Pulsipher Game Design

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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Generic plastic/wood game pieces you can buy for prototypes

Lewis Pulsipher
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Generic plastic/wood game pieces you can buy for prototypes
(or for full production?)


Many game designers need 3D pieces to use in their prototypes, and some game publishers may want to make games with 3D pieces yet are not prepared to create custom components. I don’t know whether EAI makes their own stuff, but one way or another, if the pieces can be bought by individuals at these prices, they must be available for much less at very large order prices.

I get most pieces from EAIEducation.com. They are a school supplies seller. I’m looking at their latest “Spring 2014 Math” catalog (they also sell online, of course). I use quotation marks around the names EAI uses. I have listed their largest quantities, many are available at smaller quantities though higher cost per item.

“Stacking counters”. p. 15. These are excellent, and I’ve already seen them being used in published games. 2,500 in a tub (10 colors, .75" ) $49.95. So 2 cents each.

Plastic 1 “centimeter cubes”. p.22. (10 colors). 5,000 for $79.95. So 1.6 cents each. (Cost more in a tub.)
They also have “interlocking centimeter cubes”, same page, more expensive.

You can also order single-color sets of blue, yellow, orange plastic cubes on p. 34, 1,000 for $19.79.

1 inch square “plastic color tiles” p. 21 (large enough to write numbers on) in four colors.
4mm thick, 2,000 in a tub $64.50. I use these a lot for prototypes instead of cardboard counters.
2mm thin slightly translucent, 400 for $10.95
They also list transparent, 48 for $3.95. I haven’t tried these.
You can also get 4mm foam versions(“quietshape color tiles”), haven’t tried them.

“Two-color counters” p. 77 (red on one side, yellow on the other), 3/4" 1,000 in a jar for $22.25. I use them for sites that must be explored, writing on the yellow side, sitting red side up.
You can also get 1" magnetic ones, and transparent ones (single color, I think).

“Double-sided black and red counters”, 1", p. 121, 200 for $5.95.

“Black and red counters”, 3/4", not double-sided, two separate colors. 480 for $8.95.

‘Plastic, 1", four color transparent counters’ packed in a sturdy plastic container. 5,000 for $73.95 (missed it in the catalog, http://www.eaieducation.com/Product/531176/Transparent_Count... online)

“Game pawns”. P. 15. 300 in a jar for $8.95 (colors may vary, 5 shown). These are classic fat-bottom skinny-top game pawns. So 3 cents each.

“Blank playing cards”, decks of 54, $1.55 each of 36 decks for $39.95. P. 77 2.25" by 3.5"
Also transparent and colossal and normal cards available.

‘1" wood color cubes’510 in a tub, $45.95 p. 3

“Hardwood cubes in six colors” 2 cm, (blue, green, orange, white, yellow and red). Packed in a tub. 510 for $43.95 or 102 for $8.95. Also missed in the catalog, http://www.eaieducation.com/Product/530639/Wooden_Cubes_2cm_...

Another way to provide 3D pieces is to use wooden blocks with stickers. You can buy blocks individually from Columbia Games. A more economical source is GMT, who often sell big bags of blocks very reasonably priced at conventions (such as PrezCon, WBC). The blocks above can be used the same way typical wargame blocks are used, though they’re twice as thick as wargame blocks.

They have spinners, sand timers, plastic coins, dice (polyhedra), blank dice (http://www.eaieducation.com/search.aspx?Keyword=blank+dice&c...) and so forth as well.

EAI doesn’t sell chips. I get small ones from Rolco games, who make their plastic stuff themselves but sell direct to the public. http://www.rolcogames.com/category/pokerbingo+chips/7
Rolco even sells blank game boards and boxes: http://www.rolcogames.com/category/board+game+accessories/12.
You can also get bulk rocket ships, tanks, and lots of other small pieces.

You get bulk pricing on orders of 5,000 or more.

Eric Hanuise (Flatlined Games) also says for Europeans, “make sure to also check plastic for games ( http://www.p4g.co.uk/us/us_prod_directory.asp ) and spielmaterial ( http://www.spielematerial.de/en/ )

Using their bits for prototype design has the added advantage that they are mostly the same bits that manufacturers use for finished products

***
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Mon Mar 24, 2014 2:27 pm
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Categorizing Board and Card Games by Use?

Lewis Pulsipher
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Categorizing Board and Card Games by Use?


Those who have read this blog for a long time know that I am a categorizer. I try to organize things into categories in order to better to understand them and their relationships to each other. Recently it’s occurred to me that within the context of a game club meeting or even a smaller game session, different games have different uses, they fit into the session in different ways. This often is reflected in different price points, different lengths, different effort requirements, and so forth.

So the following are categories organized by how games are actually used at game meetings.

I’m sure other people must have done this at some point, although a simple search for “destination game” on BoardGameGeek yielded very little. Perhaps readers will let me know about other efforts to categorize games by usage.



First we have destination games. These are games that people look to play, or occasionally organize to play beforehand, when they go to a game session. These are usually games that take quite a while to play and may take some effort as well. Many of them are 2 to 3 hour games, while the ones that are just an hour are often serial destination games, that is, you expect to play two or three times consecutively, possibly the same game, or other serial destination games, in one game session. You expect destination games to be more expensive than many other games because they’re offering you more hours of use, and they’re often “more involved” if not “more complicated”. If the term “weight” is used to indicate the effort involves, destination games are often heavier games (though the special occasion games, below, are usually the heaviest). Serial destination games may be lighter.

Most destination games are for more than two players. Two player wargames are often serial destination games, two people get together and play the game two or more times, switching sides.

For serious chess players chess is a destination game although for some it will be a serial destination game.

Special occasion games take so long (or have such unusual requirements) that people schedule meetings just to play the game, enabling them to recruit players specifically for it. Sessions are organized days or even weeks beforehand, especially if a large number of players is required, for example Diplomacy with seven, History of the World with five or six, or Civilization (the boardgame) which requires a large number of players to work well. Many RPGs are of this category, as they require both quite a few players and a referee as well as a lot of time. For many people Britannia is a special occasion game (especially if players aren’t experienced, then it can be 7 hours instead of 3.5-5), though if your game club runs many hours it might fall into the destination category. A two player “monster” wargame is also a special occasion game - sometimes several occasions before you can actually finish it. Miniatures wargames are often special occasion, though the smaller ones can be destination games.

At the other end of the spectrum we have filler games. These games almost always allow for a widely varying number of players because the purpose of the filler game is to let people play something before everyone has shown up for the destination game, or to play something after the destination game is finished. You never know in those circumstances exactly how many people you’re going to have, or how much time you’re going to have. Consequently filler games need to be relatively short, frequently under an hour and sometimes as little as five to 10 minutes. Some of the shorter serial destination games may be usable as fillers in the right circumstances.

I reserve the term “flexible filler” for games that can be played for 30 to 45 minutes but can also be played for as little as 5 to 10 minutes. These are often point games so that you can set a particular point target, or simply play in the amount of time available and then see who has more points.

Filler games are usually lighter games, ones without a lot of strategy to them. People often use the term “beer and pretzel” games in this context, but I prefer to avoid that term. It’s not unusual for a filler game, especially a longer one that can also serve as a serial destination game, to be a “screwage” game. (See “Competition, direct conflict, wargames, and screwage games,” http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2013/10/competition-...)

A subcategory of filler game is a convenience game. These are games that can be played in tight spaces (such as a vendor booth at a convention or in a car), or in unusual circumstances where it’s inconvenient to play most other games. Much of this is about the physical conformation of the game of course.

You’d expect fillers to cost significantly less than destination games, even though, in the end, you may play a filler for more hours during it’s “lifetime” than you will many destination games. Given the “Cult of the New” that is so strong in the hobby, people tend to focus their attention on destination games but then only play them a few times before moving on to something else. Popular fillers can actually last much longer.


Where do the old “micro” games fit? The micro category seems to have been virtually wiped out by CCGs like Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh. Keep in mind that most micro games, and most CCGs, are two player games. Each individual play of a CCG can be quite short, but players tend to play several games consecutively, often for several hours. So these might best be characterized as serial destination games - lots of people come to a game meeting specifically to play their favorite CCG over and over again.

Gateway games have come to be popular to introduce people to hobby game playing. Settlers of Catan is the most well-known, but Ticket to Ride also fits this category. Originally these games were serial destination games or long fillers (and again can be treated as both). Gateway games tend to be simpler than destination or special occasion game. They also tend to be shorter because “the unwashed” often aren’t accustomed to sitting and doing something for long periods.


Sometimes what ought naturally to be a filler game becomes a destination game. For example, Munchkin ought to be a fairly short game if designed properly, but when played by serious gamers it becomes rampant leader bashing as everyone goes up to level 9 before somebody finally is allowed to reach level 10, and the game takes a couple hours.

In general, party games are filler games, the party is what's important, not the game. Few people take party games seriously.


I’m not strongly in touch with game prices, though obviously they’re going up. (I recall FFG’s Britannia in 2006 was $40, in 2008 $50.) Destination games cost much more than fillers, and special occasional games probably cost more yet. Serial destination games may be the cost of destinations or of fillers, or anywhere in between. Gateway games, because of their large print runs, should be close to filler game price even though they often amount to serial destinations.



So where does this get us as game designers? It will probably help you to be aware of what kind of game you’re designing when you’re still in the conception stage. It certainly won’t do to market your game as a destination game when it’s really a filler, or vice versa. Also, a destination game may justify more expensive components than a filler, because the former is likely to sell for more by virtue of being a destination game.

Consideration of game usage may also affect how many players you design a game for. Though nowadays, given the social nature of tabletop gaming, you’re limiting yourself anytime you design a game that cannot be played by at least four.


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Thu Mar 20, 2014 10:12 am
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Avoiding player elimination in tabletop games

Lewis Pulsipher
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I've just added this to my Learning Game Design course (https://courses.pulsiphergames.com/course/learning-game-desi...), and in my video blog experiment here is the link to the video: http://youtu.be/Eu5C941Jjs8 It applies mostly to tabletop games where there are more than two sides, each with a human (rather than computer) in charge.

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Sun Mar 16, 2014 5:26 pm
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The Future of (Tabletop) Wargames? Getting out of the wargame ghetto . . .

Lewis Pulsipher
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The Future of (Tabletop) Wargames?
Getting out of the wargame ghetto . . .


“I didn't realize how out of my element I was until I had to listen to guys talking about their retirement and/or how they were retiring soon. Made me wonder if the hobby as I know it is going to slowly evaporate over the next decade or so.... (But no wonder I couldn't find players for wargames all those years...!)?”
- Jeffro Johnson (who is approaching 40 himself, as I recall) about his experience at PrezCon ’14

(Lest anyone have any doubts, I am one of those Baby Boomers who grew up with Avalon Hill games, and am more or less retired. )

I was asked more than once during my PrezCon talk (by a publisher of hex-and-counter wargames, no less) where the future of wargames lies. The Charles S. Roberts/Avalon Hill originated hex-and-counter game style is a Baby Boomer hobby, and Baby Boomers are a shrinking group. Tabletop wargames now sell 1,000-2,000 copies, typically, whereas in Avalon Hill’s heyday they could sell over 100,000. Even in 2004-5 when I came back into the hobby it was easy to see that there was a wargames ghetto (as I call it). People in the ghetto were okay with that but it did not and does not appeal much to people outside. And it gets smaller over time.

So what is the future of hobby wargaming? Practically speaking, the traditional market is disappearing. What can replace it?

Video Games?

Tabletop wargames not only have to survive vis-à-vis other tabletop games but vis-à-vis video games. We always have to keep in mind the greater popularity of video games when we talk about any kind of tabletop game. Video games are easy to play, with the tremendous advantage that you don’t need to read the any rules, and video games are also becoming quite cheap with vast numbers of free to play and $.99 games available. Most video games that appear to be about war are actually closer to sporting events, as top RTS (Real-Time Strategy) game players must execute 200 actions-per-minute to succeed. But the capability to make two-player games primarily requiring thinking to succeed is there, and there are turn-based video games involving war (most notably, Civilization).

Yet the future isn’t video games, at least not the kind of simulation-like video wargames that have been produced so far by companies like Matrix Games. These sell hardly better than tabletop wargames (3,000 is a number I’ve seen, minuscule for video games requiring that much effort to produce). I don’t think video games are a threat or a salvation for tabletop wargames.

Multiplayer (Multi-sided) Games and “Losers”

The future of all kinds of tabletop games is in multiplayer (more than two player) games, because a great attraction of tabletop games that video games cannot reproduce is the social interaction. Whether that interaction occurs within the game rules or not, it comes from people being in one place seeing, hearing, and sometimes smelling and emotionally (and sometimes physically) feeling other people.

Another advantage of multiplayer games is that they don’t put “the loser” on the spot, they don’t involve the ego nearly as much. In a two player wargame, there’s a Loser with a capital L. In a game for five, there are four losers, but an average player is only going to win 20% of the time anyway (assuming there are no draws), so you can lose and not feel “failure” - you’re in the same boat as almost everyone else, and “I’ll get ‘em next time”. You can also feel that you were the best player but people ganged up on you. At some point, there’s nothing you can do about that. (In the case where both/all the players are against the game, that’s OK - the humans are all in it together, essentially a single player game, and all lose or win together, no stigma involved.)

These games should not have player elimination, something that can unnecessarily bring out those feelings of failure. Practically speaking, too, a game without player elimination is likely to be shorter than one with elimination.

Video games achieve this through single player games/campaigns that are often puzzles that you will sooner or later solve if you’re persistent. With save games and respawning there is no way to Lose.

SPI’s surveys indicated that 50% of play of their games was solo. People who are inclined to solo play often like two-player, detailed wargames. I think the solo player is much more likely to play video games these days. Solo play is a mostly-dead-end for tabletop games.

So games that allow for the social aspects of face to face gaming, and don’t put the loser on the spot, are where wargaming has a chance to succeed.

“Peaceful” Semi-wargames

Games that allow for the possibility or even likelihood of war but recognize that peace is a better way to succeed are more broadly appealing than games that are out-and-out, cut-throat war. These games can be less directly confrontational. For example, a game about the Italian city states in the era of the Crusades can allow players to prosper if they can peacefully take advantage of the trade from the Far East and develop influence in foreign places, but can provide the ability to go to war. If a player can stay out of a debilitating war, or win a war very quickly, he or she will have a good chance to win the game. (I speak of this as though hypothetically, but my prototype Seas of Gold does just this.)

Sometimes games of this kind are given funny names that imply a cross between Eurostyle and wargame. But there’s a big difference between wargame and Eurostyle that I think needs to be preserved in the semi-wargames, as they might be called, that many wargames allow for great differences in playing style, whereas many Euro games assume a formalistic style where certain paths to success are well-known and blocking those paths is a common activity, where there are “generally accepted moves” that you’re expected to make, that you may even be criticized if you don’t because “that’s not the way to play the game!” (I have to interject here, those who have decided that “Euro” only means certain heavy-strategy games that they like are going to disagree with me, because I use the older, broader meaning of Euro.)

To my mind, good multiplayer wargames are like open world video games, and Eurostyle games are more like closed world or linear video games. That open style is often lost in “simulations”, but simulations that force certain outcomes as the old SPI games often did are not going to survive on the tabletop - if only because they’re boring to most people and anathema to historians, like myself, who believe that what happened in the chaos of history is often not what was most likely to happen. (And also because that kind of simulation is almost always a two-player game.)

Grand Strategic Wargames


I think we’ll see more grand strategic wargames rather than tactical games. First, grand strategic games are more believable for more than two players than tactical games. You can easily think of entire nations as competing in a multi-sided way, whereas battles with more than two sides are almost unheard of. Second, tactical games in the wargame tradition are littered with nuts and bolts and details that hold much less interest for people in our fast living, imprecise century than they did in the glory days of Avalon Hill and SPI. There are lots of tactical games involving fighting, but they are individual skirmish games like Heroscape and many RPGs, not “nuts and bolts” games. Another aspect of grand strategic games is that ultimate success usually depends on building up your economy, as it does in almost any war. Games that build up have proved to be more attractive to many people than games that tear down. A grand strategic wargame can be one that combines the tearing down that’s involved in taking economic value from another player along with the building up that people seem to like, a combination of negative and positive. In contrast, a battle game, one without an economy, where the objective is terrain-based or simply killing lots of the enemy, is purely negative.

Visual and Tactile Appeal

It almost goes without saying that wargames need to be more visually appealing. Wargames with traditional half-inch counters aren’t even a starter except in the wargame ghetto. If you must use cardboard counters, they need to be a lot larger. Three-dimensional pieces provide a tactile pleasure and feedback that you cannot get from video games, but it’s hard to get that from half-inch counters. Some larger counters feel and look (and even sound) more like tiles, and that may work - I have in mind the FFG Britannia pieces. 3-D pieces and cards provide a visual appeal that standard wargames do not. (I was told that Command & Colors was getting no traction for GMT, before publication, until they introduced the use of blocks as 3D pieces (not for “fog of war”). Then it took off, and has proved to be very popular.)

Games with multiple numbers on each piece don’t have much appeal. Players don’t mind having lots of information on cards, but not on pieces. (NO lookup tables, either.) 3D makes it harder to put numbers on pieces, as well.

Stacks of counters are also a bad idea, though less so if only the owning player is allowed to look in the stack. A good decision I made decades ago in Dragon Rage (which is a hex-and-counter wargame) was to prohibit stacking. With the larger pieces in the 2011 edition, I’ve avoided the old problems of stacks of half inch counters.

Perhaps a reason for the popularity of “block games” beyond the fog of war is that they avoid counter stacks, and often have less information on them than do traditional counters.

Fewer Significant Decisions

The fundamental experiences people want in games have changed, too. People are much more interested in variety than in gameplay depth. They like lots of choices but they don’t like many difficult/significant choices. They tend to rely more on intuition than logic, a reliance that’s often encouraged in the schools and society (“use the Force, Luke”, don’t depend on the computer to aim that torpedo). So a game with lots of choices but few decisions that make a significant difference tends to be preferred to the older kind of game, where there is not only lots of choices but lots of decisions, and decisions within decisions. (I’m sorry if that’s not entirely clear but my spiel about gameplay depth and other kinds of depth in games is something like 10,000 words. This will have to do.)

This trend is already enormously clear in video games. Players want to be rewarded for participation, they don’t want to have to earn their rewards by making good decisions.

Hobby wargaming often involves studying the games. People don’t study games much anymore, especially casual gamers. Between cheap or free video games and the proliferation of many hundreds of new tabletop games each year, people are accustomed to playing a game only a few times before they move on to the next one in a kind of “Cult of the New”. I know people who have played Britannia more than 500 times, but nowadays you’re going to find few newly published games that anyone will ever play 500 times, especially not one as long as Britannia.

I think wargames are still going to be a haven for people who want old-fashioned gameplay depth as opposed to simple variety, but if you want to reach a larger market you need to recognize that the number of significant decisions has to be reduced. I’m put in mind of a young lady who used to attend our university game club. At age 18 she was exceptionally intelligent and focused, and when she played games she really put her brain to work (more than most), but because she was playing games to relax she did not want to play anything like a standard wargame where you have bunches of pieces to move in each of your turns. That was far too many decisions to make. She liked tactical video games, where you have just a few characters to control. That’s the kind of person who can be attracted to strategic multiplayer games that involve war, but only if they are designed to be broadly appealing.

Be sure your wargame doesn’t have a player moving dozens of units every turn!

Personal Stories

Gamers are also much more interested in personal stories and avatars in games than they were 40 years ago. RPGs are an example, and many kinds of video games, both just coming into existence back then. Wargames by their nature tend to be about nations and large units, though there are many games with individuals as the primary units (squad level games). The word “story” is in “history”, but the history of warfare tends to be impersonal. The kinds of personal stories people like aren’t about the Military, by and large. I’m not sure how this is going to pan out, as the grand strategic games I recommend are not well-suited for the “you are there” mentality (think History of the World or Diplomacy).

People Games, not Math Games

What wargames need to focus on is the other people playing the game, rather than on the details of the game system. Britannia has some detail in it but it’s essentially a simple game to play, and the really good players are playing the other players, not the game system. You have to master the game system but that’s not the ultimate mastery, as opposed to chess and so many two-player wargames where mastery of the system is all that matters. (Oddly enough, mastery of real generalship is much about psychology, but wargames rarely reflect real warfare.) That’s the kind of game we need, though Britannia is not the best example because it’s much too long for most players. One of the new versions of Britannia I’ve created can be played in 90-120 minutes and has been played in 84, even though the players were not hurrying. Yet it is still clearly Britannia.

Games where “Yomi” is needed, discerning the intentions of other players, reading their minds, are popular for many reasons (think poker, Werewolf, Resistance). Wargames need to make Yomi more prominent, and the details of mechanical play less prominent. Multiplayer, of course, immediately puts Yomi to the forefront in highly interactive games.

On the other hand, you can’t remove a fairly high degree of interaction from a wargame and still have a wargame, instead you have something that begins to approach a puzzle or multiplayer solitaire. I don’t see this as a route wargames can take because then you have a major disadvantage of a wargame - the tearing down - without the compensating advantages of high interactivity.

Where there’s a place for two player wargames is on tablets and PCs, so that those who like this kind of ultimately confrontational math-like game can find opponents, and can play in short sessions even if the game itself is quite long in aggregate. For examples, see http://www.shenandoah-studio.com.

Shorter and Simpler

Finally, all games are noticeably getting simpler and shorter (especially video games). Wargames must as well. That’s quite a challenge for multiplayer games simply because the more players you have, usually the longer the game. I have pursued a quest for a “one hour (multiplayer) wargame” for many years, and while I usually end up with 2+ hours I do have one game that has been played in an hour by three players. But that will remain exceptional, except in wargames that use cards rather than a board.

Card-based wargames are another possible route out of the “ghetto”, but when you use cards you usually (though not always) abandon maneuver, which is one of the salient aspects of war.

Simulations?

I’ve briefly alluded to where “simulations” are going. The kind of simulation that values the model before the game, that tries to force a particular outcome to match history, is rapidly going down the tubes. The kind of model that Phil Sabin calls a simulation - though I wouldn’t - that helps one understand history will still be around. If you’ve read Sabin’s book Lost Battles you’ll know that his simulation to help understand what really happened to during ancient battles is pretty simple, not at all the kind of highly detailed simulation we used to get from SPI.

On the other hand, wargames can never approach the abstraction of the typical Eurostyle game. Wargames have to be models of some reality, and anything that happens in the wargame ought to correspond to something that happens in reality. That’s rarely the case in Eurostyle games, which are frequently abstractions with some kind of atmosphere tacked on (yes there are exceptions). Eurostyle games are designed to have particular paths or actions that can be easily blocked by the opposition (without any actual destruction), and that’s not even close to the nature of warfare.

Conclusion

Will the “grognards” of the ghetto like these wargames? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter, because they’re gradually going out of the market for games and publishers have to look at younger markets.

Having said all this, I’ve described one of the kinds of games I like to design, so maybe I’m prejudiced. Or maybe I saw the need years ago and have been working on it ever since.

When I started this I intended to write something fairly brief, but many of the trends in games in general have come into the question of the future of wargames. I’ll stop here before it grows any further!

***

I will be a speaker at the East Coast Game Conference, April 23-24 in Raleigh, NC. Exact time or day as yet unknown. The topic will be “On the Horns of a Dilemma” (Game Design).

I now host (through Fedora) my online audiovisual courses at https://courses.pulsiphergames.com . They are still on Udemy.com at higher prices. They include “Learning Game Design”, “Brief Introduction to Game Design”, and “Get a Job in the Video Game Industry”. I will very soon be opening a course “How to Design Levels/Adventures for Video and Tabletop Games”. Some time after that I’ll open “How to Write Clear Rules (and Game Design Documents)”.

YouTube Game Design channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHWWViIuBsOrSm2HXeBj2kA
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Thu Mar 13, 2014 12:48 pm
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The Artisan, the Engineer, and the Mimic: Three Kinds of Game Designers

Lewis Pulsipher
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I'm experimenting with use of video, from my youtube channel "Game Design". This was originally made for my online audiovisual course "Learning Game Design".
BGG's Youtube insertion is not working for me, but this link does - you'll be taken to YouTube.

[http://youtu.be/qqBt1b2pPt8]
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Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:36 pm
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What is a “sweep of history” game?

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I just started a community on Google+ (https://plus.google.com/communities/117807773143374104516) for "sweep of history" games, so it's reasonable to work out a rough definition “sweep of history game” (also called “fast forward history” games). Sweep of history games are large-scale games, especially in time where the game covers several centuries to more than 1000 years. They are also fairly large-scale geographically, covering regions varying in size from Great Britain, Iberia, Russia, and China up to the entire world. They are historical, so games such as Risk, Vinci, and Smallworld do not qualify because they are so abstracted that there is no history of those games.

Another aspect of sweep of history games is that they are virtually always for more than two players. I cannot think of a two player sweep of history game although they may exist. Typically they are for four players, especially the Britannia-like games, or even more than four as History of the World really needs six (or less desirably, five) to work well. Civilization is another game that requires around six to work properly.

Could a game about a fictional history qualify as a sweep of history game? I don't see why not if the history is sufficiently detailed and well known. So your typical 4X space game (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) may cover centuries and certainly covers a very large area but probably isn't a sweep of history game because there's very little history, albeit fictional, in the game. On the other hand, what about a game covering the 3,000 years of the Third Age of Tolkien's Middle Earth? I think it would be hard not to call that a sweep of history game. There is no such published game, but I did once devise a Britannia-like prototype of that era and played the game once solo. It turned out that not only are rights expensive, but the rights granted by Tolkien did not include the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, and much of the information about the Third Age is in the appendices. The movies cheat more or less and use that material anyway, nonetheless it is not part of the official license.

We can also add that some sweep of history games are primarily wargames, while others involve a strong civilization building component. The wargames originate in the ancient Near East (Ancient Conquest I) and in Great Britain (Britannia), while the civilization component comes from Civilization (Mediterranean world). Britannia certainly covers an era when there was very little civilization building and a lot of warfare. Ancient Conquest I covers an era where civilization was built up and sometimes torn down, but that's not depicted in the game: the game is almost entirely a wargame, right down to hexes and numbered factors on the pieces. Civilization on the other hand - the original boardgame Civilization - is much more about civilization building than it is about warfare although warfare can be involved. Because many sweep of history games are based on Britannia there tend to be more wargames than civilization building games.
Most sweep games are “war games” rather than battle games, that is, there’s an economic production component, and warfare is as much about the economy as about the forces immediately involved. Battle games have an order of battle but no economic component. Many sweep games also have an order of battle (appearance of new invaders, for example). History of the World is unusual in that it only has an order of battle, with no economic component.

Sweep games are frequently regarded as “epic”, usually in the sense of national epic rather than personally epic, and in the sense of an epic (noun) rather than “an epic game” (adjective). (I’ve discussed this aspect of games in my book “Game Design”, excerpted at http://www.gamecareerguide.com/features/1115/excerpt_what_ma....)



These games are never going to be very popular in the current market because there is no avatar-like role for the player, nothing the player can literally or even figuratively point to and say "that's me". Many wargames, for example, use a marketing pitch that “you are the commander and you can change history.” There is no single commander in a sweep of history game because nobody lives that long, not even close. And the history changes slowly on that scale, not the way it can change drastically in a single battle. Furthermore, sweep of history games tend to require lots of players and lots of time. It's hard for many gamers to get four players together for one of these games, let alone more than four, and that's exacerbated by the time required. Britannia is a 4 to 5 hour game, and as much as seven or eight when people play it for the first time. History of the World is even longer. Civilization is at least as long as History of the World. I have devised sweep of history game prototypes that have been played by ordinary players in an hour and a half, and these may become more common in time, but they inevitably lose some of the epic sweep of a longer game when they only take an hour and a half.

Board wargames are essentially a Baby Boomer generation hobby and don't attract nearly as much attention nowadays as they did 30-40 years ago. That's another reason why sweep of history games aren't likely to be as popular as in the past, unless they incorporate more civilization building elements and less warfare elements.







What about computer games? Civilization the computer game is certainly a sweep of history game, at least when played against other people. The limitation of computer games is that a single player game really doesn't provide the same kind of opposition as a game with several humans participating because the computer opponent cannot duplicate the guile and unpredictability of a human. There's also the video game industry tradition that a computer opponent is intended to put up a decent fight and then lose. Also, a player can go back to his saved game and try again when playing single player and so effectively he cannot lose. Large-scale turn-based computer games, though, often resemble boardgames in many respects, and that's certainly true of the computer game Civilization.

Computer real-time strategy games are more like sports than games because to be really good at it you have to be able to perform 200 actions per minute and practice many hours a day - I'm talking about competing in something like StarCraft tournaments. In any case the Google+ community is likely to be largely about boardgames - and cardgames if anyone devises a sweep of history card game, which I have not yet seen. (I have actually designed but not played a card game version of Britannia. But cardgames will tend to abstract so much history out of a game, if only because there's no board and little or no maneuver, that I'm not sure they really qualify as sweep of history games. Who knows.



Is Diplomacy a sweep game? No, primarily because it covers only a single war, whether it lasts five years or fifteen.

What about some of the Middle-earth Diplomacy variants? Many are intended to depict only the War of the Ring, hence too short a period. But one intended to depict a much longer period, a significant part of the Third Age, would qualify IF you accept a fictional history.

Many years ago I began to design games that combined war and peacetime activities that we would now call civilization-building - and neither uses dice. One or two of those may see print next in 2015. One is Germania, a game about survival: civilization-defending as well as building. It’s about the German tribes that brought down the West Roman Empire, then had to survive the depredations of invaders from the east, south, and north. Another is a game about the Italian maritime states in the era of the Crusades (just before the Renaissance began), when they came to dominate the Mediterranean through control of the far eastern trade to northern Europe. Both games fit the sweep of history definition but are much different from any of the games I’ve mentioned above.

Summary of definition:
● Boardgame or boardgame-like computer game
● Covers several centuries to more than a thousand years of history
● Covers fairly large geographical region
● Virtually always for more than two players
● Warfare and (sometimes) civilization-building
● Tend to be long games, often epics in themselves


http://pulsiphergames.com I am @lewpuls on twitter.
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Sun Dec 22, 2013 2:09 pm
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“On the horns of a dilemma”

Lewis Pulsipher
United States
Gainesville
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Microbadge: Constantly thinking about game designMicrobadge: WriterMicrobadge: Game TeacherMicrobadge: Britannia fanMicrobadge: Dragon Rage fan
(In the following I’ll be using quotes gleaned from online discussions, from players and a well-known designer. These are all personal observations, of course, and anecdotal evidence. We simply don’t have the “scientific” evidence about games to “prove” any particular point of view. You’ll have to examine your own experience to make an evaluation.)

A while ago I read a preview of the video game XCOM:Enemy Unknown, now released and not to be confused with its successor Declassified. I was struck by how often the author talked about “hard choices”, struck because this is what games (beyond family/party games) traditionally have involved, yet are rarely present in a great many contemporary video games, and many tabletop games. Traditionally, a game designer wanted to put the players of a game “on the horns of a dilemma”, trying to decide between two or more things the player wants to do when he can only do one.

Even in family games there were occasional difficult choices to be made although the players often weren’t bothered whether they made the correct choice or not. This may be one way of differentiating family/party games from more serious games. That is, adult players of family/party games rarely take the game, or themselves as players, seriously. Children often take them more seriously than the adults.

Diablo III is a poster boy for video games where there are no hard choices, where in the long run your choices don’t matter at all. It’s institutionalized in the game in such things as the selection and use of skills. You do not have to make decisions that matter when choosing which skills to use, because you can always change combinations. This is touted as providing greater variety, which it does, but once again it means that what the player decides *doesn’t really matter*. There are no consequences for poor choices, just a “do again” akin to guess-and-check (which used to be known as “trial and error”, but the meaning of the latter is changing). It is no long consequence-based gaming, it has become reward-based gaming.

In general, in Diablo III it doesn’t really matter what a player does, he’ll succeed in the end.
Quote:

"I know if I invest X amount of time into D3 I will beat it with no learning curve and nothing really gained from the experience other than over hyped cinematics and the bragging rights to sell things to my peers on an auction house.

I know this for a fact. There is no skill set or learning curve required for D3 except point, click and equip the best weapon set for my class that I own. I can die millions of times and as long as I am willing to keep clicking, I will triumph eventually. D2 had challenges/elements throughout its design that made it more unwieldy but immensely more fun. All of those points were removed from the latest version of the game to accommodate a wider audience." (John Karnay)
World of Warcraft is much the same. Game designer Brenda Romero:

Quote:
"I play World of Warcraft a fair bit, but I don't really worry too much, because I know if I kill myself the very worst thing that's going to happen is I'll have to run a zillion miles back to my body.

I am way more careful in Minecraft . . . when there's a fear of loss, your success means more to you."
This is not confined to video games. Another aspect of these changes was reflected in the comments on a blog post that "weeped for newbs", lamenting that even secret doors seem to be regarded as a "dirty GM trick" in 4th edition D&D. http://shirosrpg.blogspot.com/2011/12/i-weep-for-newbs.html

4th edition is WoWified, it doesn't ask the players to think much, it's really hard to screw up and die. A comment on the post finally made me realize that the fundamental point of RPGs has changed between 1st and 4th edition. In 1st edition you wanted to overcome the thrill of fear. The referee's job was to scare the snot out of you, usually by threatening your character with death, sometimes by threatening to take or destroy your stuff, though his or her job definitely was NOT to actually kill you. 2nd edition was similar. 3rd edition became a contest to find rules that enabled you to construct a one-man army (OMA), and then the game was about you showing off the super-duper-ness of your one-man army (one person called it "fantasy Squad Leader"). Your OMA was too tough to be scared. Where in 1st edition most of those unearned advantages would not even be allowed, they had become the main reason for playing 3rd. In 4th edition it has gone further, essentially you're rewarded for participation.


In this respect many video and role-playing games are becoming pure entertainment, without any element of frustration or obstacle.

In traditional games the consequence of making the wrong choices, or sometimes simply being unlucky, was that you lost the game (or at least were more likely to lose). In video game “entertainments” you can’t lose; if you fail or die you simply come back and continue as before, whether this is built into the game as is often the case now (respawning) or whether you go back to your saved games. Nor can you lose in tabletop RPGs, if the referee chooses so.


I said in my book Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish that I thought video and tabletop games are converging, but sometimes I'm not so sure when I look at games like Farmville on one hand, and worse, the all-rewards-all-the-time games like Diablo III and many others, where anything that interferes with getting direct pleasure is regarded as a "fail".


Yet many Eurostyle board games lean toward removing the sting or frustration of failure by removing direct conflict or direct interaction from the game. In the extreme I call this a “contest”, where several people are attempting to achieve the same thing without significantly affecting one another and whoever achieves its first wins. Virtually any activity can be turned into a contest if it involves time or something else that’s measurable, such as who can get an arrow closest to the bull’s-eye, or who can type the most words in 5 minutes. Many Olympics style sports are actually contests rather than games. Some races are contests, for example most swimming races; others involve blocking an opponent which is an aspect of a game rather than a contest.

The heart of this point of view is that games (as opposed to puzzles) require a semblance of intelligent opposition that can affect other players, and in contests there is no by-rule way to affect other players. Yes, you can ALWAYS have a chance to affect another person psychologically, for example going out fast in a middle distance swimming race to try to spook your opponent; but the rules don't cover or facilitate this.

A game of hard decisions requires the player to use his brain, but that seems to be going out of fashion. For example, Clay Johnson talked about how his son plays video games:

Quote:
"What I often observe though is that he 'cheats' to play through his games. By that I mean that he starts the game, and after a few rounds gets stuck. Instead of using his brain to try different strategies he simply looks up a guide on the net where there are countless free walkthrough guides for nearly every game out there.

To me, this seems like it turns a puzzle into a basic clerical task, but he thrives on it !? Can this response by the users be the basic reason for 'dumbing down' games?"
This reminds me of contemporary programming students - usually those who aren't interested in becoming professional programmers - who guess at solutions rather than reason them out. But instead of guessing or figuring it out, Johnson's son looks it up.



I like to say that at age 15 I "retired" from playing chess, because it had become too much like work. Chess is a "game" (extraordinarily difficult puzzle, really) where there's always a correct, best move, and that combined with the vast weight of the chess literature, put me off. Now "too much like work" has changed meaning. For a great many players, a game that requires *any* hard decisions is "too much like work."



With a lack of hard decisions, gameplay depth (which is largely about hard decisions) is also absent or in short supply in most contemporary games. In fact, when gamers say "depth" nowadays they often mean *variety*. Variety is replacing gameplay depth as a goal for game design.



It's important to most western gamers that games are "fair". But I think the definition of fair has changed for video gamers. Where it used to imply that you got what you deserved, that you had to *earn* something, now it means "fair" in the way my young niece used to use it. She'd say "that's not fair", but she meant, "that's not what I want, I'm not getting what I want". Now video game players expect a game to give them what they want, when they want it, period.



I'm not saying this is bad, I'm saying this is what it is, and game designers have to recognize it, even if they design for a niche that prefers old-fashioned, consequence-based gaming - the niche that likes XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
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Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:52 pm
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Competition, direct conflict, wargames, and screwage games

Lewis Pulsipher
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Hard-core gamers are much more inclined to like competition and direct conflict than are casual gamers. Part of this is because casual gamers tend to like short experiences while most games that have direct conflict are longer games, which allows that conflict to “play out”. Another might be that hard-core gamers are satisfied with or even crave the tension that comes from direct conflict while casual gamers are more likely to be trying to relax and are not looking for a lot of tension. Another reason might be that hard-core gamers are more willing to accept the frustration of direct opposition, of having obstacles that take some doing to overcome, as opposed to the casual gamers who want to see things happen in a game but not interested in being opposed. (Think of popular casual video games like Bejeweled and Tetris. There's only randomness, not opposition.)

Let’s differentiate between competition in general, and direct competition/conflict. You can compete in a contest where you never actually can affect the other player, you're just comparing results. Typing for five minutes and declaring the winner to be the person who typed the most correct words is a contest, and can be seen as a form of competition but is not a conflict. Hard-core video gamers often compete via contests, comparing their scores in various games or how long it took to "beat the game" as they play the same game but do not play each other: for example "I scored 17,000 in Tetris and you only scored 15,000 so I beat you" even though the players played solo because that's the nature of the game.

Wargames are almost always direct conflict, it's the nature of warfare. So people who are in the "wargames ghetto" as I've called it since I came back into the hobby eight or nine years ago, the ones who play lots of hex-and-counter wargames, are inevitably in conflict when they play one another. But SPI used to say many years ago that 50% of their games were played solo, and I think that's probably still true, that people play the wargames solo in order to experience (and experiment with) the history rather than for the conflict itself.

Wargames generally involve organized groups, usually governments, fighting each other either in short-term battle or long-term war. What kind of direct competition can we have that doesn't involve warfare? Business competition can often involve direct conflict, economic competition can certainly involve direct conflict, and individual competition can involve direct conflict. For example role-playing games are not about warfare usually but are direct conflicts. The big difference there is that they are cooperative games because one side of the conflict, the bad guys, the monsters, is controlled by a more or less neutral referee. In that respect they're like single-player video games except that a human referee can always be much more inventive than any computer program at this point in history. But in the video game world, especially MMOs, what has the trappings of an RPG can become direct conflict via the “PvP” (player versus player) mode of the game.

So we can have games that involve direct conflict but are not wargames per se. Sometimes that direct conflict involves violence (as in the MMO), sometimes not (as in the economic or business game). Sometimes these are what I call “screwage games”. These games for from three to many players are usually directly competitive but do not require a lot of reasoning for success, games that involve a strong dose of chance as well as skill. The games are more colorful than serious. Players are not focused on winning, they are focused on having a good time messing with their friends. They can be played the strangers as long as it’s played within a social context, such as at a game club with lots of other people around. The narratives of these games, that is the accounts of what happens, can be quite interesting or amusing, but the games themselves are not complex. The narratives can amount to pretty good stories, sometimes. And there is usually a fair bit of variety/replayability.

People who are very focused on winning aren’t likely to enjoy any screwage game.

In most cases a screwage game is played by a group round a table, with hands of cards, and simple scoring. “Beer and pretzels” is another term that’s often used for this kind of game, although it also includes other kinds of games so I’ve decided to use a different term. You could say that screwage games are a subset of beer and pretzels games. Screwage games are not usually “Take That” games; though there certainly can be cards that have striking effects, it’s not usually the case that a single card can vault someone from a poor position/situation to a good one.

Player elimination seems to be acceptable in many well-known screwage games but it’s not at all desirable. How can you mess with your friends when you’ve been eliminated from the game?

Give a screwage game to strictly Eurostyle players and sometimes you’ll end up with bewildered looks, as the game is so different from the games with little or no direct conflict that they’re used to.


One of the most well-known screwage games, although one with a severe design flaw from the point of view of really good game players, is Munchkin. (And I'll admit here that I don't care for Munchkin because the humor is silly and wears off very rapidly.) The design flaw is that there is rampant leader bashing and when the game is played by people focused on winning it becomes constant leader bashing until everybody is near the goal and finally somebody breaks through. But Munchkin is a very, very successful game because most people who play screwage games are not focused on winning, they're focused on messing with their friends and having a good time with others, and they don’t worry about the flaw (or don’t even realize it’s there, rather like the long-distance ticket flaw in original Ticket to Ride).

Nuclear War is one of the very early screwage games. While it theoretically depicts warfare between countries, for all practical purposes it's warfare between individuals.

Bang! is another screwage game that has been very successful, including a knockoff Three Kingdoms game that is very popular in China. Bang! is about the old West, the conflict between the sheriff and possibly deputies and outlaws, and people are shooting each other, but it's not warfare per se. Bang! relies heavily on unknown roles - although the role of the sheriff is known - and also has a mechanism that involves the range of your weapons so that you cannot attack anyone you want any time. This contrasts with some of the leader bashing that we see so rampantly in Munchkin when there's a fight, because anybody can join in in Munchkin. Whenever you can always target the leader then you're likely to have rampant leader bashing, especially if it's obvious who the leader is. In Munchkin you know everyone’s level, and reaching the target level is how you win.

Should you contemplate design of a screwage game - I’ve designed several, as they go over quite well at the university game club, especially when the subject is something like pirates or zombies or surviving the apocalypse - then be sure to limit in some way the ability of a player to attack every other player. Otherwise you may end up with a game with a Munchkin-like flaw.
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Tue Oct 8, 2013 6:11 pm
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