Design Exercise: Game from a Game

Daniel Solis wrote a nice post today about making the card game Fluxx into a drafting game.

If you haven’t played Fluxx, the basic idea is that you change the rules of the game. You start with the ability to draw and play a single card. Those cards can be goals that tell you how to win the game, the cards you need to meet those goals, actions that give you one-time abilities or new rules that change the number of cards you can draw and play.

Daniel Solis’ variation turns it into a more euro-style affair, where players simultaneously play cards from their hands, with a winner determined by how many goals you meet and how often your cards are used by others. It doesn’t use all of the cards from the game. In fact, it takes away the defining characteristic of the original game, namely changing the rules as you go.

That simple twist makes for a really interesting design exercise:

Design a new game using only a subset of components from another game

So I thought I’d give it a try. Limits are a good way of inspiring creative solutions. Like working on a typewriter, you have to think carefully about what you want to do before you start. If you find you need more components, or something about the components doesn’t work, you’re stuck, which makes it an interesting challenge.

Here are two quick attempts. Maybe they work, maybe they don’t. I haven’t had an opportunity to playtest them. Remember: the goal is just to think about games from a different angle.

Monopoly: Life on the Street

For 3-4 players. 30 minutes
What you need: Tokens, Property cards, houses, one die, and money from Monopoly.

Each player receives a set of 3 properties in one color, one token, and $1000.

Set up by arranging the properties in 3 rows of 3 or 4, with no like-colored properties next to each other. (For 2 players, maybe you can add an extra property set). Then, each player places their piece on one of their own properties. On each turn, roll the die and move that many spaces. moves must always be to an adjacent property, and cannot double back. Players cannot enter spaces with another player’s piece. If players reach a dead end, their turn ends. When you stop moving, you must pay $50 rent to the owner (plus $50 per extra house). If you are the owner, you can either take $200, or build a house by paying $200. The winner is the first player to build 3 houses on each of their properties.

The railroads seem like a good way to add variety, too. You could use them like warp spaces, so if you enter a railroad while moving, you can instantly travel to any other railroad and continue moving.

Elements removed: the board, set collection, trading, community chest, chance, Jail, taxes, and rolling doubles.

Elements kept: Collecting $200 when you reach home, building houses, Rent, the overall theme of real-estate.

Major changes: More strategic play, more control over dice rolling, no player elimination.

Train Riders of Catan

Instead of expending and settling Catan, players are building rail lines a la Ticket to Ride.

For 2-4 players. 15 minutes


What you need: 2 of each terrain hex, the desert, and 1 water (the back of any normal hex in 4th edition). Resource cards. 5 Settlements and 10 Roads for each player. Randomly arrange the hexes like so: 1 row of 2, a row of 3, a row of 4, and another row of 3. (This works in any direction! See the figure at the right.)

Shuffle all of the resource cards together (purists and those with OCD look away now) and place face down to form a draw deck. Set it face down and reveal 5 cards. Randomly arrange the hexes.

Players can take one action on their turn: Draw 2 cards, play cards to build a station in the middle of a hex, or play cards to build a track segment between hexes.
To draw cards, pick any 2 cards from the face up display or face down deck in any combination. If there are not enough cards to refill the display or draw from, shuffle the discard.
Important: If the display ever includes 4 cards showing the same terrain are ever in the display, all players with more than 7 cards in hand must discard half (rounded down), and all cards in the display are discarded. This only occurs the first time it happens on a turn.
To build a station, discard 4 cards of the same terrain and place a settlement piece in any hex of that terrain. Multiple players can have a station in the same terrain.
To build a track segment, players place a single road segment between the middle of any two hexes, discarding 2 cards of the two terrain types. Only one player may build a route between two outer hexes, two players may build any route involving the 3 center hexes.

Special notes: the desert is a wild, and any terrain may be used (but it must still be 2 of the same for a route and 4 of the same for a station). The lake cannot be built on.

The game ends when a player has built his last station or route. All other players get one final turn.

Scoring as follows: 5 points for each station on your track with the most stations. Then score 1 point per length of each route that connects two of your stations. The length of each is the maximum number of trains it takes you to reach one station from another, without passing through any other of your stations without using any segment twice. Multiple routes can be scored between the same stations, and the same length scores for routes between different cities. The player with the longest single route gets an extra 5 points.

Elements removed: Dice rolling, cities, trading, development cards, adjacency rule and expansion, production, variable end condition.

Elements kept: Longest road, hexes with different terrain types, building.

Major changes: Building in the middle of hexes, and roads between them. Became a network building game. Scoring happens due to an end game trigger. Resources are now just different suits that control where you can build.


Even if these don’t end up working, it was fun to think about how to use the game pieces in new ways. I chose some common games to show that you can use almost anything as a starting point. Although my Settlers variant borrows heavily from Ticket to Ride, it does have some unique features that make it a new game.

Try these techniques for yourself as an exercise and share the results. And obviously if you find something that works well, let the exercise be a stepping stone to an original game, where you can get the components just right.

I think I’m going to try to create a few more of these design exercises, to help expand my toolbox of game design. And if anyone tries playing these, please let me know!


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