This is part two in a series about the ongoing process of creating a board game. (Part one is here.)
Generally when you ask a game designer what kinds of games he or she likes to create if the answer is anything but “The kinds of games I like to play, duh” then he or she is lying. Even when we attempt to stray outside that comfort zone, so much of game design is based on feel. What dynamics “feel” right are the same dynamics that “feel” fun in others’ games. It is a tough trap to escape and can really only be tempered by enjoying a wide variety of games lest one be resigned to creating the same things over and over again.
So back to the experience of designing a board game. I generally like the medium-heaviness European-style board games, so it should not surprise you that Airport Rush is designed to be a medium-heaviness European-style board game. What does that even mean? Well, it is wonderfully vague. “Heaviness” is generally defined as the amount of complexity in learning and playing the game. A light game would be Uno. A heavy game would be one of those tabletop wargames that takes eight days to play. A medium game falls somewhere neatly inbetween.
There’s a subgenre in this culture of board gaming called “gateway games” which is generally used as a pejorative. These games are light enough to attract players who wouldn’t normally play more complicated games, but offer enough interesting choices to at least be passibly interesting to the hardcore board gamers. Hitting this sweet spot was a goal of mine simply because I wanted to simultaneously create something others would enjoy and create something with tactical depth. Unfortunately, the game fell to a complexity creep that drags it a bit heavier than I’d hoped, but in the end, this complexity made it a better game. I still have time to strip out nonessential elements if I get the desire and inspiration.
One of the most successful gateway games is Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride. Where most railway games (yes, that is indeed a busy subgenre!) deal with very heavy mechanics: bidding, terrain types, stock, loans, and so forth, Ticket to Ride strips everything but one-dimensional track laying. In doing so it is able to do something elegent with the order of play that I think is part of its success. Every player gets to do one thing on their turn: draw cards, lay track or claim tickets. There is no action point system and thus no long turns where players sit and wonder what they can accomplish in a single turn until their opponents pelt them with bricks. The game moves quickly while giving a menu of decisions from which the player can choose one entrée. (Experienced players will note that the victory point border I use in my prototype is lifted right from a Ticket to Ride board.)
On the other side of the coin is a game that is only known on these shores in highly enthusiast circles: Hansa Teutonica. The game is much heavier than Ticket to Ride. Players have a variable amount of actions per turn from which they can perform a number of actions – the potency of which change throughout the game. I found Hansa Teutonica fascinating. There were a lot of mechanics in the game, and some worked quite well. One action a player could take on their turn is to take cubes that represent merchants and redeploy them throughout the map of the game. In the context of the game, this has very interesting effects. Places opponents once thought were “safe” or had no danger of being occupied could in one move change to show a complete shift in that player’s strategy. This was the central mechanic that I built Airport Rush around.
One of the other design philosophies in Euro-games is the minimization or elimination of elements of chance. It is a founding ethos of these gamers that skill should be sufficient to determine the winner. “Bad beats” as they say in Poker makes for a poorly designed game to them. I disagree with the knee-jerk application of this philosophy, but I decided to adhere to it to make something that gamers of this ilk would enjoy and not dismiss outright.
As an aside, there are types of chance that these hardcore gamers do allow. In Le Havre (my favorite Euro-game) the majority of the buildings that are available for purchase are the same in every game but the time in which they can be bought is pseudo-randomized. In Hansa Teutonica, the bonus chips are drawn randomly, but then placed on the board tactically. In both cases, the element is randomized before any decisions about it are made. This continues to allow skill and strategy to rule the day and is generally seen as acceptable. You will see that I favor a similar mechanic in Airport Rush. Once Airport Rush begins, there is no randomness.
So without much more jibber-jabbering, an explanation of the game itself. I’m going to do this in a spiral – I’m going to give kind of the Need to Know stuff first, and then pound into the actual in-depth rules later.
The game board itself consists of three parts: the Airport (Bottom-Left), the Departures Board (Right) and the Initiatives (Top).
The airport contains six gates where the players will try to move their passengers onto flights. The flights are listed on the departure board and are randomized each game. In some games, the valuable international flights will come up early. In some, these will come late. In some games, these come at the same gate. In others, spread apart. You get the idea. The initiatives are cards that come up throughout the game that players can dedicate resources to in order to gain additional victory points or options for their turn.
Players get passengers into the airport by moving them through security. Once a passenger cube makes it through security, it gets moved to the lounge. Passengers can only get through security by being literally pushed through by another passenger. Thus, passengers can sit in security forever unless a player pushes more cubes into the security line. The number of cubes a player gets to push is called their “Passenger Interest”. When a flight leaves players can either gain Passenger Interest at the cost of victory points now or take the Victory Points and lose Passenger Interest. It is a mechanic that has allowed most of the playtested games to remain remarkably close down to the buzzer. More detail on that in the next post.
When a gate is full for the next flight or when a player chooses the Departure action, the flight leaves and the cubes at that gate are returned to their owner. Every other flight a new Initiative is added to play. When all twelve flights leave, the player with the most Victory Points is the winner.
Additionally, just to fully explain everything you are seeing on the board here, each gate also has a 3×3 grid of squares called the Service Desk. If a player can get three cubes in a row (Tic-Tac-Toe style), then he/she “owns” that gate and can reap valuable rewards from anyone wanting to move there.
So a player essentially gets to choose one of these as their main action every turn:
- Move passengers through security.
- Move passengers en masse inside to gates or initiatives.
- Move one cube to try to claim a service gate.
- Depart the next flight if someone has a clear majority.
Now that you have a basic idea of the concepts, I will weave them all together with the complete rules in Part 3 and then write a few words on the dynamics of the game. Then Part 4 will be about the process of prototyping – both the physical and the creative aspects.