About Hundespillet (The Dog Game)
Hundespillet is a game for kids and adults alike. There are several strategies to win the game and no strategy is an obvious best. Despite some level of complexity the game is fairly simple. It may be too complicated for children seven or eight and below, but it may also still be fun for them to play together with their parents or older siblings.
The tone of the game is silly. It’s established through chance cards and other key elements of the gameplay. The idea is that kids will find the silly humour incredibly funny and adults will laugh despite of themselves, because they are surprised by how fabulously lowbrow and weird the humour is. Who doesn’t like a joke involving bodily functions, drunk dogs, or the inept neighborhood bully setting doghouses ablaze? It’s a big part of the concept and you’ll never get too old for that. So silly is important.
The game is full of action and player interaction. There’s never a dull moment because the balance of the game is constantly changing and every player may be threatened by the active player—so everyone will be watching the active player closely. Sometimes a waiting player can play a chance card as a reaction or similar in the active player’s turn.
The original idea
The original idea for Hundespillet wasn’t mine but my father’s. He came up with an idea involving cats and dogs (The Cats and Dogs Game/Katte- og Hundespillet) fighting for territory or something … I never entirely understood the whole of his concept. It was very open to the point of being almost a blank board. Then you had to build up everything from hedges to doghouses. It was impossible to play—mainly because you had no idea where to begin or what to do. There were no obvious choices that made any kind of sense. But I liked parts of it, even the open gameplay to an extent, and I thought it had some kind of potential. We talked about it and I offered to have a look at it.
Something like that, probably … Can’t remember. He was very enthusiastic about the game. He always is when he comes up with ideas for games. Unfortunately he hasen’t played that many modern games beside Catan (I’ve tried to remedy that and still am). He’ll probably kill me if he finds out that I’m writing about Hundespillet (it has to be a big secret and no-one can ever see it, because then they’ll steal the idea and make millions). But I’ll obfuscate as much as possible! It’s a great game and it deserves to be played by more people some day.
I won’t go too much into detail about the design process—mainly because it’s more than ten years since I started designing Hundespillet.
The first thing to do was to figure out what Hundespillet was all about. Cats, dogs, sure, but what was the core mechanic and what would make it fun to play? The thing was that cats and dogs was a little much. The whole battle between cats and dogs could be funny, but it wasn’t an important part of the concept. That would be an entirely different kind of game. So out went the cats. Considering the position of cats today—only surpassed by the ancient Egyptian veneration of them—it might have been a slight miscalculation … However, dogs were the focus and what dogs do. And what do they do? Eat, sleep, shit, fuck, and fight. Basically. So that’s kinda what the game is about. There you have it!
So, now I had the basics to work from. It would be the fight over territory, food, and … other dog stuff. You can win the came by claiming the biggest territory, but you can also win the game by other means. And you will need chance cards to have a … chance.
“Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3”
I hand drew the first version of the board for Hundespillet, as seen above. It functioned pretty well for a while, until other parts of the gameplay fell into place. Actually, I think most playtesting used another version of the first board, namely the newer one seen directly below. They are almost identical boards—one is just prettier than the other.
There were many tests with adults and children—and much gnashing of the teeth and sleepless nights. But the worst kinks were actually worked out pretty quickly. It was a learning experience on the big scale. And Hundespillet was a fun game to play!
I made some incredibly stupid design decisions in the beginning—decisions based on the classic sort of family games that everyone were playing and possibly hating when they were younger. Or came to hate because of the stupid choices and annoying and unavoidable consequences that seemed to be part of every game to make it oodles and oodles of fun!
One choice I made was to have some of the chance cards be bad for the player buying them. Which meant players stopped buying them! It was a bit embarrassing to be honest. Also, there was the case of the “lose your turn until you roll a … “. Bad, bad, bad! Bad dog!
I’ll write something more specific and/or general about gameplay another time in another post. It’s essential to know the basics and it’s nice not to have to learn it all by failing all the time.
The f…ing board! And how (not) to design a board
After playtesting Hundespillet for a while it became obvious that the board wasn’t properly balanced. Everything worked out pretty well, everyone were having fun, but some parts of the game hardly ever entered into play. Those parts could be cut, but they were quite a big deal when it came to the concept of the game. So I’d rather not cut them but instead try to work on the board.
The problem was simple—the layout didn’t move players around the board in a way that supported the whole of the gameplay. There was a strong sense of symmetry to the board but without taking all points of interest into consideration. (A little vague, I know, but that’s how it has to be—obfuscating here!) Some choices were not obvious to the players because some parts of the board were way more interesting than others.
It is necessary to point out that the game was and still is very open. The players may move around freely mainly constrained by the risk of crossing streets (honk honk!).
You have to give the players relevant and meaningful choices. Choices they feel make a difference to them. If an option seems irrelevant/not fun or interesting, players will not willfully choose that option. The balance of the board in this case made the players completely ignore parts of the game—parts they chose not to engage in. But those parts were still there and annoyed the players.
As an example are some of the chance cards. When you buy chance cards you draw them from a facedown pile. In that way you won’t know what you’ll get. That is fine as long as all cards are useful most of the time. But sometimes they’d get some really useless ones in their opinion. Costing them their currency and taking up space in their hand. Not useless because they weren’t immediately or always useful—there are many of those—but useless because they didn’t seem to ever be useful.
So I tried a new angle. And, damn, was that a shitty angle! I tried to loosen up on some of the symmetry but made the board even more unbalanced. Suddenly half of the board was almost entirely without any interest to the players. It was obvious, actually, when looking at the board. This was one of those moments where it would have been nice to have someone looking over my shoulder.
The layouts have all been very square. The one I’m working on now is much the same. I’m considering making everything a bit more … wonky? Who knows. I’ve been working on this game on and off for more than ten years—more off, I’d say—so I do have a feeling about what will and will not work. But only playtesting can really show that.
The danger is to be too focused on tiny details without playtesting. It’s easy to fiddle around alone in the dark, but I risk making a whole bunch of shit and waste time in the process.
Sometimes, when you design a game, the board is so screwed up that the whole idea of the game falls apart. That is not the case with Hundespillet. It’s very important to point out that just about everything on the board works perfectly fine. I just don’t know were to put it all!
I’ll return to Hundespillet once in a while. Getting to the next level is complicated by outside matters (my father’s strange ideas about being secretive is one, the one). But it’s a really fun game, one that I think would be fairly easy to pitch to a publisher. Unfortunately, someone doesn’t want to talk to publishers … But I want this game to be played!
Funnily enough, I’m not sure my father knows about this picture. It was a full page article brought by a midsize newspaper that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve cropped the shit out of it and even placed part of an example board over it (the thingy in the lower right corner), because the article was really quite horrible. It was based on a meeting—a springboard—where we were supposed to pitch our business plans etc. I think I’ve mentioned something about this atrocity somewhere else. We were making computer games, but suddenly we were pitching a board game idea? And consequently we were slaughtered. The journalist was bored out of his mind and falling asleep. I was supposed to have okayed the article but he only called me and read the article to me. I couldn’t hear him clearly. Great stuff!
But that’s Hundespillet for ya! It’s a great game. I’ve been really sick of it at times, but I can’t help returning to it!
Read more here.