Designing a wooden board game

Peregrinations of a game designer

First thing I should say is that a few months ago, I gave myself the challenge to make at least one game a month during the entire year. The point is to learn something new at each new game I make to improve my skills.

So let’s talk about Mazzle, my June project !

As a game designer, it would have been a shame to keep making games on my computer and not to enjoy the fablab as I’ve never been in one before thecamp. So after some little experimentations by making badges with the engraving machine to pimp my jacket, I finally got an idea : I’m gonna make a maze-puzzle game inspired by the dominos ! That’s not clear ? I’ll explain !

It’s ok to fail !

The main specificity of the laser cut machine is that we can both cut and engrave the wood, once we get how to do it properly, the possibilities are infinite. I only had a blurry idea of what I wanted to do and sometimes it’s better to prototype first and think about it secondly. So I started by printing a few pieces where I imagined the players moving pawns at the same time they were building the maze together. That was a big failure but this attempt made me finally think about a better system. I was gonna make a maze-puzzle-go game. Sounds more complicated, but it actually simplifies the reading of the game.

Mazzle is now a game in which two players confronts each other, one is playing black an the other one is playing white. The goal is for each player to make the largest territory of their color like in Go game by building a maze together.

Once the pieces were printed, it only took me one playtest to see the problems with my design… I had tried to make straight sides on some pieces to complicate the game, but it actually stopped it before all the pieces were on the table. I will have to either remove this feature or make less of them. Some pieces were also difficult to read, it seems I have design some uselessly difficult mazes that could be easily simplified. This second attempt also lead me to design all the necessary rules to define the course of a game. How is the game suppose to begin ? When do players pick up more pieces ?

Some more balancing…

After two dysfunctional prototypes, I finally knew what needs to be done to make it right. First, I will simplify the maze by making a grid of 2×2 instead of 3×3. Secondly, I will reduce the number of straight side pieces. I will have less diversity on the maze but the reading of the game will be better. The difficulty is to find the right balance with the number of the different types of pieces.

Now that the prototype is printed, it’s time for the last step : balancing. In other words, I have to decide of the exact number and type of pieces to make the game both challenging and strategic for the player while avoiding frustration. In Domino game, that’s easy, there is as many pieces as it is possible to make each combination in one copy. But Mazzle presents pieces with two particularities which are the maze and the puzzle, so it’s more complex to find a good balance since the playability given by those combinations is more abstract than Domino. To make this happen, no secret : playtest !