Get Out of the Game Room!

talon slopeThere’s an aphorism in the ‘startup’ world, where I spend most of my non-gaming time.

“Get out of the office!”

The point is that if you get bogged down in what you think is cool, you won’t actually build something that’s useful to others. I think the same concept applies in game design. And while an obvious application of this is to get your design in front of people who aren’t in your immediate friend / gaming group, I think there’s a broader sense here too. The last three weekends I’ve been in Breckenridge (in the rocky mountains) doing outdoorsy things like climbing Mt. Democrat or tubing down the Colorado river with coworkers (also playing my first game of Agricola… whaaat?).

The thing which struck me repeatedly is how full of cool game mechanics the real world is. I know, I know, I’m unabashedly theme first. But what I really mean by that is getting unique inspiration for mechanics from theme-specific interactions. While climbing Mt. Democrat, one of  Colorado’s fifty three mountains which peak over 14,000 feet, the trail went directly up a talus slope at one point. Because there were a number of people on the mountain that day, it required constant vigilance of what the climbers above were doing, and who might be close behind during the scramble.

Because I can never seem to focus on only one thing at a time, my mind began constructing the basics of a tabletop game which played on these principles. A pyramid of face-down cards (possibly stacks in each location) could represent a mountain summit, as players move pawns upward, flipping cards reveals the status of the footing on that particular part of the mountain, which affects a cascading pyramid of spaces below it. Obviously this should all be in pursuit of looting eggs from the aerie of a mountain-nesting raptor… which lends itself nicely to the pun-ish “Talon Slope” as a title for the pre-design.

Am I going to actually flesh this out and design it into something I would pitch to a publisher or put on Kickstarter? Probably not. But as a mind-opening exercise, I think it was invaluable. A mechanic like that isn’t something I’m specifically familiar with, and now it’s in my head for when I’m working through issues with other mechanics for designs I’m actually invested in. It also gave me the chance to come back to my other designs with a clear mind from a mental distraction and some fresh air.