A game about planting trees: Part 1

Yet again I’ve found myself all caught up with new ideas and thoughts. This is an early draft of a possible Roll & Write game about planting trees. I thought I’d share how it’s progressing.

In my earliest drafts, I had three different types of tree, and three different types of soil. Cherry trees for sandy soil, willow trees for wet soil, and silver birch for clay soil. I set myself a number of trees to plant, and rolled three dice to see where I could place them on my grid. I rolled three dice, with two becoming the co-ordinates of the tree I planted, and the third dice being used to mark a square as out of bounds. At this point there wasn’t any narrative reason for a square being crossed off, but I somehow felt that it needed to be more than simply filling in the grid.

The second version was messy, and a complete failure, and probably the least said the better. The third version though — well, the third version really took a different direction. I added dice options at the start of the game. The story changed somewhat — now I wasn’t just planting trees, I was clearing the ground first. I opted to need to clear about half the grid, so that as I filled up the already empty squares, I’d need to clear the blocked ones. The different types of soil ended up as hill, moorland, river, and the riverbanks, all with different flora. I introduced wildlife: squirrels in the pine trees in the hills, snakes in the heather on the moors, fish among the lilies in the river, and kingfishers in the willows on the banks. Finally, I added in a “something bad happens” element, in the form of a thunderstorm.

Some of this did not work. The thunderstorms seemed out of place — and besides which, what “protecting” was I actually doing? It was tricky to clear enough squares if I needed to roll a one to do so. And while “growing” the plants seemed like a great idea, I couldn’t work out how it would work. Do they keep growing on the same square, or can they spill over on to other squares? What about squares which haven’t been cleared yet — are they “contaminated”, and if so, can that spill on to other squares?

The next version was more complex, and I started to expand on how the plants could grow from one square to another. At first I had three boxes each for “lilies” or “fish”. Using my dice to grow the lilies would mean that the fish population also expanded — assuming, of course, that I had introduced fish. But should I actually have three boxes to tick, or was two sufficient? Two would mean plants expanded across the grid quicker, and so would mean less needing to plant new trees.

One of my biggest questions was the “clearing” or “contamination” aspect. I liked the idea of old buildings or rusting rubbish needing to be cleared up before trees could be planted. I’m determined that that will be part of the game, although I’m not quite sure how. Perhaps whole rows could need to be cleared, rather than individual squares. Perhaps the thunderstorm idea could be replaced by contamination from uncleared squares damaging plants or animals.

This feels like it’s about halfway to being finished. The idea is sound, the grid is good, some of the mechanics work, other mechanics need changing. Let’s see how it develops further.

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