Form Follows Function

First Ascent, a new game about rock climbing launched last week on Kickstarter. I thought the game looked interesting and as I was looking through their Instagram, one post in particular resonated with me. A prototype version had just arrived and designer Kate Otte was saying it was outdated already. It reminded me of maybe one of the first lessons we learned when we started designing Wheel to Wheel Racing.

When I first came up with the idea for our board game, I felt that without a partner to bounce ideas of and particularly do the graphic design and artwork that the game would never get off the ground. I messaged a friend about the idea and without even asking he already suggested that he helps out with designing it. After that, we had a long discussion about everything we wanted to add into the game and how it should look. After some time the components were ready and we sat down to playtest it. We didn’t want to overcomplicate the first test so we only played with the core mechanics. That is when we realised our mistake. After we finished playing we liked the core of the game but then we looked at all the other stuff and felt that they weren’t elegant enough or they took away from the flow of the game.

This made me realise two things, firstly that the most important thing when you start is to make the core mechanics first and then look to how you can build onto it. Secondly, the aesthetics aren’t important in the beginning. We had spent a lot of time working out how to best visually represent things that got scrapped from the game before they even got tested. From then we decided that the only important thing for now is that the components are functional. We’d then test them out and if we liked how it works then start looking at how to make it look nice.

The focus on aesthetics was the main reason why I felt I couldn’t design a game alone at the start. I could come up with the ideas but not make anything better than basic looking cards. I thought I would lose interest quickly when things aren’t looking like how I imagine they will in the end. At the start I would wait for my partner to design everything before testing something. However, now when I want to tweak something I just open up a template and use the most basic text font or paste in an image I downloaded from somewhere. I get to try out my new idea right away and I don’t waste the graphic designers time by making him design player boards that become obsolete the moment they are made.

I now look at game design differently, if I went to design another game now I would begin with a focus on the function. I don’t need the fanciest looking cards until I have a game that works. The form would then follow once I am happy with the mechanics of the game. Once it’s all put together then we can look at getting a printed prototype, which no doubt will be obsolete when it arrives but it can also be a great landmark achievement and motivational for what is to come.

I’m really looking forward to getting my copy of First Ascent, you can see the passions the designer has for climbing and she absolutely nails the theme. What other games really capture the theme for you?

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