Spielbany, an 8 yr old, unconstrained design and Rockagon

This weekend we were reminded of just how weird our family is.

Rhett ponders some design decisions for Rockagon.
Rhett ponders some design decisions for Rockagon.

Sunday afternoon, in the midst of the Spielbany event, our boys started playing around with the box of samples from The Game Crafter. Next thing we knew, Rhett had come up with a compelling name, Rockagon (named such because “it has rockets and hexagons” ), and was inviting Spielbany attendees to play with him. The game got refined a bit as folks generously asked him questions to clarify the game play, but the design stayed largely his own.

Then something magical happened. What everyone assumed would be a simple roll-and-move, as designed by an 8-year-old, ended up being quick and fun to play. Seemingly random design decisions turned out to add risk, fun, motivation and interaction. It turns out this 8 year old was unencumbered by the constraints that the room full of adult designers might have assumed without thinking. The hex board doesn’t need to be arranged in a particular way, as long as it’s connected. Nope, you don’t have to shoot in straight lines. You can hit multiple players with one shot. You don’t have to move your full roll. Turn order changes every round, and so on.

Rockagon ended up being played no less than seven times on that fateful day. Tweaks were made all along the way while many of the adults resisted the urge to unduly influence the design. Even still, I think this qualifies as a 4P success per Gil Hova’s annual 4P Challenge (to playtest a game, 4 times in a month, incorporating feedback).

Writing a "long" description for the Game Crafter.
Writing a “long” description for the Game Crafter.

The next act appears to hold an added bonus for his parents. This little boy, who tends to be frustrated by writing more than a couple sentences and can be overwhelmed by big tasks, is driving this forward. He is obsessed with putting together all the pieces that make a proper game, including writing about his game. He’s already mastered the Game Crafter system and loves seeing the things he writes show up on his game’s page. We get to do some math as we watch the cost go up when we add different pieces to the game. As a bonus, he’s learning some essential creative tools like Gimp.

Learning some graphics tools is only empowering him even more.
Learning some graphics tools is only empowering him even more.

So now it seems that every free moment he wants to be working on his game. For all we know he’ll end up pushing us to kickstart it.