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This is the blog of a first time game designer trying to figure out what the heck he's doing.


My LIttle Brother, Ozymandias

After I got out of the subway, I ran into the first bodega I could find. The rain was coming down in these rhythmic sheets thanks to the winds flipping past the corners in the Village. I grabbed a couple peanut butter cups and asked for a couple plastic bags to go with them. I didn’t really care about the peanut butter cups. I just wanted something to wrap my brand new prototype in before it got completely doused on its first night out in the world.

It had been almost six months since I’d first playtested my game in the basement of Columbia. I’d reworked the game from scratch at least four times at that point. I was still trying to make a game where you could win on your own, or win together, but the game had changed massively.

That first playtest made it clear that people really don’t want to lose, and if they didn’t have much hope in making the group goal, they’d ditch out fast to protect themselves. I reworked everything to make the game clearer, and the group goal more attainable. Still, no one had managed the group win yet. I did finally drag my friends in for a couple games, and they actually seemed to enjoy it. In fact, one of my friends, Peter, got the game stuck in his head that weekend. In a fit of productivity, he took my slapdash design and redid the entire thing, making it look like an actual card game instead of an exploded bit of paper mache by Pepe Silvia.

I got his design professionally printed, and made two copies. I gave one to him, and I made grand plans to try out my shiny new version at a game shop in Manhattan. I invited my friends, and I even thought, now that I had this fancy coat of paint, I’d be able to drag some strangers over to try out my fledgling game. My grand marketing plan was to print out a couple pieces of paper with the name of the game and glue them to the side of an empty box of wine. It wasn't much, but it could sit up on the table.

Both my boxed wine advertisement and the new prototype got pretty well soaked as I ran into the Uncommons. The gift box I altered for the prototype was keeping most of the water at bay so the cards and board were dry, but the logo on the front was running by the time I got inside.

We didn’t entice any strangers to the table that night. It was just me, Peter, Peter’s girlfriend, and Peter’s little brother. I sat down, thoroughly doused, thinking we’d just take the new version out for a test drive. I wasn’t expecting not only the first group win of The Last Summit ever, but also the strangest sideways approach I could have imagined.

Ever since that rainy night, I’ve referred to it as the Ozymandias Gambit.

Boiling it down, in The Last Summit you’re trying to calm public opinion on a bunch of different issues. If you succeed, you move that issue’s marker to the middle of the track. If one of those Issues starts moving out from the middle, the public is getting more and more worried about that particular issue, and they may ditch the whole world peace idea to follow whoever they think has that issue handled. If one issue moves out far enough, they fully freak out and cause a panic. If that happens everyone loses.

All my playtests up to that point had ended in one person winning on their own. No one seemed to trust anyone else, so they quietly shored up their borders waiting for the inevitable attack.

That evening, Peter’s Little Brother went for a wildly different strategy. Namely, running into any location that even mildly looked like a theater and screaming “FIRE!” at the top of his lungs. He was giddily freaking out the public at every turn, and we were edging on a full on panic every time he had a turn.

To save the game, we had to stop him. Round after round, we found ways to calm the public after he scared them stupid. We started talking through our plans in detail, trying to find the best way to keep Little Brother from nuking the game for us.

That’s how we ended up saving the world.

Thanks to Peter’s Little Brother, the rest of us had to work perfectly in concert to keep him in check. We kept no secrets, and none of us jumped for power on our own. We had a simple goal: stop the madman and get to the next round.

And we made it. We actually achieved the World Peace goal together. I took a picture of it because I was so damn shocked.

While we toasted over our victory, Little Brother leaned back in his chair and smiled.

“Cool.” He grinned. “It worked.”

“Don’t you dare pretend you were planning on that.”

“Okay.” Little Brother smiled again. “I won’t pretend.”

Little Brother swears to this day that he was playing the villain to get us to work together, and as you might expect Peter doesn’t believe a word of it.

Either way, it was amazing to see someone manipulate the rules like that. And awesome to see what the game looks like when people really want to work together. That was the first time I’d seen that. It gave me a look into what the game could be.

I opened my design notebook to a new page and started writing down ideas. I needed to bend the guard rails further to build up a little more trust. Up at the top, I wrote "5.0."

P.S. A couple years later I was playtesting the game with a different family. The older brother was about to win on his own, and neither his father or his younger brother could work out a way to steal the win away. Instead, on his last play of the game, the younger brother caused a panic, and lost the game for everyone. Better to live in chaos, then let his brother win.

P.P.S. Is this a good time to mention that I have two sisters, and I’m the youngest? I’m starting to wonder if it was inevitable that this game would be invented by a Little Brother…

Take a look at our new game: The Last Summit

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