Final Game Design and Debrief

The following is the final design and debrief of our Life Advanced game.  Detailed instructions and explanations for all aspects of the game are included here.  Enjoy!

Description

Life Advanced is a hybrid computer board game that aims to enhance the realism of the classic board game LIFE by introducing random real-life events throughout the course of a player’s life. Beginning at age 5, players will travel through different stages of life all while being given choices with unknown outcomes to make along the way.

Target Audience

Number of Players: 1-5

Target Age: 16+   ERSB: T   PEGI: 16   CERO: C

Platform: PC, Physical board game

Playtime: Around an hour

Competitive Products: LIFE

We originally expected this game to take a long period of time, during our playtesting session we found that as the number of players were added, the time need to complete the game increased greatly, especially if the players are new to the game. To help counter this issue for those who don’t want to play a long game, we added an option to change how many spaces a player moves as suggested by one of our playtesters.

Narrative

As a player in this world, you’re trying to live through the game and grow up while encountering various events that affect different aspects of your life. Some of the events may be along the lines of winning the lottery, and others may be such like getting into a car accident.  As life goes, we don’t always have control over the things that happen to us, we make decisions never truly knowing the final outcome, and sometimes…things simply happen.  All events that appear in the game are everyday things that occur to people like you and me.

In our original game ideas, there was a concept to incorporate more of an need to manage money such as deciding to pay bills and manage debt. We took a look at a game called OMSI that focussed solely on this topic. In the end we didn’t add these feature but easily could have created some form of the concept using special events.

Gameplay:

At the beginning of the game, players will roll a weighted die to determine their income level for the game.  There are three different income levels and depending on what the player rolls, they will receive this sum of money every single turn.  The addition of an income during each turn was one of our late production choices having being incorporated into the game only a few weeks before playtesting. We were concerned that if the players did not have an income during each turn, they would have a high risk of going into severe debt that would not be recoverable by events.

During each turn, along with recording their income, every player will advance one space on the board unless set otherwise by the players at the start of the game. The choice to move all players the same amount of spaces each turn comes from the sense that life isn’t a race, you don’t age quicker than others, thus we broke away from the traditional first one to the finish wins style that many board games have. Once the player moves, a random event will occur on the computer. The player will then be presented with multiple choices on how they may choose to approach the event if they were to face it in real life. Once a player chooses an action, a random outcome from their choice will impact the player(s) depending on the event. Originally, events were designed to have the choices have an initial effect and then the additional random effect as shown in our UI prototypes.

If the player lands on a space marked with a question mark, instead of encountering a random event, the player will draw a special event card from the deck. These cards contain a code that the player then enters on the computer. These cards trigger an event where the player is given no choice (such as a natural disaster) and is impacted based on their age/phase in the game (i.e. a 6-year-old can’t win the lottery).

As players move through the game, they will be keeping track of how these events have been affecting them every single turn.

At the close of the game, players will take the final number of each factor on their game sheet and multiply it by $1,000.  This converts the points into money, and all the money can then be added up to determine a winner.  This is true of all the factors except for stress.  If your stress is positive at the end of play, you will subtract your calculated number from your total money pot to show that stress negatively affects the final outcome of life.  The player with the most money at the end of the game is the champion!  

The Game Board:

 

The game board is comprised of 45 spaces with each 5 spaces corresponding to a certain phase. Each phase represents a 10 year span of the players age starting at age 6 and ending at age 95. The location of a player on the board impacts the nature of the event they may face and how the special event cards impact the player (see Gameplay). Because of limitations in time, we designed the prototype to play from the start of the 2nd phase (tile 6) to the end of the 5th phase (tile 26).

The Computer:

A Windows-based computer will handle the managing of events. The computer will randomly generate events for each player and track their position on the board so that the game ends properly. The computer portion of the game will run on computers running Windows 7 or newer.

Deciding on what elements of the game that the computer would control was a tricky one. Originally we thought of having the computer track the statistics for each player. We bounced around from several ideas including an idea of even incorporating a mobile phone to play the game. However, after discussion, in order to better keep a balance between digital and physical, we opted to have the computer solely manage events which in retrospect was a good choice because having too many elements managed by a computer would have created a severe imbalance in workload because our team only had one software developer.

Event Structure:

Events will follow a structure similar to the one above.  Each tile will generate a random event that corresponds to the phase of life the players are currently in.  The computer will show a description of the event, and give the player two moral choices about how they may choose to deal with the event at hand.  At the time they must choose, the player does not know how their choice will affect their standing in the game.  The player will make a choice, and the computer will randomly select one of the outcomes programmed to correspond to the event for and the player will record the effects of the event and their choice on their player sheet.

The inspiration for this type of structure came from the game Death Road to Canada. In that game, it used a similar design and somewhat random outcomes to impact the player as they try to survive.

Player Sheet:

Player statistics will be recorded on a separate piece of paper.  Each player will obtain a blank player sheet at the beginning of the game and record the outcomes of each event as the game goes on.  The player sheet contains your player number (which will be useful when using the computer to move through the events), your income level, which is determined by a dice roll at the beginning of the game, and a table containing space for players to record how each event has affected them upon each turn.  The different columns that will be shown are as follows: Stress, Knowledge, Physical Well-Being, Happiness, and Money.  In each of these columns, players will enter the effects of the events that the computer has generated in the corresponding row for each turn.  They also must keep track of how their money has been affected during each turn, sometimes you may lose money, and sometimes you may gain money.  Players must factor this in along with their income for each turn.

We made a late development change with the statistics for the players. A few weeks before playtesting, we decided to merge the Physical Wellbeing and Energy categories together and established a Knowledge category. This decision helped us fix some events where the decisions between whether an event should affect Physical Wellbeing or Energy was negligible and it also gave us more choices for new events with the new Knowledge category.

Summary of Feedback:

During the quarter, two feedback sessions were held. The first session allowed us to collect some preliminary feedback to help us in making the game while the second session was the first session where our game was playtested allowing us to see what game mechanics were working well and see what changes need to be made. Below is the summary of feedback that we received from both sessions and whether we took action on it.

  • Including a one-time a game super event (natural disaster? war?)
    • While we did consider this suggestion, we never found time to incorporate such a choice. Had we implemented this choice, we would have had to have either adjusted the board to add a space for such event or make it randomly occur once per game.
  • Relies too heavily on randomness
    • Like we stated in our post for feedback session I, we felt that the reviewer didn’t necessarily understand the event structure, a couple reviewers didn’t realize that there were more than just two possible outcomes for making choices when posed with events in the game.
  • Add more positive events
    • Since we received this feedback, we have added a few more events with some of them being more weighted towards a positive effect. We also added one new positive card event.
  • Add an option to skip spaces
    • Since we received this feedback, we added an option to skip spaces that can be set at the start of the game. This should help shorten play times for those who prefer a shorter game.

Asides from suggestions, general feedback and reaction from reviewers and playtesters was well received. During our playtesting sessions, players appeared to be enjoying the game. Additionally, earlier feedback from session I, showed that reviewers were interested in the game concept and it’s complexity. This all being said, not all reactions were positive. In our second feedback session, players seemed to begin to bore as the game went on. This may have been contributed to by the limited number of events in game. Additionally, our playtesters were displeased by the number of repeating events.

Postmortem:

Things that went well

  1. Game board / physical elements are awesome.
    1. Our team did a really good job designing and producing the game board and these elements ended up being the best graphically appealing elements of our game.
  2. Decision making
    1. When it came time to make decisions about our game, we were able to make a decision in a relatively quick and fair manner. If we were not able to make a decision at that time, we made sure to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
  3. Time management /  all items turned in on time
    1. All of our assignments were turned in on time. Event when faced with a suddenly shortened deadline, we were still able to complete the assignments.
  4. Equal contribution
    1. All members of our team were able to equally contribute to the game in all phases including design and production.
  5. General interest / excitement about the game itself. We all truly liked the game concept.
    1. We all came into the group with a general interest in the idea and as time went on we really started to enjoy the game despite the difficulties we may have faced throughout the quarter.

 

Things that didn’t go so well

  1. Team communication
    1. We have had some communication struggles from time to time especially during the design process when we had a deadline approaching.  Whether we could have avoided this situation is up for debate but nevertheless it did not prohibit us from completing the project on time.
  2. Class attendance by all members
    1. We had some issues with team members not being present during meetings or in-class work. Sometimes we were informed by the missing members that they wouldn’t be there but there were also times when we wouldn’t receive an email until after the fact.
  3. Events not random enough in software
    1. The biggest issue in our prototype (and one that is likely still an issue if played with a higher player count) is the events not being random enough. This is a result of the limited number of events. Had we had more time, we likely could have partially resolved this but completely resolving this and minimizing repeats would require a full development team and much more time both of which we don’t have.
  4. Focus lacking within physical aspect of game
    1. While we had physical aspects, the focus seemed limited on them. This was especially noticed during play testing when the players and members of our team forgot to move the player on the game board and lost track of how far through the game we had progressed since the game had not yet had a display to indicate what tile you were on and what phase you were in.
  5. Strayed from original LIFE board game too much
    1. Despite it being in our title, we felt we strayed from the original LIFE board game a bit too much. Many elements that were in the original LIFE board game such as choosing whether to go to college or not, choosing a house, retirement, etc. were not present in our game.

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