March Game Project — Sky Islands

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.


In January, I started late and didn’t get it done. In February, I had four game ideas. One of them became focal, and I spent some time this month actually making a physical prototype. My plan this month is to have something that at the end of the month can be treated as a thorough plan for not just a prototype, but a game that’s ready to go.

That proved very stressful, with the whole design write-up being week to week, and publishing just before the end of the month. Instead, I’m going to talk to you about what the idea is and focus on the core ideas, rather than on every step of the process.

Let me know if you prefer the week-to-week explanation or this style of simplified version.

CONCEPT

The idea of this game is a game of archipelagos of floating islands revitalising their business and reactivating ancient ruins. You’ll do this by responding to currents in the wind that both let you make buildings, then get them to work. Your aim is to build buildings on your islands that mix between getting you better opportunities in the game’s turns, and also gives you points at the end of the game.

Play Loop

At the start of the game, everyone gets 6 cards that have their islands on them. Each corresponds to a number on the dice 1-6. Each player also starts with a blimp that starts on their 1.

At the start of the round, for each player, you pick a number of tokens out of the bag, and put them in a line. This line represents how expensive each building is: The first two are free, then it’s one, then two and so on.

Each player then rolls a dice. This is your active card.

Every building already on place on your active card triggers, and gives you a special bonus:

  • Crystal Quarries give you money to buy further into the marketplace.
  • Forges let you grab another tile from the bag and add it to the marketplace
  • Windmills let you move your blimp
  • Temples let you clean up an angel or mage tower on this tile, or where the blimp is.

Each player selects one of the tokens in the marketplace, based on turn order. When you pick a tile, it slides the rest into the spot, so your choice is by default of one of two. You have to put the token on the tile that matches the dice you rolled or on the tile where your blimp is placed.

Some tiles don’t improve anything – they’re just there for scoring at the end of the game. These are Angels, Mage Towers, and Treehouses. Angels and Mage Towers start in disrepair, and when you repair them, you flip them over.

If you roll a number and can’t put any tiles on that number, the buildings there still activate, but now you have to place your tiles on the next number along, bumping up and onward.

The game continues until you’ve placed all 20 possible tiles. The game’s final score cares about:

  • Angels and mage towers that are in good condition
  • Angels and mage towers that are in disrepair
  • “Most dense” island, which is the highest number that is completely of one type of building

And that’s it, that’s the game loop

Prototype Requirements

At first, I thought about doing this game on individual cards that represented different configurations of island. Then I considered making it so you put the islands on little tiles that you could rearrange when the windmills fired off, ‘blowing’ the islands around.

Then I sat down with a box in my hand and tried to work out how much room I had in that box for the right number of tiles.

As it is, the math I have is that I need for each player, 6 cards. I need a blimp token. I need at least 20 tiles, and I need to make sure they distribute in a way that creates interesting board states (probably want things to be roughly equal, but I won’t know till I playtest). I need a bag. I need instructions. I need dice.

As I write this, this has been put together on gamecrafter. I have a prototype of this game coming and on the way, and I’m really excited to see what it’s going to look like.

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