Last summer, my son (five at the time) wanted to design a game together with me. I wasted no time in saying yes and we started immediately. He wanted the game to be about pirates and finding treasure. What I wanted was a game that could be played by my kids that was not entirely about luck and / or memory. In my experience many games for that age group use those two mechanics predominantly or even exclusively and I wanted something that at least feels like it has a little more strategy in it. But my daughter was three then and I wanted it to be possible for her to play as well. So the strategy had to be semi-optional. Or, in other words, doing sort of random stuff had to be a valid strategy even though it wasn't optimal.
What I settled on was to add freedom of movement to the game, which automatically adds some strategic considerations and meaningful choices. We made a square grid with water and islands. For every island, there is a card with either a treasure, a key, a shovel or nothing on it. Those cards are shuffled and distributed randomly around the islands. The players start in the corners and can sail their ships 1d6 tiles. Sailing around can be done in all eight directions, but accessing land is only possible in four directions (the diagonals are excluded).
You win the game when you access the land tile where the treasure is, but only if you have a shovel and a key. If not, the treasure is still revealed, so everyone knows where to go to end the game. If you find a key while you already have one, it also stays in place so others can go and grab it. These mechanics also ensure that the game automatically works toward a conclusion. On the one hand this is seems quite obvious, but on the other this is a really important part of game design, especially when designing board games.
My son loved the game and so did my my daughter, who was able to play along with a little help. So I considered the game a success :).
Building something that looked something like the board game we designed (or at least enough so that my family recognised it) didn't take very long. And not too long after that, I had a very basic playable game. But, as it goes with things like this, there is always something extra to add. At one point, I realized I wanted to do more than just practice programming. I decided to make Pirate Game into a small but full game. So I added things like a menu scene, settings, multiple map sizes, sounds and AI players. Eventually, I had a fully functional build of Pirate Game that I could share with my friends. Programming is fun, especially if you manage to finish something :).
So, of course, I'm going to add that. What's more, somewhere in the near future, Michiel and I will clean up Pirate Game some more and make it available on itch.io for 'pay what you want, starting at free'. Since we both have about a 1000 more things we want to do than we have time for, I'm not certain how many features we'll add, but we're thinking of the following:
- co-op mode (duh)
- better graphics
- better sound (we're already talking to a sound designer about this)
- improved visuals for the menu scene and other UI elements
- multiplayer over network
- improved map generation algorithm (islands don't branch at the moment for instance)
- correct scaling for all screen sizes
And, very importantly, we'll need to think of a name. Which may be the hardest part :). So if you have any suggestions, family friendly suggestions that is, don't hesitate to let us know!
- Willem -
PS; since this week, we also have a professional testing crew for Pirate Game: