Design Diary: Milk

I'm a huge fan of the game, Chinatown, and for the longest time, I have wanted to make something that contains that feeling of deal-making, business savvy, and cutthroat bargaining. And I wanted to do all of that in a game made only of cards -- no boards or chips or anything like that.

One evening, while my wife was working on card designs for Director's Cut: The Card Game, I suddenly had the idea of a game that could possibly have this deal-making mechanic. Like Chinatown, you would buy and sell properties that come up at random intervals and there would be the opportunity for free trading. The game consisted of a grid of cards that are rotated depending on who owns them and then payouts are received for clusters of property types. If you've played Chinatown, you are probably shaking your head thinking that this idea is very derivative.

Chinatown - one of my favourite trading games.

It was derivative -- too much so. But I made a prototype to try out some ideas and... it was ok. Just ok. Players would fight each other over the price of properties, develop these properties, sabotage each other, and things like that. But it all felt a bit like a drag and nothing really exciting was happening. Still, I stuck with the idea for a while.

I realised that adding a theme to the game would give me inspiration for how I could spice up the gameplay. So, some ideas for theme:
  • Property trading. I threw this out immediately because I've seen it too many times in the past.
  • Crop farming. I figured this would be a good fit and could introduce things like harvesting mechanics. Again, I threw this idea out. There are enough farming games already and it's not a theme that gets me excited about a game.
  • Computer viruses fighting for dominance in a computer system. This would introduce a lot of mechanics about controlling the shape of the board (tableau of cards), simulating the viruses modifying computer data. But I was already working on a virus game and it just didn't inspire me in this case.
  • Developing ski resorts. This also seemed a good fit because it would explain why some tiles were intrinsically more valuable than others (the location offers the best slopes and views, for instance). But this idea didn't immediately inspire many new mechanics.
So nothing happened for a while longer and then out of nowhere, I had a new idea.

Milk deliveries.

Now just stick with me for a second. I've never seen a game about those guys in their little electrics carts delivering milk. I remember the milkman who used to work my neighborhood when I was a kid. He was an independent business owner (I think) -- so he'd have to balance his books, acquire stock, work out his routes, find customers, deal with the dairies, and so on.


As a former window-cleaner -- a similar job in many ways -- I know all about the intense competition that comes with scoring a good route and the complete pain in the ass of having a route that's miles from your other jobs. You can't just go work anywhere you like because you'll be taking another persons territory. Routes are traded with other business owners, if it's mutually beneficial. And routes can be loaned out if you want to take a break. All of these could make for interesting mechanics.

So why did I choose milk delivery over window cleaning? Just because it seems a little more... cool? 

Anyway, the first mechanic I'm taking from this new theme is the idea of limited delivery distance. Players will try and make sure their locations are all within delivery distance, otherwise they have got an incentive to try and trade their locations. If they fail to deliver to a location that they own, they will face a fine from the dairy. Suddenly, the game state is much more fluid, changing as new locations pop up, and players want to trade. I'll see where this goes...