December 3, 2012

Never too Late to the Party! Skunkworks Update 2012

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Last year I made about post covering the current state of my various game design projects and where they stood. I thought it would be interesting to circle back again this year and see what ended up being worked on and what other ideas are on the cooker. Also – I can’t help this feeling that my designs and concepts are just a hare late to the party – that some idea I have ends up gelling in my mind at the same moment someone else releases a game aiming at something similar, either thematically or mechanically. Who is scanning my brain waves while I sleep? Reveal yourself! 

Anyway, onto the business at hand.

October 12, 2012

Collection Conjunction - What’s your Recollection?

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I haven’t been in the modern board gaming scene, with both feet, for very long. I played mostly video (PC) games over the years, did a few turns with Magic the Gathering (1993 to 1997 or so), and played Warhammer 40,000 (and related Games Workshop trappings) on and off for about 15 years.
I put one foot in the modern boardgame door circa 2000-2003. Games that got a lot of play time included Illuminati, Munchkin, Drakkon, Honor of the Samurai, and a handful others. These games don’t get the most love here on the Geek, so to appease the masses; yes we did play Settlers of Catan a few times. I also started designing a number of games during this period of time, mostly card based games.

I brought the other foot through about two years ago after stumbling upon the geek (fall 2010). I certainly knew about the assortment of modern boardgames having frequented various hobby stores over the years, but I didn’t really “know the scene” (you know what I mean?). Since finding BGG and getting into the hobby more I’ve built up my game collection, from about 50-60 to around 100 in total.

October 6, 2012

Hegemonic on Course for Publication!

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Good news for those who have been following the progress of Hegemonic’s design + development, the game has been picked up for publication by Minion Games!

Minion Games has released some great games, mostly recently The Manhattan Project, and I feel they will do a great job with Hegemonic. I will continue to be involved throughout the process of finalizing the design and other aspects of the production, which Minion Games and myself are both very excited about. Nothing is set as far as release a date goes, but we are aiming for somewhere in the latter half of 2013.

For the time being, I want to thank everyone who has given their input and feedback throughout the design process. The game would not be where it is today without your enthusiasm and encouragement, so please stay tuned for more updates and details in the months ahead!

Feel free to drop a line here or in this thread.

September 13, 2012

Modes of Thinking

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This post remains one of my favorites, and presents a framework for understanding how different games make us think differently.  The logic of the "modes of thinking"  still holds up well (I think so anyway!) and I often circle back to the diagram when thinking about a new game and where it fits. Enjoy! (June 25, 2014)

Often I find that attempting to write a blog post about one thing ends up leading to half a dozen other lines of inquiry, muddling the whole intent and clarity of the initial proposition. Most recently, I’ve been struggling to write a post about game collections and ways in which one might define unique “niches” within their collection that satisfy the requirements of particular (and preferred) gaming situations.

While no doubt that magnum opus will land on my blog eventually, in the meantime I want to consider one of the side roads of inquiry I found myself rambling along; specifically, the idea of “modes of thinking” in games. By modes of thinking, I mean what kind of thoughts/decisions/considerations do players need to make in a game and what are the associated mental resources?
In part, this concept was attempt to combine two traits under consideration in the game genome project; genre (as defined and explored by Selywth’s alternative classification system) and player skills, the individual faculties that are called upon when playing a game. In exploring various ways of grouping genres/skills, I came upon the broad of idea of “modes of thinking” as a way to understand the relative balance of skills that are required in different types of games, and by association what typical genres tend to be aligned with a particular set of skills and mode of thinking.

August 3, 2012

4X’ing the 4X’s

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This post is going to be about exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating some 4x games, which of course are games about exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating your way around the galaxy. See it all makes perfect sense!

Disclaimer: I love 4x games, but I’m also a dabbler in the genre. Much of this blog post will be filled with gross generalizations and conjecture. Proceed (and retaliate) at your own risk!

July 18, 2012

Great Expectations and the Enigma of Intent

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Let us begin with a question.

What role do our expectations and our perception of the creator’s intent play in our interpretation, enjoyment, and critique of a creative work?

This question can of course apply to all forms of media, but in terms of boardgames I’m trying to be more conscious and aware of my expectations as well as give more consideration to what I think the game’s “intent” is. By intent, I mean the kind of experience the game was designed to achieve.

A tendril I see swirling about a number of the critical discussions here on BGG and elsewhere is that “can’t we all just enjoy the games, who cares if it is bad/wrong/under-developed, if you had fun that’s all that matters!”

July 16, 2012

By the Numbers - BGG Rank Data + Analysis

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So I have a bit of a love affair with Excel. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m not a super mathy-type but I do enjoy working with statistics and thinking about data. Probably has something to do with my background in science eh?

Anyway, since I’ve been on BGG I’ve had a lot of interest in running some basic analysis on the game data, focused on the ranked games. While statistics can certainly be manipulated to say just about anything, I still find it intriguing to examine the numbers, make graphs, and pontificate on imagined importance.

So what have I done? I’ve assembled a massive excel file containing game data for all 8000+ ranked games in the BGG database. I’ve started whipping up some graphs below (which we will get into), but I’m also curious about what other people are interested in seeing. Any correlations between factors? Trends? Summary statistics?

July 3, 2012

Critical Collision Course: Kickstarter, Reviews, and Retorts of Course

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So I wasn’t planning on writing, but then I read THIS post, which led me to THIS article from Pete, which led me to THIS and THIS from Matt Thrower. It also related to THIS posdcast that I recently listened to, as well as THIS recent post from Drake and some of my own unwritten reactions from THIS conversation about “fun” (incidentally in reaction to THIS other post). Phew… Needless to say, my reply mushroomed into its own labyrinth with enough twists and turns that I felt it justified its existence as a blog post instead.

This is a bit rambling, but here we go!

June 19, 2012

The Choices We Make

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The title of this blog post is “The Choices We Make.” This statement is intended to explore two intertwined manifestations of the statement. First are the choices game designer’s make in how they sculpt a game to meet (and hopefully exceed) their intended goals for their design. Second are the choices players make during the game and how those choices are shaped by the game’s design.

More specifically, I want to talk about different scoring mechanisms/systems employed in games and how the quest for the right scoring mechanism in my own game, Hegemonic (not again!), has slowly progressed. The impetus for writing this was sparked by a reading of this article on the blog “Illuminating Games.” I will cover some of the same territory, but also go into more detail.

June 18, 2012

An Armature for Critique

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Since writing this article (originally posted July 18, 2012) I've since written a few longer reviews of my own over at BGG, and we've also held the second Voice of Experience contest, again making the call for more thoughtful and critical reviews.  I continue to stand-by my thinking described in this post - although a Ludology GameTek podcast on the topic of Criticism did provide another frame of reference.  Geoff made a distinction between a "Review," which is oriented more towards directing potential buyers towards a buy / no-buy decision, and "Critical Analysis," which takes a more scholarly approach to discussing a game in-depth irrespective of any purchasing considerations.  It's a worthwhile distinction to keep in mind - and the post below is perhaps providing more of a framework for Critical Analysis (as is Voice of Experience) than Reviews.  Although I'd be happy to see more critical thought brought into all reviews as well! (June, 24, 2014)

I was fortunate to be asked to participate on the Voice of Experience (VoE) Review Contest by none other than Martin G (who organized the whole shindig). The VoE contest, among other things, generated some excellent reviews and follow up discussion, in keeping with the Cult of the Critical’s goals to raise the bar on game critique and discussion.

The VoE contest also provided me with a lot of reflection time. I’ve been wanting to write more reviews of my own, as the only official review I’ve written thus far is my tongue-in-cheek review of Antke and perhaps my designers “preview” of Hegemonic’s Decision Space. In addition to those deviations, I have been thinking a lot over the past year how I would want to write reviews, what the focus would be on, what elements would be discussed, etc. This blog post will present a coalescing of many of these thoughts.

May 14, 2012

UltraCorps - The Boardgame That Isn't

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This review / strategy discussion of UltraCorps was published back in May 2012.  UltraCorps continues to maintained and hosted through Steve Jackson games.  It's interesting seeing other browser based 4X games come and go (Neptune's Pride 2 is a popular one at the moment).  I've played a number of them but UltraCorps is the one I keep going back to.  It is a great design and despite the old-school interface and UI design, remains a deep and interesting to play.  If you are up for a game, shoot me a tweet and we'll set one up! (June 11, 2014).

If you haven’t heard of UltraCorps, I’m not surprised. While it isn’t strictly speaking a boardgame, it IS a product of Steve Jackson Games, so that counts a little right?

UltraCorps is a free simultaneous turn-based, multiplayer browser/web game with a space conquest theme. I feel it is relevant to talk about here at BGG for a few reasons:

(1) The line between boardgame and video games is blurring rapidly, particularly with e-versions of boardgames becoming common place and online play for many boardgames a frequent occurrence.

(2) It’s quite an interesting game and one that I think would appeal to many people here based on the kind of gameplay and decisions that occur (mostly what this article is about).

(3) It demonstrates, rather nicely, how the depth and strategic of elements our many of our beloved boardgames can be augmented and implemented in interesting ways in a digital format.

April 10, 2012

The Rise of the Cult of the Slow and Critical?

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There has been a lot of conversation recently about the prevalence (or rather deficit) of more critical and "academic" discussions of boardgames across a number of avenues. Sources: (On Gamer's Games, 1), (On Gamer's Games, 2), (QWERTYUIOP, 1), (QWERTYUIOP, 2), (The Jaded Gamer, 1), (Opinioned Gamers Discussion)

To paraphrase some of the salient questions raised in these posts the ensuing discussions:
- If games are supposed to be fun, why are we taking them so seriously?
- What is valuable about a review?
- Who reads strategy guides anyways?
- Should we play 50 new (to me) games or 1 game 50 times? i.e. What's with the Cult of the New?
- How can we discuss games seriously when we don’t even have consistent terminology?
- Is BGG the right place to have critical/serious conversations?
- What’s next?

Of course opinions on the questions above vary dramatically among BGG users. In following many of these conversations, I’ve come to realize that I’m in a minority of BGG users in that that I look for deeper or more critical discussions of the boardgaming hobby and of specific games. I’m also in the camp of wanting to play fewer different games many times rather than inundating myself with every new game I can get my hands on. But while I’m in a minority, that minority isn’t insignificant. There are many who share the same perspective I do.

To help frame the issues, I want to step back and answer the questions above from a big picture standpoint, as I’ve come to understand it.

January 6, 2012

Towards a Science of Boardgames (Part I)

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This post was originally posted January 6, 2012 and was a landmark post for the blog.  It was a coalescing of many ideas I had come across as I dug into the hobby and the various was it was being sliced and diced.  I attempted to pull together a number of key points, from game classification schemes to mechanic categories, to ways of experiencing games.  The post generated a lot of traction for the blog - and in the aftermath helped spawn a number of spin-off initiatives aimed at further developing the "theories" put forth by this post.  Feel free to drop a comment or reflection! (June 10, 2014)

I’ve been on BGG for a little over a year, and I must say that I’ve learned a ton. The discussions, conversation, and support has been an immeasurable help for creating better games and getting a thorough understanding of the gaming community, exposure to new mechanics, industry environment ... and the list goes on (I guess this my personal thanks to BGG and the wonderful users!).

During this time, I’ve found myself intrigued by a few lines of conversation and discussion that pop up from time to time. I wanted to summarize a few of these threads and provide links back to the original discussions where appropriate. In many ways, these conversations, to me, aim towards the makings of a "science" of boardgames, complete with its own (possible) analytical tools, classification schemes, and technical vocabulary. The size of the BGG database, coupled with a very willing survey audience, opens up a lot of doors for scientific exploration.