Games I’ll Never Design

Original Pandemic prototype

Designer Matt Leacock’s original map design for Pandemic

I hate playtesting games. A big part of this is because 90% of all designed games aren’t worth publishing in the first place, and I frankly don’t need to play someone else’s take on deck-building or worker placement. My gaming time is too precious to waste on polishing someone else’s game, especially if it’s not a very good one. Besides that, I just don’t have a lot of patience for the process of design and playtesting. I don’t know how other people can stay engaged with a design long enough to see it through to completion, so I have a lot of respect for people who do it well.

But my antipathy towards playtesting and self-design doesn’t mean I haven’t come up with some ideas of my own. I don’t know of any board gamer who’s been in the hobby for very long who hasn’t at least daydreamed about making their own game. I even came up with an idea I thought was strong enough to put into prototype form. It turns out I had created a completely unplayable version of Ticket to Ride: The Card Game, and my one playtest of it was so bad that I shelved it and never looked back. But now and then I think about what could have been, and I will sometimes come up with a game I want to play that hasn’t been created yet. I don’t really want to go to the trouble of designing them myself, so here are my three favorite ideas for board games. These are games I haven’t seen in any form yet, though some of them might already exist. If any of you budding designers out there want to get on these, I’d be much obliged.

Presidential Primaries

US presidential elections have been pretty much covered, but the two-party system means that it’s hard to make it work as anything other than a two-sided game. I am still fascinated (and not always in a good way) by the US political process, so I’d really like to see some game that focuses on the primary season. There could be up to six candidates who are vying for the nomination, and they need to go through a whole gauntlet of fundraising, smear campaigns, and debates before you can declare yourself the winner.

When I originally thought of something like this, the immediate influence that came to mind was Founding Fathers, the Constitutional Convention game by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews. That’s sort of a simplified multi-player version of Twilight Struggle or 1960, but what I’d rather see is something closer to Die Macher, where you need to secure fundraising and conveniently support issues. That’s a pretty intense game, so I’d want this to be a little more accessible. This is one game that I suspect has been attempted a couple of times, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Offseason

I love me some college football, and there have already been some games that have recreated the actual event of a football game to varying effect. What I haven’t seen is a game that takes you through the off-season of college football, where every coach becomes occupied by one thing: recruiting. What I want is a game where you chase down the star players, get them to play for your team, and then try to field an awesome team and take home a title. But that wouldn’t be the entire game, because every college football fan knows that recruiting takes place over several seasons. So I’d want something that would allow you to go through a good ten years of coaching to put together a dynasty of a college football program.

I never did decide what kind of scale I wanted the game to have. While it’s true that the athletic conference is where most of the college football season happens, recruiting tends to be a competition between national powers. So maybe the maps could be of certain geographical regions, like the Southeast or the Great Lakes region. Then maybe you could figure out a way to do an “epic” version with all the maps at once, with like 10-12 players. And of course recruiting is not for those who refuse to get their hands dirty, so there would need to be a way to flaunt all of the regulations as much as possible without getting caught, and maybe you could tip off the authorities to the underhanded tactics of your rivals.

The longer I thought about it, the more obvious it was that I was actually dreaming of a 6-7 hour game, or maybe even a system that would be played over several sessions. I obviously didn’t want something that boiled down to measuring stats, since there are so many intangibles in the recruiting process, but the math to make the whole thing work was more than I wanted to deal with. I also was never clear on how I would execute the actual football games themselves, since I wanted the recruiting to alter what happened on the field, but still keep it fairly abstracted since it wasn’t really the point of the game. Suffice to say figuring this stuff out made me tired, so would one of you please do the work for me?

The Urinal Game

The premise here is simple. There’s a line of six urinals in a men’s restroom, and you have a stack of cards representing people who need to take a leak. Each person has a different sense of personal space and a differing comfort level with going in public places. So all of the players have a line where their guys wait to use a urinal, and each guy gets a certain number of points based on how close he is to his character’s ideal whizzing situation. What really sold the game for me was thinking of ways to affect the other players. Maybe you could play a card that represented one of your guys whistling while he went? Or there could be a card where your guy takes his eyes off of the wall in front of him just long enough to make someone else really uncomfortable, maybe enough to make them use the stall like a failure.

The biggest knock I have against the idea is that it sounds like a hacky stand-up routine or a Leno monolog. I hear that Dave Barry actually wrote a column where he codified the rules of the urinals. But I think if you put enough specificity in the game you could transcend any perceived lack of originality. I’m actually surprised no one has started a Kickstarter campaign for this one yet, because goodness knows we’ve seen some head-scratchers through those channels.

So  there you go, the best stuff I’ve come up with for game design. It’d be cool to see my name on the box for any of these ideas, but increasingly they’re like that broken lawnmower sitting in my garage: something I say I’ll get to but never will. I’ve never published a game before, but I can guarantee that any of these ideas would move copies at Barnes & Noble, or at least at one of those seasonal mall kiosks.

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