The first challenge in Challenges for Game Designers, “The Path,” asks you to design a game for 2-4 players progressing on a path from point A to point B with the first player to reach point B winning. Earlier in the chapter, Mario Kart had been used as an example of a game with the “race to the end” core dynamic and that’s the idea that stuck with me when I started thinking about this challenge.
Once I decided on the Mario Kart theme, a few things felt mandatory for the theme. First, the players would be driving around a race track trying to be the first to cross the finish line. Second, there would need to be items like shells, banana peels, stars, and mushrooms that either give a player a boost or allow him or her to slow down another player. Third, I wanted to give players a choice of driving recklessly fast and risking crashes or driving at safer speeds.
With those basic ideas in place, I decided to prototype a board game. The board is a race track divided into spaces with a finish line marked between two spaces on the track. In addition, some spaces were marked as item blocks (blue squares with a question mark) and others as hazardous (yellow triangles with numbers).
On each turn, you can choose to either drive fast or drive safe. If you drive safe, you move 1d6 spaces along the track. If you drive fast, you move 2d6 but risk crashing when you move through hazardous spaces. In any die you rolled for movement this turn is equal to or less than the number in the hazard triangle of a space you are moving through, then you wipe out and stop your move in that space.
When a player ends their move on an item block space, they get to draw an item card. The item cards have the various power ups that can be used during the race. You can only be holding one card at a time. The power ups have the following effects when played:
- Green Shell: A racer 5 or fewer spaces ahead of you loses a turn
- Red Shell: A racer any number of spaces ahead of you loses a turn
- Banana: A racer 5 or fewer spaces behind you loses a turn
- Mushroom: If you are driving fast, you move an extra 1d6 spaces
- Star: Cancels out a shell or banana card
In a normal game, the first player to cross the finish line wins the race. Since the track is a loop though, it would be easy to play multi-lap races.
What I’m happy with after playing:
- Item cards: These were a fun addition to the game.
- Fast or safe: My wife and I both thought about the choice between fast and safe and had a couple of wipeouts during the race when trying to go fast around the curves.
What I’d change in the next iteration:
- Race track: I’d want to try out a different track design with a few more level 2+ hazardous spaces. Ideally, the course would be customizable or the game would come with a few track choices.
- Kart selection: In the video game, there is a mix of heavier and light characters to pick from with heavier karts having better handling but lighter karts being faster. I think it’d be fun to work that into the game.