My team designed the game Sugar Showdown, which models the competition between school health programs and food companies for the influence of the school food system. The school encourages students for healthy diet options, while the food company team provides unhealthy snacks and drinks that tickle students’ taste buds. Our game simulates fellowship and challenge. The players within a team collaborate for varying strategies to get influence from five stakeholder groups while trying to block the other team.
We started brainstorming the game by drawing a detailed feedback loop of how sugar consumption affects dopamine levels and addiction. We thought of a game of two teams combating each other to increase or decrease the sugar addiction of a person. However, we struggled to balance the model of an actual biological process and exciting game dynamics.
Later, by talking to the instructor team and the designer of Pandemics, we pivoted to modeling a broader ecosystem instead, in the sense that two teams are trying to influence a population’s perspective about sugar addiction. This solved the problem of getting too nitty gritty in a biological process while still allowing us to find a realistic and persuasive concept model.
When testing the game mechanisms, we adjusted the resources and the procedures multiple times, which was essential for the game to become more balanced and fun. Sometimes a simple tweak on a minimal component results in a significantly different gameplay experience. For example, when we set the exchange rate of resources low, our players’ natural strategy was to keep getting and exchanging resources without relying on action cards. However, when we fixed the exchange rate to a proper value, players started to use action cards as we intended. Another example is asking teams to take one action per round as a whole leads to much greater connection and camaraderie spirit within a team than players taking turns individually.
I felt satisfied watching others play the game I designed, especially in the final playtest. The “giggle gauge” was a powerful tool to evaluate how good the game design was. In our last playtest, players were diving into the roles using narratives, laughing and cheering for the uncertain outcome of dice rolls, and doing high-fives when their team got an advantage. I discovered two layers of fun out of this:
- Seeing people amused with the game is enjoyable – our child, with a vocation of delivering delight, is finally born after weeks of pregnancy!
- Laughter itself is transmissive; I laughed together with the silly & happy moments that emerged in the gameplay. 🙂