Schell's first lens is "The Lens of Essential Experience". He asks us to ask:
What experience do I want the player to have?
What is essential to that experience?
How can my game capture that essence?
What experiences do people here want out of The Sovereign Stars?
(That's not rhetorical.)
For me, they include:
- Looking at the map of the galaxy, awash in starships. (Ergo, high-quality components are a must.)
- Finding paths of movement and attack.
- Deploying my fleet.
- Agonizing about resource allocation -- should I defend the frontier against the pirates, or improve my tech base?
- Striking (and, to a lesser extent, being the victim of) a surprise blow -- converging on the enemy homeworld, revealing that what he thought was a pair of frigates was actually a pair of stellar leviathans, unleashing some new technology, or simply breaching a truce.
- Anticipating the outcome of a close battle.
Schell defines fun as "pleasure with surprises" and a game as "a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude".
Schell goes on to list several kinds of pleasure to be derived from games, some of them in turn taken from Marc LeBlanc:
Sensation (can we do better than print-and-play cardstock?)
Fantasy (no problem, unless we make it too bland)
Narrative (the game should tell a story)
Challenge (I think this is free in a multiplayer game)
Fellowship (again, free in a tabletop game)
Discovery (should we include an exploration component?)
Expression (ship design, and to a lesser extent, fleet design)
Submission (suspension of disbelief)
Anticipation (dice get us this)
Schadenfreude (delight in another's misfortune)
Gift giving (sure, I'll take out that pesky battlestation for you)
Humor (perhaps the players provide this themselves)
Possibility (provide many options)
Pride in accomplishment (related to challenge)
Purification (I've wiped the galaxy clean of llama-people!)
Surprise (see above)
Thrill (oh no, my fleet is cut off!)
Triumph over adversity (all sixes! I survive!)
Wonder (tough, but we should try)
Two other thoughts:
I enjoy the block game mechanism used in games like Wizard Kings. It gives you high tactile and visual quality, but is much cheaper to produce than miniatures. Also, AFAIK, nobody has ever done a sci fi block game. I'm just sayin'. The only drawback is that it doesn't work very well with more than two players, but maybe if the players were in two teams...
In terms of story and experience, keeping track of individual ships might be better than fleets. I won't be as attached to a fleet as I will to a battlecruiser. If it can have a name (e.g., "HMS Vicarious"), so much the better -- it almost becomes a character in the story of the game. What if ships gained some kind of crew experience bonuses for surviving battles? That would make hunting down the Devastator at long last much more satisfying.