Posts Tagged ‘Board game’

In the first post, I discussed the issue: How long it takes you from picking up a game to playing it, or from gathering some friends to playing it, is far too long. Here I’ll address a solution. And ramble some more!

Discussing a Solution:

So, those 2-3 hours, while they may be ok in general, many of us want to play a game in 2-3 hours. I think an organizer would be willing to spend 30 minutes, but if you can do without, it’d be even better. This is why a game where you create the setting (but this must be play, and not pre-play), or better-yet, use Earth, is often a good thing. Another world everyone knows (The Middle-Earth amidst fans) can also work.

There are many games I’d have played, or tried to play/run, if I had known how to transmit them to people who did not, and will not read the rules. I think designers should, or people who run their games at con should (for their benefit), come up with exactly how they teach a game, what they teach before play begins, and what they teach as they play the first few scenes. Andy Kitkowski said this might be best achieved via video-demos, or audio-recordings. I think he’s right.

Because yes, that’s what should happen, and why people can play so many board-games so rapidly. Someone talks for 5 minutes, often with pointing at specific tokens, at specific sections of the board, moving things to engage the other players. After 5-7 minutes, people begin to play, but the teaching of the game doesn’t stop. The person running the game explaines more complicated things that always come up, as they come up. The turn order, the combat/purchase or what have you is usually understood after 10 minutes or so. Some things are not explained, because they never come up, but that’s ok.

Another technique people who run board-games employ, based on the table’s preferances, is that after those ~15-20 minutes of having taught the rules and people playing a bit without guidance are concluded, they clean the board and begin a proper game. In Role-playing scenes, people often teach in specific scenes but also carry them onward, which is better than it being during potentially fatal action; examples include “Initiation” in Dogs in the Vineyard, and “preludes” in most World of Darkness games.

I am currently working on a game, code-named “The Beast Witch” (though it may also be code-named “The Sacred Hunt” or whatever, “The Tribal Game” category). And while talking to Paul Czege I’ve had a thought*, later shared on the afore-mentioned threads: Have a bunch of cardboards, like quick-reference sheets you get in board-games, at the center of a table. At the top of each such sheet write a “Situation” that comes up in the game, and then list on the card what to do, in order. I suggest the player who picks up the card reads the card. This is not easy, because it means you should be able to follow each stage as you reach it. If there are tactically “full” choices, you might want players to read the whole card before they begin following it.

Originally, I thought you’d list each “Sub-system” on the card, but that’s a bit backwards, as you don’t know whether to follow it or not, but something like “My character made another character laugh” or “I thought that other player made a good contribution to the story” tell you exactly when to pick them up.
I also think this will be a fertile ground for ritualistic phrases, or even actions, because you can tell people to make an oath, or perform an action, and the mere act of following such an instruction-card is sort of a ritual on its own.

Some more thoughts I’ve had: I am certain many games could be written, and then you could come up with such quick-sheets for them, and many games come with quickstart rules (but not enough). Also, quickstart rules, and the whole way we write our books might need to be reversed. We put the summaries at an appendix, where they might fit in the beginning, with the “main book” which just elaborates should go on later. I quite like how board-games do it: On the back-cover which avoids page-flipping we have the bare-bones overview, in the first 2-3 pages we have each stage, with a paragraph describing it, and then we have 6-20 pages which describe each stage in (often excruciating) detail.

Likewise, if we have quickstart rules in a hardcover book that’s heavy to lug around, and we might want to flip from the quickstart to the main section, or pass the quickstart rules around… it’s just not a good fit for them to be in the book. Unless you just want to train someone at how to teach the game, but not actually use this document as they go along. For that, I suggest the quick-start rules to be in a small booklet, separate from the main book.

So, to jump a bit back, while I believe most games can have such resources created for them, I wonder if it’ll affect the game’s design if it were designed from the beginning with the plan to make use of these things. We should find out.

For my upcoming game, I both plan to use the “The Big Bang shape” I discussed before, and to make each character sheet contain as much information as the player will need and I could fit on it. I’m taking a page from some of John Harper’s designs. You want the character sheet to contain as much information as possible, and that reading it and then being taught the rules for 5 minutes more should be sufficient.

Of course, giving players pre-generated characters, situation, and even enemies will cut drastically on preparation time, but it will also limit what most people will play in the beginning to just that. I might discuss that in a future post.

* The thought came in a slightly different context, of a game where each sub-system is completely different, with no unified mechanics.

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Ok, this discussion is going to cover several ideas, they may yet get further exploration later on, both exploring how they interact, or just each of them on their own.

The core issue, what it’s all about, is the ability to play games. A “game” does not exist when it is not played. There is no Settlers of Cattan “play” inside the box. There is no D&D Campaign inside that setting book. You only get play when you have people using the thing, when people are engaging in play.

The Problem:

That above theory is one thing, but one thing that is clear is, the focus should be on people playing the game. You want to make it easy for people to play the game. Easy is sometimes more important than good. If it’s easy, people will pick it up and play, and then it should be good. If it’s good, but no one ever plays with it, then how will they know it’s good? And even if they will “know”, will it be worth more than farthing, seeing as it’s not played?

This post follows a discussion on Story-Games, first in this thread, where a discussion on constraints led me to muse and opine on why people can play one board-game after another, though each is focused in scope, but people are loathe to do so with RPGs. My observation was that the main reason is how long it takes from when you pick up the game and how long before you can begin playing, which was spun into this thread, where Joel Shempert uses the term Fluency Play to describe this (or the result).

Well, many of the modern story-games are pretty small games. They run ~80-120 pages, and these pages are more along the lines of 6×9″ as opposed  to most traditional games that are 8.5″x11″. Reading such a book usually takes me about 2-3 hours, which may not be as bad as say, 6-8 hours I need to dedicate to traditional games (usually considerably more..), but it’s far from good enough.

Ok, so it took me 2-3 hours from when I picked up the book to “knowing” the game, now I have my friends with me. I know the rules, we can play, right? Oh, how I wish this were so. If I were to impart them with all the rules it’d take them about 20-30 minutes to learn. Now this brings to mind two questions:
1. Reading is faster than speaking, so why did I need to read it for 2-3 hours when 20-30 minutes were enough to begin playing?
2. Do you think people can sit and listen to you explain the rules passively for 20-30 minutes?

In my experience, people can spend 5 minutes listening attentively, 10 minutes listening, and at 15 minutes they’re ready to rebel. If you are talking for 20 minutes, you are often not going to play the game at all.
Now, it’s true that it’s possible each one of us had spent 2-3 hours learning the rules, but that is both unlikely, and you want as someone who makes a game to assume it is not so. You want to make it easy on people to play your game, remember?

So, we have one person who knows the rules, hopefully it didn’t take him long to know them. But now, what of his friends, the people he wants to play with? This issue is also very acute for game-designers who are looking for playtesters in general, and myself in particular. I just don’t know how to teach a game as I go along, and feel the need to info-dump. This also makes it harder for someone who is looking for playtesters, to just find some people and begin playing. If you need them to read the rules, that’s another hurdle, and at a convention it’s just not feasible.

This is the first part of two, the next will be posted tomorrow, and discuss some methods to address this.

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I thought this might interest others as well. I decided to think again of Cranium Rats while in class today, and jotted down several pages of notes.
Of particular interest to most people might be sections 5-7, which explore currency, story, competition, and their interaction. This obviously references Cranium Rats, and its re-design which had been slightly explored in the previous posts on this blog, but I feel like it is more broadly applicable. Feel free to tell me if it is indeed so.

This is also the first post made here, after migrating from LJ.

  1. Creating a generic system of rules, which had “Sliders” which can be adjusted, and to clearly say, “If you do X and you gain 3 dice, it will cause people to initiate more conflicts, but if performing X only gains you one die then less conflicts will be initiated.” For instance, how many dice/points it costs to initiate a conflict, or how many free dice the defender receives.
  2. Even if such a semi-generic system does not come to pass independently, and it is released from the get-go with a setting, with specific rules; then it is possible to release different settings, and if you change the values of different variables then it should change the behaviour (from the players).
  3. Release should include a setting world or two, or at least “Moods” and “Themes” along with the game, along with adjusted systems.
  4. There will be several different types of playtesting required. Both the general system as a whole, which will include how currency is transferred, and for each sub-setting, to see if the values decided upon deliver the expected and desired results.
    1. It will be easier to check the specific systems after checking the general one, because supposedly you will only need to check the effect of changing singular values.
    2. But of course, you cannot check the general system, because each time you test, there will be specific values inserted into the different variables. At best you could check “directions”: “If we will increase X’s reward then…” and less focus on specific values’ effects.
  5. It seems as if the game will require people to think of the currency, or at least understand it on some conscious level. Just like in a board-game you play differently the second time, after you understand better how things work and what yields are expected and desired. What actually works. The thought-patterns of board-games and strategy. A different thought-pattern, nearly tactical/strategic.
  6. Unlimited competition and the creation of a joint story; these have a difficulty coexisting peacefully. In this version it will be necessary to change their levels until they could coexist, and maybe even give up on the desire for it to be a CSI Game (Competitive, Story Interactive Game), merely to have it as a working game.
    1. When the game has an end, and at this end a victory or a loss, then that is the goal.
      1. If the story is the ultimate goal, then victory could not be something you aim for seriously and without limits.
      2. If victory is the ultimate goal, then the manner in which you can tell a story is constrained.
        1. The largest problem is when “everyone wins”, when one focuses on story and another on victory. Because then the victory may feel hollow, as it’s not against someone who was even competing, it was not earned.
        2. The contribution to the story by the one who focuses on victory could be marginal, minimal, and all over the place. It sometimes work in a game where you have random elements that throw you off in various directions, but intent matters, and when another player does it simply because they don’t care? It is not meaningless in the context of the game table. More-over, with the random and hijinks mindset, everyone is geared towards it.
  7. So there is need to make some change, in the manner the story is told, the competition, or in the manner these two elements interact.
    1. Story.
      1. You can see in competitive games what you can do with stories, for instance in computer games (albeit those are usually solo games), and then for a large number of people the story does not matter. We need to assume that whoever plays story-games is interested in the story, even if we cannot leave the creation of story to lay completely within their minds – as that goes against my design sensibilities. So we need to assume there is some interest. Whoever watches Blizzard’s games’ video cutscenes as opposed to those who skip them.
      2. Of course, if there are simply things “on screen” then we will add story, because a large part of every story or perhaps even its majority (and especially “messages”) occurs in our own minds. But we do want there to be a story created together, but what is a story which is created as a joint effort, is there some sort of message and can we get it over? We can try, but the other side has to “pick it up” on their end, because otherwise the message will not be transmitted, and in a like manner it is hard to discern how many stories are told around one table. As the number of characters, as the number of players, a multiplier?*
      3. But it seems I do not want to give up on story, on story-gaming, where the thing is creating scenes, situations, where there are often characters. This is also why my CSI Games project focuses on stories and not characters. Even though characters are another method of story, as explored in 7.1.1, identification, not immersion, but viewer-identification with a character in a book or a movie.
      4. I don’t want to give up on this type of story, even if unrelated to characters, and so I know that I can’t get too far from what there already is in the realm, the genre –  so I need to focus either on changing within the realm of competition, or the interaction; there is not a lot of wiggle room here.
    2. Competition.
      1. It is possible of course to let go of competition, so it will not exist at all, or that it would be merely nominal, but if so it will be a completely different type of design, even though this is also an option. **
      2. Right now I think of changing the extension or the realm over which competition extends itself.
      3. In the joint realm (of story), competition can obviously revolve around story, over its direction, over controlling it, etc.
      4. I find this option or at least its presentation as unfulfilling and insufficient, because every competition which occurs within a game of this sort will affect the story. Either directly, or by its control via currency which is exchanged between the players who will later use it in order to succeed within the game or to modify it on the player level directly. And so, even though it is an option, it could be said that every solution that will be given will already perform this, so there is no need to talk of it as a separate option at this stage.
      5. The change that currently attracts me is changing the point of “victory”, from a final point towards which all strive, where smaller points act as stepping points that get you closer there. The suggested change is to lower the final ending point, and to make the competition one that revolves over the specific, the particular, where there is a certain level of resources that can be transferred between the players, but everyone still have enough in order to influence things. The competition is over the resources which will enable more control within the game-world later. The competition is in order to gain more chances of control when you desire it.
  8. There are different resources, and you can probably exchange in various ways one type of currency for another; even if it’s the same currency! For example, if the same resource can give you 2 dice in one situation and 3 dice in another, and you can also earn 2 in one way and 3 in another, then you could say that you can exchange 2 of “resource X used in Y scenario” for 3 of “resource X used in Z scenario”.
    1. From board games I’ve noticed that too much choice can not only liberate but also paralyse (analysis-paralysis). If each type of currency can only be used in certain places, then in those places it is more likely that you will use these resources, as opposed to wanting to save them for a later date when they are universal. However, when they aren’t universal, you may use them more while they are in your possession, but you may shy from obtaining them, because they are both more narrow in their application and because the other players will know what you are aiming for. This is less of an issue in a less-adversarial mind-set.
      1. Issues of scarcity obviously play a part here, that is, how easy and how often you can regain and refresh different resources.
    2. The resources must renew and replenish, the ones which players use again and again to compete between themselves and to drive the story and the action forward, for the game to not be stagnant. These are temporary resources.
    3. There are also more permanent resources, of which there is a closed economy, the “16” points distributed amongst three players. It is important that they will not dictate the whole game, so players could not lose too many, or gain too many! And yet they must be significant. 5 per player, and a 16th that can be had? This requires more thought as the game is re-tooled from the ground-up.

* Robert Donoghue just wrote today on his blog about “Sub-plots“, which I’ve read after writing this. I think that even if the number of stories is vast, and they are different stories, then it is possible all participants would count the same number of plots and sub-plots, and even point at them. This is pretty wild.
Also, it’s unclear what exactly story is, at this point, even after all I’ve spoken of it before. We know it when we see it.

** It will be a different game either way, but this way I can at least feel as though it bears the same spirit.

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I’ll cover the board game known as Infernal Contraption by Privateer Press in this post. I use the definition "card-game" even though it’s a non-collectible card-game, ala Munchkin, which I think is really a "board-game"; I hope you can bear with that. Furthermore, I’ll tell you the general gist of this post: We did not enjoy this game much.

This is a "Things I Like" post, so the review is more me covering opinions than describing the thing blow by blow, and all the rules.
In this game each player receives a deck of card, and must create a machine: Connecting "contraptions" that do things to power-sources, connecting "enhancements" to contraptions, and connecting one-time "consumables" to something. You get to place things only if they have matching "sockets", and you need to "pay" for each card you play after the first free card each turn.

Your goal in this game is to be the last man standing. I was actually a bit worried about this from a design stand-point before: This is not a game like Munchkin where we all play and have the ability to affect the game till it ends. Instead, players are removed from the game and may end up becoming bored. From my experience though, when someone gets removed, the game is usually close to completion, and the players are going to grow bored way before that as well 😉

There are a lot of cards, and while many of them are quite similar to one another, and only have slight differences in the rules, or their connectors are different and they are otherwise identical, this translates to every turn, where a player might have a completely new hand (other players’ actions can grant and take cards away), they will sit huddled, and spend 3-5 minutes reading their cards and planning what to play, where. During this time, the other players can stop paying attention. There’s only one card type (so 3-4 copies) that truly require you to pay attention to another player’s machine.

A Contraption Card.
A Contraption Card.

The cards are certainly quite beautiful, and have a distinct art-style. I think their design though, is prohibitive for play. It is true, that since you can connect your card via one of the four connectors on the four cardinal directions, you might place it "upside down", but still. As it stands, when the cards are in your hand you need to tilt them to read them, and due to the text being small and the picture being so big, your attention is divided: There are too many things to look at, and either the picture draws too much attention, or you don’t really look at it at all.
And then, once you have your machine, once per turn you activate it. In the beginning, my mother (I played with my mother and one of my friends), would read us what the card said, word-for-word. I told her, "No need to read the card, just tell us what to do," as I desired to speed the game up a bit. And that’s the other shoe; while a player builds their machine, the other players sit there twiddling their thumbs, or begin reading on their new cards early hoping it’d still be relevant by next round. And when another player runs his machine, they just tell you for
the next 1-2 minutes what cards to draw, which cards to discard, etc.

This is basically a giant "mutual" solitaire game: You sit around and play with some other people, but the interaction between players is quite minimal. The only really social aspect of the game is choosing who to attack on each of your turns. Perhaps trying to cajole players to attack other players.

I think the only thing worse than playing it with 3 players is playing it with 4, as the time you sit there doing nothing adds up. Sure, if we’d have kept playing we’d probably have become more adept, and played faster, slightly faster. But for what purpose? It’s not like what makes a game fun, which is actual real strategy beyond the basic (make it so you don’t play too many cards a turn, as you’ll draw your own deck out), and social relations, are there.

: 4.5/10.

I forgot to say these two things before: First, my mother enjoyed the game, but she took way longer than the rest of us to play her turn. Same as her turn took double the time in Settlers or so. She was engrossed in her cards all the time, during our turns too, so she probably didn’t notice their length. Second, the game has an add-on that adds "Interrupts", so to speak, that add to your options to act during the other players’ turns. But since the main game is so sub-par, even if the add-on brings it up to par, it’s too late.

In Israel, at least when I was a child, there’s a culture of board-games. We have, or had, an Israeli company called “Kodkod”, which released games, and I think some of them were originals.
I’ve definitely played strategy games as a kid, I’ve played Talisman many times, I’ve seen used copies of Risk at the library (missing parts, so never got to play it), etc.

So people in Israel don’t see board-games as weird, and in recent years the german style board-games had also begun arriving. Anyway, I’m going to talk on one of the best-known board games across the world, The Settlers of Catan.

I’ve played my first game of this in an Israeli RPG/TCG/etc convention many years ago. I won BTW, then lost the second game we’ve played with different people, and each game went totally different.
In one game, there were like a total of 3 cards bought across the board, and in the other a lot more were bought.

Anyway, in this game you play a bunch of nobles who have towns and build roads, trying to gain control of the small island they are on. Resources are had by dice coming with territory numbers you have a settlement bordering, and rolling a 7 on a 2d6 results in “The Thief” coming to visit.

I’ve never played the game with its supplements, which I know I should. We’ve owned the game for about two years but didn’t get to play it at home yet, which fills me with great shame. Must cook up some board-game knight, even if once a month.

I much prefer playing the game as an ultra diplomatic game. A game where you make pacts with people, where you backstab people, where people try to stop other people when they realize it’s too late, except it’s… too late. In such a game, victory is also about strategy, but more about playing your fellow-players; identifying what your goals are, how to get others to aid you, how you can help them gain their goals without helping them too much or disrupting yourself, etc.
I’ve also seen games of it which sadly went the other way. People asking who needs something but not caring for any alliances at all, not caring to play it as a social game, but each player doing their own thing, and the trades being as impersonal as a face-less bid system.

I consider Settlers of Catan my board-game benchmark. It is not “The Perfect Game” that I deduce points from deviation to, but I think it is a very good game, if rather basic, and serves as a good game to compare other games to to see what they do different, and this sometimes helps identify what I like or dislike about them, both for being similar and for being different.

Score:, 4/5 wood for sheep. It’s entirely possible that after playing with the Knights and Castles add-on, which most people consider mandatory, I could only think of playing the basic game as an abomination not worthy of more than 2.5/5. But I’m not there yet.