One Pizza The Puzzle (Part 1)


It's time for another boardgame devlog!

This time, I will explain the process behind my game One Pizza The Puzzle

The game has perhaps the simplest set of rules and mechanics of all my games (even including the expansions), which is why this devlog will be rather short.

Generating the random game board, however, required a large set of complex algorithms, which is why my "technical devlog" will contain most of the development details. (That one hasn't been published at the time of writing.)

Here's what the final game boards look like:

Example game board (seed "Rode Panda", name of my own company in the Netherlands)

You can go to the website and try it out yourself to generate infinite random boards on which you can play this game!

Anyway, let's get started.

What's the game all about?

In this game, everyone tries to deliver pizzas. To perform this task, each player receives one pizza courier, which is represented by a line on the board.

Here's an image of a finished, live played game to get an idea:

One of the test games I played

Each line starts at your restaurant, and on your turn, you may move the line (up to) 3 spaces. In a sense, the current position of your courier is always the endpoint of the line.

Here's the kicker: you may never cross another line, not even your own.

This means that you need to be smart about where you move and when, because you want to cut off other players from valuable ingredients, but prevent yourself from being cut off.

That was the idea that started this whole game: draw lines to do stuff, but you may never cross the lines.

It was a natural evolution in my series of One Paper Games, because this is something that you can only do by drawing on a paper, and not in a regular boardgame. (Well, you could, but it would take a hundred tokens or items to be able to track routes like that, and then even more for the ingredients and special actions/buildings in the city!)

So, how did I approach this mechanic?

Theme first

When I invented the mechanic for this game, I was working on another game about delivering pizzas. (Pizza Peers) At the moment, I thought: "hey, maybe I can do a combo, where I make both a computer and a boardgame about pizzas!"

Ever since that moment, the theme of delivering pizzas was glued to this game idea, and I couldn't get rid of it. Even though I only made the boardgame variant more than 6 months after the computer game.

As such, before I even wrote a single line of the rulebook, the theme was set in stone: the game board showed a city (or at least one section of it) and you were trying to deliver pizzas.

This raised a few default questions:

  • "How will you get ingredients?"

  • "How will you prepare the pizza?"

  • "How will you deliver the pizza?"

At first, I took the most logical route: when you get an ingredient, you need to move your courier back to your restaurant to deliver it to your storage. Then, within your restaurant, you must take actions to prepare the ingredients and bake the pizza.

Moving; grabbing ingredients and delivering them (image from rulebook)

Hopefully you already see the problem: this was too complicated.

Additionally, it just wasn't fun. If you've already traveled to an ingredient building, where's the fun in traveling the exact same route back to where you came from?

And thirdly, there wasn't any room on the board for this. After making some quick sketches and trying these game ideas, I soon realized how easy it was to lock yourself in or get stuck because of your own lines. Once you'd traveled through some part of the board, it was hard getting back there afterwards, even without other players annoying you.

Simplicity is Key

I decided to get rid of all the "logical" aspects of delivering something, and instead just made ingredients teleport back to your restaurant. As soon as you reach an ingredient building, you may immediately write that specific ingredient inside your restaurant. Much easier, much quicker, and more satisfying (because there are immediate results to your actions).

Similarly, I ditched the idea of including all sorts of actions and rules for preparing the ingredients. Instead, I realized that it's quite easy to draw a pizza (it's just a wobbly circle), which created the following action:

> Prepare: draw a circle around ingredients in your inventory to combine them. They now form a pizza and can be delivered.

Prepare action (image from rulebook)

That was the whole prepare action! And it was even intuitive, because you literally turned the ingredients into a pizza.

Something is Missing

At this point, the game was really simple:

  • Each turn, either Move or Prepare.

  • When moving, extend your line three steps. You may never cross.

  • When you pass an ingredient building, immediately retrieve it.

  • When you pass a building that wants a pizza, and you have it, immediately deliver it for money.

This worked ... but was also simultaneously too hard and too boring. It was easy to get stuck with your line, with absolutely no way out. It was also hard to annoy your opponent without hurting your own chances as well.

The second sentence in the paragraph above sums it up nicely: "there was no way out" Because you could only do ONE simple thing, you didn't have many interesting choices or creative solutions to problems.

When something like that happens, I usually apply the following rule: make ONE thing in the game able to do TWO things -- but not both at the same time.

What if, instead of putting ingredients on pizzas ... you could eat them yourself for extra powers?

As such, a third action was born:

> Eat: eat one of your ingredients to immediately get its power (+ a reference to the page with all the special actions)

Do note that, at this time, I had no idea what those special powers would be specifically. I only knew that this would be a good idea for the game and that they should be able to block opponents or help yourself (out of sticky situations).

An Element of Timing

One thing I desperately try to avoid, is analysis paralysis. In my experience, about 25% of players are susceptible for this, which means they take forever on their turns because they are literally calculating all possibilities and trying to find the optimal move that way. It's not fun for them, it's not fun for anyone around the table.

A related problem happens at the other extreme, when a game has no unpredictability and you know in advance exactly what's going to happen.

Those two issues were still present in this game, which means I needed to solve them.

One thing that often works, is introducing an element of timing. Yes, you know for certain that you can get to that building in 3 turns ... but when will you take those turns? There must be some incentive for players to switch it up, to hold out on certain actions, to add some turns that could not be predicted.

For that reason, I expanded the Prepare and Eat action.

> Prepare: besides creating the pizza, you must also bake each element individually (by drawing a rectangle around it).

> Eat: you can only eat ingredients that have not been baked yet and are not on a pizza.

(The previous image about these actions was actually already the updated version.)

This means that it actually takes some time to prepare a pizza (and it takes more time on bigger pizzas), but you can't just take turn after turn baking everything, because you don't know if you'd want to eat those ingredients later.

(Additionally, I wanted to add special spots on the map where you may take two or three Prepare turns in a row, if you're standing there. This also means you need to time your preparations properly. But this will probably go to an expansion, as I want to keep the base game extremely simple.)

But ... how do you move?

During the first drafts of the rules, I just wrote "move three steps" (or "three cells") and though that was clear enough, especially with an image.

Once I had my first few boards to try out, I quickly realized how bad this was as a rule or explanation.

If you could move literally anywhere, the game became messy and its core mechanic (drawing lines that you cannot cross) fell flat.

Instead, I wrote a paragraph in the rules explaining that you need to follow regular traffic laws. So, stay on the right side of the street. (You could change that to left side if you're British, if you want.)

Image from rulebook (actually an updated version, you'll soon see why)

This rule improved the game a lot. In fact, one of the first games I played I accidentally got myself stuck because I wasn't paying attention and didn't realize I was not allowed to go a certain way.

It's also a very intuitive rule, because, well, you're moving through the city and everyone is used to traffic having these rules.

This devlog continues at part 2!