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Song of Tales Designers Diary – Core Principles

I’ve said a few times in blogs how vital it is to have the core principles of your game set out as touchstones that you can refer back to while designing, to make sure that you don’t end up in the design wilderness or lose the shape of what you’re doing to well meaning playtesters. I’ve also noticed that I’ve not shared my core principles of my pervious projects in this blog. Since I’m in the middle of designing Song Of Tales I thought this would be the right time to set out its core ideas here.


This is the key for Song Of Tales, it’s the thing I realised that I needed to get right or I wouldn’t bother making the game. I want to do it in light of the other principles, but it has to work. There are story telling games where one person just tells a story, or starts and passes it off, and there are story telling games where one person steals or subverts the story of another away from their intentions. In my experience though, when someone is telling a story in real life when someone joins in they seek to expound and extend the story as a form of assistance before handing it back to the original teller. In the original inspiration for Song Of Tales, the Canterbury Tales, this happens repeatedly within the context of a storytelling competition. I wanted a reason why I would want, and trust, my opponent to take my story, add to it, and give it back to me to finish, that collaboration had to be in the game, and it had to be key to it. I want competition, but I also want to be able to score competitively without being forced to end a story that I’m enjoying listening to and experiencing being weaved before me.

Proper Scoring

I don’t want to be too grognard about this, but there are lots of games where everyone tells a story and just enjoys the experience of storytelling, or where everyone tells a story and then just votes on which was the best. I didn’t want that. Mainly because they have either been done perfectly well or amount to little more than a popularity contest, neither of which I was a fan of. The game had to have clear, clean scoring conditions where success and failure were as little a matter or opinion as possible, despite the fact that the central form of the game was about free-form storytelling.

Story Telling

I’ve posted up in places that I’m working on a Story Telling game and had ‘me too’ responses from people designing Narrative Heavy games. If the game is telling me a story, it’s a Narrative game, if I’m telling other people a story, it’s a Story Telling game. The fun of Song Of Tales has to come from the point where someone finds a good way of putting together elements that they’ve been forced to use into an entertaining narrative while under pressure. Story Telling has to be central and it has to be fun, and the game should not rely on any other areas to generate its fun or its interest. Everything that delays or gets in the way of this being fun gets cut out, if this is not fun, the game fails. It is not an excuse to say that the Story Telling bit isn’t that good, but the card play bit really shines, view such props with suspicion, or make a card play game.

Those are the central ideas that I keep coming back to while designing Song Of Tales, all choices in its design are informed by those three points. Whenever I design I try to have just three or so points that the game is built to service, things support those moments or get cut out.

Have you played a game that you think tried to do too much, or lost sight of its central vision? Do you have a design that you’re working on that has a few design principles you’d like to share?


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