Creating “Sustainable City” – Board Game Design Diary #1

We thought for one of our upcoming games, tentatively titled Sustainable City, we would experiment with sharing the design process from beginning to end.

So here’s our first entry:

Today we did our first playtest of Sustainable City, pictured here. Like all first drafts, it needs a considerable amount of work. But as a starting point, we’re pretty satisfied.

Our current vision for Sustainable City is that this will be a cooperative, engine building game. (This vision is subject to change – and like all games, it will very likely evolve dramatically from its starting point to what it ends up being when we finish.)

When we say cooperative, we mean a game where everyone is on the same team, winning or losing together. When we say engine building, we mean a game where players are becoming more powerful over time, based on the decisions and combinations they make as the game goes on.

Homemade draft of first prototype. Don’t worry – someone else will be in charge of making it beautiful!

Our reason for wanting to try to use engine building as a base for this game is that we want to demonstrate that sustainability can have a snowballing effect: the more you put into it, the more you will get out.

Our current concept for the theme of the game is that it takes place in the near future, and fighting for climate justice and mobilization has sprung into the forefront of the the world’s attention. Players are responsible for mobilizing the movement for climate action in their city. However, It’s a race against the clock, as climate disasters will begin impacting your city.

In terms of today’s playtest – the gameplay felt too cluttered, and the action felt disassociated from the board. The amount of choices felt overwhelming. Our goal for the next version is to streamline turns and actions, and bringing the player’s focus onto what’s happening on the board – instead of trying to figure out what the cards in their hands mean.

On the positive side, the gameplay definitely felt like it was a race against the clock. The threat of climate change felt real, and it kept motivating players to move quickly. The core ideas felt like they worked, and it is the execution that needs work. In terms of a first draft for a game – that’s pretty decent.

One of our big question marks with the current game is the storyline. In our two most recent games (Space Cats Fight Fascism and STRIKE! The Game of Worker Rebellion), we tethered the gameplay to a very present antagonist. In the case of Space Cats: it was the Rat Pack regime. In the case of STRIKE!, it was HappyCorp. With Sustainable City, we’re trying to think about whether it would be better for the game to be tethered a bit more to the real world (or, honestly, if that’s too depressing); or if it would be more fun to have it be a bit more separated from the challenges of thinking about Climate Change and coming up with a visible foe: perhaps a corporate or political force that is trying to stymie your climate movement.

That’s it for now! Our goal is to have a new version of the game to playtest by next week – but, in a COVID-19 world, who knows if that’ll actually happen. If you made it this far – thanks for reading and taking part in our experiment to share our game design process from start to finish.

Are you part of an organization that wants to work with TESA to develop Sustainable City? Drop us a line!

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