I heard a noise - MIT game lab digital prototype

Surface is a board game project made in the context of the MIT: 11.126x Introduction to Game Design course.

1) Game Description

Surface is an abstract board conquest game.

The core mechanic of the game is to conquer strategic areas on a board by making paths out of various geometric shapes.

Surface is a simple family game while still leaving plenty of options for more “advanced” gamers to elaborate on strategy, like which shape combinations work out better, when / how to use shapes defensively, etc.
A game can be slow paced, or very quickly paced – it’s up to the players.
There is also a nice sense of competitiveness / betrayal that can arise, when somebody positions a shape to cut your path towards an area.

2) Rules:

• The game can be played by 2 to 4 players. Each player chooses a color, Blue, green, yellow or red.
• Each player has a set of 15 shapes hidden in a black silk bag.
• The youngest player starts the game.
• Each “turn”, the active player gets one random shape from the bag, and has to play it on the board.
• The first shape of any player MUST be placed on the central area.
• Shapes must be placed so that they touch or overlap an existing same color shape.
• 10 areas are spread on the board, with a given numeric score value.
• The player with the most shapes overlapping an area get points at the end of the game for this area (NOT the most surface covered).
• The winner is the player that has the most points when all shapes are placed or no further placement is possible.

3) Fun Design facts

• In the very first version, a tester mentioned how “unusable” the game was. In fact, at the time Surface didn’t have any grid on the board or any indication of the zones to conquer. The shapes were also super basic, basically only squares and triangles. That is one of the point I worked on as much as I could, making almost all the game understandable from just having a look at the board – Even though you still cannot understand all, you can get a good clue about how the game works using the “rules” column on the right of the board.

• There used to be no areas, the game was won by “claiming” the biggest surface on the board – It proved to be totally infeasible for a board game, even thought it could be done in a digital game. Even then, it lacked a clear goal / objective for the player, as well as the excitement felt when claiming an area.

• Players were able to overlap enemy player shapes. It proved to be less strategic because there was no real way of “blocking” or stonewalling a player, which is part of the fun of the game.

• Shapes were readily available to players at any given time. It was strategic, but at the same time too much so – Players noted that it would feel more interesting to have the thrill of not really knowing which shape they are going to get next (even though with simple probabilities, it’s quite easy to know which shape you are “likely” to get, so more advanced players will still have a big advantage.). Same as in Carcassonne, it is still completely possible to provide an alternate / strategic rule where players have all (or some) of their shapes in hand from the start of the game.

• Initially the areas gave their score to whoever had shapes overlapping them. Testers reported a feeling of making it like a race to the areas, highly based on luck. It was changed so that only the players that has the most shapes on the area get the points, making it more interesting because you can have twists in the gameplay, “defensive” behaviors as well as more aggressive / “conqueror” behaviors.

MIT Game Lab

Software Development / Game Design