Time Management will be on Kickstarter Next Friday, April 1st. No fooling!
The Story of Human Resources might have ended at the mostly-balanced prototype stage, as a functional game with a relatively boring theme [even by my standards of boring]. But when the Meta Game Challenge was announced, I saw an opportunity for it. Worker Placement would be a great pun, but the game didn’t include anything like worker placement as a mechanism. The game was more about managing cards, and “Card Management” works as a title. But the concept wasn’t fully clicking. What cards are you managing thematically? Are you working at a greeting card company? Maybe the office is moving around because everyone is a (practical) joker, and your office is full of “cards”? The theme was functional, but unless you lean into the theme of managing an office, it’s going to be really dull. Offices aren’t particularly sexy, unless you can pull off the Mad Men vibe or the combination of absurd and mundane in Office Space. This was a problem I still needed to solve.
On top of that, the mechanics weren’t clicking either. It worked, there were good choices, but it didn’t have much excitement in play. I tried to rectify that by adding in the one exciting part of being a manager, being able to fire somebody, which helped because you could use that limited ability to make really good plays. It made for more interesting turns because you could use that as an extra action to make a really good play, which was fun.
Then in one of the late tests—at the last second, really—it clicked. Players needed to always be able to make bigger plays by taking more turns at once. They could pay for the turns using points. And then you’re not simply managing your cards, you’re managing the amount of time you spend. And when you complete projects, you get that time back. So Time Management was born. The three colors, conveniently, became Past, Present, and Future. (Now, why are they being grouped into patterns? Well, it’s sort of a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. Yeah, the theme kind of got away from me there.)
The manager abilities, previously unnamed, each got a “time” pun for a name, e.g. Time Shift moves a row of cards in the same direction. I created a clock face for a point tracker, so you’re not just gaining and losing points, you’re directly gaining and losing time on the clock. More importantly, the game became a more tense challenge of choosing what cards to play, how to play them, and how much time to use chasing your goals. As it often seems to go, everything seemed to come together at the same time.
So what did I learn from this experience? For one, don’t give up on a game just because you aren’t doing anything with it. Let it sit, let it collect dust (literal and/or figurative dust), or even forget about it for a while. But don’t give up on it. Don’t be afraid to let the game sit while you think of how to improve it. Games aren’t created overnight, and they sometimes need a chance to grow. Look for ways to make your game take on a new direction. Time Management wasn’t originally intended to be a metagame, but I saw that it could adapt. Adaptation became growth, and it became a much better game just for trying to make it fit into a new metaphorical box. Also, and I can’t really emphasize this enough, when something in your game is bugging you, keep working at it. Pay attention to those nagging feelings that something doesn’t quite fit. If I had put it down and walked away from the design after making it Card Management, it would not be as good a game. Something was just a little bit off, and by not ignoring that feeling, I found something that took the game to the next level.