Reviews

The White Box – game design toolkit

 
The White Box is not a game, but it can potentially be turned into many games. It is a box of components that can be used by game designers to work on their ideas. It also contains a book – a collection of articles about game design and game publishing.  

 

 
Upon opening the box you will find three punch boards, two of which are printed with different colours and icons, and the last one being blank. There are round, square and hexagonal counters. The coloured tokens are in 5 of the 6 player colours. Most other components come in 6 colours. I guess if you need tokens for the white player, you can use round tokens from the blank punch board. 
 
 
Inside the box you have big and small wooden cubes, plastic dice, wooden Carcassonne-style meeples, and plastic coins. Some additional zip-lock bags are provided too. 
 
 
I prefer game components to be grouped by player colour, so I eventually arranged the content of the box this way. I kept the big cubes separate from the others, because they are too big and unwieldy. The coins come in eight different colours. Six of the colours are the player colours, the other two are gold and silver. I guess the gold and silver coins are meant to be used as currency, while the other coins are to be player owned components. 
 
 
The book has about 200 pages. The articles cover many topics related to boardgame design and boardgame publishing. Most are written by Jeremy Holcomb, some are by other contributors. My initial thought was this book was probably the most valuable part of the whole package. If you are a game designer and need components to put together a prototype, you can always borrow from your other games, or buy materials from bookstores or handicraft stores. So I felt the knowledge was probably more valuable. I have not read many books and articles on boardgame design, nor have I listened to many podcasts and webinars, but even by now they already sound mostly similar. They seem to talk about the same things, and I don’t often hear new thinking or different approaches. I have finished reading the book in The White Box. Most of the content is already familiar to me. I have read them elsewhere. The articles don’t go as deep as some other books I have read. For a new designer, they will still be useful. The articles cover a wide range of topics. Those related to game publishing are more useful to me, because I have not read much on this topic. So I did get some value out of the book. 

 

Component list

 

 
These are most of the components in the box. The blue is quite dark, and under low light it is hard to tell apart from the black. The meeples are rather small, much smaller than those in Carcassonne
 
The green components

 

 
I now occasionally dabble in game design. I have a few small game design projects running concurrently. I work on them when I have free time and when I feel like it. I don’t set any deadline for myself. I don’t have expectations that I will finish every project, nor do I expect they will all get published eventually. I just enjoy the process of trying out my ideas, and seeing whether I can make decent games out of them. It is mostly self-entertainment, which in Malaysia is sometimes called “syok sendiri”, roughly translated as self-pleasing. 
 
One such game design project I am working on is Rebels. The backstory is earth has been conquered by aliens, and now mankind is organising a resistance. At major cities around the world, human teams assemble to search for and destroy the alien hive in the city. My game board is a map of Kuala Lumpur. The humans try to find the alien hive. The alien overlords have two drones and two ground squads. Their objective is to hunt down and exterminate all the human teams. 
 
For my prototype I drew on a piece of manila card, and used small paper cups as buildings. For the rest of the components I borrowed game pieces from Age of Steam. You can see them in the photo above – all those components in the left half. The cubes are the human teams. The black disc is the alien hive. Yellow discs are drones, red discs are ground squads. Now that I have The White Box to play with, I can return all my Age of Steam components, and need not worry about losing them. The blue and black cubes are too similar, so I will need to change one of the colours. The White Box doesn’t have purple, so I substitute that with green. 

 

 
I have thought about using meeples to represent the human teams, but eventually decided against it. If I use meeples, I will not be able to resist the urge to position all of them as standing upright. I will create unnecessary work for myself. So cubes they shall remain. Cubes are always upright no matter how I knock them over. 
 
 
Later I decided not to use the black disc as the alien hive. I used this token with crosshairs. I think this adds to the theme. In this game the hive and the human teams are hidden within the buildings, i.e. under the paper cups. The alien drones and alien ground squads are always visible as they move across the tops of the buildings. This is a 2-player-only game. When the human player moves, the alien player turns around so that he cannot see where the human teams are. He needs to use his drones and ground squads to hunt down the human teams. In this photo above, the green human team has found the alien hive, so the human player wins. 
 
One problem with this design is it is a lot of hassle. It’s hard for the human player to keep track of all his teams. Also the alien player becomes rather bored waiting for the human player to take his turn. A lot of finger twiddling. I still need to solve these problems. Perhaps this game works better as a computer game or mobile game. 
 

 

When a human team moves, you pick up one of the cubes, then move it to a location which also has a cube of the same colour, or to a location adjacent to one of the cubes. A human team may not be broken up. The cubes must stay together or adjacent to one another. Let’s take the white team as an example. Its starting location was Low Yat, and one team member has moved to Jalan Alor. If the target destination is Maybank, your next move will be to move one of the cubes at Low Yat to KL Tower. In the subsequent turn, you move the last remaining cube from Low Yat to Maybank. Throughout this process, the team has never been broken up. 

 

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