15 October 2008

Preview: Designing the game

By Corey Konieczka

Here at Fantasy Flight, we have spent many nights burning the midnight Zergling (with Firebats of course) in order to make this game a reality. Here is a brief glimpse into the development process of StarCraft: The Board Game.

Designing the Core Mechanics:
The first step in designing any game (especially one of this size), is deciding exactly what the features and focus of the game will be. Will the game feature space combat, or stick to planetary warfare? Will it focus on a single conflict or will its scope cover an entire campaign? Such details form the heart and soul of a game.
While we wanted to capture the theme of the video game, we also wanted to create a unique StarCraft experience that could not be found anywhere else. At the same time, it was important for it to feel like StarCraft. While walking this razor's edge, we brainstormed and formed the core ideas of what the game would be all about.
Designing the Combat System:
In a game with so many "moving parts," each individual piece is unique and integral to the whole of the game. We needed to create a combat system that was elegant and strategic while simulating the video game.
When we began to design StarCraft: The Board Game, we knew that an innovative and intuitive combat system would be vital. The challenge was to create a dynamic system that captured the excitement and tactics of StarCraft, but at the same time did not involve fiddly counters or time-consuming bookkeeping.
The first step was abstracting combat so that battles were broken into individual skirmishes. The use of skirmishes (inspired by such games as Avalon Hill's War at Sea), helped us simulate how players order their units to attack in the video game by targeting specific enemies.
The second level we added to the combat system was the combat cards. By making each player manage a hand of cards, we were able to add strategic decision making and remove record keeping.
Let me illustrate this with an example:
Let us say that a massive Carrier was being attacked by a lone Marine. In the StarCraft video game, the Marine would be squished and cause a small amount of damage to the Carrier. In the board game, the owner of the Carrier would play a Carrier card and easily survive the attack (while destroying the Marine). Now since the owner has used one of his Carrier cards, the Carrier is more vulnerable to future attacks. Even though the combat system does not require tracking the 'hit points' of the Carrier, it does take into account the fact that a Carrier is more vulnerable right after being attacked.
Each of these ideas went through many different iterations before they became what they are today. Through intense playtesting and careful tweaking, each game system slowly fell into place.
Producing the Art
Even after the game play was designed and approved by all involved parties, there was still lots more work left. Such things as the cover artwork went through many incarnations before it became what it is today.
The biggest challenge for our graphic design team (Kevin Childress, Andrew Navaro, Bryan Schomberg, and Scott Nicely) was that most components for the three races each needed to look different. This basically amounted to having to design graphics for three different games. All the while, our graphics team worked closely with Blizzard Entertainment ensuring that all of the elements were as authentic as possible.
Producing the Plastic:
Creating a game with 180 plastic figures (in 25 unique sculpts) is no easy task. Teams of talented artists and sculptors had to work around the clock to finish these pristine pieces. During the process, we were constantly checking detail and working with Blizzard to make these figures as close as possible to the source material. When I saw the final figures, I was blown away.
Producing the Final Product:
There was still plenty of work to be completed after the game had been designed and rigorously playtested. The rules needed to be edited and reviewed, and dozens of diagrams needed to be created for the rulebook to explain the more complicated aspects of the game. Finally all components had to be compiled, proofed, approved and sent to the printer. Then all that was left was waiting for proofs and pre-production samples to approve.
The final step is waiting for the game to finally arrive so that we can share it with the general public. As excruciating as this step is, be assured StarCraft: the Board Game is coming, and soon the pain and longing will be nothing more than a memory.

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