Thoughts by Bez

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.

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Reasons to house-rule a game.

Bez Shahriari
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YOUR GROUP IS UNIQUE


A game is (usually) made for a large number people. Not you. Not your individual group. During the design of ANY game, there will be choices to make that don't have a clear answer. Either answer leads to a good game. A choice must be made. Do you want to prioritise simplicity or strategic possibilities? The opportunity to be sadistic, or the ability to play without interference?

We all have different preferences. Maybe even different ones on different days.

I often enjoy superfluous complexity in my speed games.

Your group dynamic is unique.

The point is that the game is not made specifically for you. If you think that you'd prefer the game if you were able to run your engine for another 4 turns, then try it out.


YOU WANT VARIETY


One way to accomplish this is by buying new games, expansions, or variants. I own both Ticket to Ride: London and Ticket to Ride: New York.

But maybe you have played XXXXX a whole bunch of times, and want to try something different. If you love the basic framework, why not change the scoring system or something and enjoy the slight change?


CURIOUSITY


Maybe you're a little curious. What would Settlers of Catan be like if you were to play to 15 pts with 3 players? Probably terrible, but it might be interesting to experience it first-hand.

STARTING GAME DESIGN


Maybe after raising the goal of Catan, you decide that you want to add another building. Maybe make it a building that sits on a road, and grabs a resource from each adjacent hex. Or maybe you want there to be a card that allows you to jump around the map.

Fairly soon, you'll find that you're making a new game. This is how game designers can start - first learning about the ramifications of different design decisions. Once you've gained confidence in house-ruling games, maybe you'll start a brand-new game.



RULES ARE NOT SACROSANCT


Designers dont present this immaculate conception to the world, in such a pure state of perfection that it would be a sin to change a single detail.

If you want to try a houserule, and your playgroup agrees, then you are allowed to change the game. Maybe it'll be better for you. Maybe worse. Maybe it'll be better for your group, even though it's the worse decision for the market as a whole.

The best way to find out is by trying it!
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Thu Mar 5, 2020 8:27 pm
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Procrastination.

Bez Shahriari
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Have a thing to do.

I can do it later.

Problems arise. I don't do it.

Feel guilty. Put it off.

Don't do it. Make a game to avoid doing it. Productive procrastination.

Do it. Some damage is done. It would have been better to do this earlier.

Tell myself I'll do better next time.

There's always next time.

We're all learning. I can forgive myself.

I'll do better someday.
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Sun Jan 19, 2020 11:47 pm
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Happy Birthday, Gil Hova!

Bez Shahriari
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Without Gil Hova, my ELL deck would not exist.

I found this game years ago - Prolix.

It's since been redesigned as Wordsy, which is far better in nearly-every-way with a bit of streamlining.

The notion of a wordgame wherein you can use ANY letters you want (but are rewarded for using more of the letters you see) is totally unique, I believe.

In most word games, the letters are your tools. Your only tools. If you want to use an additional letter, then tough.

In several wordgames, you get a letter that the word needs to start with and the rest is up to you.

Conversely, in Prolix/Wordsy, you can use these letters anywhere you want. These letters aren't restrictions, or the sum total of the tools at your disposal. Each letter is an opportunity and you score points for each one you use.

Also notable is the fact that Prolix/Wordsy is a realtime game, wherein the exact total time limit is dictated by the group. Normally, word games can be a slow affair, as everyone works harder to find a better word. I thought I didn't like word games, but it turns out that I just don't like wordgames when they play slowly.

As suggested in this blogpost from nearly 5 years ago, I'd been pondering Prolix and why I loved it - the speed and the ability to use additional letters. I was pondering if I could simplify it even further and then I ended up with Wibbell, which spawned an entire game system.

It was incredibly gratifying to have Gil himself comment and offer me some encouragement! I was excited to then actually meet them at a UKGE and Essen!

I have had the pleasure to bump my fist against Gil's. (Like some folk, Gil doesn't hi-5 or handshake, in order to avoid germs.)

I have had the pleasure to play several games with Gil - The Mind, Wordsy, and Wibbell.

Gil has also made other games. They are probably best known for The Networks, which has so much fun humour, parodying TV shows. Battle Merchants is one I'd love to try one day - all about selling weapons to armies and profiteering from a war. It sounds close to social commentary.

Gil seems like a cool person and you might want to check out their stuff.

Happy birthday, Gil!
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Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:01 pm
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AQs: are there too many games?

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I think that 'too many', or 'too few' need some clause.

Too many for what?!

Too many for all designers to be able to financially afford to do it full time? Yes.

Too many for shops to stock more that a tiny fraction? Yes.

Too many for the market to support another title? No.

Too many for there to be any possibility of further innovation? No.

=========

Ages ago, someone pointed out that when I say, "I need to get ready to go out," they could say, "no, you don't."

Do I need to even go out? Certainly not if my 'need' is a measure of 'what do I need in order to stay alive'. Now, this was an annoying thing to point out at the time, but it is useful to ponder WHY you are doing a thing.

Instead of saying, "I need to go out," you could say, "I need to go out... in order to have an enjoyable evening and bring some semblance of interest into my otherwise uneventful life."

Or maybe, "I need to go out in order to meet people that may be important to my business." Whatever. The point is that the phrases, "need", "too many" and "too few" are meaningless without some sort of qualifier.

=========

I used to believe that every game published should be an attempt at making an evergreen title. Each game should be completely new, or better, than other things before. To publish a game that you didn't believe would be an evergreen seemed like laziness.

Now, I realise that even the best games might never be reprinted. Maybe the publisher doesn't want the hassle of reprinting. Whatever.

There is value in having weird stuff around. Sadly, some of that stuff may not be as marketable.

==========

I guess that if a publisher/shop/distributor says, "there are too many games," they are probably meaning "there are too many games for us to have an easy life."

Sure, if there were 50 games release each year, I'm sure I'd have a lot more excitement over each game I release and I'd probably be better off, financially.

==========

Many years ago, I realised something astounding. On one website, each day there was more than 24 hrs of music uploaded. I could literally have a soundtrack of music, that people had spent real time and effort on, and never hear the same track twice.

Listening to everything is impossible.

Watching everything is impossible.

Reading everything is impossible.

Playing everything is impossible.

In today's world of abundance, we have to acquire new skills.

The skill of being selective. With so much around, it's no surprise that folk will abandon a game after one play, or just skim an article and skip most of it. That we might still find ourselves drawn to finishing a TV show even after it's not that good anymore is a thing I"ll leave you to ponder.

The other skill is that of being OK with not seeing stuff. This is difficult. FOMO is a real thing. We find ourselves driven to check out everything. Yearning the experiences that everyone else talks about so we can engage in that discussion. Craving to find new things so we can show our friends.

But at a certain point, in order to maximise our own happiness, we need to be OK with not experiencing everything.

If we are, then overabundance ceases to be a real problem.
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Thu Jan 9, 2020 12:58 am
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Top 9 mechanisms I'd like to see listed on BGG

Bez Shahriari
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I've not actually read the book, but a skim of the existing categories suggests that none of these things are represented on BGG.


Throwing objects


Physically very different from flicking. If only because it uses a 3d space rather than just one plane. Might involve flinging or bouncing.
E.g. Mini Mölkky, Cubiko


Removing objects

Feels very different from Rhino Hero, Stack Market imo, which are part of the 'stacking/balancing'
E.g. Jenga, Villa Paletti


Indirect manipulation

Sometimes you have to move/stack things using chopsticks, a crane attached to your head, etc.
E.g. Chopstick Dexterity MegaChallenge 3000, Lift it!


contortion

Maybe 'contortion' is a bit of a strong word (suggesting a higher level of difficulty than is true), but this is basically how I'd describe Twister, Body Party, and Yogi.


Judging

A decision from one single player on which thing was 'best'. Might be done after public contributions (e.g. Snake Oil, Phrasell, Say Anything) or after private contributions (e.g. CAH, Apples to Apples)
I would almost suggest having them be 2 separate categories as one is far more susceptible to player bias. But I was surprised to not see any form of judging represented.


Drawing

This is a fairly major mechanism and something that will really distinguish any game it appears in.
Pictionary, A Fake Artist Goes to New York, Art Deck


clues

Totally different from 'targetted clues', in which you don't want everyone to guess. Here, you want everyone who is eligible to guess to get the answer as quickly as possible. The eligible guessers may be just one person.
Creationary, Taboo
I'm not sure where the games would go wherein you want folk to get it correct but only after some time. E.g. Good Question!, Dohdles!. I guess that would fit best under Targeted clues?


Attention-grabbing

Shouting in Pit to stand a chance. Making your body movements obvious in Happy Salmon.
These games are dependent on being noticed and will be terrible for shy folk.

grabbing/slapping

Slapping a comunal thing, or grabbing it. + (plus), Jungle Speed, Grabbell
This can turn some folk off because of the potential for slapping/scratching other players. Far more than if you've got communal speed-placement like some of the Spot it! games. Conversely, it's an easy way to show who did something first.
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Tue Oct 8, 2019 12:15 pm
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10 ways to determine start player:

Bez Shahriari
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Lowest unique number
On the count of 3, everyone shows any number of fingers. Whoever showed the lowest unique number starts. If there's a tie, go again.

Works well for games with 3+ players, where folk actually want to go first.

My favourite method, as you have a sense of some personal control over your fate.

Roll a die
Ascribe each number to a particular person. (Some numbers can be 'left over' and indicate a reroll is required.)

Roll the die, then the player is chosen.

I find this fiddly and underwhelming.

Roll dice
Everyone rolls a die. Highest number starts. In the event of a tie for highest, the joint-highest folk repeat the process.

Some folk may enjoy the act of rolling dice.


Consider some quality of the players
E.g. 'Whoever is the tallest person starts.' or 'The youngest player starts.' or 'Whoever was born farthest from your present location starts.'

I like learning things about folk, but if you play a game a few times, this means that the same person is likely to always start.


Consider recent activities of the players
E.g. 'Whoever found a leaf most recently starts', 'Whoever had sex most recently starts.' or 'Whoever was on a boat most recently starts.'

I prefer this method, since the start player is more likely to change. If it's something that can be done where you're playing (e.g. finding a leaf when playing outdoors) it can result in a fun leaf-finding subgame. Works well depending on the group.

Of course, like the previous method, it may be better to avoid sensitive topics like sex or age.


Pull pieces out of a bag
Put one piece of each player colour into a bag (or into cupped hands, held high). Someone draws out the start player.

I always find this underwhelming.


Draw & compare cards
Take cards from the top of a deck. Or maybe cut & reveal. Whoever reveals the highest card starts.

Has similar benefits to rolling dice if the game uses cards of various numbers.


A quick subjective contest
E.g. 'Whoever does the best train impression', 'Whoever does the best dance' or 'Whoever draws the best cat impression.'

Can work well for sillier games, and provide an opportunity for some folk to be in the spotlight for a moment, whilst no-one is obliged to share the spotlight.

Fastest player starts
In Kitty Cataclysm, whoever is first to put down a card in front of them does that as part of the first turn of the game.

This encourages folk to start the game quickly and sets the tone of speed of play. I think it works well for a quick, light game.


Check the starting deal
In a game where an entire set of cards is dealt to players, maybe the person who got a specific card begins.

Can help in balancing the game.
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Sat Aug 25, 2018 3:44 pm
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#BGDevCon 3 summary

Bez Shahriari
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It was a good day.

We had visitors from Ireland and all over England. So many people cam together to learn from, and share knowledge with, each other.

There were introductions. There was chit-chat.

There were short talks.

Katie talked about her personal journey in developing GameExplorers.

Alfie talked about how 'we are already in a dystopian universe' and maybe we should be making games that actually comment upon the current state of the world.

Luke explained how brute-forcing simulations of games could provide a new lens for improving balance.

Andy - games have evolved and you can't be stuck in the past. Conversely, branding helps you sell stuff.

Fede - why not have more AI in boardgames? Where can we go?

Bez (me) - making games for families to play together. (Feedback loops, importance of involvement v winning, co-ops, inherent fun, personal minor victories)

Mike - their process: starting with a challenge, then research. Considering replayability and 'fuzziness'.

David D - Randomness creates clusters and this should be designed around.

Adam Porter - Be different. Make lists of 10 things. (This is something I'll definitely do)

Flo - 10% of folk have dyslexia. Use mixed case and simpler words.

Dean - 3D printing is cool, but know when to stop.

We then had post-mortems

I listened to Adam, Mike and Matthew give some very frank talks about their previous published efforts, and I tried to dissect Yogi.

Speed-design sessions

This went on most of the afternoon. 20-minute slots for pairs of people to brainstorm together and start working on a brand new concept, maybe having the basis of something to start designing by the end of the slot. I think these went well.

discussions

Sitting in a circle, chatting about publishers, self-publishing, and then mental health/organisation. The last one was particularly emotional and I wasn't the only one crying.

There is a bit more to the day than what I wrote but I want to thank every single attendee, and everyone who contributed to the day by offering their ideas, knowledge, money, or help in clearing up.

Andy did a phenomenal amount of work.

The life of #BGDevCon really relies upon Andy and the Adult Learning Academy. Hopefully next May/June, we will be able to announce that #BGDevCon 4 is happening on 17-8-2019.

Plan your summer holidays accordingly. :-p
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Sun Aug 19, 2018 10:18 pm
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AQs: Should I complain about this game box?

Bez Shahriari
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People who ship things don't tend to specialise in boardgames. Most of the things that are posted will see most of the packaging disposed of. The majority of folk throw away the boxes for their radios/TVs/etc. Boardgames are idiosyncratic in that the 'packaging' is part of the item.

I have bought an item from Amazon that was just a shrink-wrapped box with a label stuck on it. The gamebox was only protected from everything by a thin sheet of plastic. Of course it got damaged.

If this were a TV, I wouldn't care about the box in the slightest. The box would only be in case of returns.

If you were to buy a toolbox and it was cracked, no-one would say, 'it's only the box'.

If buying a boardgame, it's less clearcut, as the primary thing you purchase is the ability to play with the bits inside. But the box will likely be staying on your shelf, visible and proudly displaying itself.

I will point out that the box is often the most expensive component. Unless using a tuckbox, the box will likely be more expensive than the deck of cards, board, or even any mini inside.

It's expensive to replace. Not only is it expensive to manufacture, but also expensive to ship. It's - by design - larger than anything else. It'll be more fragile the 2nd time around with no pressure pushing outwards. Some companies simply refuse to replace boxes, but might offer other compensations instead.

Don't expect a company to automatically replace things for you, specially if they are a small startup with low margins.

But that doesn't mean you should let shoddy packing go unanswered.

Ultimately, it's up to you. If you're asking folk on a forum, then maybe use that time/energy for simply getting in touch with the seller.

If you paid more money for something deluxe I can imagine being a lot more bothered. If it was on clearance, then sometimes things are even advertised as having some possible defects.

Like everything, it's all psychology. The only reason to even play a game - arguably the only reason to do ANYTHING - is because of the way it affects our brains. Our brains compel us to do things, give us drugs for certain behaviours, and we 'want' to do things. There are some near-universal wants and desires. But if you're bothered by something than it doesn't matter if you're in the minority. And vice versa.

You don't need our permission to complain. But if you're acknowledging on social media that the defect is minor, then maybe acknowledge that when writing it. Don't be unpleasant about it.

As long as you follow the principle of the golden rule, you never need anybody's permission to do whatever.
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Thu Aug 9, 2018 10:39 am
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Why do a podcast?

Bez Shahriari
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- self promotion
- desire to help others
- desire to share oneself
- access to folk you admire/want to talk to
- routine encourages talking to friends
- routine encourages time to think/ponder
- practicing talking

I think those are all the reasons, but - as always - let me know if I missed something.

self promotion


Recently, I was on 3 podcasts. 5 Games for Doomsday, On Board Games, and Boardgame Design Lab.

I want people to know who I am. I want people to maybe try out Wibbell++ and other things.

When folk are running a KS, a bunch of podcasts and reviews and articles in the run-up will help. After being exposed so may times to an idea, people will start to think of it as a valid thing and may check it out.


desire to help others


Maybe you've got some knowledge/experience to share.

Maybe you want to tell others about games and either warn them away from certain titles, or steer them towards others.

Maybe you want to pass on design tips. Or strategy tips.

Maybe you've been to a bunch of conventions and can pass on advice - for designers, publishers or gamers to maximise their own good times.

Or maybe you are just letting folk live vicariously through you.

desire to share oneself


This is a bit more of an egotistical spin on the previous point, but I think it's definitely part of my motivation.

When folk appreciate something I've done, there's validation. I'm sharing part of myself and when folk enjoy it, that suggests that I - by association - also have some intrinsic value.

access to folk you admire/want to talk to


I got to chat to Ambie and Emma Larkins. I will soon be talking to Jamey Stegmaier.

Talking to people like this is an absolute joy.

I don't think I'd have had such fascinating conversations with Ambie/Emma if it weren't for my internet radio show.

I'm almost 100% sure that Jamey wouldn't be agreeing to talk to me for nearly an hour if there wasn't the expectation that I'd then be sharing their words with the world (and essentially helping promote Jamey a tiny bit).

routine encourages talking to friends


Sometimes, you have a friend that you'd like to talk to. But you don't make time.

I used to chat to Ben Neumann once a week for a month or so whilst we were recording the podcast that never went online. Eventually, we realised that neither of us was going to take the time to post it and we stopped.

Why? We were both getting value out of our conversations. Sometimes, a podcast forces a schedule and it's just fun to talk to folk that are either existing friends, or who might soon become friends.

I know that Donald Dennis/Erik Dewey of OBG have mentioned this as a real reason for podcasting.

routine encourages time to think/ponder


For me, there is some of this aspect in all my solo episodes. I get a chance to just ramble and talk out loud and solidify my thoughts.

When talking to someone else, you can also get some of this.

practicing talking


I guess maybe you want to practise talking with fewer fillers, pauses, controlling your tone/pitch more carefully or whatever.

It's useful to record yourself and listen back. Noticing things about how you speak and maybe trying to improve your elocution.


learning? etc.


Learning seems like a subset of getting to talk to other folk or pondering yourself.

Maybe you do it a podcast for fun. Maybe you do it to learn. Maybe you do it for validation, or human connection, or for bragging rights, or 'networking'. Maybe you want to have the silly joy of saying things to a person 'live' and seeing how they respond.

The access to folk you admire/want to talk to covers all of that. Everything can be subdivided.

We could subdivide the yearning for human connection and write a PhD about that one aspect.

But you can only delve so far, given finite time.

This is where I stop, but - as I say - your input/conversation is always welcome. :-)
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Tue Aug 7, 2018 12:07 pm
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What components should a 'Wibbell++' game use?

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When creating a game system, there inevitably comes the question of, "What other components can we use?"

Some game systems like Piecepack and Green Box of Games are all about having enough bits and pieces that you shouldn't need anything else.

Many, like The Badger Rainbow Deck and Series: Decktet Games are just a deck of cards. And I think the designers hope that no other bits will be required.

Looking at Components: Traditional Playing Cards, there are plenty of additional bits required. Poker needs some sort of currency. Many games require pen and paper for score-keeping. Cribbage is traditionally played with a custom board! (Though I personally find that making tally marks on paper works fine, that's beside the point.)

When the Components: Looney Pyramid Games became a system, I guess that the Looneys made a conscious decision to allow any additional things. The pyramids are a strange case because it took Andrew and Kristin Looney a few years (I think) before even deciding that the Icehouse pieces should become known as a game system in their own right - the Looney Pyramids. It was released in 1989 and the 2nd game on the BGG database for the system appeared in 1995.

In the book Playing With Pyramids (2002), 3/4 of the games require tarot cards, a chess board, or something more customised. In the 2007 competition - the first I could find records of - only 1 out of 8 games uses the pyramids alone.

So my take-away is that however you want to do it is probably fine.

There are many ways for a game system to grow. If folk would like to make a game using the Wibbell++ deck as just one component, then I would absolutely encourage that!

The only problem with taking no stance is that I worry about folk not exploring the available design space fully first.

David J. Mortimer sent a Poker-style game that involves word-building. We tested it a few times. It seemed to be engaging and work fairly well. I think I made a few tweaks and Dave & I were discussing possible options to explore.

It was around then that I was forced to make the decision: am I going to have this on the website, alongside the other W++ games?

There's a certain accessibility in folk being able to play a game with only the things that come in the box. Even pen & paper, or a phone, is a slight obstacle that not everyone could overcome in the moment.

I'd like folk to be able to print a random rulesheet and then learn the game when away camping.

Maybe there is a good way to simulate currency with the existing deck. Many of the games use the number of cards to record your points. In Quintuppell (old rules here), this actually had some nice emergent ramifications that helped the flow of the game.

Maybe there is another way to simulate currency. But if I don't seriously encourage exploration of this, will that ever be found?

That's why I said I'd give preference to games using few other components in the W++ competition announcement.

For sure, there are games that cannot be made with just the deck alone. But those can come later. There is plenty of time.

Maybe we can call those games part of a more-expansive 'Wibbell+++' game system?
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Wed Jul 18, 2018 11:07 am
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