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  • Jared Patterson

Updated: Feb 24

Not too fast. Not too slow. Just right.


I've learned quickly that setting the pace of a board game, while vitally important, isn't necessarily a simple matter. Two things to clarify before getting into the meat of the discussion:


  1. What do I mean by pacing? To me pacing is the rate and intensity at which the game proceeds. I add intensity to the definition because I think it's a key ingredient in the perception of pacing.

  2. Co-op vs. direct competition. This journal entry speaks specifically to pacing in cooperative, all-the-players vs. the board type games. In a co-op game, you as the designer have a great deal of control over pacing because the game is the adversary. Whereas in directly competitive games, the other players are the adversaries and thus have more control over when to raid someone's village, steal their sheep, and otherwise make their life miserable. As the designer of a co-op game, it's your job to make the players miserable!

As the designer of a co-op game, it's your job to make the players miserable!

The cooperative games I like the most are the ones you barely win. Games by Matt Leacock, like Pandemic and Forbidden Island, are perhaps the best known in this category. They start out at a reasonable pace and then pick up speed as they go along, forcing the players to deal with ever more difficult odds. They have periods of frenetic activity followed by occasional lulls providing for some degree of recovery - but not too much!


So what's the recipe for a perfectly paced game? Great question. I don't have the answer, but I think it's more of an art than a science.


The Best Laid Plans


The first non-solo play test of Medic! was a slog. The goal of the game is to save X lives before you lose X lives. Prior I had done some back-of-the-envelope number crunching to determine at what rate soldiers needed to enter the battlefield, get wounded, and lose health in order to keep the game challenging but winnable. I assumed roughly one life saved per two turns and wanted the lives lost to keep pace with that. I was close on the pacing of lives saved, but I was off on lives lost. While the game ended close to what I would have hoped, with 20 saved and 19 lost, these numbers were far apart until the very end when things got fast, furious, and much more interesting. Early on it was 11 saved / 2 lost and then 18 saved / 7 lost meaning there was little to no urgency up until the end. It was like a bad baseball game that finally got exciting after everybody had already left the stands.


To remedy this, I began adding additional wounded soldiers at the outset of the game. Then I switched to adding one active soldier to the board at the end of every turn. Then I increased the density of the artillery strike cards in the conflict deck (soldier movement and artillery fire are both controlled through card draws). Then I reduced the size of the board to compress the action into a tighter space and generate more conflict. These and other tweaks have all helped and the lives saved and lives lost counters are more often neck and neck now, but only additional play testing will say whether more needs to be done.


Controlling the pacing of a game is challenging for the same reason it's fascinating: it's not necessarily prescriptive and there are many variables involved. But the things most worth doing are generally difficult to do. Getting pacing right in your board game is no exception. So, if you're designing your own game, remember: not too fast, not too slow, just right. See how simple that is? And if you're reading this and have ideas to share on the topic, leave a comment below.

  • Jared Patterson

Updated: Feb 21


Before I decided to walk the self-publishing path for Medic!, I spent time looking at game publisher idea submission guidelines. This has had the residual benefit of helping me understand, at least on a surface level, what it is that makes a board game good from the perspective of a publisher. Publishers are publishers because they've, well, published. That means they've had some level of success. If they have something to say about what they want and don't want in a board game, I think it's worth listening.


TMG is one of the publisher's I investigated and on their submissions page, toward the bottom, they list the key points to cover in an idea submission, including this:


Mechanical and/or thematic “hook”: what makes your game stand out.

This caught my attention not because it's a revolutionary idea - of course you need a way to differentiate your game - but because it highlights game mechanics and theme as the key ingredients. If there's a novel game mechanic and it also ties in well with the theme, now maybe you're on to something.


With Medic! the theme is one of combat medics transporting wounded people off the battlefield on their shoulders. Thematically this makes sense and hearkens back to many a war film. And by using meeple stacking, which is what the game does to signify when a wounded person is in transport, now you have an interesting mechanic that also fits perfectly with the theme. I'm under no delusion Medic! is the first game to stack pieces - I know that's not the case - but I am excited about how well this core mechanic compliments the theme.

  • Jared Patterson

A fleeting mental image of combat medics criss-crossing a battlefield picking up wounded soldiers; the urgency and the humanity of it drew me in. It was December 2019, it was cold outside, and I was looking for a creative outlet. That's how Medic! got its start.


Early Development


Over the next week I wrote the first draft of the rules and cards. As a fan of Euro-style cooperative games, that's the mold in which the game began to take shape. While I've read a number of recommendations that say the artwork doesn't matter early on and all the focus should be on play testing the mechanics - and in general, I agree - I wanted at least some art to help with quick card identification and to give the game a more invested feel from the outset. I decided to go with silhouettes because they provide great visual information without presupposing the style of the game art to come.

The first game board was nothing more than printed hexes and counters glued to a piece of cardboard. For pieces I scrounged up meeple and dice from other games, though I didn't have a d10 so I purchase one from the local game store here in Alexandria. And then the solo play testing began. I quickly adjusted a number of rules, which I'll go over in a future post, and as the game took shape and felt like it had potential, I began to consider next steps including looking at game conferences. That's how I found Protospiel Minnesota.


Protospiel

Protospiel MN, like other Protospiels, is a game conference entirely focused on play testing prototypes. It's a game designer's paradise. Even though Medic! was still in its infancy and the conference was just a couple weeks away (January 24 - 26), I knew a) I needed to get better plugged in to the board game design scene and b) I would benefit from a deadline. I signed up as a designer and got busy making the game playable! I don't regret my decision. Protospiel provided a welcoming community, the opportunity to test other people's games, play testing for Medic!, and wonderfully constructive feedback. The overall positive reception of the game gave me the impetus to move forward. When the last group to play - who had just lost the game - said they'd enjoy playing again sometime to see if they could win, I realized Medic! might just have a future.


Looking Forward


There's a long way to go and the Protospiel audience is unique in that they expect the games they play there to be rough. There's a good deal of distance between a positive reception at Protospiel and a viable, crowd-fundable board game. And that's what this development journal is about: the journey from idea to, hopefully, a successful crowd-funding campaign.


If you'd like to keep up with Medic! development and be notified when it launches on Kickstarter, sign up for the mailing list on the home page. I personally disdain a noisy inbox, so I'll be measured in the e-mails I send. I promise!

Red Ninja LLC

PO Box 54, Alexandria, MN 56308