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Treasure Isles

Has it really been so long since I last posted? I guess I'm falling into old habits and just not posting. I've written and discarded a few drafts in the intervening time, but not felt the spark to write anything properly until now.

I have created a game.

Not a video game, a tabletop game. I'm not saying it's amazing and everyone should run out and play it, but I think it's definitely worth me talking about, because it's something that is important to me right now. This post, while about the game I've made specifically, is more about what I am doing as a whole.

I try not to share too much personal information in these posts because I think that it's not relevant or important, but I'll share something now. I have a daughter (MiniNisturette from this point on) and she is currently 4 ("nearly 5!") and she is getting into board games in a big way. This makes me happy, as I have a few that I'd like to play more of. She also loves painting, and I am frequently printing models that we can paint. I think it's finally time where she is old enough to combine this, and I introduce her to the world of miniature tabletop gaming.

Photo by cottonbro studio

There are a few reasons behing this, some more selfish (I want to have someone to play with) and some less so (I genuinely think that she will get a kick out of playing with miniatures she painted) so I set about looking for a suitable entry level game. Initially I was disappointed, and frustrated. Everything I could find that was specifically aimed at kids seemed like it had no interest to me, and that she might grow out of it quickly, no room to grow, limited replayability etc. The games that were not specifically for children were either far too complex for someone of her age to understand, or they were very violent (I mean, most of them are WARgames, so I guess it's to be expected) or, most likely, both.

I should point out that I'm not massively against some violence, there are some ways to portray it, in defending what is right etc, plus a lot of kids TV does have some degree too. I'm not suggesting that bubble wrapping kids is a great idea, but at the same time, I don't want to introduce a 5 year old to a game whose core premise is to dismember your opponents.

So I did what every sane, well adjusted person would do, and I fixated on the problem. It started with the simple thought "why doesn't anyone make a game like…" and then blossomed into a game concept.

In the time since I started this, I have been recommended several games, some look promising, so I am not claiming that no games that fit my criteria at all exist, but at this point, things were already set in motion. Also we started playing the Kids Mode of the amazing game Gaslands. Both MiniNisturette and myself strongly recommend this for anyone.

When I sat down to actually write the game down, I came up with a few requirements.

  1. The game must be interesting for MiniNisturette to play.
  2. The game should be interesting for me to play.
  3. The game must be simple enough for MiniNisturette to understand.
  4. The game should play with miniatures that MiniNisturette can paint.
  5. For playtesting purposes, the miniatures should not be required.
  6. Ideally, the game should also be allowed to grow and become more complex.
  7. Ideally the game should be a gateway to playing other tabletop games.

I quickly settled on the theme of pirates. While they are infamously violent and overall not swell guys [CITATION NEEDED] I believe that they are universally enough appreciated that they can make for an interesting enough topic for kids and adults alike. Also I believe that you can censor them enough and not go into the violence in their history, but still maintain the same interest.

While I have said that I did not want violence in the game, I have maintained ship combat. I feel that not having that ability in the game would have detracted too much, but I have heavily disincentivised it by making the core game rules give aggressor and defender equal chance of succeeding in any conflict. Also, the abstract nature of this combat, which might even result in "sinking a ship" I think is understandable by kids, but doesn't feel like it is glorifying the violence itself, even though as adults we might understand that such an act would result in loss of life. This is not a hill I'm willing to die on if anyone disagrees, but at the moment it feels like a fair compromise.

Photo by Zsófia Fehér

While writing the initial rules, which I just slapped in a pastebin to share with people for feedback, I always had two thoughts tugging me in separate directions. On one hand, I wanted to simplify it as much as possible, because adding different polyhedral dice, modifiers, classes etc, would drown MiniNisturette in rule minutae that would basically make it unplayable for her. On the other hand, not adding in some of these things made me feel like the game just felt too restricted. So as I was writing it, I came up with an idea. I would write the game in three parts. The core rules would be the stripped down version I could teach MiniNisturette, and then I would provide supplements, or expansions, to add more rules and create more depth in the gameplay.

I will go briefly over the rules, as I think it's important to explain my last point, but as I said, this post isn't intended to be about the game rules themselves.

Treasure Isles provides basic rules for movement for pirate/trading ships. It provides the stats for a single class of ship, and no way for the player to obtain more ships. There are rules for trading, and exploration, and of course the aforementioned combat. Finally there are two victory conditions (get X gold, be the last un-sunk ship). All of these rules use a single D6 with no modifiers. Treasure Isles: Port of Nassau provides two new ships classes, plus ways to upgrade ports, another trade good, and boons granted by your home port. Treasure Isles: High Seas provides another two ship classes, ship capture mechanics, NPC ships, and a method for creating dynamic trade routes. For an older player, they can play with one or both of these supplements and have a more rounded experience, but when you're just starting, you start with just the core rules.

At this point, there have been several playtests of the core rules, but neither expansion have had any playtesting done. The numbers in there are entirely made up, but are representitive of what I want from the expansion.

Photo by Nistur

So, have I succeeded in making what I wanted? I don't know. I don't know if it's got long term playability. MiniNisturette and I cut out the pieces we needed from card, and had a playtest yesterday. She understood the rules fine. She also loved making something that she could play with. Then today, she even asked specifically to play it again. So I think it is hitting at least some of my goals.

So, what about the future? Will I continue refining this ad nauseum? Nah. This has taught be a few things. One of the main things is that I am categorically not a game designer. There are a few things which came up in the playtest which I should have known wouldn't work. What that means is that I should do it more. I have given myself a late new year's resolution. I am going to try to create one game design per month for the rest of the year. I'm not going to be overly strict about this because life always gets in the way of things like that, and I don't need another thing causing me stress, but I will try. The goals will mostly be to create games that I can play with MiniNisturette, but if I have other ideas then I might make things just for myself. I like tabletop games, and I want excuses to paint miniatures with MiniNisturette, but some of the games might be card games, or more traditional board games. I will also probably try to keep the rules to the same form factor, a single A4 trifold leaflet, but maybe some will be more complex, some less. I just don't know where this will take me.

All I know is that I am excited, I have several ideas in my head already for things that I can try to nail down. All games I write will be published on github, and be released under a Creative Commons license, so anyone is free to have a play around with them if they like.