Last week’s game design challenge at Game Career Guide was to create a “race to the end”-style board game to be played online by 11 to 15 year old English speakers in America. My entry The Great Steeplejack Chase (sort of a cross between Donkey Kong and Chutes & Ladders) received an honorable mention.

To be honest, I was surprised by the mention since I wasn’t very happy with my entry. Not to be misunderstood, I think the game has merit. And, I think that the underlying concepts of weighing success now versus success later and using one part of the game to subvert another are solid. I also think that a race game that rewards strategy over luck could definitely have some traction. But, I thought my entry was too complex and needlessly overwritten.

The game, as submitted, clocked in at more than 500 words over the limit and was written too much like a rulebook. After reading the other entries, I think that my submission should have been formatted more like an outline or proposal. One of the main reasons for the complexity was that the bidding mechanics were confusing and kind of obtuse. It is possible that part of the reason that the rules come across as being complex and over-written is that they’ve fresh to the page and have never been played or taught; with a few rounds of playtesting, the rules would hopefully gain a measure of clarity – which the game, as written, sorely needs.

Finally, I think that the entry has a bit of an identity crisis and is stuck in the middle ground between game mechanics that are better suited to a tabletop game and ones that work best in a computer game. Although any computerized design would have definite advantages in speed of play, game balance and game board generation, the dice and bidding mechanics, as designed, have a distinct tabletop feel to them.

That having been said, in any computerized version of The Great Steeplejack Chase, the size of the tower would most likely be determined by both the length of the desired race, and by the number of participating players. I would hope that playtesting would reveal an optimal race length and a game board size that allows all participating players to have enough freedom of movement, but also remain in close enough proximity for the tactical use of the various action cards. But, if the game ends up being a tabletop board game, the tower would be build from a deck of tiles that are something like four squares high and three squares wide. Some tiles would have vertical ladders and all tiles would have cross-beams and boards along the bottom edge. The tiles would be placed randomly according to the desired width and height of the tower.

A computerized design would also facilitate the placement of any obstructions on the playing surface. My initial thought is that obstructions should be placed randomly on every level, but there should probably be at least two obstructions on every level and on approximately half of the ladders. Further design might also implement other types of obstructions. For instance: obstructions that cost two squares to cross, or penalize a player movement dice or cause a player to lose a turn. Regardless of the effect, no obstruction should prevent a player from finishing the game; they should only slow or otherwise hinder a player’s progress. A player’s victory or loss should only come from well played strategy or the luck of the dice, never from an unwinnable level.

Obviously, The Great Steeplejack Chase needs work. And, while I’m not very happy with my effort this week, I’m very glad that another one of my submissions was recognized by the editors of GCG.