Local Designer Series: Christina Ng and Yeo Keng Leong of Three Kingdom Redux on Game Design.
The Singaporean designed Three Kingdom Redux is no slouch when it comes to gameplay, art, and theme compared to its international board gaming counterparts and thus with one well produced and fun game under their belt, what has the Starting Player duo learned about the game design process as they head into their new game, Race for the Chinese Zodiac? Today, we find out.
1. So although it is not done yet, what can you tell us about your new game in the works, Race for the Chinese Zodiac?
It is a racing game based on the Chinese myth about the Great Race that formed the Chinese Zodiac. The story goes that the Jade Emperor summoned all the animals to a race to decide the order of a 12-year cycle for mankind to keep time and the top 12 finishers would be immortalised by having their species named after a year in the Zodiac.
We designed this game with the wife's in-laws in mind as they were unable to playtest or try our first game, Three Kingdoms Redux due to the heavy amount of text involved. As a result, only the wife's brother was able to partake in the design process of Three Kingdoms Redux. Thus, we wanted to do a shorter and more text-light board game for our next project so that they can be involved too. We do hope to play the finished published version with them in 2019.
2. What do you think are the essential prototype pieces and tools a budding game designer needs to have in their home?
We do not feel there is anything in a particular that is essential. For us, imagination, knowledge of probability, prior board gaming experience and concepts of game designs probably comes first.
Tools wise, once you hit upon an idea, then you can decide what kind of game components you will need to make the prototype. Initially, usually cardboard and paper are sufficient.
3. When it comes to game design, do you focus on the game mechanics or the theme first?
We design from the setting/theme up. We first think about the setting we want and then ponder over which or what game mechanics suits the game best that will bring the game's theme to life.
For example, in Three Kingdoms Redux, worker placement represented the many generals of the era and the alliance mechanic, the changing nature of alliances of the era.
As for Race for the Chinese Zodiac, simultaneous card play represented the racers having to make decisions on the go at the same time. And the nature of the different actions which are drawn from the various actions taken by the animals is based on the folktale itself.
4. Where do you usually find your playtesters and what are the biggest challenges in the playtesting period?
Playtesters have mostly been our family and close friends. Finding playtesters who are willing to try the same game design repeatedly has always been a big challenge. The Keyword is “repeatedly” as it is only in the later stages that we seek out new playtesters, to get fresh views.
This is because the initial intensive playtesting stage requires the same playtesters to yield the best results. Now for a shorter board game, this issue is not as severe but for a board game as long as our previous game, Three Kingdoms Redux though, it was a major issue but we were fortunate enough to get around that with the support of a few close friends and family member (Wife's brother).
5. How many times do you think a game needs to be playtested or at what point do you think a game is "done"?
There is no definitive answer to this. For us, we set our own expectations in our hearts on how fun and balanced we want the board game to be and just keep playtesting and tweaking it until it passes those expectations. We value quality over quantity.
Given we have day jobs, it means our design process is always a long drawn out process. Thus, why we have been experiencing a four-year long design and development period for just our first two games.
6. What kind of board games do you think the current growing board game market is favouring?
When a new sector grows and matures, it usually moves towards the masses. It is therefore not surprising to see board games appealing to the mass market. A few examples being shorter game times which accommodates larger player counts, games with nice miniatures and certain settings/themes such as Zombies and Vikings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zhou Huibin is a smith of words who majored in Philosophy & History from the University of Western Australia and whose life has followed the flow of his hobbies. He seeks continual contentment in his ponders, reading, writing, painting and board games which fills almost all of his time.