Starting Making, Concept 2: Penny Something

Reiner Knizier said – well he didn’t say it, and whatever he said was probably in German, but I summarise it as – that you start making a game from a component, a mechanic or a concept. A component means some game piece, some object to work with, a mechanic is a rules interaction, and a concept is a theme or a fictional idea to build a game around. These articles are ones where I try to take a game idea and flesh it out a little, starting from one of those three parts. Last time I went with a concept – the theme of Hallmark Movies.

This time, we’re going to start with a component.

Step 1. What Do I Have?


This time the starting spot is a component. I got thinking about the cheapest possible component I could get, and the penny occurred to me as an item that’s functionally less than worthless. Lengthy tirades about the comparative uselessness of the penny, though, what can I do with a penny and what virtues does it have? And how translatable is that to here, in Australia, where I don’t have access to American style pennies, or potential Canadian audiences, who don’t have pennies? That means there’s no truly unique property of an American penny that I can use without limiting my options.

What can I do with a penny, or a single, small, metal coin? Well, let’s set aside things to do with magnetics (that’s not easily distributed, replicated, consistant across all the countries, or cheap), and we can ignore anything that requires a lot of them (because that’s fiddly).

A penny can be used as a token or counter, so that’s an easy idea. It also can be flipped, which lets it serve as a randomiser.

Step 2. What Does That Need?

That puts me in mind of another game that relies on a randomiser, Machi Koro, a design type I built on with Cafe Romantica. Thing is, flipping a coin has a lot less variety than a dice, and it’s kind of fundamentally binary, which suggests there’s just fewer cards you can make. Also heads-tails as a paradigm suggests things trigger based on two opposing forces, which implies the two faces of the coin represent oppositional forces.

This is good, though, this gives me a direction; what about a roll-builder like Cafe Romantica and Machi Koro with a much smaller number of cards? If the game is shorter, the fact that the rolls are less varied is less of a problem. If the game is fairly fast, then it becomes something you can play in impromptu moments, like a Button Shy wallet game.

That seems interesting. Plus, if I use a Penny, that could play into the game name and give possible themes! Penny Farthing (making a bicycle business), Penny Dreadful (surely that’s in use already), Penny Stock (surely that is), Bad Pennies. Or maybe build it around the size of a ten cent piece, and it could be Dime a Dozen or something like that. That gives concept space! Then again, if the coin is being flipped to see which of your tableau of cards fire, it might want to play into the idea of the head or tail of the coin representing something.

What if I go with something spooky themed, where the head of the coin is the ‘full moon’ phase and the tail of the coin is the ‘no moon’ phase? Hmm!

The smallness of the game might involve a bit of permutation. After all, you want to make it so the cards are interestingly different from one another, and with a game like this you probably want to make the goal the purchase of one particular card that both sides are racing towards.

Step 3. How Do I Make That Happen?

I think for this, I’ll need to just make a deck of cards to test it out. I’ll start with a deck of say, twenty three cards – one card for the ‘end’ goal, one card each for the player’s starter card, and then that gives twenty cards that can be the ‘market’ you get to build up.

I’ll look into stock art; if I go with the moon theme, having components that are spooky might be a good place to start. It could be seen as a duel between witches, or maybe competing curses or haunts.

Another thing is to look at how small I can scale what I’m doing. If I have only twenty cards, what if each card is split in half, and you cover one half for what you buy? That lets me potentially bump up the card count to 40, if the fonts aren’t trying to convey a lot of complex stuff.