Location, Location, Location
One of the earliest design challenges we’ve faced, and one I went back to time and time again, is that of player agency within The Shared Dream. In fact, it was probably the first big hurdle I presented to the rest of the team when putting together the core mechanics of the game. How could we ensure that the players aren’t victim to randomness, or even worse, only have one viable pathway through the game? I didn’t want the gameplay to consist of “chase the tokens until you have enough of them to advance to midgame,” simply because that’s been done before and it always felt like setting such an obvious goal for the players that the only real option would be to chase them until you have enough.
With the actual progression of the game now being handled in its own specific mechanic (the Personal Reflections), the Locations were in a strange place (see what I did there?) If they weren’t helping to further the progression, what was the point of the location events? A lot of the theme that was cooked into them was now being offloaded into the “side stories,” and it seemed odd now to have character progression be tied into random events.
When I first presented the game design to the team, one of the things I STRONGLY stated was “I don’t want Locations to have their own static events that the player can choose to have happen when they go there, since that is almost always how that location is going to be used.”
Locations now have their own static events that players can choose to have happen when they go there. While I understand my first instinct and rationale, I think that with all of the other developments, this was the right move to make. Since the locations are now a means to an end rather than a progression mechanic, something needed to be in place to differentiate the Boxing Gym from the High School, or else the locations may as well have just been a series of numbers and letters.
At past conventions, most people who were heavily into board games would end up asking me “So is this going to be a board or a tile laying game?” I think that even though we had a demo board in the earliest versions, so much of the stated design goals matched up with tile laying that it was a natural question. So, in a case of the outside feedback influencing design (even if it’s slightly indirectly,) The Shared Dream went boardless.
One of the first steps of playing The Shared Dream is building the city the characters are experiencing for that session. In the board implementation, this was simply done by filling each location spot with a different card. We took out the board and included “connector” cards into the Location deck, and city building is now done by shuffling together the locations and connectors and dealing them out into a grid. This allows the relationship between locations to be different between each game and immediately sets the stage for another layer of challenge and replayability. We’ve had innumerable sessions where the entire game would have been different had the Warehouse been closer to the Library as it had in other configurations.