Lewis Pulsipher(lewpuls)United States
Three development paths for Britannia-like games
On the occasion of the Kickstarter for a reissue of my game Britannia https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1992455033/lew-pulsiphe..., I had some thoughts about the different ways development has gone for Britannia-like games. The reissue shows some of this, with plastic figures and other improvements in the interface but no changes in the rules, along with a two player newly-designed Duel Britannia that takes me 65 to 75 minutes to play.
Britannia was originally published in 1986 by HP Gibsons in the United Kingdom. It was picked up by Avalon Hill and published in 1987. (I had submitted it to Avalon Hill a few years before, but they told me that games of that era didn’t sell. Evidently Gibsons proved to them that they could sell.)
To make a long story short, I was not participating in the game hobby at this time, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons and making additions for Dungeons & Dragons to use with my friends, period. When I received a couple copies of Britannia from Gibsons I opened the box, looked at the contents, said “that’s nice” and did not actually see a published version of the game played until 2004.
In all that time some people liked the Britannia game system and adapted it to other situations. I think the first was the Avalon Hill Maharajah, which came close to being a slavish copy except that it was set in India. And went into the gunpowder age (which I would not do). So it continued the simplicity but considerable length of the parent game. This is the first branch of Britannia development. Other semi-commercial games such as the Dragon and the Pearl and Rus followed the same path. I’ve designed Normannia originally in this development path. I designed my prototype Caledonia as a somewhat cutdown version of Britannia, but I think I’m going to reduce it to the small development path.
But with Hispania we saw another branch of development, the bigger and more complex game. Where Britannia has about 200 pieces, games in this branch have over 500; where Britannia has only armies and cavalry and leaders, this kind of game adds elite units and sometimes fleets. More recently, Italia, by the same designer, continued this branch, and in the past year we have had a Kickstarter for Invasions (of Europe) by French designer Philippe Thibault. He has ready a successor chronologically to that game as well. These games violate my philosophy of design, which relies on simpler games where the players can play the other players. Or as Albert Einstein put it, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Or at least so I thought at the time, though I’ve since found that I can make games much simpler than Britannia.
My own prototypes “MegaBrit,” Dark Ages, and Helennia, use a larger form though not with as many pieces. More recently a Spanish designer designed Corsica, with more than 500 pieces, which is scheduled to be published, probably next year.
Of course, I was designing Britannia in the early 1980s, when long games were much more acceptable than today. (I made an all-of-Europe prototype during that period but the one time we played it (1980) we took 12 hours, so I set it aside and forgot it until I found the prototype 30 years later.) When I heard from the Mayfair guys at a convention that they were working on a “broad market” version of Catan (later published as Catan Junior) I said to myself, “I ought to try doing that for Britannia.” After quite a few years I ended up with Conquer Britannia which has just 12 nations and six turns and has been played in as little as 84 minutes. This is the third path, to make the game much simpler and smaller. (This requires a new board; in the late 2000s I designed a version of Britannia to play on the original board in a couple hours, as an expansion, but Fantasyflightgames who had published the Second Edition were not interested in the expansions.) There are something like 18 to 20 land areas on the Conquer board compared with 37 on the original board.
Having more or less perfected this method I have gone on to make prototypes for Frankia (also diceless), Barbaria (Europe from 410 to 1250 in six turns, has been played in 1:40), Rule Britannia (diceless), and have others in mind. And of course, when I got the assignment to design a two player 60 to 90 minute version of Britannia itself, which became Duel Britannia.
Why would anyone make these massive games like Hispania and Invasions? May as well ask why people make Monster wargames (though the reasons are different). I suppose because they can; but I also suspect that the smaller the game is, the harder it is to balance. By including lots of units and lots of everything you have a game that’s easier to balance, and yet can show more detail. I think that’s probably a general balance rule for asymmetric games. Furthermore, individual nations may be more survivable/less likely to suffer a great disaster when they have more armies, and some players may prefer that.
From a marketing point of view the smaller game path makes much more sense for modern gamers, many of whom say they can’t handle even a three-hour game (although you can see many of those same people play a three-hour game if they’re enjoying it and if it has enough substance). Yet Thibault’s kickstarter for Invasions got 900 backers. (I suspect the French are more willing to play 80s style games than Americans are.)
Some years ago, when I was developing the “small” style, I made tables that used various formulas of multiplication using nations, areas, and turns, to try to focus on what would help make a game “small”. But the following table is more informative.
Characteristics of Brit-like Games:
Original “Big-huge” “Small”/Broad Mkt
Number of armies About 200 400-500 or more 100 or less
Number of turns 16 16 or more 6 or 7
Areas on board 37 + 4 sea 50 to over 100 18-25
Number of Nations 17 Several dozen 12 or fewer
Use Figures? Cardboard; Latest Brit uses figures
Too many armies for figures, practically
Designed to use figures
Timescale Does not seem to matter, but usually centuries
Not every game is going to conform in every category, of course. I can see making a Small game that has more than 12 nations, for example. Or a Big-huge game with only 17 or 20 nations.
This blog contains comments by Dr. Lewis Pulsipher about tabletop games he is designing or has designed in the past, as well as comments on game design (tabletop and video) in general. It repeats his blog at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/
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(This appeared originally and recently in Diplomacy World #144)
People involved in creation of something out of nothing really do get their ideas in odd places, sometimes. I get a significant “input” to my game design when I’m in the shower and while I’m lying awake in bed. This idea popped into my head at “Oh Dark Hundred” recently.
A little introduction might help. My most well-known game is Britannia (1986 and later), and there’s going to be a reprint with plastic figures in the next year or so. To go along with that, the publishers wanted me to make a two player version of the game that lasted 60 to 90 minutes (Britannia itself is 4 to 5 hours.) I’m surprised and pleased at how well it has come out. It uses a new board, lasts 65 to 75 minutes, and is recognizably Britannia-like.
So it’s not surprising that now my thoughts occasionally turn to creating two player versions of games for more than two (Britannia has four players). Usually this is my own games, but this morning it was Diplomacy.
Insofar as the essence of Diplomacy is playing against the other players, a two player game cannot be Diplomacy. In other words, Diplomacy is about the psychological part of the game and much less about the game system. Yet the “Gunboat Diplomacy” variant has been popular, and that’s a game where any negotiation is prohibited. With two players, much of the psychology is gone.
So, I said to myself, if we’re going to abandon the essence of the game anyway, what can we do to change the game to make it more interesting for two players? Because with two players it would be a sort of a chess match that depended on who guessed best in the strategic/tactical part of the game, and would be devilishly difficult to balance fairly.
By removing the multiplayer aspect we remove much of the uncertainty of the game: with two players you can minimax it, you can assume the other player is perfect and play accordingly to maximize your minimum gain as in the premise behind the mathematical theory of games. Chess, Go, Checkers survive the situation because they are too complex to be solved by humans, though all three are played better by computers now than by the best humans. That’s not desirable, so I would replace the uncertainty of more than two players with two things: dice in combat and event cards.
Now I can hear many people sucking in a deep (dismayed?) breath at the idea of overt chance elements in the game, but I’ve explained why I think it’s necessary, and I have a dice combat system that would only mildly affect things but would provide an element of unpredictability. That method is that you roll one die per Army or fleet in the combat, including supports. The side with a higher sum wins the combat, with ties going to the defender most likely (or rerolled if both sides are attacking), but that’s something that would be determined in testing.
For example, a supported army (two) attacks an unsupported army (one). Rolls are 4,5 for the attackers, so the defender cannot win (can’t get more than a 6).
Occasionally a two on one would not dislodge the defender because the defender wins (or ties) the dice rolls. And in rare instances even a 3 to 1 attack might fail. On the other hand, a two versus three attack would occasionally succeed. The biggest change here would be that one-to-one attacks would sometimes succeed. (One vs one, 15 wins for each side plus 6 ties. If ties go to defender (assuming there is a defender rather than both moving), that’s 21 vs 15 (7 to 5). Two vs one results: 15 ties, 21 wins for the weaker, 180 wins for the stronger. If ties go to weaker, it’s 180 to 36.)
I use this method in Eurasia (name likely to change to something like Surge of Empires), which is scheduled to be published sometime.
Another way to provide variance in combat would be to use combat cards rather than dice. Each player would have the same set of cards, but different ones in hand at different times, and it would be a guessing element involved in whether you play a strong card or weak card to add to the combat (there are also some special cards). I use such a method in several games but I’m not going to go into it here.
I don’t know if event cards would be necessary, and I haven’t tried to come up with any kind of scheme. But event cards are a way to add interest and variation to a game that the players can control in a way that they cannot control the dice, though with dice they can play to take account of probability.
The other point of uncertainty/variance would be in selection of the sides. While lying in bed I tried to think of an entirely fair three versus three and didn’t get very far. I’d probably use a combination of selection and chance to assign countries. The first player would choose a country, the second player would choose two countries, the third player would choose a second country. The third country that each received would be determined randomly from the three remaining. And for the one that was not controlled by either player, we could use a method known in some Diplomacy variants, where the players write orders (say, five of them?) for the units of the uncontrolled country. They can allocate all five (identical) orders to one unit or spread them amongst the units. If a unit received a majority of the same order then it would execute that order. Of course, you could go further and do that for all three countries that the players had not themselves selected.
How long would this game take the play? I should think it would hit that magic 60 to 90 minute length that is commonly desired nowadays in wargames, if not to the victory criterion then certainly to a point where one player resigns. It would be quicker, of course, if you had some electronic method of giving orders/moving the pieces. Handwriting orders for two or three countries takes a while.
I said “idle” in the title because this is not a game I’m going to develop, as it has no commercial possibilities for standalone publication, and I have many standalone games of my own that I need to work on. It would be interesting to try, if I didn’t have so many other prototype games that need playing. If you do happen to try it, please let me know how it goes. My email handle is lewpuls, and I use gmail.
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27 Feb 2018
A Board Game that only Uses Cards, OR,
What Matters is Function, not Appearance OR
How to make a board game that costs you a lot less
My game Hastings 1066, about the famous battle where William of Normandy conquered England, is a board game in disguise. It functions as a board game, yet uses cards, with the result that it costs buyers a lot less than if a physical board were included. Yet I’m told by a publisher that wargamers don’t generally care for card games. I think I understand why, but the objections do not apply to Hastings 1066.
When most gamers think of “card games” they think of Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon. These are a combination of slick marketing scheme and appeal to children, so it’s not surprising that wargamers (who tend to be older people, often Baby Boomers, who don’t “get hooked” on things) are put off. Moreover, these games make more revenue than all other kinds of tabletop games put together. MtG alone makes more than all board games combined. (Figures from IcV2, US and Canada only.)
Moreover, collectible card games (CCG), certainly the three I’ve mentioned, are far from depicting warfare. There is no maneuver, next to no geospatial relationships. Perhaps that makes a little sense in a wizard’s duel (though I don’t think so), but you cannot depict battles that way. "Battles are won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the general, the more he contributes in manoeuvre, the less he demands in slaughter." --Sir Winston Churchill
If you’re not depicting maneuver (and the geospatial relationships that make maneuver meaningful/possible) then you can’t depict battles – and it’s hard to depict wars. We can’t model wars in games, we model generalship, but without maneuver there is no generalship.
Wargamers may also feel that card games are “taking over,” and they don’t like it. I recall walking around the dozen tables in use at a big meeting of the NC State Tabletop Gamers, noticing that every game being played (none of them a CCG) was primarily a card game, and the only board game was the one being playtested at my table.
Not surprising that wargamers would rather not have deal with card games.
The Board Function
The fallacy of this perception is that you can use cards without a physical board to depict maneuver and geospatial relationships, as in my game. In practice, Hastings 1066 is a board game, not a card game, that happens to use cards for units rather than using blocks or tiny counters.
The purpose of using a board in games, originally, was to depict maneuver (or placement) and geospatial relationships. Think of Chess, Checkers, Go, even race games such as Pacheesi and Backgammon. They’d be very difficult or impossible to play without a board. What’s important is not the physical board itself, but the depiction and control of maneuver/placement and spatial relationships. It’s the function that counts in the game, not the appearance. (Computer Civilization, for example, is a board game.)
A board game isn’t a game that uses a board; many games that use a board are only tracking various statuses that could be tracked as easily in other ways. For example, some of the recent Munchkin (deluxe) versions have a board, but all it does (in Zombie Munchkins at least) is to track the experience level of each player. This has been done in other (non-board) ways for many years. Is Zombie Munchkin a board game? Not only no, but “Hell No.” The appearance is of a board, but the function is not.
Hastings 1066 uses cards for double duty, as units and as the board (in conjunction with two strips of cardboard). The layout looks like a grid.
I could have used a board with that same grid, but that would have raised the price of the game drastically. A board is the most expensive part of a board game, and if it’s a mounted board, it requires use of a much larger box. Mounted boards are printed in 11 by 11 inch segments; that requires an 11.5 by 11.5 inch box. The larger box costs significantly more than a smaller box.
Moreover, Hastings is not only a deck of cards. There are the map strips, the cubes for marking arrow wounds, and the markers for William and Harold. Those components would be the same if it were a “board” game.
CCGs vs Hastings
A comparison of Hastings with CCGs shows great differences. CCGs are usually “special powers card games”, as I call them for lack of a better name. Each card has a different exception to the standard rules. They tend to be tactical games, and rely on combos for much of the interest. My game uses no combos or exceptions, though it is tactical as any game about a singe battle is likely to be. It is much more like a board game than a CCG.
In appearance, CCG cards have tiny text and numbers. Everything you need to see in Hastings is in large print on an uncluttered card.
I’ve designed a number of card games, but none of them in the CCG category, nor in the special-powers-combo style. Yet wargamers may tend to assume that a card game is CCG/combo style.
As an example of the latter, recently a game called “Tears to Many Mothers” (really?) that is ostensibly about the Battle of Hastings was Kickstarted. But if I can judge from its Kickstarter, it’s a special-powers game with virtually no maneuver or geospatial relationships. That is, it cannot be a wargame despite the supposed topic. But with gorgeous artwork, and an audience on Kickstarter that tends to like gorgeous art (and special powers combo games), it Kickstarted very well. Wargamers, however, might point to it as “what’s wrong with card games”.
Pay attention to the components of a game that count. It’s function, not appearance, that determines whether it’s a good game to play.
Another topic that comes to mind is microgames. These were popular board games of the 1970s and eighties. The most popular was Steve Jackson’s Ogre in 1977, while my game Dragon Rage (1982) was another. These games had thin, tiny unit counters and cardboard boards, and originally came in a plastic bag (DRage was in a small box). You could carry them with you and play (most of) them in less than an hour. Yet they were fully functioning board games, usually for just two players.
Microgames disappeared a long time ago - people no longer accept thin, tiny cardboard units. They have largely been replaced in the market by card games, CCGs and otherwise. DRage cost $10 in 1982, which is equivalent after inflation to $25.42 in January 2018. A $5.95 game from 1970 would be $37.82 today (big inflation in the mid-70s). The pre-order price for Hastings is $24 (same as the Kickstarter price), MSRP is $35. Hastings 1066 is an example of a “new” microgame, something you can carry with you and play quickly when you have a little time.
Dragon Rage was reissued in 2011 with large, thick cardboard pieces, a mounted board, and an additional map and scenarios on the other side of the board. It cost more than three times the $24. Hastings 1066 could have been made much more expensively, but it would no longer fit that niche of a board game microgame.
The Kickstarter for Hastings 1066 ends tomorrow (Wednesday Feb 28). https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/hastings-106...
Preorder (version with black core French Linen cards only available via KS) at: https://worthingtonpublishing.com/?product=hastings-1066-pre...
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My vaguely Stratego-like game Doomstar (video version of unpublished tabletop game) was released on Steam September 16. Another, (tabletop) Pacific Convoy, is supposed to be published by Worthington Publishing, though one can never be certain about such things.
Continuing to move further from Stratego/L'Attaque (from which Stratego itself closely derives), I'm trying to create a Steampunk game "The War in the Air", that will use plastic figures with numbers on the bottom, reminiscent of the old comic-book-ad game Convoy Terror (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/14486/convoy-terror). In Convoy Terror there were several different sculpts of ships, for example, a set of destroyers, a set of cruisers, and a set of submarines. But the strength numbers on the bottom of each cruiser differed from one another, as did the strength numbers on the bottom of the destroyers, though you could be sure that a cruiser could beat a destroyer. The ships moved on a rectangular map in rectangular locations, but it amounted to the same kind of board as Stratego. If you think about it, though, you gained a lot of information from being able to see the difference between a submarine, cargo ship, battleship (there was only one), etc.
What I intend is to use baroque steampunk notions, such as dirigible juggernauts and steam bombers and diesel fighters. I'll also use ships and possibly land units, again resorting to such things on land as massive slow juggernauts and steam tanks. The numbers on the bottoms will overlap, that is, a strong unit of a weaker general type will be able to tie the strength of the weaker unit of the stronger general type. This will all be on a hex board where units will be able to move their speed (usually more than one) in a straight line only, except for the aerial units which will be able to move in a dogleg. With good sculpting it could look really interesting, and looks seem to count for a lot these days.
In Convoy Terror you had 10 cargo ships and the objective was to get cargo ships through to the other end of the board. I adapted a form of that in Pacific Convoy, where all unit identities are hidden as in normal Stratego. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do in this game, which depends partly on whether I include the land element or just air and sea. If I include the land I'll have ports/cities and you'll have to control three of the four to win the game.
By the way, "The War in the Air" is the title of a novel by H. G. Wells that I read a few decades ago. It was written before World War I (1907) and posits a war of airships and flying machines that more or less destroys civilization. (In the early 20th century people did not understand how resilient civilization can be.) It fits with the idea that the aerial arm is much stronger than was true even in World War II. But I don't intend the game to be a representation of the book, I just like the title. Of course, titles of games do change.
Now as I think about this game without having played yet, the problem I see is that when you know the type of unit and know the range of strength there may be too much certainty in play leading to "analysis paralysis". I thought about using dice, but that's neither necessary nor desirably as a mechanic that would frequently come into play (each conflict). So I've devised a method to test that increases uncertainty without introducing a random factor. Each player will get a set of 13 cards identically numbered with zero, one, or two. When there is a battle each player will play one of these cards face down in and reveal it, and this will be added to the strength of the unit (which is generally from one through five). There will be bluffing and card management involved, and when all 13 cards are expended the player will get them back again to continue. (Why 13? The two small decks amount to 26 cards, and 27 is half of a standard 55-card deck.)
(I'm reminded now, having just reread a review of Convoy Terror, that it used the equivalent of dice on a number of occasions, though infrequently in ship-to-ship combat. https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/683354/convoy-terror-genuin...)
My question is, will this introduction of the card element contribute to the interest of the game or will it be something that puts people off? (Keep in mind my game Swords and Wizardry (H. P. Gibsons, London, 1980), a much closer derivative of Stratego than the games I'm discussing now, did use a die when a player cast a spell.)
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When I started this blog a dozen or so years ago it was mostly a personal blog where I discussed what I was doing (in connection with game design). Gradually it became more formal, more like magazine articles at a time when magazines were disappearing (especially the paying ones). Some of the material in my book Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish, which I finish writing in 2011, first appeared in the blog. After the book I started making videos for online audiovisual classes, as well as my Game Design channel on YouTube, and I wrote less.
I’m starting to write more now - haven't recorded a video in five weeks - but some of it is informal, the kind of stuff I used in the early period of the blog. I think that’s going to continue.
What have I been doing (in game design) post WBC and GenCon? I had to get some stuff together to send to publishers that I talked to at the conventions, but mainly I’ve been trying to put together prototypes and play the four games that I devised in the 2 ½ week period I was away from home. Not only can conventions be stimulating to the imagination, the long drives (nearly 2,200 miles altogether) offer the opportunity to use my PDA to record voice notes about games. In effect, I tried to design games while I’m driving. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s considerably more likely to work when I have just been at a game convention.
Of course, some of the ideas never get beyond those voice notes, or transcription of the voice notes into Info Select (my old and expensive free-text database). But this time, three are taking shape and two have been played, one solo by me, another by players without benefit of me playing solo beforehand. That’s a first, but the (admittedly simple) game turned out to work very well.
The first game I thought of, and the one that most excites me, and also the one I’ve played solo four times, is “free-form Britannia in outer space!” I have used the free-form techniques I’ve devised and tested for the introductory version of Epic Britannia and for Conquer Britannia (the broad market version of Britannia.
Why am I doing this? It’s all Scott Pfeiffer’s fault. At WBC Scott - who was known as one of the outstanding players of the Avalon Hill version of Britannia - played in all three heats of the tournament. He cheerfully told me how the old version of Britannia is the best game ever while the newer version (second edition, Fantasy Flight) was a good game but not nearly as good as the old one. I disagree with him, but as we discussed the games it became clear that what he objected to was the additional constraints added to the second edition.
In contemporary games just as in contemporary life people object to constraints more strenuously than in the past, I think, because there are so many more things that we can do these days than, say 50 years ago. It’s an odd dichotomy, because games are by definition an artificial set of constraints that players agree to be bound by when they play the game. In particular, for example, Scott liked being able to keep raider armies out to sea indefinitely. This was actually a mistake made by the original British publisher/developer, a misunderstanding of how it was supposed to work, because I didn’t want Jute armies floating out in the English Channel long after the Jute homeland was no longer inhabited by Jutes! Nor the Angles waiting until the year 1000 to come into Britain. (You may have heard the story, I had dropped out of the gaming hobby for 20 years and first saw someone play the published version of Britannia in 2004 (original publication 1986). I saw those same Jutes floating out there long after they should’ve been forced into Britain, and exclaimed “No Way!”)
The game comes first in Britannia, but it’s also intended to be history, and this perpetual floating was not historical in any way shape or form. But in a space wargame you’re not constrained by history, so I can use what I call the free-form techniques that tend to ignore history, to make an interesting game. Players still have four nations - well, species - but the other players don’t know three of the four until they actually turn up! The point scoring depends on a “scoring center” that the player can move around as the game proceeds. Many of the historically based constraints have been removed. I can also keep the number of pieces down somewhat via a smaller board, so that at present no species can have more than 10 fleets. And to compensate for the smaller number of fleets I have each fleet roll two dice, and it takes two hits to destroy an enemy fleet.
Who knows how players will react to it, I think it is closer to the spirit of Risk insofar as there are fewer constraints, and that’s what people like in a certain kind of wargame as epitomized by Risk. We’ll see.
I love space wargames that I love designing space wargames, but I’m not sure there’s much of a commercial market for them. In the end I design games because I enjoy designing games, so I continue to pursue this one.
The second game that’s been played is a pure specialty card game, that is there are 110 cards and no other components. It’s meant to depict wizards sending out their minions to explore various areas and try to collect loot. The wizards cast spells to help out (or hinder their rivals) but they don’t get personally involved in the actual fighting.
I managed to get a prototype of this game done on the day of the first meeting of the semester of the NC State tabletop game club. It’s quite a simple game, so I decided to ask the players, some of whom have played my games for three or four years, if they were willing to play a game that I had not played before. They agreed, and it turned out to be one of the quickest playing games I have ever seen, not quick as in a short time to complete the game (though it can be), but a short time to complete your turn, so that in a 4 player game it seems like it’s your turn almost as soon as you finish your previous turn. I had not planned the game to be so quick playing, it just happened. A bonus of playing a “not played before” game is that the players offered lots of suggestions for new cards. I’ve added 16 new ones (and deleted 16 old ones) to see how it goes.
My next task is to get the third game together to play. It’s a 4X space wargame cut down to bare essentials.
My game Doomstar, in video form, is now listed on Steam and will be available in mid-September. http://store.steampowered.com/app/504750/ https://largevisiblemachine.itch.io/doomstar
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Really Old Commercial Wargames
One of my favorite games before I encountered Avalon Hill wargames was American Heritage Broadsides. It was non-random; the only uncertainty in the game was in where the defender placed his cannon, some of which scored hits and some of which did not, information not available to the attacker until one of his ships passed the gun and took the consequences. At the other end of the spectrum we had Conflict, a game with planes and armies and ships (all metal miniatures), but which was mostly a dice game. You rolled two dice and moved two of your pieces the distance of one of the dice. When you moved over an opposing piece you eliminated it. The game amounted to putting yourself in the right position and hoping to roll doubles, which would let you roll again.
Along with the Avalon Hill games we had Risk and Diplomacy. Risk is a game that depends strongly on dice and on the luck of the territory cards. Diplomacy is a game with no overt random element but with simultaneous movement, so that sometimes, intricate tactics and possibly guessing or trying to divine the intentions of the enemy were involved. Of course in both games you had the potential for negotiation - more or less a requirement in Diplomacy - because each player was outnumbered heavily by the other players in combination. You had to talk to people to try to change those odds.
“Holes” (Plot and Setting) in Military Novels
In David Weber's well-known Honor Harrington military SF series, the space battles are quite detailed. But as with most novels I read nowadays, there are holes you could drive a truck through, sometimes holes in setting, sometimes in plot. In this series, for example, missiles are the long-range space battle weapon. But in the books, battles often hinge on missiles having finite range because they burn up all their fuel, then "go ballistic" so that they can't maneuver (maneuver is particularly important).
Why not burn up some fuel, continue indefinitely at whatever velocity one reaches, then burn the rest of the fuel for maneuver when they reach the enemy? So simply obvious. Weber seems to somehow be thinking in earthly terms, where a missile that isn't burning fuel, slows down and eventurally crashes. Doh!
“Wave Your Hand” History
We have always had “pop” (popular) history as now embodied in The History Channel, though in the past it was in books and not in video. We’ve also had speculative history, and it has to be said that most historians have to speculate at one time or another because there is no way to know the truth.
I’m not sure how much in the past we’ve had what I call “wave your hand history”. By this I mean history where the “historian” collects a series of bits of history and links them all to one particular thesis by saying “well, this could relate to” whatever topic he or she is pursuing. At some point this “could” becomes “does” and pure speculation turns into “history”. For example, there is no contemporary evidence for the existence of “King Arthur,” whether as King of the Britons or as a war leader. But there’s an entire industry of book publishing (and public speaking) revolving around the supposed existence of Arthur. The epitome of this is the book “The Historic King Arthur” by Frank D. Reno, who has evidently made a career of getting paid to speculate about Arthur. He takes little bits of information that we have about various shadowy people and presumes that all relate to someone named Arthur, and ends up with a “history” of the “real Arthur”. To me this is somewhere between disingenuous and just plain dishonest. This period really is the Dark Ages with very little written information available, and not much archaeology.
The fundamental premise in Da Vinci Code (Mary Magdelaine) feels much like this. (I have not read the book, only watched the movie.)
Bits of news:
I intend to be at the UK Game Expo in 2016.
Sea Kings is less than $40 at coolstuffinc.com.
Black Friday will see a sale on my online classes - see pulsiphergames.com Thanksgiving Day. This is the only time of the year that I give discounts beyond the standard discount.
- [+] Dice rolls
05 Jan 2015
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube
I’m going to use the abbreviation KS for Kickstarter at times
I’m only talking about KS for board and card games – board games seem to fare better than card - not for video games or anything else
It’s Different – a “Dream machine”
I recently realized, “[Board and card] Games are works of and for the mind, not for the eyes.“
Traditional-style games are about thinking, not about looks
But that’s not how KS works
KS is a “dream system”, not a pre-order system (though sometimes it’s used for that, usually for an established franchise)
People go “all-in” for dreams, even others’ dreams; they don’t go all-in for pre-ordering, or for “pros”
They want to feel like they’re part of something new and cool
I received this tweet out of the blue one day: “ @lewpuls Soccer & design lovers should have this board game! RT and help making our dream come true!” [sic]
[RT = retweet, send to your followers]
Make our dream come true
People want to be something more than a “consumer”
And some people value intentions as much as actions
Young people value intention much more than in the past, I think. Older people tend to remember “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Feeling “in at the beginning” (or “part of the process”)
So expressing the intention to publish a game, is good enough for many younger people, not enough for many older people
Backers want to feel part of a creation
They want to see their name as a contributor
Backers love polls and votes about features to include in a game
They love reaching stretch goals that change the game
Consider the popularity of paid betas in video games (especially on Steam). People want to be part of something that isn’t yet complete, hoping to influence it!
Eye-candy Sells, Especially on KS
Especially, miniature figures, but also lots of “cool” art
The quality of the actual gameplay is secondary with many backers
Or perhaps, they assume the gameplay will match the minis and art
Of course, there’s little or no correlation
Cool dice, even
And I’ll admit, I’ve supported three dice projects – but no board or card game projects
Lower than MSRP?
Getting a “deal” seems to be secondary
James Mathe suggests a five dollar discount is sufficient
Read everything James Mathe has to say about KS
Now when KS is acting as a pre-order/”P500” system, a larger discount may be expected, as is typical for P500
Maybe it’s my age, but I see “pre-reviews” as a call to “shenanigans”
And paying someone to do a review for you? Good heavens!
Why would anyone trust such things?
But this comes back to intentions, I think. Younger people don’t seem to be suspicious of what might be happening with these “pre-reviews”
If a large company did this, though, I’ll bet there would be far more suspicion
It’s a matter of “the little guy’s dream” and trust in that dream
It’s not just in sports
There’s a bandwagon effect in KS, and reverse bandwagon
This is one reason why you “go low” with your goal and then push the stretch goals, to help encourage momentum
If you haven’t made the goal as the project winds down, Kicktraq.com will predict failure, and potential backers just won’t bother
Or will pull out!
Oddball Pledge Offers
These seem to work often enough to be worth trying, since a lot of $$$$ is involved
Autographed games, play a game with the designer, get a lengthy phone call from the designer, and so forth
I’ve seen offers taken where the designer of an RPG flies to the backer’s location and GMs a game for him/her and friends
(Sea Kings example)
Highly professional can be a barrier
A highly professional presentation may be a detriment!
Backers think, “they’re pros, they don’t need help”
Pros are often using KS as a pre-order system, not a “dream system”
Newbies, or “little guys”, elicit sympathy if not empathy
For example, “Lew Pulsipher” as designer does little for a KS; does more for normal marketing and sales
I’m not only established/have a track record, I’m OLD!
When the game is a new edition or special reprint (e.g. Ogre, Age of Conan), then the audience already exists, will hear about it, and will support it
And a game with lots of eye-candy (especially miniatures) will work regardless of origin
Age of Conan has lots of minis; so did the special edition Ogre
Separate categories of publishers
Traditional publishers – self-fund and use traditional distribution (FFG especially)
P500 publishers – direct sales and distribution (GMT)
“Kickstarter” publishers – direct via KS, a little distribution (Minion etc.)
Gamesalute may be unique in doing more KS than any game company, but then their own direct sales and distribution
Is Kickstarter a good gauge of how popular a game will be (how well it will sell)?
I doubt it greatly
The games don’t sell the KS to backers, dreams and intentions sell to backers
But that’s not how games sell in a shop, nor online
Stores and KS have different clienteles
Matt Green recently described the audience of Dice Tower as: “chrome-obsessed 21-40 years olds with short attention spans.”
This might describe the largest portion of Kickstarter board and card game backers, as well
As one publisher said, “The sense of entitlement that pervades KS is a difficult thing to combat.”
This fits with Matt’s description, and with the Millennial generation
I don’t think we apply these generalizations to people who buy games via traditional distribution
So to succeed on KS, it helps to:
Sell a dream
Seem like a “little guy” even if you’re not
Offer participation in the form and content of the final product
Appear to need help, even if you don’t
Offer eye candy
Or, go to an established clientele . . .
Do card games do less well than board games on KS?
So I’ve read
If so, why?
There are no miniatures
Card games seem simpler, less a “big deal”, and so less worthy of the all-in excitement typical of very successful KS project funding
Anything by Jamey Stegmeier (Stonemeier Games)
In RPGs, Fred Hicks
4,438 games successfully funded on KS (11/13/14)
- [+] Dice rolls
19 Nov 2014
This video has many more graphics in it (of boards, of course) than is typical of my screencasts.
Text of the slides (please don't comment on the slide text alone, that would be like commenting on a book based only on its table of contents)
Game Design: Discussing “The Board”
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
“Game Design” channel on YouTube
Describing, not Defining
Because as soon as someone says “definition”, someone else will nitpick it
Given the loosey-goosey nature of English, absolutely clear definitions are nearly impossible
So, I’m just going to talk about game boards, not “define”
A board is a natural way to depict maneuver and geospatial relationships
Which are virtually required for wargames
Cards don’t naturally do this
Yes, you can use a “board” as a status indicator without any reference to spatial relationships
As in some Eurogames
We’re interested in boards as fields for maneuver that depict geospatial relationships
Is there a formula for designing a board?
I’ve seen novice designers ask for a formula, as though everything in game design can be reduced to rote, to always-correct solutions
In short: NO!
Game design is about critical thinking, the opposite of rote learning
But we can see common characteristics in many “classic” game boards
And common ways to make boards
Chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, Stratego, many others (even the video game Civilization (I through IV, V went to hexes)
Easy to see, easy to make a prototype, easy for players to understand
But movement diagonally is very distorted (1.41 times as far, per square)
Adjacency is a problem: is it four
squares adjacent, or eight?
But if you’re depicting walls or a city
road grid, squares are very useful
Areas (like a map)
Looks most natural of all boards
Diplomacy, Risk, Axis & Allies, Britannia, a great many games that cover a large geographical area
Often used when more than one piece can be in a location (though Diplomacy allows only one per area)
Provides room for “individuality”, avoiding the geometric precision of squares and hexes
Hex means six
Adjacency is clear – six adjacent vice 8
The typical wargame grid
Do hexes put people off?
Looked at one way, there are two ways forward
Look at it 90 degrees from that, there are three ways forward
Less distance distortion than squares (but contrary to popular belief, there IS distortion)
Not good for straight lines (such as walls or city roads)
(Illustration is a hand-drawn prototype board for my game Dragon Rage (1982, 2011)
The illustration (a space empires game prototype) is for outer space, but most are for land areas
Allows easy representation of routes, paths, bridges, chokepoints, impassable terrain
All grids are ways of showing connectivity
Here’s a connectivity diagram of the FFG Britannia map
The relationships between areas are exactly the same
But notice lines crossing in a few places
Circular (IMM prototype board)
Spiral (Four Elements prototype board)
And many variations
Not always Maneuver . . .
Some games only provide for placement, not maneuver, such as Ingenious, my prototype Law & Chaos (Mayfair someday)
These are hex boards, but it’s not always hexes for placement – tic-tac-toe for example
Go, of course, is placement-only, and uses the intersections of a square grid
What do they have in Common?
Number of areas in many classic games doesn’t differ wildly from chess’s 64
When it does, it’s often a hex board
Diplomacy 70-some (IIRC), Risk 42, Britannia 37 +6 seas
This also depends on number of pieces
Tends to be fairly high in games with lots of hexes, such as wargames
Piece count: Diplomacy 34, Risk “a lot”, Britannia about 55
Number of Connections?
If we want to analyze boards further, we’d count number of connections to each area (which I actually did with that space wargame)
Hex board, this is always 6. Square board, always either 4 or 8, depending on whether diagonals are counted
Examples of Pacific Convoy and DS – number of connections does matter
And we’d relate number of areas and number of connections to typical number of pieces
But you can overthink anything in games. Try actually playing on a board and you’ll find out a lot, if you pay attention
Think of a board as a connectivity diagram for maneuver (or placement), and go from there to choose the grid that works best for your game.
- [+] Dice rolls
02 Oct 2014
I attended a meeting of a NC game designers’ guild for the first time last week. The organizer, Matt Wolfe, asked about my design Sea Kings, which is currently on Kickstarter run by Worthington Publications (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/sea-kings?re... ). At some point I said it was, at about 45 minutes, inevitably a filler game; and he responded, that’s not a filler game any more, fillers are 20 minutes! While it’s true that 45 minutes is sometimes more a serial filler (played several times consecutively), it’s surely not a destination game (you go to a regular game meeting with the intention of playing this particular game). (See http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2014/03/categorizing... for my definitions.) So as the meeting went on I got educated about a segment of gaming I wasn’t familiar with, mostly and often entirely abstract card games that sell for $10-$20 and take 10-30 minutes to play. (Abstract in design and play, but with a manufactured story tacked on after design. Abstract games without a story are hard to sell. Look at a game box sometime, you’ll find a lot more about the story, usually, than about how the game actually works.)
This put me in mind of a game designers’ weekend I attended in Charlottesville, VA about 10 years ago, hosted by Stephen Glenn. At one point one designer said, “I want to play games all day, but none longer than an hour.” I thought (and still think) that was an odd point of view; if you’re willing to play all day, why not allow longer games? Today I suspect the sentiment would be “I want to play games all evening, but none longer than 30 minutes” (which might be a commentary on shortening attention spans and a need for instant gratification).
Why would people limit how long a particular game is going to take, when they’re intent on playing all day, or all evening? I’m guessing, because it’s not the way I (or my generation, really) do things. First, you get the ultimate feedback quickly, whether you’ve won or lost. Second, you can switch from one game to another quickly, and play several different games. This is more important in modern short-attention-span times, and also fits with the change from gameplay depth to variety as a goal of a good game. The “Cult of the New” is in ascendance. Third, it also lets you play games with more people in one game meeting, if there are enough people to play several games at once. As you change games, you change the composition of your group. Fourth, you’re not putting your ego on the line when you play so many short games. If you play a three hour game and don’t do well, the psychological effect is much stronger than if it’s a 30 minute game. (And you’re not likely to lose six 30 minute games in a row.)
The ideal, to me, is a game flexible enough that it can be played in 10 or 20 minutes, even if the most satisfying version (to me, anyway) is 30 minutes up to an hour. I have designed several card games exactly like this (point games, not surprisingly), but they all use 110 cards, and 110 is too many for a $10 game, even for a $15 game unless you have a big print run. The inexpensive games I was shown mostly contained 55 cards or 16 cards (versions of Love Letter), not 110. (In case anyone reading isn’t aware of it, the most common card printers do 55 cards per sheet, which may be gradually changing to 54.) AEG has quite a few of these games, which Matt thought were printed in runs of 5,000.
Walking around a recent game club meeting at NC State, with 66 people in attendance, I discovered that the only boardgame being played was one that my group was playtesting (albeit a three and a four player game at the same time). Two people were playing Carcassonne, one group of five or six was playing an RPG, the rest were playing Magic and several other card games. (And that’s without anyone playing Cards Against Humanity, a popular pastime at the club.)
Why card games? A major difference between what card games and board games naturally do is access to information. Card games naturally hide information, where board games naturally reveal information. If there's little hidden information, people try to figure out an optimal move, resulting sometimes in analysis paralysis (why chess clocks exist, to cut off the AP). People can often successfully play card games intuitively, which is much less "work" than playing logically, as well as quicker. So card games can be played more quickly. (I discussed the natural characteristics of board and card games at http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120219/91123/The... )
In boardgames a player usually has several pieces to worry about, complicating decisions, not a problem in card games. Moreover, boards were invented to display maneuver and geospatial relationships. Games with those features may be inherently longer than abstract games without those characteristics (and the latter includes most card games, traditional and commercial). You CAN use cards to make a kind of board (I have three games that do this), but it's more the fact that maneuver and geospatial relationships are important that lengthens the game, not how the board is depicted. (By the way, two of those three are deliberate card-game versions of boardgames.)
Board games with one piece per player, avatars, can have a quick setup (Sea Kings among them). I discuss the trend of using avatars in tabletop games in my video on my YouTube “Game Design” channel, video at http://youtu.be/92Qn3leKA8c, channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/LewGameDesign )
Card games are usually easier to carry, often easier to set up, and easier to put away than boardgames.
Card games are probably less complex than boardgames in general. This is helped by putting rules on the cards, so there are fewer rules to learn before the game starts.
As game manufacturers try to reach broader markets to make up for shortfalls in sales of individual games (because there are SO MANY games published now), a trend back toward traditional card game methods, such as trick-taking and set collection, also makes sense.
It's very hard to make a board game very short, especially non-abstracts and games for more than two players. Yeah, Tic-tac-toe is short, but it's solved, always a draw in perfect play. I discussed short board games (though only two player) in "Really Small Games" (http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2013/10/really-small...).
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There are three parts to a well-played game of Diplomacy, negotiation, grand strategy, and tactics. Strategy is something that functions over a full game, but that means 6 to 10 hours. Tactics is the most short-term of the three parts, with negotiation in between the other two.
But most people don’t have the time to play a full game of Diplomacy, even at the sacrifice of grand strategy. What can you do to play a shorter game?
One obvious way is to reduce the victory criterion to much less than 18 supply centers, for example nine or 10 (there are 34 altogether). But this still leaves a great deal of room for how long the game is going to take, and in some cases no one may ever reach nine or 10 as the game ends in a draw. If you only have a specific amount of time available this is unsatisfactory.
Another way to make the game shorter that also turns it into a very different game is to eliminate secret negotiation. All negotiation takes place over the board where anyone can hear it. But the very essence of Diplomacy is secret negotiation, so (at least in my view) you’re no longer playing Diplomacy. The extremist version of this, known as “Gunboat Diplomacy,” is to have no official negotiation at all. This is really hard to do in a face-to-face game because any comment that a player makes can be construed as negotiation, even if he or she is just “talking to no one”. I’ve heard of people putting tape over their mouths while they’re playing gunboat, but even then you can still gesture vigorously to try to make a point (or a deal). Gunboat removes negotiation from the game and minimizes strategy leaving only tactics, and even then you can’t arrange tactical cooperation with other players. So while it’s a popular way to play Diplomacy you’re not even close to playing real Diplomacy.
Another method is to play to the end of a previously specified game year. That works okay but can still vary a lot depending on how fast the game is played, which depends quite a bit on the players. It gives everyone a definite target year for their “big stab,” perhaps allowing for more planning than my method below, but you could easily find the game taking a lot more (or less) time than you expected.
So my method for a short game is to establish a more or less fixed by-the-clock time limit for ending the game while allowing the secret negotiation and cooperation that characterize the game. (This is hardly anything of great originality; points for centers is a common way to score short diplomacy games.)
Rules for Lew’s Short-Term Diplomacy
1. Set a time limit. For a club meeting the time limit would be the ending time for the meeting. Half an hour before that time limit expires, whatever game-year is being played at that time becomes the last game-year of the game. That game-year is played out in full. If players are slow then the game may still go beyond the actual time limit, or it may end somewhat before. For example, if the time limit selected is 10 PM then the game could end as soon as 9:31 PM if you’re just about to complete a game-year, but it could also end later than 10 PM if you’re just starting a game-year (the last game-year will take longer, most likely, because everyone will want to talk privately with every other player).
2. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Each player gets one point per supply center owned at the end of each game year, with centers counting double at the end of the last year. So if a player has five centers at the end of a game-year he or she scores five points. The score is doubled in the last game year for two reasons. First, it rewards players who have more centers, the idea being that those who are doing well would continue to do well if the game lasted longer. Second, it encourages more fluidity toward the end of the game in a grab for those extra points.
3. There could still be a draw, though it’s much less likely than in a full game of Diplomacy.
This is likely to be a niggling and nibbling game as everyone maneuvers to be slightly ahead (or slightly behind) going into the last year. If the game goes from 1900 to 1905, five normal scorings plus a double scoring for 1905, then on average a player’s going to have about 34 points. My guess is that 50 points will often be a win.
There are a variety of sometimes-complex ways to play Diplomacy with less than seven players, which could be combined with this Short-Term method.
At WBC (Lancaster PA, early August), I will be talking about Designing Multi-player Games (and a lot of other design related topics) on Friday at 5 in Hopewell. This is listed as 1 hour, but I don't see anything scheduled thereafter, so as usual it will be up to 2 hours or whenever people no longer want to participate, whichever comes first.
My seminars at GenCon (August, Indianapolis):
SEM1453968 Introduction to Design of (Strategic) Wargames (https://www.gencon.com/events/53968) Thursday 3:00 PM 1 hr
SEM1453969 How to Write Clear Rules (https://www.gencon.com/events/53969) Friday 11:00 AM 1 hr
SEM1453970 Multi-Sided Conflict Game Design (https://www.gencon.com/events/53970) Saturday 11:00 AM 1 hr
SEM1453476 Of Course You Can Design a Game, But Can You Design a Good One? (https://www.gencon.com/events/53476) Sunday 9:00 AM
- [+] Dice rolls