Have you ever played a game and thought the rules didn’t make much sense, or that the premise of the game was weak, and that you could probably come up with a better idea yourself? If so, I can tell you that coming up with a game that works well when you try to play it is not an easy thing.
Al is learning that also. Together we’ve been working on The Alien Game, borrowing ideas from Clue and Where in the U.S. Is Carmen Sandiego?, as well as, of course, his very fertile imagination. It started because he wanted a new game to play, and my stash of games (I pick up inexpensive games when I find them at yard sales, thrift stores, or dollar stores, and save them in my closet until an occasion comes when I think it’s time to bring one out) was depleted.
It’s not that we don’t have games in the house. We have at least four shelves of games downstairs, ranging from little kids games like Candyland to strategy games, party games, and a variety of card games. But Al has outgrown some of the simpler games, and is not ready yet for some of the more advanced ones. Having neither extra money nor a good idea what to get, I suggested making our own game.
I didn’t have anything particular in mind – perhaps some kind of card game where we designed our own cards. Or a simple board game where we tried to get from start to finish, encountering a few obstacles on the way. But Al tackled the project with enthusiasm and much grander aspirations. This game, he decided, would be a space adventure version of Clue, modified so that it would only require two players.
Naturally the board diplays planets in a galaxy, rather than rooms in a building. Like Harry Potter Clue, the victim is merely kidnapped rather than killed, and in Al’s game both victim and kidnapper are not individuals but entire races. With his customary inventiveness, he quickly came up with eight alien races, from the hairy Ukle to the spiral-bodied Swirken.
For each he came up with a corresponding planet, some more or less round but others defying the laws of physics. The Swirken live on a spiral planet called Whirled (I got to name the planets), while the Ligon live on Z-shaped Ligor, and Shool, the home of the Shogo, vaguely resembles a planet-sized amoeba. For each race he also came up with a preferred weapon, and the goal of the game is to determine which race did the kidnapping, using what weapon (because they do use each other’s weapons sometimes), and on what planet they held their captives.
This was the hard part, figuring out what to substitute for the cards used in Clue. We took a look at our Clue Junior, where pictures are hidden underneath objects on the board. Finally we came up with a set of tokens representing the eight races and another set representing their weapons. The races are distributed randomly among the planets, and the weapons are scattered in space. (Initially we had them on planets also, but I suggested spreading things out more.)
Al added more twists to the game. When you arrive in the vicinity of the planet, you can’t just go ahead and land. After all, each world has a planetary defense system. Instead, a spinner is used to determine whether you are welcomed to land, if you have to fight your way in, or if you get lost in space or hit by a meteor or a bomb. If you have to fight, then we each draw a card from a special “war” deck to determine the winner.
So far we haven’t managed to finish a game. The first time we forgot to take the token of the kidnapped race off the board (since they can’t kidnap themselves), and the second time we forgot to set aside tokens to show who the villainous race was and what weapon they had used. But in the course of play I decided that we needed some additional space stations (so we don’t have to go back to the very center of the board every time we get lost in space, lose a battle, or have to repair damages done by a meteor or bomb).
I also wanted to set up some wormholes, similar to the secret passages in traditional Clue. Al has seen or read enough science fiction stories, however, to know that wormholes don’t stick around the way secret passages do. Where each wormhole went would be determined randomly at the time of use, he decided. Finally we agreed to create another set of tokens, this time to represent planets, and these would determine both the entry and exit points of the wormhole (of which there may only be two at any time).
I suspect the game will need more tweaking before we’re done. But Al is already thinking ahead. Now he’s planning a superhero game…