design & Iteration
Design of Dwarven Weeaboos started with creating engaging gameplay and then relied on art and flavor text to sell theme. As a short length game that needed to appeal to a discerning demographic, making sure theme was on point was more important than ironing out every knot in the gameplay. Here are some of the problems we solved during development to support that:
The layouts of cards were the primary way we improved accessibility of the game. Here’s a few of the features that went into making the layouts more accessible:
- Each effect activation timing (Start Turn, End Turn, Action, etc.) had a color callback allowing players to scan for that color easily and reduce missed timings
- Collectible category color language and scoring language was held consistent throughout the game
- Waifu part type indicators demonstrated the correct order the cards were to be placed in
- Gameplay necessary elements and decorational elements were grouped separately to reduce table space used by allowing card stacking
Game Design: Axes of Play
The design of Dwarven Weeaboos was leaned heavily on the concept of Axes of Play. In this theory, each player’s actions result in certain amounts of progress towards various goals, with progress toward each goal being represented as movement along a corresponding axis.
When a game has only one axis, all decisions are appraised using that lens and options will often begin to feel monotonous and strictly comparable. By adding an additional Axis of Play (or in other words, another type of way a player’s action can matter), the design space of the game is increased by a dimension, which in addition to being more complex to appraise numerically, also allows players the agency of deciding what heuristic they’re optimizing for.
For example, going from one Axis of Play to two changes the strategy of a game from a number comparison to a decision about where to place a point on a Cartesian graph. Perhaps the player wants to go all in on a particular strategy, or hedge by getting a little bit of everything. Though favorite strategies will inevitably still emerge, supporting multiple Axes of Play creates the design space needed for divers non-competing strategies to exist and gives players the choice of how to explore the strategy space while they’re in the moment.
However, for all its benefits, designing by this philosophy created two major problems during the development of Dwarven Weeaboos: adding too many Axes of Play caused the game to become too taxing on player mental bandwidth and the strategic focus was causing the game to function more as an assessor of skill than a comedic experience.
The early development of Dwarven Weeaboos often felt like building a raft while already on the water; new features would losing novelty almost as quickly as they were added and by the time the game was in a roughly desirable shape, the project was already so heavy that it couldn’t float in the first place.
In one version in particular, there were as many as 5 systems the player needed to keep track of simultaneously. Between the general board state, opponent progress toward the win condition, a short term currency, a long term currency, and planning actions on their turn, there was simply too much for a player to keep track of. Generally, this resulted in players taking longer turns, failing to identify how they wanted to play, and making available actions feel less satisfying.
The game continued on in this state until we decided to take the plunge on pruning some of the systems. Fortunately for the project, we found that switching from the currency system to a bartering system combined the gameplay of both currencies with board state, effectively removing those systems without a decrease in depth.
Competition vs Comedy
Dwarven Weeaboos is intended to be a comedic experience first, an exercise for the mind second, and a determiner of skill last. Though CGC Games probably wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to run a Dwarven Weeaboos tournament if there was enough interest, the game certainly wasn’t designed to be played in that fashion.
This is why it was a problem that players could get into positions that felt unbeatable, or heavily reduced the options of others: those outcomes would focus the game on the winning player rather than the experience of playing the game.
What this boiled down to is that we needed to reduce the effectiveness gap between optimal play and typical play. Though we considered shortening the game so that these types of crushing leads would be more difficult to established, we felt that having players start with waifu parts solved the problem more elegantly. This took some of the effectiveness out of player control due to the variable synergy in starting conditions and also solved the problem of players playing for the same collectibles every game by giving them a random start to adapt to.
Comedy is hard. Finding the right audience, hitting the right tone, and making sure writing is authentic are all difficult in unto themselves. Therefore, doing all that in the medium of game mechanics can be just as difficult and require just as much careful design. By paying attention to the demographics for the game, designing visually performant layouts, and iterating on system mechanics Dwarven Weeaboos has come to be the product it is today.
The Octalysis Group Design Challenge
My submission to a Design Challenge by The Octalysis Group featuring Habitica was selected as a finalist. Habitica is a gamified productivity app with a fantasy theme; completing tasks provides the user with experience points and gold which they use to power up and finish quests. Here are a few excerpts from my submission:
I was also a contributor to much of Terrene Odyssey’s online presence, working on the visual design, data entry, and content creation for the official Wikipedia, website and social media: