Recently on another game design blog there was a debate about whether a designer should accommodate poor player decisions in the game design. Although it was not the topic of the original article, the discussion veered into new territory (as they often do). I pointed to my article Eliminating Player Elimination where one of my points is that the designer takes on a higher challenge and risk by keeping players in the game (rather than eliminating them) because those players need to be engaged in the game to the end. The idea that the designer is responsible for prompting this engagement was challenged by one of the commenters and, in particular, my light-hearted description of behaviors that bored losers will exhibit was criticized with the following. (Paraphrasing…)
In this round I will try to address two seemingly unrelated observations: The “1” Action (Reveal/Peek at any card) does not get used much and a player may run out of time sooner than they want. According to the major objectives for this game, both of these observations may not be recognizing negative conditions, but they may be more pronounced than desired. Let’s break them down a bit into what is actually positive about these observations and what might be negative:
A few words about the playtesting approach are in order so they are not necessary in every posting. While the specific variations in this makeover are relatively simple, a valuable aspect of this makeover is to review the testing approach to a highly variable game.
For playtesting an individual mechanic, I am introducing what I call a “Gamelet.” A gamelet (like an applet compared to an application) is a mini-game in the sense that it does the functions of a game, but in a very narrow sense. A good gamelet will exercise one mechanic in a very limited sense. In this case there are also Attributes that impact the operation of the mechanic. So there is a grid of Attributes and Gamelets to test if each attribute is tested separately.
Category Focus: Economic Games
Now that we understand a little about the categories available on BGG to direct our study, it is time to dive into our first one; Economic Games. Fortunately, BGG has an Economic game category, so our challenge is partly met already. However, we might also consider the question, “What makes an “Economic” game?” A recent Board Game Hour discussion revolved around “Business” games. Are all Economic games Business games and vice versa? Maybe not, but some other game categories and mechanics were mentioned in that discussion to identify a “Business” game that may be relevant, so I’ll take a look at those attributes as well.
Expansions come in many varieties and those variations can be described in various ways. While researching my article on Hobby Game Trends 2000-2014, I had to decide whether or not to include expansions in my data. This decision caused me to consider the question, “What is an expansion?” One categorization criterion is what the expansion does to the original game – how it expands the game. Keeping in tune with game descriptions, I’ve categorized expansions into 4 X categories.
Categories Focus: Expansions
As with fans of the movie or TV industry (one I am most familiar with), in the game publishing industry it is common to hear from consumers, “They don’t make anything new anymore. They just keep making serials/add-ons/expansions.” Is there any truth to that sentiment? Before we get into some deeper analysis of specific game categories, let’s take a look at expansions.
Board Game Hour is a little difficult to describe within my limited categories for resources. It is a weekly meet-up on Twitter to discuss board games and board game design. The meet-up is hosted on Nurph and moderated by the Minister of Board Games himself, Nate Brett. The “Hour” of interest is every Monday at: 7pm GMT (which I mention first since the Minister is in the UK). This translates to 2pm EST, 1pm CST, 12pm MST (which works great for me so I can join on my lunch hour), and 11am PST. Note: The time gets a little wonky at the time changes since the UK observes Daylight Savings Time differently than the US.
The League of GameMakers is a growing group of designer/writers across the spectrum of game design. The authors are authentic and active in the comments and their articles interesting. There is a good dialog about game design concepts and some very helpful information on this site.
Categories and Classifications
A very common and expected next step in a market analysis is to classify and categorize the data to make comparisons.
At a Glance
Breaking down the release data by game category seems like a relatively simple process, but it gets sticky quickly.
For the record, my complete title for this game mechanic to makeover is “Dice in a Cup,” but for brevity sake, I will often just call it “n Dice” where n is the number of dice rolled. The working title of the game that tests the mechanics in this makeover is called “Challenge Dice.”
Of the game design and development resources I have highlighted so far, this is the first that is a person rather than a brand. This is done with no intended slight to those highlighted previously; there are real people behind each one of them and in all cases a very small number of people (usually 2-4) behind each. What makes this case special is when I set out to write up this mention, I was at a loss to describe it in any way other than as Jamey himself.
As stated in my other articles looking forward through 2015, I am not so interested in making New Years’ resolutions as setting some loose goals for the year. Keeping in step with 2014 here are a few:
The New Year is an obvious time for reflection, so please excuse the navel-gazing.
This was the first year that I had any specific goals related to game design that I set out to achieve. Sure, there were several times in my life that I tinkered with game design and even constructed substantial prototypes, but I built those to play with friends or to train my mind. In December 2013 I decided that I was going to make an honest attempt at completing some of my game designs. By “completing” I meant making multiple thorough ideation-design-build-test iterations with the intent of developing a quality, marketable game. Having been supportive of several games on Kickstarter by that time, the power of possibility had grown enough that I was going to make the investment. By that time I had a couple new game ideas and one that I had iterated through 3 or 4 prototypes.
I love a game with theme, but a theme without a mechanic is a story, not a game. I also love logic problems, but a logic problem without a mechanic is a puzzle. A game is many things, but ultimately what makes it a game is its mechanic(s) and what makes a good game is good mechanics. (OK. Maybe overstated, but this is the Mechanics section, right!?)
Although I was working on my current game designs much earlier and planning for my foray into the industry, I essentially started Opie Games in January 2014 so it seems natural (in addition to the new year) to review what has been accomplished through Opie Games in 2014 now. As identified on the About page, “Opie Games is the home of table top game designs and musings by John Parker and links to resources that may be helpful to the beginning designer or the person with an affinity toward table top games. Hopefully, you find the content here interesting.”
The easiest statement about what Opie Games has planned for 2015 is, “more of what we did in 2014.” Obviously, generally I would like to do everything better, too. A few, more exact, 2015 objectives are:
It is important for me and for Opie Games to be a supporter of the table top gaming community and we are always looking for opportunities. I don’t want to create a long list of goals for 2015, but have a few that are worth noting with some activities or approaches that will help me achieve them:
As mentioned in the 2014 Review: Playin’ Games, I have not previously committed to a gaming goal in the past. I am not one much for New Years’ resolutions – they typically disappoint – but at the same time understand the need to set goals periodically. I just try to set shorter term goals more regularly than annually. I might be disappointed more frequently, but at least none of those missed goals are major. So without setting specific goals for playing games in 2015, here are a few of my desired outcomes and some ideas about making them happen:
Although the expertise and focus of Opie Games is not to analyze the game publishing industry, as we design and develop games we are considering the current marketplace when deciding which game designs to pursue. Time to design is always a limiting factor, if not the most limiting, so working on something for which the market is quickly diminishing or is over-crowded may be equally wasted. These studies may also be helpful in providing information for a pitch, to differentiate what Opie Games has designed from what is available. How this information is not being use is to determine what game to start thinking about. Ideation is upstream of this process.
Survey and analyze (to the extent reasonably possible) the game publishing industry to:
- Inform the Opie Games process decisions from design into development.
- Become knowledgeable about the game publishing aspect of the table top game industry.
- Identify game publishing trends to forecast the market needs of the near term future.
- Provide the game design and development community information that maybe helpful on its own or may seed further analysis.
Hopefully, you will find this analysis interesting and helpful in your own forays into the game publishing industry.
Annual New Releases
Before we can begin evaluating any particular subset of games released (by category, genre, mechanic, etc.), we first need to establish a baseline for total games released.
A study of the hobby game market should naturally start with an analysis of the companies publishing hobby games. Given the lack of public information about publishers and distribution volumes previously described I can at best provide a survey and more speculation to add to what is already available.
The card and board game design and publishing industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. Some might call it a boom, some might worry that it is a bubble, and some optimists (like me) say it is only the beginning. Beyond the sheer quantity of cardboard distributed, the number of new releases is also rising and some argue that the general quality of design and production is improving; they suggest that we are in the “Golden Years” of game design.
I started 2014 with the intent to get more involved in the card and board gaming community and to try to provide some value to it. Hopefully I have made at least a start in that direction and some minor accomplishments. So, what did I do in 2014 to advance the hobby?
A whole year’s worth of gaming reviewed in one blog post. Hmm. Could be a long one. Note: I wouldn’t consider this a review of the games so much as a review of my experiences with them.
I started tracking my plays on BGG in January 2014, so I can report on the games that I played and the ones that didn’t get any attention. It wasn’t until later in the year that I heard about various challenges gamers set for themselves like “10 x 10” and “H-Index of 14 in ‘14” so I did not start the year with any such goals. Mostly I was just curious about how many games I would actually play, but I suppose I also wanted to see what games were getting the most plays and compare that to the ones that, by recollection, were providing the most entertainment.
At the risk of falling into complete nerdom, a little analysis of the year’s plays follows.
Game Mechanics is a chapter in the Game Design notebook that focuses on various game mechanics.
In the exploration into new game designs I will certainly come upon ideas that have been tried, successfully and not, in other games. I also just might come upon some ideas that are "new"; that is, new to me or not well known. This notebook will document some of that exploration.
Explore game design "ideas" and post any research and insights regarding:
- Game Design Process
- Game Genres/Classes
- Game Components
- Game Setup
- Game Mechanics
- Victory/Winning Conditions
- Game Design Tools
- Game Design Resources
Hopefully, you will find this discovery process interesting and maybe even gain some inspiration from it.