Justin Hall, over at Game Girl Advance, has blogged about an interview with James Ernest, the founder of Cheapass Games. Cheapass Games make very nice (and often hilariously funny) board and card games, and deliver them in a highly minimalistic manner. They simply assume everyone already has tons of markers and dice and whatnot, and so they just don’t include those. It makes the game a bit less fancy, but in a way also more pure. And of course it reduces the production costs.
Apparently their games tend to start with a theme and not with a game mechanic. I think this is an excellent way to approach games, and one that doesn’t seem to be very prevalent in computer games, where a lot of people either tend to focus on the story or on the pure game mechanics (this was already happening before the academics got into this, in case you’ve been following the narratologists vs ludologists debate on the DiGRA list). The only person I can think of who has explicitly proposed this approach for computer games is Chris Crawford, in his Art of Computer Game Design (from 1982).
Mr. Ernest touches on another fundamental question of game development when he asks:
Who else is ever going to bring out a game where everyone is a taffy machine trying to gum itself up with squirrels?
Who indeed? And what a great marketing strategy. I find this heartwarming, in several different ways.