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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Starting conditions. An attempt at a break-down.

Bez Shahriari
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A week ago, I started a twitter poll. 200+ votes later, it turns out that folk like whimsy in their games. Who knew‽

https://twitter.com/stuffByBez/status/1219914450058252293

Whilst responses came in, I was shown a couple of geeklists that made for interesting reading.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/260601/start-player-r...
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/76700/many-odd-and-mu...

I currently believe that there are (broadly) 4 ways to determine start player:

Compare attributes of the players (physical qualities, or characteristics)
Compare when you all did X.
Compare how much you all did X.
Mini-game/competition.



As someone said on Twitter, these start-selection methods can be fun to read whether you actually use them or not. At worst, they will be ignored in favour of randomness. But given that folk enjoy whimsy, let's all get whimsical, whimsical...

Compare attributes of the players (physical qualities, or characteristics)

E.g. Looks most like a cat. Hairiest. Calmest. Most Zen.

This can be problematic in that it may be unlikely to change. Will 'pointiest ears' ever change, realistically‽

One version of Once Upon A Time apparently asked folk to draw a random card and ask who looks most like that card. This is a clever way to change it up and spark new conversations (which is arguably the reason to play that game).

Having a more mutable quality (best hairdo, most colourful) is another way to ensure that it changes up. But even then, some folk have their preferred style of dressing and stick to it. I'd almost always win the 'wearing most red' comparison.

Some of the comparisons (most money in pocket, biggest house, biggest nose) can lead to some bad feelings. It's important to consider how people will actually feel and the emotional/social impact of this cmparison.


Compare when you all did X.


E.g. Most recent player to touch a tree, find a leaf, visit Portugal, go swimming, buy something.

Arguably, 'youngest', is simply 'most recent to be born'. The issue is simply that it never changes. And what happens if you're all doing it right now, e.g. playing a game in Portugal‽ I really like things that are likely to be done regularly, as that changes the start player within the same group (and facilitates new conversation and interest, which is really the point of these comparisons).

Other than being born, I don't know many games that define start player as the person who has not done X for the longest period of time. That might be a bit trickier to compare, but it'd be fun to have an anti-capitalism game that awarded start player to the person who had not bought anything for the longest period of time. Of course, such a game should probably be given away and not sold, but that's beside the point. I'm sure someone can point out other potential applications, or even games that already do this, in the comments.


Compare how much you all did X.


E.g. Who has read the most sci-fi books.

This just sounds like it's hard to compare in a group that often does X. If 'most boardgames played' were an option at Bastion, I don't think we'd have been able to estimate at all. I've played between 500 and 2500 games, I think? Maybe read between 5 and 25 sci-fi books? It's hard to judge.

Also, the start player is unlikely to change.

This seems like a terrible one to me.


Mini-game/competition


E.g. Who can jump the highest. Who can roar the loudest. Everyone point at another player and the player with the most fingers starts. A quick game of throwing components and trying to get them to land near a wall. Reveal fingers - lowest unique number starts. First player to choose their starting card.

I'm a big fan of the 'lowest unique number' starting method when there is a small advantage to starting.

Interestingly, the last option mentioned allows the mini-game to be a very real part of the actual game and encourages fast play.

Another point of note is that 'who found a leaf most recently' can turn into a mini-game, even though I put it into another section. There is also some cross-over between this group and the comparison of characteristics.

Other methods:


Random, based on game components:
E.g. The person with the card earliest in the alphabet. Cards can have a small indicator to determine start player.

Lottery:
E.g. picking components out of a hand. Chwazi and other apps.

Auctioning of in-game resources.

Previous loser chooses.

Can you think of a start-selection method that doesn't fit into one of these categories?
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Wed Jan 29, 2020 8:29 pm
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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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What is research? (In the context of boardgames.)

Bez Shahriari
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Research is exploring the world around you, thinking deeply about everything you see, and wondering if this could be a game.

Examining a method of establishing government, a psychological bias, or the movement of an animal, or the nesting of ducks, or the growth of an apple tree, or anything else.

Maybe you don't need to do the wondering or pondering. Maybe simply gaining the experiences to draw upon could be called research. Whether you're playing boardgames or living your life and paying attention to everything. Being mindful of the world around you is research.

Let's call that INCIDENTAL RESEARCH.

(Note: for this and the other terms, please tell me if there's an existing term/framework for this.)

After the concept has been decided, you might be doing research to either see what's out there, or find out about the world you're portraying. Maybe you're making an alternate-history steampunk game about machines gaining sentience, and so you start reading about the British monarchs and old technology, maybe paying special attention to Charles Babbage's machines in the Science Museum.

I think this is usually called HISTORICAL RESEARCH, although it'll only serve games that actually have some grounding in reality.

Maybe you're making a big-body dexterity game, so you read all the information about the (few) other games you can find in the same genre on BGG. Maybe you even buy one to play.

I guess that is MARKET RESEARCH?

Playtesting is it's own sort of research. It's a form of experimental research that instantly informs your future creative work. When I played the terrible game (I'm not being humble) that informed the creation of In A Bind, I paid attention to what was fun. What was confusing? What was boring?

Nowadays, I do a lot more pondering and simulations in my mind, but this sort of experimental research is the fundamental cornerstone of all game creation. Making something, seeing how real-life-humans react to it, then making decisions based on that new knowledge.

This sort of research is basically either PLAYTESTING (in one of its many forms) or BLIND-TESTING for the rules, which I'm dividing only because at that point you may be investigating how to create the best rulesheet, rather than what the best set of rules is.

Of course, you will get all sorts of INCIDENTAL PLAYTESTING during the process. By the end of this year, I'll have self-published 10 games (3 different IAB decks, 6 W++ games and Kitty Cataclysm). One of the W++ games was changed because of the creativity of a proof-reader (Mick Wood). Three games were changed for the 2nd edition Wibbell++ deck because of my observations when my primary purpose was demoing/selling.

In the end, you need to decide whether your game is good enough to sell. And should you print 3,000 or 1,000? Or is it a good enough mass-market game that a publisher can guarantee 20k initial print run? Some of this will be based on your knowledge of the industry, what already exists, and how many copies other things sell. Thanks to all the incidental research you've done by virtue of either working in the industry, or just having a major interest.

A few ways to do this are via MARKET RESEARCH.

This might be demoing your game to the target audience and asking them how much they will pay; asking surveys; or running a KS. This isn't demoing with the primary purpose of improving the game. This is demoing with the primary purpose of testing the market.

Do you think I've missed out any forms of research? Would you give any of them different names?
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Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:52 pm
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The steps of the process - one way to look at things.

Bez Shahriari
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Yesterday I was talking to Drew Richards (a product design graduate who made a co-op boardgame as part of their masters) about the creation process of a typical game.

I think of it as 'concept, design, development, mass production'.

Drew pointed out that 'concept' was the 3rd step in their opinion. They would add 'research' and 'insight'.

I'd like to tell you about my current mental model. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, or what your own model looks like.

Research

This might involve reading, looking at the world around you, or first-hand experiences.

Sometimes you might think of a 'double diamond' shape - you look at all the possibilities, expanding your vision, then pick one to concentrate and 'converge' upon. Then you look at all the possibilities within this new, smaller, space. Then converge once more.

Research might start off loose. Be playful in your living and get inspired by everything. Or maybe you want to restrict yourself to research within a particular thing. Maybe just reading and learning about war (maybe you only make wargames).

Insight

This is something upon which to base the concept.

Drew gave the example of riding a bus as research. Maybe the insight is the separation in demographics between the upper and lower deck.

Concept

So then you decide that you'll make something to allow older folk better access to the top level. Or whatever.

It might be worth checking the concept, specially if you're making something more 'practical' than entertainment. Whereas entertainment is all about delight and surprise (presenting things that folk might not realise they want), it's still important to check the viability along the way.

For a boardgame, I think this means that you know what it is you're aiming to make. Maybe you have some intended experience, some component you're aiming to use, or whatever.

Design

In the case of a game, you know what you're making and maybe you start writing cards. Or typing numbers into a spread-sheet. Or pondering possible mechanisms to use in your game. By the end of the design process, it should be a game that has been playtested a few times and been enjoyed.

The basic core mechanisms should be in place.

Development

This is usually organised by the publisher. Sometimes, it may also be the designer.

Trying to maximise the fun experience that the game already is. There may be new elements added to support to central core, or things removed.

If there are numbers, some of them will be tweaked.

Simultaneously, rules-writing will happen - if it hasn't already - and there will be blind-testing to check the comprehension of the rules.

mass production

At this point, there as so many things that need to be done. Illustration, graphic design, messaging printers for quotes, sending files off, maybe getting a pre-production copy... and then the shipping.

Like so much of the above, it can really happen in any order. Maybe the illustration comes first and a game is made around it. The writing of rules can come at the start of design, or towards the end of development.

But I guess that this is a vague notion of how I see the 'default workflow' currently.

Tomorrow I'll post a few vague thoughts about research.
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Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:31 pm
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Defining blind testing. Remote testing. Turn, round.

Bez Shahriari
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Recently, Paul Grogan tried to clarify Julien Griffon's definition of 'blind testing'.

As boring as semantics may seem, the meaning of words is instrumental to effective communication. If I am to communicate with anyone, you should know what I mean by the words that I use.

If you use these words differently, I'd be interested to hear from you.

blind testing

This is when the players need to learn to play themselves. There is no input, or teaching from a designer (or rep). I run blind tests for every game before publication. Otherwise, how will you know if the rulebook is any good?

remote testing

This is when the game is being tested in a remote location. It may not necessarily be 'blind'. Remote testing may be over a digital medium, or it may be a physical copy sent to (or assembled by) a tester. The tester might have the designer/rep on skype (available to teach and observe).

More usually, remote testers might write answers to questions, write general thoughts, or record themselves (via video or audio).

I'm terrible at organising this.

local testing

The opposite of remote testing. I prefer this and consider it far more valuable. Remote testing just allows you to get more testers and groups.

whilst I'm defining words...

turn

One person does some things.

round

Everyone at the table gets an opportunity to do everything. I.e. the turn goes 'around' the table.
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Mon Jul 2, 2018 7:00 am
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