July 23, 2021

World of Tasque

By Jordan Dube
Sell Sheet logo

The World of Tasque is a task management deck building game where players play cards to move characters around to complete tasks. Currently the game is in an open alpha state, where the graphic design and game design of the game is becoming more solidified, but changes could still be added.

Check out an early demonstration here: https://youtu.be/r7lVTReUzoM

Contents:

Early Stages

For a while I’ve been wanting to make a deck building game where the cards perform unique actions. Some problems with deck building games is that after a while when a player’s deck is improving, some cards become worthless. I wanted to create a game with a deck that has each card serves some kind of purpose.

The idea I came up with to start is have the cards move the players around. The first game mixed a hidden role game with a deck building game. My goal was to try to see how less/small of game pieces I could use to make an intriguing game. Players each play a hidden character on the board where players had to figure out who was playing which character, much like Clue. 

The theme was each player was a teacher where one was a cannibal that eats students. The gameplay simulated games like Werewolf or Mafia, where each night players will close their eyes, then take turns playing cards to move, or giving cards to players to ask questions. After 5 rounds, or 3 children disappear the game ends. After every when other players’ eyes are closed, a player can put their guess of the cannibal in a hidden round envelope. The player that guesses the cannibal first wins, or if no one guesses the cannibal correctly the cannibal wins.

Small test board featuring teachers and students

There were a few problems with the game, first being the theme. Eating kids is a morbid subject, and one that wouldn’t sell too well. If the cannibal was a caterpillar while others are grasshoppers and children were fruit, then the theme would be more acceptable. The theme would also be less of a stretch because caterpillars are known to eat fruit. Another problem were the combination of the different mechanics. Trying to make the game both a deck building game as well as a hidden role game proved to be too many parts put on top of one another. Having the players to close their eyes every rounds and take turns opening them would be a tricky challenge to do, as the players could take their time deciding what cards to put down, what character to ask questions, and who to guess as the culprit. I could make it like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, where there is an app that could help people through the process, but there should also be a way to make it so the app isn’t needed. Since the times where everyone’s eyes were open was minimal, it appeared that it would be too much work for the players to have to keep opening and closing their eyes. The edge-case (events that stray from the ideal, perceived gameplay) were too many to count, as the player trying to stay hidden could be figured out if the players were moving in turn order, and various other logistical nightmares. 

Overall, I scrapped the game due to its expounding complications, but I still liked the idea of having a deck building game where players use the cards to move around the board.

Games and Research

While there wasn’t a specific game that made me go “eureka!” There are many games that are similar to this procedurally structured game. I saw a review of an old game called “Robo Rally,” where players control robots to perform actions on the factory floor (https://www.shutupandsitdown.com/games/roborally/). Another procedural game that’s a video game is 2D boy’s Human Resource Machine and 7 Billion Humans, both focused on basic visual programming to have their program perform a series of tasks. Two games that combined deck building with character movement are the board games El Dorado and Mage Knight, both varying in their levels of difficulty and complexity. El Dorado can be considered a lighter game that had mostly understandable and simple gameplay. These games both focus a player improving their deck and their character on the board. 

The deck building mechanic also comes from a lot of my favorite games, like the game Ascension, where players can battle monsters or gain heroes from the center. This game was really enjoyable because of how the different monsters and heroes could combo off of one another, and really rewarded players for thinking strategically. The problem was that players had to play the game multiple times to really understand what were the best cards to use and what strategies were the best. This problem could relate to multiple games, so it’s not an uncommon problem, and the games weren’t terribly long, so it was possible to play multiple games in one session (unless you play against players that couldn’t make up their mind). There were no “leveling agents” in the game, however. If a player had too many mechanics cards, they would surely be the winner no matter what (because their power stacked upon one another repetitively). 

Dice building games involve some of my favorite mechanics as well. Dice Forge is very interesting because players change the actual sides of the dice. So even if players buy better die faces, they may never get those sides (which is a good and bad thing). If removes the standard deck building mechanic where players have to wait to reshuffle their deck and get through a stack of their previous cards to reach the new and exciting cards they wanted to use. Another dice building game that acts more like a deck building game, but the cards have multiple possible abilities is Quarriors! This game has multiple variations, giving dice varying importance depending on the game. 

Of course, there are many kinds of games that involve collecting objects to improve a player’s abilities throughout the course of the game. Dominion is the original deck building game that introduced this mechanic or improvement mixed with chance, but there are other games that play around with the theme more. Quacks of Quedlinburg is a great game that involves a “building” improvement with “test your luck” mechanics (should you risk taking another ingredient for your potion, or play it safe and stop?).  

A New Brainstorm

Playtesting Cards made in Google Docs

Thinking about coming up with a better deck building game , there were some features that I wanted to hit upon:

  • Its worth would seem greater than its price
  • It would be a “bigger” game, but easy to pickup by players new to board games
  • Could have a lot of replay ability
  • Could involve mechanics similar to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)

These goals are what helped determine the components, mechanics, and themes of the game. The World of Tasque is meant to be adaptable, meaning that the characters on the board could be placed in any of the themed boards within the game. Each game would have two different locations to play within by having the board be double-sided, and there would be a total of eight different characters that could be played within the locations. There would be 4 different versions of the game, with different locations and characters, that are stand-alone (is a full game within themselves), but can also be connected together to create a large game board that offers longer games. I thought this idea of connectability would allow players that want a more complicated game to be able to enjoy it while players just starting out in the board game hobby can get one version of the game and be satisfied with the amount of content that’s included. 

I wanted the game to have the feeling of D&D because D&D is becoming a more recognized game (especially with its introduction in shows like Stranger Things). A small problem I found with getting into a game of D&D is that the character themes and leveling systems can be a lot for players just starting out, and can take a large amount of time. Another problem with trying to get a game of D&D happening is that many people want to play, but no one wants to be the GM (Game Master), who deals with coming up with the world, situations, and handles interactions with monsters and characters that are not the other players’. So I had the thought: “What if all players were both the GM and the players?” Players can control all the characters on the board, and the characters and themes were all originally created so players didn’t need to worry about how known fantasy characters typically functioned. The randomness of testing if moves were successful was an interesting mechanic I wanted to incorporate in the game. 

Brainstorm of possible worlds and characters
You can find my full GDD brainstorm here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/10PKPeWEjkDPkfnt2lccpIDBR8v02fYabGq0I3-y6cM0/edit?usp=sharing

An attribute I like to have within my games is having actions that could perform multiple outcomes. When a player plays a power card, this card could have various actions depending on the dice roll, adding to an exciting randomness to the game. There are some really great games that have input as multiple functions. An obvious example is the video game Downwell, where jumping also shoots bullets downward. Games like the video game Control (which I wrote a design analysis of here: http://blog.jordandubemedia.com/2021/05/02/design-analysis-of-control/) use this idea by having a gun that has multiple kinds of types and uses. Besides the power cards having multiple possible abilities, the movement cards also have multiple functions to them.

First Iterations

Sell sheet from June 2021

Games are not perfect right away! They have to be playtested multiple times, slowly adapting each time through feedback and understanding players’ needs and wants. When creating games, designers must ask themselves how the systems work together, why they want to include these systems, and what goal are they trying to achieve with the game. The end goal for developing the game was to create a game where players could create small stories together by following a set of loose rules. I want the players to create lives for these different characters, and to make the world flourish through their own actions. A problem with this want is that it can be too open-ended for players. What IS the goal? What should I be DOING to reach it? These questions aren’t answered right away within the game, so I had to create cards and mechanics that lead players to find these answers for themselves. 

The first prototype of the game had a few technical problems, or what I like to call “fiddly-bits.” Movement actions typically focused solely on the movement of the characters, and dealt with both their directional movement and their rotation. Power cards and movement cards faced-down in separate piles, so players didn’t know what they were about to get when they purchased them. I thought it would be a good amount of randomness because it would balance the possibility of a player buying out all the good cards at once. The character cards I wanted to be silly and expressive, to add to their lighthearted nature while also adding some complexity to them by having their own power ups and leveling up system. The levels were supposed to be individualized, having multiple levels of the same character on the board. This idea came from the leveling system introduced in Caverna, a large-scale engine building game. Without even playing through the full game, I noticed there were many parts missing and/or certain mechanics were not working together as intended. There was too much randomness within the game with randomly choosing what cards to buy. Not seeing the cards, players couldn’t plan ahead and decide how to set the characters up on the board with their movement cards, and they couldn’t tell what the characters could actually do, making the goal cards that they have seem impossible to achieve. Players also each started with different movement cards, which made some players’ hands more powerful than others. 

The first playtest was just with myself and the Game Design teacher, Dr. Elizabeth Blum. The second playtest was in person with a friend from the board gaming group I lead and a friend from my day job. This was an informative playtest because it showed the viewpoints of two very different players: the player from my gaming group had a lot of experience playing games, as she used to review board games and connected with publishers. My work friend had barely any experience playing board games, even games in general. My target audience for the board game was more players just getting started into the board game hobby, so the ideal player would be within the spectrum I was playing with. More situations came up through the playtest that needed to be addressed. For one, the game is actually really long. From setting up and playing through, the game takes around 2.5 hours (which was figured out in the third playtest). This second playtest we did not get through the whole game, but a lot of important problems were brought to light. The biggest problem the game has is understanding what to do and what the player needs to do to reach the goal. Instead of keeping own personal tasks hidden, we decided to show each other what we had to complete to win the game. This lead to players helping each other out in explaining what they had to do, and it was easier to foresee what the player was gong for with their actions. You can find a full review of my playtest as well as in-depth corrections that I made here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15d1C0JkLnON7Q_LbQxxd4MaGUpk7prubErGLiqMFg90/edit ,but the gist of it was that most of the choices the players made led to disappointment. The player could buy the card they didn’t really want, their die roll could land on a number they weren’t planning on, or other players could mess up their plans, causing all the work they’ve done to go to waste because players had different goals.

The third playtest involved three players from my board game group (who never played the game before) on Tabletop Simulator (a computer application that allows players to play board games online). These players were familiar with the mechanics of D&D and its randomness, which could be the reason why they weren’t dismayed when they failed their dice rolls (or so it appeared, I didn’t have visual representation of their expressions). In this playtest I focused on making players’ choices less disappointing, where players could remove unwanted cards from their decks and they could improve their dice rolls by paying currency to boost it. Powers could also be performed without the use of cards, giving the different locations in the world more of a purpose in visiting them. A big change I decided not to include were the leveling up systems of the characters, and each character was the same strength on the board. You can follow the link to my analysis of the playtest and corrections to be made, but ultimately the problems consisted of correct wording on the cards, option overload, and an absence of interesting characters (turns out the level up systems give the different character types more purpose and variety): https://docs.google.com/document/d/17-dciFyG-lWJLVxgZtqyh6e_kkGzE0VAs5pCu6cvs6k/edit

How the game looked within TableTop Simulator

Resulting from the third playtest, the game’s graphic design and wording is getting a major overhaul to clean up any questions about the functions of the characters. The rules have been redefined to fit the updated mechanics and to present them in a pleasing way. The art for the characters will remain for the time being, but being able to differentiate the characters and what they do is going to be enhanced. The piece sizes and how they connect physically to the world is also being worked on, explained more in the Logistics section below. 

The fourth playtest revealed the necessity of quantity and how many components were necessary to have a solid game. With only two players playing, we cycled through our decks rather quickly, performing Power cards multiple times, ultimately leading us to run out of supplies to place on the board. The rules that I have been ignoring through my play tests also came to haunt me, as I realized why the movement cards were feeling unnecessary. When I first made the game, in my mind I envisioned that players had to be at certain locations to perform power cards, but during playtesting of the games I’d let players perform the actions wherever the character was on the board. I thought requiring the player to be at a location would be too much of a hassle, but having this requirement is what gives the movement cards a sense of purpose. If the characters can perform actions from anywhere, there’s no point in the placement of characters at all. You can find a more in-depth analysis of my final playthrough here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18_GZ16z0t-KsDBBxqRzGE4QJrTmL20HyJmplUDEIKIE/edit 

Learning Through Playtesting

Why do we playtest? What should we look for? What should we, as the designer, be doing? Our goal as the designer is not to win (which is fine with me, as I’m ironically terrible at playing games), but to notice and react to how others play the game. What are they thinking about when they make a choice in the game? What emotions does the game bring to them, how are they reacting? Personally, playtesting is best when performed in person, as while it’s happening, we can look at the other players and see how they immediately react. It’s important when playtesting to notice the players’ reactions. Are they tapping their feet impatiently? Are they distracted and looking around the room more than at the board? Are they smiling? Throughout the playtest we need to recognize these moments, even if they happen briefly. Noticing these actions can help the designer understand if an aspect of their game needs to be looked at and/or changed. At the end of a playtesting session, it’s likely to assume that players will not give you feedback that’s really helpful. Perhaps they are helpful, suggesting possible mechanics to change or appropriately describing how they felt within the game. It is at the end of playtesting that designers need to develop a thick skin. People can be brutally honest, giving opinions like “I hated this part,” “The game could be better if you did this,” and the dreaded “yeah, it was alright.” You may argue why you chose to do a certain way, or what your long term goal was, but it’s best not to explain your motives and try to obtain the player’s raw opinions. Prying the players into obtaining more of their opinion may be purposeless, as they may not be able to describe how they were feeling. That is why noticing a player’s emotions through their responses, both visually and audibly, is important in obtaining user feedback.

Logistics

A big problem with dice and deck building games is the amount of components that they contain. The amount of cards that are necessary to provide an experience where players are constantly improving can be large depending on how the players improve. In World of Tasque, players may be building their decks, but they are also steadily decreasing their decks at a steady rate. I wanted the game to be different than standard deck building games, where there are cards that allow players to steal from one another, and during the buy/sell phase of the round players can sell as many cards as they want from their discard pile, so they are only left with the cards they need. 

How does the constant changing of hands between the players correlate to the amount of components needed for the game? Since the decks are steadily growing and shrinking, not as many cards are needed because they are being passed around. My goal with selling the game is that I wanted it to be both affordable, portable, but also offer a lot of content. The sizes of the cards are pretty small (1.5 x 2.5 inches), but there are other deck building games that use small cards, El Dorado being one of them. El Dorado is a relatively cheaper game for the amount of uses it can give ($20-30), but the game is by no means portable. The box is roughly twice the size of a box I’m going for (which would be close to 8 x 5.5 x 1). The board I’m using is meant to be small, with no folds in it. The character cards would be double-sided (currently not in the pre-alpha version) to save the amount of cards needed to play multiple games. 

A trending fad in the board game industry is to have “showy” statues and figures, with dice towers and other 3-dimensional assortments. I can understand the want; it looks cool and makes the game feel epic. The problem with these pieces is they drive up the price, and they also take up space. On kickstarter campaigns, companies use statues and higher quality parts as selling points for reaching a certain funding limit or a tier that people pay for. My theory is to give players more game to play rather than more “junk.” More figures means more things to cram in a box, more table space to be taken up, and more intimidating the game will be to newcomers. For people wanting to get into games, does seeing a large amount of figures on a board attract newcomers or deter them? Depending on the person it could go either way. The more dimensional pieces are in the game, however, the pricier and more likely a hobbyist will purchase the game over someone looking to just start out.

Analyzing the Market

As much as I enjoy it, the deck building mechanic is not as popular as other games on the market. I did a full analysis on the games that did well on Kickstarter, what is currently being offered, and what mindset buyers have compared to the prices of the games: http://blog.jordandubemedia.com/2021/05/24/board-game-marketing-plan/ 

Current Game State

July 2021 Sell Sheet with updated graphics

While the initial focus was to create a game that would work with multiple versions and boards, I decided to focus only on one type of board/location/characters I called Broccoli Grove. I was going to have each location and board be monochromatic so each area had their own theme. To help the players differentiate the characters on the board and give the area more color variety, I decided to have the characters based off of a different color (warriors dark green, settlers light green, mayors light orange-red, and monsters red). I worked to unify the graphic design on the cards to clean them up and make them feel cohesive by having the came heading text as well as same body text and sizes. The power cards are colored-coded to help the player in knowing where they can place cards, just extra design elements that lead players into performing correct actions. 

My goal when designing cards and game pieces is for the player to understand what the cards mean without having to go through the rule book. Games have good design when players understand their function just by looking at it. The movement cards and power cards are meant to look like they can be connected to one another, with a line passing through the center of the cards and ending with the power cards. The spark cards and goal cards do not have a line that passes through the center to show that they are not to be connected to the character cards. All the cards have different actions and uses, which are described on the cards themselves. By setting general actions for different types of cards, the cards themselves can play around with the variety of what they do, much as the phrase “with limitations comes creativity.”

After playtesting the game a few times, I’ve come to realize that even though I wanted to theme the game to be silly and lighthearted, the actions that players do within the game are pretty serious. Regeneration and killing are not very light and happy, so how can I change the design of the game to have a more serious tone to the game? By having a cleaner look to the cards by sharpening the corners and having a sharper, pointier font headings dramatizes the cards a bit more. The character drawings should be more realistic and less goofy, but due to my current artistic abilities and being unable to hire an artist at the current moment, the art for the characters will remain as a more rounder, sillier perspective. 

Honestly, there is a big problem with the theme and the actions that are performed. It would be nice to have the time to change the theme so it had a more serious tone. The problem really arises when players are understanding what is happening within the world. Since the characters are all made up from my own mind, having short descriptions of them don’t truly explain what is happening within the world. What would be better is to use characters and themes that players recognize so they already have some understanding. At the current state, the characters and the world need a back story written for them so players understand why they exist. To have a more unified theme, I was thinking the theme could change from a silly mix of made up characters, to a series of different gothic themes. It would be interesting if the worlds were a combined plane of living statues, like the board would be different kinds of gargoyles. It would represent familiar objects and scenes that players would have more understanding of, making the game more intriguing than confusing. 

Improvements

When making games, designers should notice when something is and is not working out within their game and be able to make changes. These changes can be dramatic, sometimes scrapping whole parts of the game. Throughout my work on my Game Design minor, I created multiple games that I’ve held on pause, possibly never to be touched again. My first game was a historic area control game where players played as rats spreading the plague. The events and themed were all based on real events, but when the COVID pandemic hit, I tossed the idea because I thought it would be too topical, and I didn’t want to work on a game about misery and death. The second game I worked on was an engine building dexterity game called Submerged, where players flicked off pieces from their sub to break apart the center and release the hidden creature. This game went through a couple of iterations, improving on the engine building and theme, but the game was only ever play-tested on Tabletop Simulator, and I saw it would be both difficult and expensive to try to playtest it in person. The game also took too long to setup, and was too adaptable. The idea of pieces interacting with one another from a fluid board led to creating a party game about collecting honey from the queen (you can check out Tupelo in my list of current board games here: http://portfolio.jordandubemedia.com/2021/06/13/board-games-in-progress/ )

Unfortunately this game may get scrapped, at least the theme may be rearranged to fit a more familiar setting. My problem with choosing this particular theme was that it was difficult for players to understand, and finding appropriate art for it is difficult. It has the mechanics I want within in the game, but even I’m out sure of how the world connects with the characters. What would be nice is to be able to remove the character names and have everything represented by simple icons as to simplify the look and layout.

While the rule book is colorful and interesting, it is mostly a block of text and doesn’t show visually how the game plays out. I tried to give examples and explanations in the rules, but the layout of the text feels too tight, with the text small to the point of unreadable in sections. I would like more photos of game pieces and demonstrations of rounds so players understand how the game works together. 

A lot of playtesting still needs to be done as to determine how much should cards cost and how many points cards are worth. Currently the goal cards that are perceptibly harder to achieve have more points, while the power cards that have stronger affects are worth less points. This is to avoid the problem where powerful players become too powerful and overwhelm the other players. The better actions have less points not because they’re not affective, but because the actions are so good it can just lead the player into earning other goal or power cards. Games should have elements of give and take within them. So if something is powerful in one area, it should be weaker in another as to balance out the gameplay. 

To have the characters fit better within their environment and to give more of a story to the area, event cards could have been created (much like event cards in my game about rats), where a new card would be turned over each round to change the elements of the board, creating challenges or encouraging players to perform specific actions. Having come up with this idea during the last week of my college career, it is perhaps too late to expand upon this idea to create a finalized report, but it is something that I will keep in mind for future improvement of the game (if there is any).

Reflection

This is at a good start and I made a lot of progress on refining it, but it’s still at its early stages in development where more design problems will come up. Whenever pinch points arise that stray from the original concept, I must debate whether it’s okay to keep them or not. More playtesting needs to be done to find all these situations. I also haven’t playtested where I wasn’t there to explain it to people, so a playtest with merely the rules is needed to observe how understandable they are.

If you would like to try a pre-alpha prototype of the game, you can purchase it here [Note: The cost is for production and shipping. I do not make money off of the purchases]: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/world-of-tasque