Since it's super bowl week, I made a football game




Gridirion is a board game that replicates the strategy of American Football. Players compete over four quarters to outscore their opponents, by reaching the end zone within four downs.

Gridiron Rulebook



The Good

I'm going to put this out right upfront: I have no interest whatsoever in American Football, or professional sports in general. Even if I was interested in watching the games, I still wouldn't because of all the ads, replays, interviews, analysis, and other crap that makes a 3-hour game broadcast have only about 11 minutes of actual playtime.

Needless to say, the super bowl was not in my radar. I knew it was happening but completely forgot about it until a grocery store cashier brought it up. This gave me an epiphany. I was working on a completely unrelated game, but this exchange inspired me to make an American Football board game instead. This was helpful because for the first time all week I was actually energized to make something.

This was Saturday afternoon so I knew I didn't have much time, but I wanted to keep the game simple anyway. I stripped away as much complexity as I could from the real-life game itself. I flirted with the idea of making the game real-time, instead of turn-based, but I couldn't find a system in the time I had that worked without being exploitable, so I went back to turn based. What paid off in the end was connecting the mechanics to actual football rules as much as possible. Having the QB piece that can run or pass, and blocking worked out pretty well in the end. In fact I'd like to return to this game someday and refine it, as well as adding some of the things I wasn't able to include, such as field goals.

The Bad

I spent most of the week working on a different game and only switching on the second-to-last day, so I didn't get a lot of time to iterate on ideas, so the resulting game is a little over half-baked. A few more days could have helped a lot.

The main problem is that the scoring system is kind of broken. The game lasts four quarters, and in each quarter both players get four downs (turns) to try getting their QB into the end zone to score 7 points. This mean each player only gets one attempt to score each quarter, so draws have a disproportionately high chance of happening, and despite overtime rules accounting for this, it would be better if ties were rare. Also, there are times where the losing player, such as when they are down by 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, can't possibly win. Given more time, I'd try experimenting with the game length, maybe making it so there are more chances to score for both teams. Also field goals which are easier than touchdowns would be good to add in.

I also think that the offensive player is a bit overpowered at this point. At first I thought it was because passing was too good, so I toned that down, but it still seems like the offensive player can usually score more often than not. This might be due to the first-turn advantage, but I wasn't able to get the game really well-balanced.

The Lesson

The theme of a game can inform the mechanics of the game. Thinking about how football works allowed me to come up with the blocking and passing mechanics that made sense just by knowing the real-life rules of American football. Moving forward, I'm going to try themed games more often, whenever there is a holiday or special occasion.