Simon Milburn's Musings #3
The Evolution of Tinmates
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how Tinmates has changed and evolved over the course of the past few months. I haven’t really kept a ‘designer diary’ as such so this is going to be a colossal brain dump (sorry Ayden) and may end up being quite the essay!
For those of you who don’t know, Tinmates was designed as part of the Mint Tin Design contest 2017 . The contest launched at the end of August 2017, which was around the time we (Ayden, Paul and I) had been discussing setting up Dranda Games to pool our resources and creativity. It seemed like a good opportunity to design a game as a team and enter it into the competition to get some exposure.
We decided to each bring a few ideas for games that would fit inside a mint tin and gathered together a week later to test a few of them out. Some of the games ended up being just too big for the tin and some didn’t pan out the way we wanted them to but Tinmates was almost an instant hit.
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The idea was to use the mint tin itself in the game, and I thought the best way to do this was in an area control style mechanic inspired by the likes of King of Tokyo. I enjoyed playing KoT but I disliked the random element of the dice. I decided that I wanted to present the players with some choices that they knew the outcome for but I knew that giving the choice, there was a risk that players would choose to spam the attacking action to contest the yard. Tinmates needed an action selection mechanic that would allow players to choose what they wanted but not spam it all the time. I took inspiration from the player boards in Scythe, where players have to move their pawn to a different action every turn.
All of the actions which are currently in Tinmates were in the game from the start (Including the upgrade action, another one inspired by Scythe). We used playing cards to represent different Bribe cards and just wrote the effects on a piece of paper. Some of these Bribe cards are still in the game today but there have been a lot of changes since day 1.
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The major challenge for the designing Tinmates at this time was balancing the actions that players could do. We had to make sure that the cost matched the benefit and that each action was worthwhile pursuing. We were happy with the game by the end of the day and it was entered into the competition on 4th September.
There’s a lot of discussion about whether to start with theme or mechanics in the board game design community. Tinmates obviously started out with the restriction of the mint tin size and the idea for area control so now we needed to settle on a theme. There were a number of contenders such as mafia fighting over turf or miners in space fighting over a particularly mineral-rich asteroid and we didn’t actually settle on the prison theme until after the day.
The testing continues
We met up over the next few weeks and continued to balance and test the game whilst I completed the graphic design and ‘art’ for the game (if you can call it art) and the components were ready on 26th September.
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Now I was taking the game to new game groups and asking people to try it out. Playtesting it with people who didn’t know the game really helped to refine the game and helped me notice where the game had some weak points. There was an issue with the 2 player game that meant, in the right combination of moves, the players could get caught in a loop where one player was able to deal damage to another and all the other player could do was heal every turn. More balancing was done and the issue was fixed, and the actions still felt balanced at the higher player counts.
I was happy with how the game was progressing and started working on a solo mode. This proved to be more difficult than I’d imagined. Not because the system was hard to work out. The player just shuffled the action cards for the player that was left out and this chose an action for the AI opponent. It was difficult because the AI was ridiculously difficult to beat! With some tweaks, I was able to get it to a reasonable difficulty.
After completing this mode and doing some tweaks to the art and graphic design, Tinmates was declared contest ready on 20th November.
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We were quite happy with how Tinmates performed in the contest. The game placed 6th overall and was 4th in the Most Innovative Mechanic category. We were disappointed that it didn’t score higher in the Best Theme category as we thought it was a rarely used theme, and we still do. Despite not winning any GeekGold or top 3 positions, we were confident that Tinmates was a solid game and this was just the beginning.
I’ve rambled on a bit there and it seems like a natural place to bring this musing to a close. Next time, I’ll continue the story of Tinmates and how it’s evolved out of the tin to a board and also into a digital format. If you want to keep up to date on the progress of Tinmates then tweet @DrandaGames on Twitter and find us on Facebook and remind me to post updates. Seriously, I do loads of work on Tinmates but I never remember to post anything so help me out by asking for an update!