Board Game Design Diary – The Premise
So, I’m starting a new series, I’m going to be talking about and kind of designing a prototype game based off of SAO, Sword Art Online. SAO is one of my favorite anime, I think that I’ve watched the first season now three times and am working my way through the second season for a third time. This is all because there is third season out and a fourth season started now, so I wanted to watch that and figured since it goes so fast I might as well start from the beginning again.
Why am I making a board game around this idea though, and what is the idea?
We’ll start with a brief synopsis. In Sword Art Online, the first season, the main characters, Kirito, Asuna, and others spend most of the game trapped in a full dive MMORPG, Sword Art Online. In fact it was a couple of years that they were trapped in the game. The creator of the game had decided to create a death game, where the only way to escape was if someone beat the final boss and you had survived, if you died in the game, you died in real life. So the players both had to be careful to survive because of the stakes of the game, and also still forge forward to try and clear the game.
So, you can start to see how this could work potentially as a board game and in particular a campaign game. But let’s pull out the pieces that interest me out of this anime.
Firstly, we have the general idea of basically a level based dungeon crawl, this is fairly common in games so we have to ask how would we differentiate it. I think that leveling and all that is fairly normal. But I want to make it about advancing further and further in and less about specific battles and more about the different floors or levels.
Next I think the idea of no respawn, no retry is interesting. It definitely wouldn’t be the only game to do something like that. But that would suck for a player to have played through a game with their character and then lose everything and be out of the game. But this was an MMORPG, so in the show there are 10,000 users, most don’t climb up levels and try and clear everything because they aren’t experts at MMORPG’s. In this game I’d want to have somewhat if not nearly as leveled characters available for the players to take over, so it isn’t the end of the world if you lose your character, but it is a setback.
Sword Art Online is also less about the boss battles, though there are several that are shown in the first season, and more about how people are surviving and interacting in the world. This is something that I’d want to emulate in the game as well. I do think there should be a boss battle per level, but it would be the second part of each level. The first part, I would want to give players different things that they can do on a level. Questing, interacting with other players or NPC’s, shopping, fighting monsters, and researchign the boss with it eventually leading to facing off against the boss for the floor.
There also is an element of guilds and teams, though Kirito through most of it is a solo player. And I think emulating that is something that I’d want to try and do as well, make it so you have a nameless team behind you and you grow your guild or lose some of it, and you have to balance risks of how you use these guild members, how you balance trying to do the most that you can so you can level up and be ready for the boss battle, but also not pushing your guild members too hard that you lose some due to them dying or that you exhaust them too much and push them away. Plus, you might also want to recruit more.
There is also a concept of unique skills in the game, Kirito, as the main character, gets a dual wielding skill. That is a unique skill in the game, so I want to create a way to create unique skills and to handout skills. When leveling, except for maybe at a few specific levels, you shouldn’t be getting skills, just stat increases that you can spend. Skills I think should be unlocked or gotten as you complete quests or keeping track of actions kills, things like that. You can then unlock different skills, and some skills can be combined with other skills to create improved skills. I’m still trying to figure out how that might work.
Finally, with the boss battle, I want the bosses to feel like they did in Sword Art Online. Bosses had multiple health bars that players had to get through, and as they got more damaged, they could add attacks and change up their attack patterns. This is something that I want to emulate as well. Have it so you can plan and figure out the patterns of the boss if you want to, and you know what they are going to do, but as they knock out bars, new attacks will be added, maybe some will be removed and you have to be able to learn the new pattern of what is going on again, at least if you are going to do well.
So, what’s next for the Design Diaries? Well, I’m going to start taking each part and working out how I think they would work well or interesting as a board game mechanic, as well as talk about some things I didn’t cover too much, like combat and how that would work.
Also, finally, why am I doing this, for me, it’s a fun thought exercise even if it’s something that I never prototype or if it doesn’t work as an idea. It gives me something I really like, board games, and allows me to dig more into how games work, what works, and what I think would be interesting in a game, whether or not it’d work. Now, do I hope that it’s awesome, sure, but this is more trying out ideas and see what could be fun and what might work and just if game design is something I might have fun with in my spare time.