Boardgame Hacking

The UNBORED editors are enthusiastic about games. So we asked Courtney Stanton, an interactive game producer we know, to interview the legendary videogame designer Stone Librande (Spore, Diablo III) about his interest in boardgame hacking and modding (modifying).

Librande is the creative director at Electronic Arts (publisher of some of the most notable and popular videogames of all time — e.g., The Sims, Need for Speed Underground, Medal of Honor: Frontline, Battlefield 3, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), and he teaches classes in which the next generation of game designers learn how to find a vision and a voice. He’s also a dad who has invented and “modded” (modified, hacked) games of all sorts with the help of his two sons.

Here is an excerpt from the UNBORED Q&A with Stone Librande.


UNBORED: What’s the easiest way to start designing a game?

LIBRANDE: The easiest thing is to just grab some toys from your room — LEGOs, little knights, soldiers, dragons, robots, Barbie dolls — and use those as the game pieces. And then you can build a framework around those pieces with some turns. You need to define the two ends of the game experience — the setup and the victory condition. Then you start moving through the game, trying to get from “How do we start?” to “How do we end?” and see what kinds of problems occur, what kinds of conflict arise. You sort out the conflicts with rules, and fix the problems by taking out frustrating, hard to calculate, or boring things — and replacing them with fast things.

UNBORED: Can you give an example of how to replace a boring game element with a “fast” one?

LIBRANDE: When I was around 10 or 12, we took our Candy Land game [which we had outgrown] and modded it. We renamed it Candy Landmine. We drew grids over the Candy Land board, so instead of just sticking to the main path, players could now move faster by going off-road — moving along the squares of the grid. We also changed the game’s victory condition, so instead of being the first to reach Home Sweet Home, the goal was now to be the first to blow up Home Sweet Home… with peppermint-stick bazookas and gumdrop grenades.

We liked converting a little kid’s game into something where we were blowing up things — it was kind of rebellious and subversive and it made us feel really cool. For the game design class that I teach, I buy kids’ boardgames that are on sale, remove the playing cards, give my students markers and blank index cards, and say, “Just start making up your own games with this stuff.”

UNBORED: When you’re designing your first game, is it better to come up with a new angle on a game you already know and like — or should you start from scratch?

LIBRANDE: I think it’s always easier to start with something you know and then modify it. People already do that with their favorite boardgames — like Monopoly, where many people play according to the rule that “All money paid in penalties goes to the player who lands on the Free Parking space.” What’s so interesting is that almost everybody knows this rule, which has been around since long before there was an Internet… and yet it’s not in the Monopoly rule-book! You’d play Monopoly with someone who taught you this rule, and then when you grew up you’d teach it to your kids, and later they’d teach it to their kids. It’s a powerful thing, modifying a game’s rules.


PS: Here are some of the neat homemade card and boardgames that Librande and his kids have designed. For example, check out their modification of the card game WAR.

PPS: Here is an example of how my family has applied game mechanics to our idle amusements.