Analog Design Reflection

Creating a game based on the mentor games I’ve been studying was not a simple task. In terms of mechanics, setting, and narrative structure, SpaceChem and 80 Days could hardly be more different. The former is a sci-fi game of algorithm-based resource production; the latter is a visual novel interpretation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. As such, my design process has been circuitous, and the concept takes inspiration from both without too heavily resembling either. My analysis of the original games is as follows:

80 Days

  • Subject area/Learning domain: Geography, light economics and world history; rules-based knowledge
  • Learning goal/objective: No explicit goal, but proficiency at the game requires the player to understand routes between major locations (and thus, their relative locations), levy supply and demand to sustain their finances, and adequately prepare for varied climates and modes of travel.
  • Game goal: Circumnavigate the globe within the allotted time limit.
  • Core dynamic: Race to the finish, in an extremely literal sense
  • Primary mechanics:
    • Exchange currency for items and vice versa
    • Use items and/or currency to decrease the time taken to travel between locations
    • Select choices in dialogue to gain information about new routes or demand for items


  • Subject area & learning domain: Chemistry, algorithmic thinking; procedural knowledge
  • Learning goal/objective: Problem-solving, breaking down large goals into smaller steps
  • Game goal: Create systems which in turn create and organize chemical compounds per each level’s requirements.
  • Core dynamic: Construct, Solution
  • Primary mechanics:
    • Use a small set of pieces to create increasingly complex algorithms for chemical production
    • Compare performance on each level with other players and optimize the created algorithms

In these breakdowns, the learning domains come from chapter 8 of Kapp’s The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (2012). The core dynamics are outlined in chapter 1 of Boller and Kapp’s Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games (2017).

My initial concept drew heavily from 80 Days, with only vague mechanical connections to SpaceChem. To compensate, I considered an interplanetary setting, directing players to establish trade routes between galactic powers.

Ship Shape (Initial Concept)

    • Subject area & learning domain: Logistics, Rules-Based Knowledge
    • Learning objective: Learners will evaluate a simulated resource market and create trade routes to exchange resources between locations
    • Game goal: Have the largest trade network at the end of 6 rounds
    • Core dynamic: Territory acquisition
    • Mechanics:
      • Transport items between locations on a map
      • Collect items from locations
      • Establish trade routes between locations to increase the efficiency of transport
    • Overview:
      • The game is played using a Risk or Pandemic-style map board. Cards determine local and global modifiers for demand for each resource, and resources are represented by glass beads of different colors.
      • On their turn, the player’s controlled territories generate resources. The player may then take any combination of the following three actions, in any order:
        • Move up to 5 resources from their current locations to any connected location
        • Collect their resources from any territory they control
        • Exchange resources to establish a trade route with an uncontrolled territory
      • After taking any or all of the above actions, they draw a card from the demand deck, which alters the global demand modifier for one of the four primary resources

In the responses I received from classmates, the primary questions focused on how players could collaborate in gameplay. This concept was strictly competitive, with very little room for players to work together in any structured way. I began the prototyping process with this in mind.

The initial prototyping was ultimately a dead end. I organized physical components, made a test map by tossing some dice, and promptly became mired in questions I lacked answers for. If players could only “acquire” trade routes, how would they gain resources? How would players know who owned trade routes or resources in transit? What would a scoring mechanism even look like? I concluded that the game needed full reevaluation.

Fortunately(?) I had one of my late-night bursts of creative energy. In the span of an hour, I drafted a ruleset for a card game focused on building out a supply chain. This iteration tipped the scale back towards SpaceChem in mechanics, so I lifted the setting of 80 Days to drive thematic decisions.

At the time of writing, I have full rules written, but no components created yet. I believe my greatest struggles in this department actually stem from my game design experience. The approach to developing an educational board game prototype requires different priorities than an entertainment game, and my game designer brain wants to create a perfectly balanced system before I commit to creating components. Yet, time does not wait for perfection. I will research and develop the components of something functional as soon as possible, and will conclude this writing with a design breakdown for the new concept.

Ship Shape (New Concept)

    • Subject area & learning domain: Logistics, Rules-Based Knowledge
    • Learning objective: Learners will evaluate a resource market to fulfill orders and bargain with competitors. Learners will construct supply chains to produce, consume, and move goods.
    • Game goal: Have the most value from fulfilled orders at the end of four rounds.
    • Core dynamic: Building/construction
    • Mechanics:
      • Collect resources from cards
      • Exchange resources for cards
      • Cooperate with other players to fulfill orders on a strict time limit
    • Overview:
      • In each round of Ship Shape, players have seven turns to fulfill every order in play. The number of orders depends on the number of players.
      • On their turn, players collect resources from their cards, then perform one of the following actions:
        • Exchange resources for a new card
        • Refresh the available cards of one type
        • Fulfill an order card
      • Fulfilling an order card requires meeting the resource and transport requirements. Transport cards must be of the right type (land, sea, or air) and possess enough total capacity to carry all necessary resources.

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