Note: All images show prototype artwork and are not representative of the final game.
The original idea for Tasty Humans can be traced back to a single thought that I had twenty-four hours into Panjam, a 48-hour board game design contest with the theme “they tasted quite delicious.” I had been struggling to find the fun factor with my entry, which involved players taking control of fantasy monsters and managing resources to try and eat adventurers without taking too much damage. Out of nowhere, a thought popped into my head: “what if you were still monsters eating adventurers, but the game was all about dropping them into a puzzle that represented the monster’s stomach?” This proved to be a valuable idea, as the choice to pivot in the design at that moment ultimately led to Tasty Humans (previously Fantasy Feast) not only winning Panjam, but now being on track towards publication. In this post, I want to dive a little deeper into the design decisions that I made with the mechanics of this “stomach puzzle,” and some of the interest that has stemmed from those decisions.
Evolution of the Dropping Mechanism
From the inception of the idea, it was clear that it made a lot of thematic sense to have the pieces drop into the stomach from the top. This immediately drew strong parallels to Tetris, which certainly played a part in the original inspiration. However, I didn’t want the game to necessarily feel like Tetris; all I knew is I wanted some sort of spatial puzzle that ultimately determined the monster’s satisfaction. This raised the very important question: when filling the stomach with tiles, what is the player’s goal?
In Tetris, you are trying to complete rows of blocks, so that they can clear and prevent the grid from filling to the top. While we (my brother Daniel was also there for the inception of the design) briefly considered the humorous approach of having completed rows “clear” and leave the monster’s digestive system, it didn’t seem like the right objective for the game. Additionally, while a video game like Tetris can let the computer handle all of the upkeep when a row is cleared, a board game equivalent would end up being really fiddly whenever you would need to collapse all of the pieces to the bottom.
Thematically, the game was all about a fantasy monster enjoying a feast, so it seemed appropriate that players should try to completely fill their monster’s stomachs. But what constitutes the stomach being “filled?” The Tetris approach naturally leaves many gaps where the pieces did not fit perfectly; would filling the stomach just mean the player is unable to fit any more pieces in? This didn’t seem ideal, and I felt that it was more thematic if the final board ended up being completely filled. If I wanted to achieve this, I needed to find a way to eliminate gaps between the shapes.
The solution to this problem ended up being one of the key components of the final design. Instead of having the Tetris-like pieces stack rigidly and leave gaps, each tile of the shape would always collapse all the way to the bottom. This meant that the shapes that were dropped into the stomach could be broken apart, which seemed very thematically appropriate (I love the visual of the pieces “settling” in the monster’s stomach). What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the ability to break pieces apart by dropping them in certain orientations would end up being one of the primary sources of strategic/tactical interest in the game.
Collapsing Pieces to Form Patterns
As the design shifted to players trying to completely fill their monster’s stomachs, it made the most sense that the objective would involve forming certain patterns in that completed grid of tiles. In a future Designer Diary post, I will talk a bit about how the game handles scoring through pattern-building, but for now I want to look at some of the implications of the shape-dropping mechanic I have been describing.
The first side-effect of the tiles collapsing, instead of holding their shape, is that different rotations of the same shape can have very different results. Consider dropping an “S”-shaped piece made of four tiles:
Even when being dropped into an empty grid, rotating the shape has huge implications on how the tiles will end up settling in the grid. When a player is trying to decide which shape to select, they not only need to visualize how each shape can be rotated, but also the implications of how those rotations would collapse and fit into the current state of their grid. Things get significantly more interesting once the grid has already been filled up partially. Consider dropping a 3 x 1 shape into the following board:
These are just four of the many ways that you could choose to rotate and drop that particular shape, but you can see how different each of the results are. In many cases, the tiles that make up a single shape won’t even end up close to each other! This only really becomes interesting once you consider that the goal of the game is centered around pattern building. If I really want to place a specific tile in a particular space to maximize my points, there are two things I need to consider: how I will get that specific tile to fall into that space, but also the side effects of the shape’s other tiles that will fill other spaces. The best moves in Tasty Humans are often the ones that find a way to have multiple parts of the shape contribute to different goals simultaneously. The following image shows an example of a shape that needs to be dropped into a board with a Leader Tile that scores points for having Hand tiles in the spaces diagonal from it, at any range:
Before reading on, go ahead and think about how you might choose to drop the shape!
There are several ways that you could drop the shape in order to get one of the hands to score on the diagonal, but if you were able to use your understanding of how the tiles will collapse, you may have spotted a way to get both Hand tiles into scoring position. The following image shows the most effective placement:
This is a simple example, but you can imagine how things could get really interesting when your board is filled with additional tiles and you have several scoring tiles simultaneously in play. All things considered, I am very pleased with how the dropping/collapsing mechanic was born out of the theme, but led to a lot of emergent tactics that keep the stomach puzzle varied and compelling.
Thanks for reading some of my thoughts behind one portion of the design for Tasty Humans! If you enjoyed this entry, stay tuned as I have many more planned that will dive into other aspects of the design. For more information on the game (including preliminary art, the work-in-progress ruleset, and access to a Print-and-Play or Tabletop Simulator module), head on over to the Tasty Humans website.