I have been working on a MaYP “Shipwrecked on an Island” game for some time now. There is so much prep work required to create the framework for a sandbox world (pun intended), that it is going to take time to get it out for other people. But R. Winders recent release of Star Charter focused on a single task of galaxy exploration, making it as bare bones as possible. Could I do the same thing? The idea that I could develop a part of this bigger game, and get it out for feedback was very appealing. I investigated that approach, to see if I could cut the game down to 1 or 2 actions, and make a game from that.
I could not.
There was no simple mechanic; ideally card generation; that covered the game play of “marooned on an island”. But … there was another game I was working on, that seemed it could be pared back to a simple mechanic of generating content on cards.
I’m working on a board game similar to Dragonvale, that revolves around breeding and collecting the dragons, and showing them off in a dragon park that you build and expand over time. On the face of it, it seemed that eliminating all the extraneous actions of resource management, to just concentrate on getting the dragons might be a way to make a basic MaYP game.
I got rid of the concepts of the breeding cave and the hatchery, and that dragons come from eggs, with various times of incubation. I removed the need to sow and harvest food to feed the dragons. Various resources were merged into a single resource, “magic”, that you would earn and spend to do everything. And I eliminated the need to grow your park to make room for all your dragons. Game play would be about making habitats for dragons and putting dragons in them.
First Iteration – The Deck and the Map
With a deck of 36 cards (6 numbers of 6 suits) it was obvious that the 6 suits should be 6 primary dragon elements. In the board game, you breed dragons through the roll of coloured/elemental dice. But here you would flip cards from the deck, revealing the suit and number. I kept the same 6 symbols I have used for all my MaYP games so far, and I bought some short colouring pencils (that fit easily into a small box with the cards) to give the game some personality.
Starting from the colours I had set for the suits in The Prodigals, I had Green Asterisk – Plant, Red Square – Fire, Orange Question Mark – Earth, Purple Triangle – Air, Blue Circle – Water and Yellow Percentage – Lightning. Writing with a yellow pencil ended up working exactly as it looks like on this page. And as I had traded the Lightning element for Cold/Ice at that point, it was changed for Light Blue. Marking 1 to 6 of each suit in the top left corner of some blank index cards, I had my deck of 36.
I explored a few options with the hex map. I tried the idea of exploring the map, discovering the magic, and introducing that new primary dragon to the campaign. Or exploring the map each game to decide what habitats you have, and therefore what dragons you can use. But eventually I realised that I was adding complication to a game that I was trying to simplify. And I knew that eliminating the map was the right thing to do.
I briefly considered eliminating habitats as well, but I realised they added a necessary decision to the game. If you can just play all the dragons in your deck, then it becomes exponentially powerful as it fills up. But if the habitats are a constraint to the number of dragons you can play, and the amount of magic they can earn, then there are decisions to be made according to what dragons you are still trying to collect.
The question was, should they be on cards in the deck as well, to be randomly drawn into your hand? Would that make it too hard, when your deck started to grow in size? Could you end up with a hand full of dragons and no habitats to play them in? I didn’t want the game play to stall, while you discarded dragon cards, to try and draw some habitat cards. So I chose to put the habitats on a sheet of paper (which also holds the tracks, mentioned below), so the deck could just be dragons. The 6 habitats fit across the long edge, but are slightly too squeezy to play the cards directly under all 6 at the same time. It works for the moment, but a better solution may present itself during development.
When Does a Game End?
Dragonvale doesn’t stop. The dragons have a real time to breed and hatch, measured in minutes and hours, and that timer continues when you exit the App. The only endings that occur within the game, are the availability of limited dragons. The gemstone dragons are available for the month they are connected with. April’s gemstone is Diamond, and so the Diamond dragon is available for 30 days. Once we hit the 1st of May, the Diamond dragon is gone, and Emerald becomes available. In the board game version of the game, time is a resource, which you have to use carefully, before it runs out, and the game is over.
But in the simplification for this MaYP version, I have eliminated the fact that each dragon takes different amounts of time to breed and hatch. I could have used a turn counter, but I wanted to give a bit more control to the player. So I am using a Victory Point track. It also hearkens back to Dragonvale, because collecting XP (Experience Points) is how you level up in the game. And reaching certain levels is what gives you access to the new Primary dragons. The XP required to level up grows larger as you progress. Likewise, as you get further into this MaYP campaign, a game will last for more and more VP.
The main thing this means, is that there is no way to “lose” the game, when playing solo. There are certainly chances that you won’t achieve what you want to achieve in a given game. You then play again to see if you can breed that elusive dragon you have been chasing. I’m not sure if the personal progress you are chasing fills the gap of winning/losing. Can a game be fun without a specified way to lose?
You will start the game with a simple deck of 12 cards including just the green and red suits. 1* will have the primary Plant Dragon and 1Square will have the primary Fire Dragon. As well as the card number, there will be a space to name the dragon, and to list its type. The top right corner will have its magic number. This is, both, the cost of playing the dragon from your hand, and the amount of magic it generates, each turn, when it has been placed in a habitat. Multiple dragons in a habitat are stacked vertically underneath it, revealing the top row of information.
Half way down the card, on the left, will be its VP number. This is the amount of Victory Points you receive when the dragon is played to a habitat. It is a one off reward.
The rest of the card will be mostly blank. Later in the game we’ll add a note along the bottom of the card. But you can use the rest of the card for a written description or a drawing.
The habitats all start off small, and can hold 1 or 2 dragons, depending on the element. They have a magic cost which you need to spend to build them (identical to paying magic to play a dragon), and they have a VP reward when you do (again, identical to playing a dragon). They also have a magic cap that they can hold. If the habitat cap is 2 magic, but the total magic generation of the dragons in the habitat is 3, then 1 magic is lost to the ether, and you collect 2 magic at the end of each turn.
You place a cube on the top left corner of a habitat after you have built it, indicating you can now place dragons into it. Later in the campaign, you will gain the ability to upgrade the habitats to large ones. When you have paid that cost, you will place a second cube next to the first, to indicate it is a large habitat.
Breeding New Dragons
There are 3 actions you can do on a turn. Build (a habitat; upgrade a habitat; build other things as they get introduced) by paying the magic cost required; Play a Dragon (from your hand) by paying the magic cost required; Breed 2 Dragons (together, that you have previously played to habitats (you cannot use a dragon in your hand to breed)) by paying the combined magic cost of both dragons.
In the first game you will have a Plant and Fire primary dragon, that can breed together to make a Plant/Fire hybrid, and a Fire/Plant hybrid. Discard a card from the deck, and the suit of the card will be the first element of the hybrid. In the second game, the Water primary dragon is added, and there are 4 more hybrids you can make (Plant/Water, Water/Plant, Fire/Water & Water/Fire). When a breeding combination contains more than 2 elements (a Plant/Fire hybrid + a Water dragon) you discard a card from the deck to be the first element, and then discard again (repeating if necessary) to reveal a different suit, which will be the second element.
This continues as we add new elements, until all 6 primary dragons are in the game. Then there are 30 possible hybrids, along with the 6 primary dragons, to make 36 regular dragons. Then there will be rarer epic dragons, and limited dragons available throughout the campaign. But more on them in another post.
A sheet of paper has a grid of all 36 regular dragons, and all their vital statistics. When you breed a dragon, you consult the table, to generate the card. You can also mark the dragon off on that grid, so you can see at a glance the dragons you have, and the dragons you still need to collect. I’ll expand on everything in my next post, which will include a play through.
I was trying to think of a good name for the game. It has always been about discovering the dragons, so I was looking for some word related to that. Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, and Dragonology/Draconology is the study of dragons. They didn’t seem quite right. Then I realised the game play is about creating A Deck Full of Dragons, which was better. The I wondered about the collective noun for dragons; like “a murder of crows”, “an exaltation of larks”. Turns out a group of dragons is called “a thunder”.
A Thunder of Dragons.
All the posts for the design and development of this game can be accessed at the Index Page.