Pandemic – A Walk Through Game Design with Matt LeacockOctober 26, 2017
My goal with this blog is to ask specific questions to top designers around various aspects of game design.
I want to kick this off with an interview with the iconic, genre defining designer of Pandemic, Matt Leacock. Pandemic is not only a seminal work in the cooperative game play space, but it is one of the most popular games in the world, selling copies all over the globe.
Here we go:
- How did you work to foster increased interaction in your game design and how important was interaction in your game development?
Interaction is critical in my games. Fortunately, cooperative games foster a lot of interaction as all players can contribute ideas. Here are some additional mechanisms and rules I added intentionally to increase interaction in Pandemic:
- the current player has the last word on their turn (important to emphasize so one player doesn’t drive all the interaction)
- player cards are kept secret (in one version of the game) so that players must ask each other for information
- event cards can be played at any time so that players have to pay attention at all times – perhaps now is the best time to play a given card
- How did you consider replay value in the design process? What ways did you work to increase replay value?
Replay is also a critical consideration. Techniques I employed in Pandemic:
- The Player deck and Infection deck have a different shuffle each time, so players will have to overcome different problems to create melds and the hotspots of the world will vary each time.
- There are more roles in the game than players and they interact differently, so players will have to play differently each time.
- We released 3 different expansions which introduce additional roles, events, challenges, and play modes to further increase variability between games.
- And then further introduced 3 different stand-alone games to vary the game even more around a new theme.
- What was the most substantial change that happened during playtesting?
In the early designs, a single deck was used both for the cards used for melding and infecting. Players found that confusing, so I split that deck into two special purpose decks: The Player deck and the Infection deck.
- How did you find the artists and graphic designers for your game?
The publishers arrange graphic design and illustration. I help a bit with art direction, review, and approvals.
- What are the major dynamics that make your game unique? How did you brainstorm or come up with the original concepts behind those?
I think the most unique dynamic in the Pandemic system is the way tension escalates in semi-random intervals (like a slot machine) with rising stakes.
I stumbled into the mechanisms that generate those dynamics fairly early on in the process by goofing off with a deck of cards, a piece of newsprint, some sharpies, and a few wooden cubes.
- How did you think about barrier of entry when you designed your game?
I’m passionate about accessibility and think it’s critical to the success of a board game. If players don’t understand the rules of a game it won’t be played. I obsessively watched people play Pandemic in order to see how they naturally approached the game and where they had trouble so I could file off the rough spots and present a game that felt intuitive.
- What is one piece of advice you would give to new game designers trying to get into this space?
Playtest with as many different groups of people as you can – from diverse backgrounds – and really carefully observe and listento them to evaluate your game as you iterate.