Saturday 26 November 2011

A Germ of an idea after listening to Alan Emrich speak on the I’ve Been Diced Podcast

A few days ago I was riding the bus to work (yes, you read that right, I ride a bus to work) and I was listening to an I've Been Diced!  Podcast. It was episode 22 with the host Tom Grant interviewing  Alan Emrich of Victory Point Games. One of the games that they discussed was “We Must Tell the Emperor,” a solitaire board game that is composed of just 48 event cards and 23 cardboard tokens.  In 60 minutes this game will cover the Pacific theater of WWII from 1941 to 1945. Alan said the biggest challenge in boardgame design is making a really good simple game, because the designer needs to pare down the game to its simplest concepts/components.

So as I listened to this podcast, the germ of an idea began to incubate inside my mind: how to create a simple solitaire boardgame with just 40 or so counters and 36 cards...and here is what I came up with:

Vaccine: The Boardgame

The game would have one 11” x 17” color game board, divided roughly in half. One half would have the playing area that hosts the disease we are trying to create a vaccine to combat. This area would be comprised of 19 hexagons in a hexagon shape. See the rough sample below:

Play Area for the Antigens

Each hex has a number which represents how much funding you will receive if you destroy that part of the disease with a vaccine. The inner hex is worth 5 thousand dollars, the middle ring of hexes is worth 3 thousand each, and the outer ring is worth a thousand dollars each.

The next components are the cardboard markers that represent the proteins that make up the disease, which are called antigens. There would be a number of different types made up of different components. These components would be represented by different shape/colour combinations and there could be 2, 3 or 4 of these elements making up each antigen. The antigens with the 2 elements would be the most common, and the 4 the most rare.  For example one antigen could be made up of 3 proteins: a blue square, a red circle and green triangle. There would be 25 of these markers, so 6 more than the number of hexes.

So the game would start with all antigens face down in single pile, and the player would draw seven of them. They would be placed on the play area face up: The first one would go in center hex (the red area) and the other six would go in the middle ring (the blue area).  This is the starting disease the player must defeat.

The next set of components is 50 cardboard markers represent the proteins that would be used to defeat the disease. These would be the building blocks of the antibodies that would bind to the disease and lead to its eventual destruction.  Each of these markers would have one component on them.  So if you wanted to destroy the antigen with the 3 proteins mentioned above, you would need a blue square protein, a red circle protein and green triangle protein. These three antibody markers combined would bind with the antigen and thus destroy it. Some proteins would be more common, whereas others might be rare and have only 1 or 2 of them in the collection.

The second part of the board would contain the following areas:
·         The Time/Turn Track:  On this track each space represents 1 week of time, which would be 1 game turn. This game would end once the end of the track is reached (unless the player destroys the disease before then). It could be 10 weeks or 20 weeks. I haven’t gotten that far yet in my musings.
·         The Funding Track: This track represents the funding you will receive to research the vaccine. You will probably start out near the middle of the track, and you will have to spend spaces in order to purchase equipment to defeat the disease. You will also go up the track for every antigen you destroy. Haven’t thought of how many spaces yet, but there would be a maximum.
·         The Antibody Protein Section: Here is where the available proteins will be displayed. There would be 4 spots; the first spot is free, the second spot costs 1, the third spot costs 2 and the fourth spot cost 4. To the right of this section is some stacks of 50 face-down protein counters. From this stack come the markers that will populate the 4 spots. To the left of the section is the discard pile for the proteins that were not selected during play of the previous turn.
·         The Vaccine Section: This is the work area where the antibodies are created to defeat the disease. All the antigens in the game are displayed visually here. Using the two previous examples I mentioned earlier, the 3 protein antigen would have three spots where you could place the blue square protein marker, the red circle protein marker and green triangle protein marker. Once all the components are have been populated, you could then destroy that particular antigen on the playing area.
·         The Mutation Deck Section: This area would have the 20 cards that make up the mutation deck. These cards would be face down in a pile, and beside it would be a face-up discard pile. At the start of each turn the player would flip over the top card of the draw deck and follow the instructions on the card. More explanation to appear below.
·         The Lab Equipment Section: This area holds the Lab Deck, which is made up of 16 equipment cards. These cards can be purchased to help you create the vaccine and defeat the disease. Examples of such equipment would be an electron microscope, incubator, spectrophotometer, centrifuge, etc. Each card would have a cost and an action they allow you to perform if purchased. How these would affect game play appears below.  As with the Antibody Protein Section, there would be 4 cards available to purchase, a draw deck area and discard area. There would be no cost listed below the 4 card spots since each card has its own cost.

So far, so good. Keep in mind I dreamt most of this up while listening to the podcast on a bus (yes, a bus, now let’s get over this!). Now that we have the game components taken care of, let’s get into game play.


So game setup would be like this:
  • Draw the 7 antigen markers and place them face up in play area as described above
  • Place a pawn on spot 1 of the Turn Track
  • Place a pawn on the middle spot of the Funding Track to represent your starting funds
  • Take all the antibody protein markers and place them face down in the Antibody section, then draw the top 4 markers and place them face up in the 4 spots. These will be proteins available to you for your first turn.
  • Shuffle Lab Deck and place it face down in the Lab Equipment Area. Then draw the top 4 cards and place them face up in the 4 sections. These will be the equipment available to you to purchase in your first turn.
  • Shuffle the Mutation Deck and place it face down in the Mutation Deck Section.

Okay, now we are ready to play!

Turn Sequence


So at the beginning of each turn, the player turns over the top card of the Mutation deck and follows the directions. For example, the card could say take the top antigen marker and place it on play area, thus increasing the complexity of the disease. A real nasty card could be to add 3 new antigens to the disease.

Player Actions

The player would have a limited number of actions that they could perform in a turn. They could be performed in any order I would think. Here are some examples I thought up:
  • Buy 1-2 Antibody Proteins: If they can afford it, the player may purchase 1 or 2 proteins and place them in the Vaccine Section. They can be placed on the same antigen or on different antigens. The player would mark the change in funds on the Funding Tracker. For example, if the player selected the protein on the free spot and the one on the 2 spot, then they would reduce their funding track by 2.
  • Buy 1-2 lab equipment items: If they can afford it, the player may purchase 1 or 2 pieces of lab equipment and place them face up in front of them. They would change the Funding Track accordingly.
  • Use Lab Equipment: At this point the player could use one or more of the powers that the lab equipment lets them do. For example the electron microscope lets the player look at the next antigen in the face down pile so they will know ahead of time what antigen will be added to the disease next and plan accordingly. Other pieces of equipment could let them look at the top cards of the Mutation Deck, the Equipment Deck or the Antibody markers. Lots of possibilities for strategic play here.
  • Destroy Antigens: The player can destroy antigens that are on the board that they had made completed antibodies for. When an antigen is destroyed, it is removed from the board and placed face down in an antigen discard pile. At this time the player can increase their funding by the amount displayed on the hex it was just removed from. This is how the player increases their funding. There is a maximum and they cannot go above it.
Clean Up

At the end of the turn, the remaining antibody proteins that were not selected that turn are placed in the discard area, and 4 new markers are drawn and placed on the 4 sections. If there are not enough markers left in the draw pile, then shuffle the ones in the discard area and put them at the bottom of the draw pile. Do the same with the Lab cards that were not selected.

Game End

The game can end in one of three ways:
  • The end of the turn track is reached and disease still exists. If even one antigen is left on the board at the end of the turn track, the player loses and the disease runs rampant destroys all of humanity in hellish pain, etc.
  • If at any point in game all 19 hexes in the play area are populated with antigens. The disease has mutated beyond the ability of the scientist to combat it. See above for the repercussions.
  • The player destroys the last antigen in the play area before the end of the last turn. Yay! The player has created a vaccine to defeat the disease and saves humanity. Drinks all around.
So there you have it. A game idea that was inspired by a podcast that uses minimal /simplistic components, and the rules would be not much longer than what I have just written in this blog.

I look forward to your thoughts on this potential game. Perhaps I could even convince Alan Emrich of Victory Point Games to publish it....hmmmm...

Update #1

Lab Equipment Cards

The player can only perform 3 Equipment actions per turn. They can only use a piece of equipment once per turn. After an equipment card is used, turn the card sideways so the player remembers that it has been used. As part of clean up all equipment cards are returned to their normal orientation

Destroying Antigens

An antigen can only be destroyed if both of these conditions are met:
  • The player has created a complete antibody that can destroy that specific antigen
  • That 3 concurrent sides of the antigen's hex are exposed. For example, the antigen in the center hex could only be destroyed if 3 side-by-side hexes were empty in the middle ring.

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