So, two pieces of background: there’s this board game, Evil Geniuses, that Nate and I created as a wedding present for Todd and Tory.  The game, although not exactly complete in the sense that it could be mass marketed right now, is pretty cool (if I do say so myself).  Each player is an evil genius trying to take over the city (the semi-randomized hex map that makes up the board) using their particular race of evil minions.  You know, Zombies, Ninjas, Robots, etc.  The game was created as a gift for them, and so it matches a lot of the things they like in board games – map control, resource management, auction, randomness.  However, as I tried to continue to develop it and balance it, I couldn’t really get it to a compelling-for-all-audiences point despite a near-complete revision of combat and some major tweaks to minion races.

Point the second: I’ve been reading the excellent book Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell.  In this book, he details a number of tools you can use to improve your ability to design games – or as he puts it, design the experiences created through games.  I recently completed a chapter on interest curves.  Essentially, you can tailor the pacing and content of an experience to maximize your guest’s interest in it.  This is not news to most people, since we intuitively understand the structure of fiction and performance in this way.  You open with a big hook to draw them in, have a couple of surprises along the way as you develop, and have a climactic event (finale) before the denouement.  Could I apply this tool of interest curve to Evil Geniuses?

I think the game has the hook – you select your evil minion race and immediately send them into the city!  And it has a pretty good pacing for surprises along the way – you encounter other minions on the board and fight them, and the fights are always exciting.  But it lacks a finale – in fact, the game often feels like it peters out near the end, and the outcome often feels determined going into the last or few last turns.  Could a finale be added?  (It is interesting to note that a lot of games have this petering-out effect because they just happen to end artificially.  I definitely enjoy games that have a player-driven ending more than I do a rules-driven ending!)

Some ideas I had, that I am now interested in trying out:

  • Reintroduce the concept of the resource-stealing Hero (equivalent to the Robber in Settlers), but have a battle against the Hero grant a large victory point bonus at the end.
  • Introduce a secondary goal that completes at game end – as an axis separate from the terrority fighting and management part of the game (which ebbs and flows), this could reach a climax at the same time as game end.  Maybe each evil genius is building a doomsday device, and the previous “add-ons” system (which was giving bonuses mostly to the minion troops) can be adapted to that building process?
  • A king-of-the-hill mechanic for the city center that scales over time, so that inevitably the players have a climatic showdown to control city center near the end of the game.