The History of The Hackers Guild Part 2: The Original Game and Prototype

Welcome back! In the first installment of this series, I discussed the reasoning behind why I decided to create a board game and to use a hacking theme. In today’s installment, I’m going to look at the original game design, some of the design decisions that were part of the development of the version of the game that hit Kickstarter October of 2016, and a quick look at the making of the very first prototype.

Original game premise

Originally The Hackers Guild was called Lord of the Hackers Guild and was a competitive game where players tried to become the best hacker, successfully completing a hack on the Department of Defense, and earning the title of lord of the Hackers Guild. Quite early in the design process I decided that I wanted the game to be able to play up to six players and have a game last about 90 minutes. A big contributing factor behind the player count was the fact that most of the board games I play are done so at family gatherings. It wasn’t uncommon for their to be seven or eight adults wanting to play the game, and it wasn’t very often that we found a game we could all play together.

Players of the original game took on the role of a new recruit into the Hackers Guild, an group of people trying to prevent the evil corporation from enslaving humanity. The players had to move around the board, upgrading their hacking skills and purchasing hacking tools so they could increase their fame by completing hacks. As they completed the hacks, the players earned different hacker classifications along the way. Each upgrade of hacker classification increased the difficulty of the hacks, and the hacks were completed by rolling a d20 and adding the result to one of your skill levels and comparing it to stats on the target of the hack.

Original prototype of The Lord of The Hackers Guild that was played Christmas 2015
Original prototype of The Lord of The Hackers Guild that was played Christmas 2015
The first play test of The Lord of the Hackers Guild took place either Christmas day or Boxing day 2015. It only took about 20 minutes (if that even) to realize that the game was completely broken. Two of the biggest challenges for the game were the mechanic that was used to earn the necessary gold needed for skill upgrades and hacking tool purchases, that were accurately related to level grinding in video games, and the fact that there were multiple opportunities to lose your turn, sometimes even multiple turns. Neither of these make for a very interesting board game and they needed to be addressed. If you are interested, you can download the original rules.

Cooperative game play, computer hardware tracks, player count change, and asymmetric player powers

Four of the biggest changes that were made after that first play test were:

  • making the game cooperative
  • introduction of the computer hardware tracks
  • decreasing the maximum player count from six to four
  • addition of asymmetric player powers

Cooperative game play

As discussed in the first part of this series, I have a love for cooperative board games. In fact, one of my favourite board games is Pandemic, a cooperative board game. So shortly after the first playtest, I decided that I wanted to change The Hackers Guild into a cooperative board game. It was also at this time that the name of the game changed. The major contributing factor to the changes was that the background story of preventing the evil corporation for enslaving mankind lent itself more to cooperative game play.

Introduction of the computer hardware tracks

Initial player mat after changing from skill points to hardware tracks.
Initial player mat after changing from skill points to hardware tracks.
To help give some more meat and flavour to The Hackers Guild, the hacker skill levels were replaced with computer hardware tracks that the players could upgrade, making the computer they are using for their hacks more powerful. The three tracks were CPU, RAM and HDD.

What each track represented changed a number of times over the 10 months leading up to the Kickstarter. Originally, the CPU track represented the amount of time you had for hacks, RAM represented the number of d20s you rolled, and HDD was the size of grid you had for placing your hacking tools. Ultimately, I settled on the CPU level determining the number of base dice the hacker rolled, the RAM level determining the highest level of hacking tool the hacker could run, and the HDD level determining the number of concurrent hacking tools the hacker could use.

Decreasing the maximum player count from six to four

After a number of play tests, I decided that six players placing and taking discs off of the board was going to be too chaotic, as well as would drag the game on longer than I wanted. Since six players was no longer and option, the next logical maximum count was four

Addition of asymmetric player powers

The asymmetric player powers were added to help mitigate the luck factor that is inherent to dice rolling. The exact nature of each power has changed a number of times over development, and are one of the few things still included in the most recent version of The Hackers Guild

Original prototype creation

As promised, here is a quick look at some of the steps taken for creating the first prototype, and a couple of early art mock ups that were sent to my artist.

I hope you enjoyed reading more about some of the early design decisions that were made during the creation of The Hackers Guild. In the next part of the series, I will be talking about some of the design changes and decisions that were made leading up to the failed Kickstarter as well as a quick review of the campaign itself. I hope you check it out.

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