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BoardGameGeek» Forums » Introduction » New User Questions

Subject: What the heck are "sand box" games? rss

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Charles Bame
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I'm not a new user, but this seems to be a new term that is appearing a lot and I can't find it in the glossary. Help?
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Off-the-cuff answer, it's when you have a lot of pieces and a lot of openness to develop something.
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Charles Bame
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Thank you. That makes sense in the context in which I saw it.
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Sam Carroll
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Some games feel like there's just a few possible paths to victory. In Puerto Rico, you can grow coffee or tobacco with the intent to trade it, get lots of money, and buy cool buildings; or you can grow corn with the intent to ship a lot of it quickly. Those are the only real possibilities.

A sandboxy game is the opposite: one where the game-space is open to you. Try doing x, y, z, or perhaps even q, and see how it works!
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Ben King
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I'd try to summarise this as being a game in which you have (in theory) complete control over the way in which you play the game. Usually this is somewhat limited in practice.

IE: the player is provided with a starting point / setup of some kind and 'set loose' within the game's environment.

See: Xia or Firefly: The Game

The phrase has its origins in computer gaming.

Edit: ninja'd three times!
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Martin Larouche
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Mostly games where on a given turn, you have a *very* large amount of options to play and there's multiple paths to victory.

In that context, you can do "whatever you want" and not be constrained. Hence the term "sandbox".
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Matt Smith

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Sandbox games are games where you are given a set of standards and rules and then told "go". Often every action in the game is available to you from the beginning, and the theme is heavy on exploration or development of your capabilities. Taking advantage of these actions or dedicating to one path out of many is typically how one earns points and it is usually a first to a certain number of points mentality, although it could also be a number of rounds as well. Great examples would be Merchants & Marauders or Xia: Legends of a Drift System. A lot of 4x games also fall under this category, but usually sandbox games deal with 1 person or unit in a big environment versus building a large civ.
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Brian M
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In theory, it means a game where you have a lot of different things you can do.

In practice, it's often a term used to excuse badly designed games that don't work well out of the box. "Oh, of course you have to make houserules, its a sandbox game!"
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Eric Nolan
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KingBen84 wrote:
The phrase has its origins in computer gaming.


The alternate type of experience in computer game terms is Theme Park.

The idea being that in one you get in and you do essentially the same thing as everyone else, you might go faster or choose to slide down feet first or head first, you might spend the whole time on the roller coaster and never go to the hedge maze but the basic experience available is the same for everyone.

A sand box is like being put down in a big (literal) sand box and if you ask "What do I do?" you get told "Whatever you like". Dig the deepest hole you can? Make a castle? See how much sand you can fit in your trousers? All up to you.

A sand box experience is more free form, but of course in a board game it is very unlikely to be completely free form so the terms aren't absolute.
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Andy Szymas
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Sand box games are the ameritrash equivalent of Point Salad games.
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wayne mathias
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The term evolved from "sandbox" environments for developers - you normally develop and test your website's Paypal API interface with a Paypal developers sandbox before implementing it with actual Paypal.

MMO games often have a sandbox, either when you are a new player and nobody can attack you for a bit or as a pure not actually part of the bigger game playground to play with the concepts - a demo, as it were - and sometimes just a less massive limited players version.
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Reed Dawley
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You are going to need some tonka trucks, a bucket (preferably shaped like a castle parapet) and the ability to make "vroooooooooom" noises with your mouth. Oh, and an actual sandbox.

From Video Games a sandbox game is a game that has a big world and you decide how to proceed through it. It is the antithesis of a JRPG, Final Fantasy 7 has a story that they move you through, finish the first area and for the most part you cant go back unless they want you to go back. Grand Theft Auto gives you a big city, a few mission locations and the ability to do what you want. You can do the missions and play the story of you can break into an airport, steal a plane, fly over the city and parachute onto a parking garage and steal a car and then drive it off the roof and try to run people down. It is your call.

I assume it is the same idea in a board game, give you a big space and you get to decide what to do and when you do it. Most games are relatively linear, do this or this on your turn and try to get points. I would say that it is tough to do in analog form, but maybe Xia or Eldritch Horror or Firefly, maybe are close. Big world, you get to choose what to do or not do, but they lack the video game component of being able to go and just break stuff on your own. Those would be the closest I could think of. My first games of Mage Knight were very sandbox like because I didn't know what I was doing so I wandered around and did stuff in a very illogical order.
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Humulus Lupulus
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In short, games where the decisions space is wide open. You have many possible actions available for you to choose from. They can be Euro games (Fields of Arle) or Ameritrash (Earth Reborn), so they are not limited to one genre. Players who suffer from AP would probably have a difficult time with such games.
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Barry Harvey
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I know the term from the early days of miniature wargaming where the sandbox actually sat on a table. The sand in a sandbox could be sculpted (with the help of a bit of water) to duplicate the terrain needed for a battle. Add some trees and buildings and voilà, the Battle of Balaclava.

This ability to change the environment in which you play without having to use permanent fixtures such as gameboards, as well as the fact that when finished with, you just rake it over and start again is the same idea as that used in software.
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gxnpt wrote:
The term evolved from "sandbox" environments for developers - you normally develop and test your website's Paypal API interface with a Paypal developers sandbox before implementing it with actual Paypal.

MMO games often have a sandbox, either when you are a new player and nobody can attack you for a bit or as a pure not actually part of the bigger game playground to play with the concepts - a demo, as it were - and sometimes just a less massive limited players version.


The term still has an element of this when describing certain board games, or at least, it does to me. In s sandbox game, you are almost being encouraged to test the limits of the game. Not so much, "do whatever you want" as "find out what you can do". it's a small distinction and it's probably shifted beyond that in general to just mean an open game for most people when they say it.
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Ben Rubinstein

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KingBen84 wrote:
I'd try to summarise this as being a game in which you have (in theory) complete control over the way in which you play the game. Usually this is somewhat limited in practice.

IE: the player is provided with a starting point / setup of some kind and 'set loose' within the game's environment.

See: Xia or Firefly: The Game

The phrase has its origins in computer gaming.

Edit: ninja'd three times!


I was going to bring up the computer game connection, too. I actually think the computer game application makes a whole lot more sense.

In computer gaming, it means a game where there is no set goal. It is merely a set of rules & mechanisms in which a player can explore & enjoy themselves the way they want. I.e. kids playing in a sandbox as opposed to a game with a winner.

This rarely ever applies to board games. The only exception I can think of is something like Tales of the Arabian Nights, where people are rarely concerned with a winner.
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Robert Wesley
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caracfergus wrote:
I know the term from the early days of miniature wargaming where the sandbox actually sat on a table. The sand in a sandbox could be sculpted (with the help of a bit of water) to duplicate the terrain needed for a battle. Add some trees and buildings and voilà, the Battle of Balaclava.

This ability to change the environment in which you play without having to use permanent fixtures such as gameboards, as well as the fact that when finished with, you just rake it over and start again is the same idea as that used in software.
"Sand Box/Table" were used in 'Military applications' as a means or portraying the "locale environs" for a particular Operation being planned upon there. I watched that shown being utilized in this manner within the movie "A Bright Shining Lie" about Vietnam for such. During WW2 et al, much more elaborate and accurately displayed 'features' would be depicted since they wanted to cover all of them from which to "familiarize" and provide 'visual orientations' for those about to embark unto theirs.
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Robert Wesley
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AndySzy wrote:
Sand box games are the ameritrash equivalent of Point Salad games.
blush Which is MOST 'upsetting' of a player performing: "Tossed Ameritrash or Point Salad GAME?" whistle
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Matt D
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Hrm. Interesting that the term has been co-opted? by the board game community to mean something different -- and seemingly perjorative?

In my experience, a "sand box" game was used most often in video games to represent a game like Grand Theft Auto where the game didn't have a linear path that you had to follow. There may be a progression of a story, but you could deviate from it entirely. The Elder Scrolls (Core Series) is another great example, versus something like Super Mario Bros. where you went literally from left to right, until you ended a level, and then moved sequentially to the next.

The opposite would be a rail shooter, which is like an "Area 42" or "House of the Dead", one of those stand up arcade games where you are holding a gun and the game moves you through the world and you are just shooting. Where you have literally no control of where you go.

In some respects, a "sand box" represented an open world where you sort of did whatever you wanted in whatever order you wanted.

How many board games really embody this approach? I mean, most games you advance through rounds sequentially...you might do different things and have different paths to victory, but a sandbox?

To me, the only game that really comes to mind as close to that is 504 or something like Piecepack, where it's more a collection of "parts" that you can use to make a game. And even that isn't really I don't think appropos - a sandbox game does have consistent rules and just evolves as you play, not necessarily just something that can be built in various ways.

Frankly, closest thing to a Sandbox IMO is Tabletop Simulator, which is literally a sand box physics engine.
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Charles Bame
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Thank you everyone, for the timely, interesting replies.
 
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David Gibbs
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It's a game that is the opposite of a railroad game.

Perhaps the ultimate "sandbox" is a well-run roleplaying game, where the players make decisions in a world, and the game-master handles the decisions and moves the world around according to those decisions. And, the players have most any possible decision available to them.

The opposite being a game that is "on rails" -- you're going one way, and only one way, and that's it. You might get there faster/slower, but there are no branches along the way.

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John "Omega" Williams
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dagibbs wrote:
Perhaps the ultimate "sandbox" is a well-run roleplaying game, where the players make decisions in a world, and the game-master handles the decisions and moves the world around according to those decisions. And, the players have most any possible decision available to them.



This would not be a sandbox either. Its just another railroad, except driven by the players instead of the GM.

In an tabletop RPG a sanbox would be where the players are free to explore as they please. But the world is in motion and their actions might impact events later. Or they might miss things happening simply because they were off elsewhere.
 
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David Gibbs
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Omega2064 wrote:
dagibbs wrote:
Perhaps the ultimate "sandbox" is a well-run roleplaying game, where the players make decisions in a world, and the game-master handles the decisions and moves the world around according to those decisions. And, the players have most any possible decision available to them.



This would not be a sandbox either. Its just another railroad, except driven by the players instead of the GM.

In an tabletop RPG a sanbox would be where the players are free to explore as they please. But the world is in motion and their actions might impact events later. Or they might miss things happening simply because they were off elsewhere.


I think we're both trying to describe the same idea -- player's actions and the results are not tightly-bounded by some pre-set or planned set of results, but allowed interaction and dynamic branching. I may just have not described it well.
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Walt
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Omega2064 wrote:
dagibbs wrote:
Perhaps the ultimate "sandbox" is a well-run roleplaying game, where the players make decisions in a world, and the game-master handles the decisions and moves the world around according to those decisions. And, the players have most any possible decision available to them.

This would not be a sandbox either. Its just another railroad, except driven by the players instead of the GM.

I have to strongly disagree. Railroading RPG players is making them follow a particular plot, decided in advance by the GM, or given in a play module. Decisions may be made, but they won't change the basic plot.

I also fail to see a meaningful difference between dagibbs' statement and yours:
Omega2064 wrote:
In an tabletop RPG a sanbox would be where the players are free to explore as they please. But the world is in motion and their actions might impact events later. Or they might miss things happening simply because they were off elsewhere.

In terms of board games, while sandbox is used hyperbolically to describe games with a lot of choice, a real sandbox would be, for instance, throwing out the end game conditions for conditions the player(s) set themselves, or no end condition at all.

For example RftG (either) could be played until all the cards/tiles/chits were completely consumed or played until someone managed 10 VP in a turn or whatever.
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