Bez ShahriariUnited Kingdom
Writing rules takes time and effort. This investment might make it less likely that I am willing to change the rules after 10 minutes. That would be a problem.
Initially, you're going to learn the most. Part-way through a game, you might well realise that some things should be changed. To maximise your efficiency, I think it's useful to make a change, add in something, or even throw out or completely change half the game, as soon as you realise it is working against your intended experience.
More importantly (arguably), having someone read the rules and teach a group takes time and effort for your playtesters.
Given that I am not so lucky as to have folk clamouring to playtest whatever I design (and probably won't ever be), it's important that I value the time and opportunities I get to playtest my things. I would rather teach my game, then have extra time to play a 2nd time, or maybe even make mid-game changes.
I think that it's more important to first ascertain if a game has any value. Does it provoke laughter, introspection, or whatever you're trying to provoke? Does it accidentally provoke another interesting and worthwhile thing you can pursue instead?
I think that writing rules is super-helpful and rules should absolutely be tested (at least once if pitching, far more if self-publishing). But that is just not a priority to me early in the game design process. (Or, indeed, anywhere in the game design process - I'd only start when I get to what I consider 'development'.)
I am a full-time designer/artist/self-publisher and I am available for freelance work. I go to cons as a trader and help run the all-day Friday playtest sessions in London. I left my last 'real' job in 2014. I was getting benefits for a few years. I'm currently writing sporadically, but getting back into the habit of daily posts. If you have any questions/topics you'd like me to address, send me a geekmail and I'll probably address the topic within a week.
Archive for design practices/thoughts
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I met up with David Brain and Ellie Dix in the morning, with another 11 folk bringing up the total to 13 by the end of the day. The Royal Festival Hall was specially busy, so we had to use all our negotiation, table moving, and chair-moving skills to get a 3rd table.
In the first slot, Tiz and I ran off to do some work on the graphics for our prototype - Seize the Power. Turning rules from text into symbols with coloured backgrounds, using that colour to draw attention to the cards that affect everyone.
Afterwards, Tiz and I joined one of the 3 testing tables.
Andrew January tested an interesting little game about drafting dice that you could use either to give yourself potential points, or make potential points score. There was encouragement of negotiation with 'favour tokens' to be passed around.
I drove some hard bargains and won as a result, so I'm biased. But I think that there is something interesting here to be developed. Specially with the tension of working out whether folk can make your high-scoring things go 'bust'.
Finally, Charlie, Dave Dawkins, Tiz, Emily, and myself gathered to play Seize the Power. (A game about privilege, discrimination, negotiation, and subjugation of power.)
There were some great suggestions made for changing the revolution mechanism. I had some ideas sparked about separatinng out objectives for modularity.
The only change since last week - the graphical improvements - made a massive difference to the speed of the game. By using colour to draw the eye, people were quickly able to find the key info without having to scan the entire table each time.
Feeling really positive about the game.
As always, if anyone wants to come along to the London weekly Friday Daytime playtest, give us a shout.
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Playtime is a difficult thing to predict.
Different players take differing amounts of time to make a decision. The same player might take longer on different day - not just because they've (not) gotten used to the game, but maybe because they're slowed down by a particularly tiring day!
Most games take longer with more players.
However, there are a few that don't. Simultaneous action means that a higher player count won't slow it down much. Grabbell and maybe Spot it! are rare examples of games that actually speed up with more players! Both involve players finding matches as quickly as they can, until the entire deck has been 'matched off'. With more players racing to find a match, each card will be 'matched off' more quickly.
For a 'traditional' turn-based game, the modern format of saying the game is 'XX minutes per player' seems like a good way of giving information.
Assuming that the end condition remains the same (either a player achieving X or X 'rounds'), then double the players means double the turns taken, which means approximately double the amount of time.
However (and this is the bit that was unconsidered by me before a recent playtest), a game with a lot of negotiation will actually increase exponentially. Not only will more players mean more turns taken, but it will also mean more people to negotiate with.
This is the situation I find myself in with 'Seize the Power'. Whilst 4 players takes 80-ish minutes, 6 players would have probably taken 150-ish minutes had we continued.
It's challenging to advertise this sort of time.
The time on the side of a box can only go into so much detail. Of course it's an approximation, but how to best give the info.
Maybe, with enough playtesting, the answer would be to have a little grid and actually write a different time for each playercount. But then it might be too confusing...
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04 Jan 2020
I am one of several organisers of Playtest UK meetup groups. Sometimes I get questions. Here are two.
"how "ready" are the game usually when they are presented?"
It varies massively.
Also, note that every game has a different story.
A meetup group with lots of designers is the ideal place to try out a game that probably won't work. I have had an idea on Wednesday, pondered it on Thursday, spent an hr or so mocking it up on Friday morning, then taken it to play that Friday. Sometimes, I'm still prototyping at 10am when folk are arriving.
Conversely, I continued using the same meetup group for late-stage testing of Kitty Cataclysm (along with the 2 expansions). At a certain point, I was changing maybe a couple of numbers every 10 plays. It was fairly 'late stage'.
And sometimes you even get designers testing expansions to existing games. As such, you'll see final-quality components on the table. Don't be put off by this - bringing along bit of paper with scribbles on, asking folk to play for 5-10 minutes, and then having a 20 minute discussion on why it didn't work is totally fine.
Honestly, the important thing is to be upfront regarding the game's state. And be respectful of people's time. It's totally OK to show a game that probably won't be fun if you're learn a lot from it. Conversely, if you're not learning anything from a game being played (maybe you've already realised there are major changes to be made), don't force folk to play any longer.
At our Friday daytime playtest sessions long as you are respectful of other folk and spend time testing other designers' things, you can organise your 'slot' however you wish. One designer in the past just wanted to gather 2 or 3 other folk to chat through ideas and that's totally OK!
"the games that are presented are somehow patented or it's more a matter of trust among the group?"
There are 2 parts to this. Firstly, it's generally not worth the time/effort/money to patent part of a game. And patents are of limited value anyway. Secondly, the attendees are either coming to have a good time, or to work on (and improve) their own ideas. People aren't coming to steal ideas.
Yogi will probably be my most financially successful game ever. It is currently paying my rent. I'm sure that many other folk realised - during its creation - that it had potential to sell a reasonable amount. Yet, there was never any doubt in my mind that it wouldn't be 'stolen'.
Theoretically, if we were working on toys that were likely to sell in the millions (e.g. Pie Face), we might start getting some 'spies'. There is simply not enough money involved so we have fostered a relatively healthy environment of folk who genuinely want to help each other create the best games possible.
If something ever were to be stolen, you'd have some witnesses to confirm that your game came first. But remember that you can't easily protect game mechanisms.
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Folk talk about 'when to shelve a game design'.
I feel like shelving a game can sometimes be easier than scrapping a mechanism and trying something totally different.
Shelving a design is something that can be undone. You can grab that design again.
I could probably argue that making a wild change to a game is more difficult, emotionally. You're not just abandoning a thing, but admitting that maybe its entire DNA was invalid.
But that is the nature of design.
Start somewhere. Add things. Change things. Sometimes you need to remove things. Sometimes you need to change the game completely. In some ways it's a different game.
In the same ways that we keep changing each moment, and 'you can never step into the same stream twice', you are constantly killing your game.
You have to be OK with that.
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19 Nov 2019
"I need to do X."
It's always worth asking why.
You need to breathe in order to live. Do you need to eat? Certainly, if you skip a meal and don't eat for most the day it won't be the end of you.
Do you need to attend the event? Only in order to do whatever will happen there. Only in order to engage with that event.
Do you have to pay taxes? Only in order to enable the government to spend slightly more money, and not get in trouble.
There is a desired outcome to every 'need', whether that's staying true to your own morals, having the social contact you crave, or continuing your life. And, of course, we have a hierarchy of objectives. Something may need to be abandoned in order to facilitate the bigger goals.
What do you prioritise?
It's always worth asking what your purpose is.
Is X a great idea for your game? It's all contextual.
I loathe games that can end in stalemates or require weird rules to end the game. But Chess continues to be loved.
I love a system of economic that means the game plays wildly differently with different groups. Kawaii and Container epitomise this same aspect well, despite being entirely different experiences. But there is no single mechanism or even any single trait that would benefit every single game.
Someone else wrote, "great ideas and marketable ideas are often not the same thing". Well, what are the ideas that you want? What do you need? What is the purpose of this idea?
If your goal is to sell lots of units, then an idea that doesn't do that isn't 'great'.
If your goal is to establish feelings of discomfort and explore the notion of discrimination and subjugation of power, then an idea that takes away from that experience is not 'great'.
I posit that a 'great idea for another game' is a redundancy. Or an epithet to coddle a playtester that is now giving you bad advice. Any idea could be great in another context. I suppose the more useful notion would be to say that an idea is 'great for another game that I MIGHT MAKE.'
Anything can be a need. Great. Or terrible. Or, quite possibly, all 3 depending on your goals, intentions, and purpose.
Only if you know what you're trying to do can you really say what you 'need' and what is 'great'.
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10 Oct 2019
I've been asked this a few times, so here is a slightly more in-depth answer.
(The short answer, which could apply to 99% of design questions I'm asked is, "Iteration.")
Having conceived Wibbell in my mind, realising that I needed 2 letters to make it easier for folk to come up with words, I just made some cards in a vaguely arbitrary way.
I almost certainly wouldn't have used 2 really uncommon letters (due to factors I wasn't consciously aware of) but I might have used, say, a 'CQ'.
After a few games, Dean Morris suggested I look at the frequency of all the letters and match the most common with the rarest, working towards cards that have average utility. That way, each card would have a similar 'mean' (average) utility.
I looked at Wikipedia. Given that I am making a word game and not a game that has any need to be steeped in facts, this was enough research.
I think I physically made some cards ad hoc before realising that it was a non-trivial problem. I wanted all the pairings to be unique. I wanted 'easier' letters to be represented more. I ended up making a spreadsheet to work out how to distribute letters. It was increasingly clear that one common letter and one uncommon/rare letter per card was the best way to go.
After another iteration, I was pondering if I should narrow the range a bit. Now, letters would only appear a maximum of 6 times. 6x8 (48) seemed like a decent number of cards. It also worked well for roughly how often I wanted other letters to appear.
In determining the letter frequency I not only considered the frequency of usage but also how often they are used as the first letter. (This would be important for Faybell/Phrasell. It's easier to form words when you have the first letter than the last letter and - given that you can use any letters you want in Wibbell - this is important.)
frequencies of frequencies
If I had 8 letters appearing 6 times, how many letters would appear 5x? How many 4x? etc. For full conveyance of information, I added numbers, depicting how often the 'uncommon' letter appeared in the deck.
Whilst none of the games had used these numbers, I wanted to leave this possibility open.
Again using a spreadsheet, I played with possibilities.
I wanted to keep the frequency of each frequency similar-ish. When this proved impossible, I decided to have 3 5s, 3 4s, 3 3s, 3 2s and 6 1s. This meant that the frequencies would appear 15, 12, 9, 6, 6 times. This seems like the most pleasing pattern possible.
David Brain was the major force here, as well as my own playtesting, information gathering, and iteration cycle.
David Brain suggested I demote 'H' and promote 'R'. There were a few other tweaks in frequency that David was able to suggest, given their experience of creating puzzles and crosswords.
NZ were paired because - no matter how clearly I drew the Z - someone would always be confused by it, asking if it was an N or a Z.
M and W were often confused. Even with the stylised W you see now, there is still an occasional person who gets confused under pressure. To minimise this issue, I paired these letters with something that had no rotational symmetry. So of the top letters (AEINORST), only 4 of them could have an M or W.
Some similar decisions were made for other letters that might be confused for something else (even a P, which could only be confused with a lower-letter thing that wasn't even in the deck).
spacing out the alphabet
Puzzell was a game I made, partially inspired by Andrew Dennison's Alphabetickell. For the sake of this one game, I changed the letter pairs so each pair of 2 letters would have more 'distance' in the alphabet.
This didn't make any other game worse. Not only did it massively improve Puzzell, but it would also improve any future game wherein you're arranging things alphabetically.
Iteration never stops. All this was done before my KS in early 2016. Over the ensuing year, I iterated not just on the games but also kept an eye out on certain pairs. Before it went to print (a year after the KS), I had plenty of opportunities to chat to David Brain and Paul Mansfield about the exact pairs. I think there were about 3 changes (out of 96 'slots') over that year.
In the time since, I've been happy enough with the pairings that I don't feel compelled to change anything. I'll no doubt have ideas over the forthcoming year. Maybe I'll make some tweaks when it comes to the 5th or 10th anniversary.
IU and OU should probably not be a card. Currently, there is 25/48 chance of a given card containing a vowel. If U only appeared with consonants, that probability would increase to 27/48.
SG is a bit overpowered in Wibbell. G shouldn't appear more than 3 times, but it's very easy to add as part of a suffix ('ING') and plurals make using the S very simple. Arguably, all the Ss should appear with the most difficult letters. But Z should definitely appear with N. So I can't just pair the Ss with the 6 '1's. Maybe pairing them with the 1s and 2s (3 of each) would be the most pleasing answer.
There are a few pairs that might be more frequent causes of aggravation (folk wanting to use both letters rather than just 1, then getting confused) but I'm not willing to point at any in particular without more data.
I'm proud of what I've done so far. It's certainly not perfect. But nothing ever is.
I hope this post has given you some insight into the thought that went into one aspect of this deck.
As always, input/criticism/feedback is very welcome.
How would you feel if I changed all the pairings in a year's time?
I know some folk hate new editions of things they've already bought, and I don't want to invalidate old editions.
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29 Dec 2018
I was frankly shocked to read (on a FB group) someone claiming that EVERY boardgame has a typo.
Inspired by the Knuth Reward Cheques, I'll adopt a reward system starting with Wibbell++ 2nd edition and Kitty Cataclysm.
If anyone finds any typos in Yogi (English edition) or any game I release in 2019 onwards, I will:
- pay you the UK RRP via Paypal or another method
- send you a unique comic congratulating you
- send a free copy of the next printing.
(Just for the first person to spot each mistake.)
That seems like a good motivation for folk to let me know about my mistakes and help me make my games as perfect as possible.
I know that perfection is unattainable but it appalls me to hear people saying that 2 typos on a box cover isn't a big deal.
Imperfections and mistakes aren't a reason to start making any creator feel bad. Swearing and personal attacks are often unnecessary. But folk should strive for a level of quality.
In the meantime, I am going to claim that Yogi (the English edition at least) has no typos.
Edit: In the instance that a new edition of a given ruleset has been mass produced, the previous version might no longer be eligible. So if you're reading this in 2037, all the games in Wibbell++ 2nd edition will almost certainly have been reprinted.
I will be upload some rules onto BGG at some point. However, this will be after release. You can either buy the game(s) or wait a few months for me to upload stuff.
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23 Aug 2018
Sometimes, you need to take a step back.
It's all well and good starting on something and then refining it, but having a brief - even one you write yourself - can help you make something of real value.
I mean, there is value in a game that is fairly mediocre, simply mixing the same mechanisms together with new numbers/details, presenting a new set of puzzles for groups to explore together.
Or to simply add a new option in a niche category that some folk have bought every example of.
Be honest with yourself. What do you want to make?
What experience do you want to elicit? Mirth? Introspection? Thoughtful calculation?
If you're designing for a particular audience - specially a classroom, where you might be trying to teach particular lessons - it's imperative that you first work out exactly what it is that you want to create.
What lessons should folk walk away with?
Or, if not lessons, what memories?
If you're designing for a particular classroom, bespoke audience, or particular publisher or franchise, then it's not enough to make a good game. Even something that's 8/10 on BGG may be terrible for the game you are trying to make.
I like to make prototypes quickly when I can. But there's no shame in letting things simmer for a while. Or trying a prototype and then scrapping it all.
Work out - what you want to do? What do you want to make?
Knowing your goal makes it so much more likely that you'll succeed.
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16 Aug 2018
Why do we want simplicity?
There are so many games where simplification would make it worse.
Yogi is better (in my biased opinion) by virtue of its complexity if we consider that it has 54 unique cards.
I bought a new game a few days ago for research and there are 4 copies of each card. But it's a party game. You draw random cards and they combine. More variation would have made it more exciting, adding so many more permutations of possibilities.
I am going to guess that this was a product of the time/testing budget they had available.
Let's call this complexity under the hood though.
To a first-time player, it doesn't really matter if you have 13 different cards or 52 (or 54). That's not going to make their learning any easier.
I guess what is important is that you have simplicity in the up-front information that needs to be learned.
Yogi has that simplicity where it matters.
I guess one key reason for simplicity is accessibility. If it takes me 30s to explain the game, then that's a sign that far more folk can play it than a game I can teach in 1 minute. The same applies to a more complex game. If it takes me 20 minutes to teach all the minutiae but I could retain 99% of the fun and make it possible to teach in 10 minutes, then that's probably great.
Cards are a great way to hide complexity.
Recently, people have tried to add rules as games go on. Via Fear, Fortress and Flee but also via legacy games like Pandemic Legacy: Season 1.
It all works towards getting people into the game as quickly as possible, and then adding some extra rules and exceptions via new cards. You can have a lot of text on a card; give a lot of info; and they are cheap to print.
New units, or tokens that need to be looked up can achieve some of this.
I don't know of games off-hand that introduce new units mid-game. But this would be analogous to drawing new cards in Magic: The Gathering or whatever. The base rules are (relatively) simple but the cards add surprises, variance and complexity.
I guess maybe Small World? That's brilliant. Such simple rules, and each race/class has a power, leading to so many possible combinations. And you only need to consider a few at a time.
With some cardboard tokens you can flip them over, then refer to the rulesheets. There is no need to learn all that ahead of time. If there were 8 types of tokens, all presented at the start, then the game would be both more and less simple. More to consider at the start and less potential things to consider over the course of the game, and repeated plays.
I guess simplicity is a multitude of aspects and we can ponder not only the simplicity at any given moment, but the simplicity up-front, mid-game and also over the lifespan of the game.
MaRo talks about, "Comprehension", "Board", and "Strategic" complexity. These are good things to consider.
But the strategic complexity up-front should be less than mid-game or after game 20. (I want some idea of what to do - some 'first level heuristics'!)
We are allowed to have more comprehension complexity as long as it's not front-loaded.
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