December 5, 2013

A Designer’s Perspective on Audience Feedback

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When at BGGCON I was discussing game design with a friend and fellow game designer. He asked me what the biggest lesson was that I learned in the process of getting Hegemonic designed and published. I don’t think I had a very good answer to that question at the tip of my tongue. I believe I muttered something incoherent about streamlining mechanics or some other gibberish. I wasn’t satisfied with whatever it was I said, and I’ve been mulling over what I should have said ever since.

After a week or so, I’ve come up with the following answer, which is a little more insightful:

Realize that your game can’t be everything for everyone - even within the intended audience.

November 8, 2013

Of Finding Civilization in a Barn

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A few weeks ago I was rummaging around in a family friend’s barn where they have all manner of amazing stuff stored - as befits any proper barn. Heaped in a storage stall and buried beneath all types of barn-stuff were some decaying old crates filled with ….. BOARDGAMES!

And specifically boardgames from at least 25 years or more ago. This included a number of old wargames in giant foggy plastic bags (our family friend was apparently a wargamer in the old days), a copy of the 1976 Avalon Hill edition of Acquire and … wait for it … Civilization! I mentioned that Civ in particular might be worth something, and that regardless these shouldn’t be kept in the barn where all manner of calamities (no civ pun intended) that befall barns might begat upon the treasured games as well. He looked at me sideways and said … “why don’t you just take them”.

Begrudgingly I said thanks and accepted the games, promising to get at least some of them to the table and invite him over as well. He had never played his copy of Civ, and to my surprise it was only about 30% punched out. I started drooling.

So last night, in a rare more of quiet and solitude, I poured myself a gin-and-tonic, opened the box, lovingly punched out the components, imagined myself back in the year 1981 (except I was only 1 year old at that time!), cracked open the rules and got to seeing what all the Civ fuss was about.

November 5, 2013

Breaking the Shrink

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I had the pleasure of driving four hours yesterday to hand sign a modest number of copies of Hegemonic for Kickstarter backers with Minion Games. And a special thanks to Jeff, a local KS backer, for helping out during the signing bohnanza. Regardless, this was also the first chance I’ve had to look at the finished product and to break the shrink wrap off my own first game box. A surreal yet humbling experience seeing the culmination of many people’s hard work and diligence in seeing the game come to fruition.

If you’ve been following the Kickstarter campaign (or participated in it), you no doubt have caught a glimpse of the logistical and timing challenges associated with making games. It all sounds quite straightforward and easy on paper – yet the realities and timing considerations are myriad. The signing event took place at a warehouse/shipping/packing where Kickstarter orders are being organized, packaged up, and shipped out – and there is a lot to consider in how to best accomplish what amounts to 1000+ custom orders. It was all cool to see – especially the giant tower of games on pallet that represented ~400 copies and only a fraction of the total volume. Crazy!

October 10, 2013

Conflict Soup for the Gamer’s Soul

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This post was a key link in the Game Genome Project effort to characterize a particular dimension of games, in this case the level of competition in a game.  It has been a great reference post that clarifies my thinking on the topic quite nicely.  I hope you find it helpful as well.  (July 7, 2014)

Lewis Pulsipher's recent post, “Competition, direct conflict, wargames, and screwage games,” discussed the degree of conflict in a game. The post stirred up a number of prior conversations I’ve had on the topic, and in particular the thinking a number of us invested in the Game Genome Project – specifically in the “competitiveness” category.

I posted a reply to Lewis’ post summarizing my stance on the subject, but thought it could warrant additional conversation, clarifications, examples, and general blabbering. So here we go...

October 7, 2013

Emissary: A Study in Brain-burn and Emergence

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Hopefully this whole post doesn't come across as pompous - but here's the gist of what I'm talking about today: I designed a Decktet game called "Emissary" as a Hegemonic-inspired light 4X style game. And, having played quite a number of games so far, I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of "brain-burn" and also "emergence" that seems to be emanating from the game. Apologies for the self-indulgence - but that's how I feel about it, and it makes me excited.

So, I wanted to take a step back and look at the game through my critical-ish filters and articulate why it seems to induce brain-burn (in a good way mind you!) and emergent gameplay. All this in a game that plays in about 15 minutes per player (and supports 2-4 players). Maybe we can learn something along the way...

September 24, 2013

Hegemonic - A Pictorial History

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James Mathe from Minion Games received the first final production (retail) copy of Hegemonic from the printer, and took a number of unboxing photographs. All I can is that the game looks incredible. Hegemonic is a complex game with a lot of different pieces, and James did an outstanding job getting it all coordinated with the printer. I'm certainly inspired by what I see!

I thought it would be interesting to pause for a moment and do a little photo documentary of Hegemonic’s evolution from the early prototypes to the final copy, making note of some of the important events along the way.

The first steps for the design of Hegemonic occurred around September in 2010. In total, the process has taken roughly 3 years, with the game due to be shipping out to kickstarter backers later this fall.


September 12, 2013

Game Compulsion Disorder and the Call for Discipline Games

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This post started as a reply to Patrick Carroll’s recent blog post: Aha! So That's What I'm After!. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts, and after my reply snowballed into over a page of text, I figured I might as well go for it and make it blog post of its own. Here we go…
When playing a video game, a tough situation often comes up for me. I'm playing along and pause to reflect, asking myself "why the heck am I playing this?" What is it I'm getting out of the experience (if anything?).

I recently read an article from Keith Burgun's blog titled an "Anti-Videogame Manifesto" that I think you'll find insightful.

September 3, 2013

I’ve got my eye(s) on you!

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Since joining BGG I’ve kept a somewhat monstrous wishlist. It blossomed into 100+ affair creature early on when I had delusions of grandeur about how much gaming time I would have and how many awesome games there are to be found. What has happened though is that I use my wishlist as a memory aid more than anything – with a little bit of wishful thinking mixed in for good measure. For the most part, when I read a bunch of reviews about a game, get directed to check it out, or otherwise spend more than 15 seconds looking at the game entry, I usually add it to the wishlist.

The 1’s and 2’s on the list (the Must Haves and Love to Haves) are the only games I would consider actually buying, yet even then I’m not in any rush to do so. The fact of the matter is that I have more than enough games at the present moment that I’d like to play many more times before rushing off to purchase something new. Nevertheless, the 1’s and 2’s have had my interest sufficiently perked for one reason or another, maybe it was an awesome review or a photograph that just suckered me in (I’m a sucker for a beautiful design) and sold me on the game. Or it might be that the game is doing something clever or original and I just want to check it out so I can get a sense for the mechanics.

The 3’s (Like to Haves) are a big hodgepodge of stuff. Mostly, I wouldn’t consider buying any of these games outright, but if there was a too good to pass up deal or a favorable trade opportunity, I’d probably take it. Mostly, these are games I’d be happy to try should the opportunity present itself, but I’m not going to go out of my way either.

The 4’s and 5’s are basically the “long-term memory” vault – game’s I’ve examined at one point or another but really have no intention (or much interest) in actually playing. But there might be something about it that I want to refer back to in the future when I’m lying awake at night trying to remember, “what was that game with the thing that did this?.” If I’ve added it to my wishlish I can probably find it!

So, what is today’s post all about? I wanted to look at the top few games in my wishlist, the 1’s and 2’s (and a dash of the 3’s) and talk about what has me interested in each of them. 

July 24, 2013

What makes a Euro a Euro?

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Every so often (like every other day it seems) a topic comes up discussing what it is that makes a eurogame a eurogame, and not something else, you know like an Ameritrash game. Or a wargame. The reality is that there will never be a perfectly accurate definition or checklist of traits that makes a game part of one particular group or genre and not another. All the terms are too subjective and mutable, and frankly the discourse continues to evolve at a rapid rate, making it a challenge to pin things down as generalizations.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, in large part as a response to an older article, The Essence of Euro-style Games by Lewis Pulsipher at the Games Journal. His article discussed 13 points, which he felt broadly defined the eurogame. Since the time the article was written, 2006, I feel the list remains only partially valid as the cauldron of eurogames has grown immensely since that time, and in particular the complexity of many euro designs has increased markedly since then.

Really, Pulsipher’s article is more successful at defining a particular slice of the broader euro-game spectrum: the “German family game.” German family games started the whole eurogame phenomena - and many of the underlying tenants of German family game design remain signature aspects of eurogames today. Yet the early German family games were designed to fit a particular social niche (note the word “family” in the label) and breaking out of that context we’ve seen designs evolve in all kinds of directions, particularly in regard to complexity and game length, yet they all share a common ancestry.

So, this post is an attempt to “update” the list of traits that typically make a euro a euro – and not something else. But first, a disclaimer:

July 12, 2013

Critically Effective

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Samo’s thread, The thrill of (game) bashing., has generated some interesting discussion about the nature of boardgame criticism, an endlessly fascinating topic (to some of us anyway). I wanted to follow up with a few related thoughts of my own, aimed at established and aspiring boardgame critics – but also more generally to everyone, even outside of the context of boardgames.

The subject at hand is two-fold; first how to be an effective (or “constructive”) critic, and second (to a lesser extent) how to “take criticism.”

Professionally, I’m in the architectural/landscape design profession, working both in private practice as well as teaching graduate-level design and planning courses. In my view, the entire field of design (related to but different than purely artistic fields like fine art) is predicated on criticism; or in the verbiage we use “critique.” Criticism provides the mechanism to advance a specific design project and make it successful – as well as advancing the entire design field. It works a little like this:

July 10, 2013

For the Love of the Decktet

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This past father’s day a little package arrived in the mail, which contained the official Decktet book. I’ve owned a copy of the Decktet cards for about two years – and was mostly relying on the Decktet wiki to look up rules for games I heard about and wanted to try. But having the book itself has made all the difference in the world – and has somehow magnified my appreciation and love for the Decktet.

This post will reflect a little on the Decktet and some of the games I’ve played (and enjoyed). In addition, I wanted to use this opportunity to highlight a Decktet game I’m creating – one that is attempting to create a 4X / Civ style game using the Decktet; a tall order for a little deck of 45 cards.

June 17, 2013

Digital Kills the Physical Star

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There is an interesting debate raging over in THIS thread, which has to do with how much of the “video game” content related to iOS or other digital ports of boardgames is permitted (aka moderated) to permeate into BGG. This is one small manifestation of the watershed of changes the boardgaming hobby is experiencing as iOS and other digital implementations of boardgames continues to grow by leaps and bounds – and the pressures to come to terms with these changes will, I feel, continue to mount.

I’d prefer not to get into the policies of BGG and where content can or should land on the BGG/VGG divide. That’s a whole separate and specific topic to the Geek. Rather, I’d like to use the moment to talk about what the debate and the line between boardgame and video game represents for the future boardgames more broadly. And I have some questions in mind!

June 13, 2013

A View from My Lerkim

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This may or may not be the start of an intra-blog series where I blather on for a spell about what I’ve been up to in various arenas of the gaming hobby. Dr. Seuss references aside, consider it a companion piece to my Skunkwork posts – which talk about my current game design projects.

I’ll tackle a few different topics, so please feel free to chime in and let me know what strikes your fancy.

June 10, 2013

My Journey into Haunting Ambivalence

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Not to be outdone by fellow bloggers, I figured I’d post my own link to a Michael Barnes article that resonates well with me. The article “So Sick of Your Excuses” is a memorable tirade about the corporatization of the video game industry that routinely results in worse game products:

Michael Barnes wrote:
And maybe- just maybe, guys- gaming consumers aren’t Pavlovian idiots responding to your marketing. Maybe- just maybe- consumers should be respected instead of treated as marks for day one DLC scams, unasked for multiplayer, and used game lock-out tactics like online passes. Could it be that maybe people are starting to NOT want the shit you’re selling? Could it be that with more choices available, the guys that treat their customers like mindless trash are the ones seeing losses, failures, and missed expectations?

I’ve been a video gamer since the 80’s when I was a young little lad. Perhaps I have always look back with rose-tinted glasses, but for me the best moments of video gaming existed roughly in the 1997 to 2003 era. Since then, I really struggle to engage with most video games – despite high levels of initial interest. Perhaps it’s that I’m getting burnt out on most of the titles, or perhaps my expectations are off and I’ll never recapture the glory days. Or perhaps, it’s as M. Barnes says, and the games “just fucking suck.”

April 10, 2013

A Budding Infatuation with Game Systems

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I’ve found that I’m becoming more and more infatuated with abstract gaming systems, or at least the idea of them, since I haven’t dug too far into the possibilities. This all started with acquiring the Decktet and discovering a number of games that I enjoy, most notably Magnate, but I’ve also played Jacynth, Goblin Market, and Emu Ranchers. Beyond the Decktet, the things calling to me include IceHouse/Tree House, Piecepack, as well as possibilities unlocked with 6 suited decks such as the beautiful Blue Sea deck. And I’ve always appreciated traditional card games as well, Euchre, Rook, President (& Asshole), Golf in particular.

Part of my interest is driven by the idea that you can have this relatively compact set of components that can be used to play many different games, perhaps even a lifetimes worth. And the range of potential games spans across the whole gamut from heavy strategic games to light fillers. What’s not to love about it?

February 11, 2013

A Failure to End - Too much "What" and Not Enough "Why"

When it comes to games, I want gameplay genuinely deep in strategy. I want the question of what the best strategic choice is at a point in time to be significant. If there is always a clear path forward, the game isn’t about formulating a unique strategy to match the moment, it’s about following a prescriptive pathway. That’s not depth, its optimization. I don’t want to play Empire Manager: Spreadsheet Edition. I want to play Empire Uberlord: Mastermind Edition.

This post considers a number of things that I feel 4X games (computer games specifically) aim to achieve but routinely fail to deliver in the pursuit of “deep” gameplay. In large part, I believe this is a result of game developer’s spending too much time working out the “what” of gameplay instead of working out the “why”.

This is going to sound cynical and snarky, be prepared!

January 25, 2013

Searching the Depths: Strategy, Tactics, and the Deception of Complexity

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Ah, this was a fun - but tricky - post!  The thinking I developed here has carried with me well on my design endeavors as I try to accentuate and emphasize the strategic depth of a design without adding unjustified complexity.  It also clarifies, for me at least, some of the key distinctions between strategy and tactics and how those relate to goals and shaping the decision space of a game.  Enjoy! (July 3, 2014)

Gamers often discuss the concept of depth - and along with it strategy, tactics, and complexity - with a great deal of fervor. I am guilty as charged. For a while now, have been ruminating on the nature of depth and I how I have come to understand it. I’m driven by an interest in putting my thumb on what qualities in games tend to relate to depth; how our understanding of depth applies differentially to the concepts of strategy and tactics; and how the idea of uncertainty and complexity plays into the greater discourse on depth.

Earlier in my investigation of depth, I asked a few questions in this thread, and received many insightful replies. I will be quoting and referencing a number of the responses in the course of this blog post. But, I believe I’ve arrived at a point where I can put forth some basic hypotheses that summarize my thinking on the matter. And as with all my blog posts, this is merely the start of a new thread of inquiry - I’m interested to hear your reactions and how you may have been, or continue to be, searching for depth yourself.

January 8, 2013

My Collection After the End-of-the-World Didn’t Happen

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I’ve done a bit more speculation over the nature and make-up of my collection, following from my prior blog post (Collection Recollection). In particular, I was interested in sorting out all of my games into more-or-less discrete buckets building off the gestalt method described in the prior post. That is, to think about how different games can be classified in a way that’s easily understood from the context of “choosing what to play” based on what the gaming group “is in the mood for.”

Here’s the breakdown with descriptions in some arbitrarily logical order. Note that the categories also consider the importance of weight, as a function of rule complexity, strategic depth, time, or any combination thereof. I was also curious to split up my collection between what might be considered more mainstream (i.e. can you find it on the shelf of a big box store?) versus what is more in the “hobby” side of the line.