Design Retreat and Knee-Jerk!

Back in December I met up with two of my friends from grad school on Orcas IslandFrancisco, who works at Schell Games in Pittsburgh, and Aaron, formerly of PopCap San Francisco and Delectable. A generous friend of mine lent us his cabin for a few days, which turned out to be the perfect place for our first design retreat.

We each “hosted” one day, coming up with a mix of activities to do with each other. My day was focused on the different types of context we use as designers:

  • Physical – space layout, size, colors, temperature, time
  • Inner – inward feelings, thoughts, sensations, emotions
  • Symbolic – past or surrounding words and events
  • Relational – sender/receiver relationship
  • Situational – current event’s implications
  • Cultural – established rules and patterns

After a lecture and discussion on the topic, we took a break to go on a two-hour boat ride. We came back ready to rock, sitting down for an hour to design games based around randomly-assigned types of context. I received “situational context” and got to work.

I imagined a game that quickly forced players into a variety of contexts, making them to react to different situations. I arrived at a party game design that feels similar to Apples to Apples and Say Anything, but allows for more problem-solving, creativity, and performance. Here’s how it works: A random “scene” is generated. Players are tasked to fill in an ending to the scene, and a judge player decides on the best one. The player with the most points when 15 scenes are depleted is the winner.

Here’s an example of a scene:

 Note: Art is temporary, and will not be used for commercial purposes.

Note: Art is temporary, and will not be used for commercial purposes.

The players may say any answer they like. The game is often suggestive, as per this example, so I’ll let you fill in the ending for this one ;-]

My friends gave me useful feedback, and I’ve been developing and playtesting the game ever since. It continues to go over well with playtesters, so I’ve started preparing to have nicer demo decks printed. Here’s a recent playtest in my new city of Los Angeles: