MGP: Imbuing Ownership

Starting January 2016, I made a game or more a month for the whole year. I continued this until 2018, creating a corpus of 39 card or board games, including Looking For Group, Senpai Notice Me, and Dog Bear. Starting in 2019, I wanted to write about this experience, and advice I gained from doing it for you. Articles about the MGP are about that experience, the Monthly Game Project.

When I talk about my games there tends to be a split in game types, which tends to – but not always – lie along a price line. There are $10 games, which are made with a tiny number of cards, less art, and often a tight little system to play with. Some examples are Senpai Notice Me! and You Can’t Win, which are both excellent games I’m very happy with for how much they do with how little they’ve got room for. These games are almost like a unicycle, a tiny tight little system, and they’re mostly intermediary games, games that you play between other things. There are exceptions – The Botch, for example, is what I consider a mid-size game for its time and strategic investment, and Chin Music is a $15 game that nonetheless is playable with seven year olds, with almost no strategic depth or world-building.

The point is, that these games, we’ll call them the single wheel games, tend to be kind of easy to make, they tend to be a bit less demanding, and they tend to be faster to make. The games that take more time tend to have fewer mistakes in them that I think of as big. It’s easy for me to point out the problems of D-73C7 but it’s a tiny bit harder to talk about the problems in the games I think of as ‘medium,’ the games where I have stamped my name and a bit of my lore and my friends.

Burning Daylight is a game I love.

It’s a good game.

But I hate, hate, hate, how much better it could be.

If you haven’t seen this game, it’s basically a Hand Management game. You pick a handful of cards that represent your gang, then you send those gang members out to do missions, each one capable of doing something on their own, and then after they go out, they do something, then they come home. You can send them out as a group, and if you do, they can do a mission.

There’s a ton of stuff that’s just a little bit awkward about this game. The way injury works, the way the track progresses – players tend to want to move their characters differently to the way the rules work, which suggests that the rules I designed around were bad, and I should have been willing to pull them back. I still tangle with the feeling myself, if I should revisit the game entirely, strip back the rules, and redo a bunch of the cards? Maybe?

But that’s not the important thing. Those are small things, they are ways to make a better game out of the good game. There’s a fatal flaw in Burning Daylight, or rather, an overwhelming flaw that bothers the hell out of me, and it’s at the start of the game, you have to pick your gang members. You pick five cards and those cards are your gang. They’re yours.

When you first pick the game up, you have no idea what those gang members do, how they interact with one another, if they’re good, or what kind of mix of them you want.

I filled these cards with as much personality as I could, I strived to make it so that you could like this cast of gangsters, and then I created potential pitfalls for players who made bad choices. Which sucks, it’s such a bad decision.

If you pick a good, mixed team, and if you know how some of the characters work together, this game can be fun, but at that point, you’re not creating your gang for this game, you’re picking up a gang. I gave players a way to take ownership of the game in some way, and then I made it so they could do that wrong and that drives me batty every time I think about it.

Burning Daylight took me months to make. I bought stock art I loved, I edited and refined it, like the art I use for Sector 86. I live-tweeted so many stages of the design process; there was a time where it was actually strongly reminsicent of Arctic Scavengers (and … well… maybe), another time it was almost a box game with tokens and a bag buying system. The game that came out is full of lore I like, characters I love and it looks great…

… and I keep gnawing away at the ways I could make it better.

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