By Matt Haberfeld
(FLGS Note: Dark Side of the Mine will be on Kickstarter in March, 2019.)
Part 1: The Concept
Hi, I’m Matt Haberfeld the designer of Dark Side of the Mine, which is a card game about mining an asteroid using remote controlled robots. This is my first published game and I wanted to document the process of taking a game from concept to Kickstarter in this designer diary.
My original concept was to make a game in which the player is trying to escape from something that is always chasing them. I had a very loose idea that I would make a game that takes place on an analog clock, where players are snails moving around the edge while the minute hand chases them. The goal is to get as far away from the minute hand as possible, knowing that since the clock is circular you’re never actually getting “away”. As with most designs, the end product turned out to be nothing like the initial concept. That’s probably a good thing considering the market appeal of both snails and clocks.
I created the very first “prototype” in January of 2018 with a deck of cards and $2 in assorted loose change. I had previously made the common designer’s mistake of investing too much money into a prototype, so the goal here was to test a design as cheaply as possible, having no idea if the game would amount to anything. I laid 12 cards out in a circle and used coins for each of the player’s positions on the “clock”.
After experimenting with a variety of game concepts, I felt comfortable that there was “something” worth pursuing. Discarding a card from the player’s hand in order to move to the next matching suit felt good. This created a movement system was fairly steady overall, but inconsistent from turn to turn. I added a second playing piece to make the player’s decisions more interesting. Then I realized that I did not have a way to keep track of where the minute hand was. That’s when I thought to flip over one of the cards. These are the main mechanics that formed the backbone of Dark Side of the Mine.
I had not yet figured out what would happen if you were too slow and the minute hand caught your playing piece. My first thought was that the piece should be removed from the game. However, from a game mechanics standpoint that was very unsatisfying for the player. It was more interesting if you were incurred some penalty on that turn but you also started the next turn as far from the minute hand as possible.
I really liked how the mechanics were coming together and was convinced that I could turn this into a game. However, the clock theme was hindering my ability to design the game rather than aid it. I decided that the theme no longer made sense (if it ever made sense in the first place). I now had no idea what the game should be about. My go to response when I am stumped like this is to consume a ton of media (games, TV, books, etc.) and leave a notepad by the bed. After going through a backlog of “StarTalk” the night before, I woke up with an answer.
In this case I decided to change the “minute hand” from a physical barrier, to a communication barrier. Now if the player falls behind the “line” they lose contact with the mothership and their playing pieces can’t receive orders. This was probably the most rewarding moment of designing the game, where I started with a disparate set of mechanics and wrapped a cohesive and interesting theme around them. After that Eureka! moment a whole world of ideas came flooding in and the real design began.
Next – Designing the Game