Morning Table Talk

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Table Citizenship Part 1

Trevor Harron
United States
Washington
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For the last two weeks I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a good citizen of the table and how to improve group experiences. So, I will talk about it in terms of the Seven Deadly Sins and how to avoid them. The seven sins are Gluttony, Envy, Pride, Greed, Wrath, Sloth, and Lust. First I will describe the behavior that is represented by the sin and then how to avoid it. For each of these behaviors and solutions keep in mind the group you are playing with and where you are playing can impact the different solutions you may try. This week I will start by talking about the first three sins Gluttony, Envy, and Pride.

Gluttony

First the sin in regards to eating, the problem here is that one might be eating and drinking while playing. One of the problems can emerge from this is that the food or drink can spill and potentially damage the game. One can also have grease on their fingers can that can damage cards and other tokens. In either case, the first solution is to avoid eating and playing at the same time but if you have to have napkins ready to wipe your hands with the food and drink away from the game.

Also, if alcohol is involved try not to drink too much, you could increase your chance of spilling as well as potentially pulling focus away from the game itself. In general, one should always know their limits in drinking and realize when they are reaching that limit. If this continues to be a problem, then maybe just have non-alcoholic drinks ready and ban drinking. That however is an extreme position and should be avoided unless necessary.

Envy

Envy can manifest in a few ways. The first is that someone may either become jealous of another player’s collection or complain about the games not present. One of the things to keep in mind is that the games available are the ones you can play at that time, complaining will not help that situation and if you want a game up for consideration then bring it for play. The other solution is not to take games without permission which shouldn’t need to be said but still should be especially in regards to games at game cafes.

The second version of Envy that can manifest is being a sore loser. While some grumbling is expected, once the next game is on the table as a player you should let the game be a game and leave defeat in the past. If one continues to grumble, this could impact not only the table at large but also can impact one’s own playing ability. My advice is to take a deep breath and focus on trying to win the next game. Simple and hopefully effective.

Pride

Now with Pride the biggest issue I have seen is that sometimes people celebrate a victory or even a great move without regard to the frustration this might cause to other players. To avoid this the best thing to do is after your initial celebration move onto the move and try to emphasis other players actions. It is perfectly fine to talk about the move or victory but try to pay attention to the other people at the table. If eyes are glossing over and people are trying to move to the next game or move then go with that flow. In short, try to understand what it would feel like if someone else was doing what you are doing.

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to make your game nights more enjoyable and hope you have a great morning.
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Thu Nov 2, 2017 11:11 pm
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A Brief Look at Bartel's Taxonomy

Trevor Harron
United States
Washington
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This week I want to touch on the different types of players and what they might see as fun in a game. As a note, this is loosely based on Bartle’s Taxonomy (which you can read here) which is a good framework but as some have pointed out is not the be all end for developing games with players in mind.

Bartel’s Taxonomy Briefly

For those of you who don’t know what Bartle’s Taxonomy was the observations of Richard Bartle in online games where he found that there were loosely 4 player types:

Clubs (aka Killers) - These players like to dominate and win

Spades (aka Explorers) - These players like to explore the game and world of the game

Diamonds (aka Achievers) - These players like to collect and set goals for themselves

Hearts (aka Socializers) - These players play to interact with one another

Now these groups also interact with each other in interesting ways and designers can try to control the ecosystem of the different groups but that is mainly for Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. The way that designers would do this is by implementing different kinds of mechanics, achievements, etc. to cater to different types.

Bartle in Boardgames

For boardgames I would like to propose that these four types that Bartle made are useful but that there is a fifth type of player: the Joker - these players like randomness and chaos. Now while this player can be destructive to a game they also can be useful in making sure there is a balance between certainty and allowing for competition. With MMOs the designers can try to balance the ecosystem of players on a massive scale throughout the gamespace that cannot be done in a single play session of a boardgame. However, what can be done is that different aspects of the game itself can appeal to the different kinds of players.

Appealing the Different Types

Clubs (aka Killers) - These players like to dominate and win so providing ways for these players to have an advantage to being in the lead definitely appeals to these players. Limiting randomness and having a way to close out the game are things Killers like.

Spades (aka Explorers) - By having multiple possible strategies or intricate subtleties in a game Explorers will find multiple ways to investigate the game and be satisfied.

Diamonds (aka Achievers) - Providing achievements for collecting sets of items or being the first to something (like the Longest Road in Catan) appeal to Achievers. Basically in games providing acknowledgment for collecting or trying to have the most of something is what Achievers like.

Hearts (aka Socializers) - Providing for players to interact with each other is the simple way to appeal to Socializers.

Jokers - Dice, cards, randomness, providing for a flexible and fluid situation is the way to a Joker’s heart.

Now there are games out there that definitely cater to different types of players. As a player, it is important to think of the games you like and what about them you liked since it could indicate what kind of player type you are.

Limitations

As a designer, it is important to note that no one fits into one of these types perfectly and almost without exception are comprised of multiple types. Also, it should be noted that some of these types contradict each other (Killer and Joker) and were initially conceived to understand why people play MMOs and what they get out of it.

Conclusion

While Bartle’s Taxonomy does not translate directly to the fun of a game it provides for a nice framework to understand why different elements are in a game or when designing a game keeping the rough types of players you want to play your game in mind. As always this is something to think about and I hope you enjoy this Morning Table Talk. Have a great day!
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Thu Oct 12, 2017 7:19 pm
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Writing Rules

Trevor Harron
United States
Washington
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So having talked about how to learn games last week, it is only fair to talk about how to write rules. For some of you game players this post may not be the most relevant to you but may instead be an insight in how rules are written and how hard it is. Now as someone who has released a game (and working on a few more) I want to take some of my experiences with rule writing and share them with you.

The Challenges

As anyone who has played a game can tell you, it is easier to explain the rules that you already know instead of reading a rulebook. However, the rulebook IS in several ways the game. Without the rules, there is no game and thus all of the designer’s and publisher’s hard work would have been for naught. If a set of rules is especially confusing then the game may not be played at all or misinterpreted thus giving the players a experience that may not be designed well. If someone is there who knows the game then it can be explained easily as was described in Teaching Games. So what is the designer and publisher to do? Well the best thing to do is to explain the rules in a clear, concise, and definite manner so that players can easily learn and play their game.

Tools

Every designer and publisher has different tools to write rules turning ideas in a journal into a polished booklet. The first of the tools is to use a word processor. The most common ones are Word, LibreOffice Text, and Google Documents. Each of these has its benefits ranging from its robust number of fonts and error checking to the ability to edit documents on multiple different computers without worrying about saving on a computer. After getting the wording sorted out you might want to organize the the rules. To do this there are a number of tools that can be used ranging from Adobe Illustrator to LibreOffice Draw or even Word. Personally, I like to use Google Docs, LibreOffice Text, and LibreOffice Draw. The reason for these tools is that they are free (something that is good when starting up a business) and can be converted to PDF documents of almost any size. This last part in important to make sure that the rules will be readable in their correct size and are formatted optimally.

Common Problems & Solutions

With rules there are a few common problems that can make a game difficult to play. These problems can be broken down into wording issues and presentation issues. Wording issues can range from simple spelling and grammar mistakes to confusing terminology. Spelling and grammar errors can be fixed easily with any decent word processor and having other people read the rules purely for these errors. To fix issues in terminology, you should use common words and try to avoid using overly custom terminology. If you are using custom terminology then you need to be consistent with it and should have a glossary or FAQ to help remind players what the terms mean. Also there are times where your rules have a lot of edge cases, these should be addressed after the major rules have been addressed and again in the FAQ section. At every stage of rule writing and all the way to production, you should read, reread, and have other people read your rules to check for clarity to ensure that there are no errors.

The problems that can arise from presentation issues should be addressed by someone with a understanding of page layout and design. If you don’t have access to someone with that background however, then you should keep a few things in mind. First you need to have your text large enough to be readable and have a clean background to avoid text clutter. Second, you should make sure that the information on a given page is related i.e. you focus on how to play a turn you go over the different actions a player can take and you don’t mention how the endgame is scored. Third, a picture is worth 1000 words and you should definitely utilize images to help explain some of the rules including setup, turn actions, and scoring. Also you should utilize examples of turn actions and scoring (with images ideally) so that your players will have a example to work with. Finally, you should consider if you are using a foldout set of rules or a booklet. With a foldout set of rules you will want to have the different sections clearly bordered so that people can easily discern what information goes with what part. For a booklet, I like to keep different sections to a few pages and complementary information on opposite pages so that players can see that information at the same time.

Final Notes

As you develop a game it is important to keep track of the rules; making sure that they are readable and error free the entire time. Having briefly gone over the Tools, Common problems, and Solutions, the important part is that someone who is not familiar with your game reads your rules. The first reads can be for errors and then for wording and finally for the layout. At every stage you must strive for clarity because (you hope) that more people will play your game than you do. One of the best ways to test for all of this is blind playtesting. I have some friends that I ask to play my game without me there and tell me about any questions or concerns that they have. You can also utilize tools like Steam’s Tabletop Simulator and groups like the Indie Game Alliance to have people you do not know play your game and give feedback. All of this is to help make sure your games are clear and I hope this has given you some food for thought today.
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Sun Oct 8, 2017 8:09 pm
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Learning New Games

Trevor Harron
United States
Washington
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I have talked about how to best teach games but I would be remiss to not talk about how to strategically learn a new game yourself.

Recently, I have taken it upon myself to try games outside my normal gameplaying comfort zone and now is a good opportunity to talk about my experience with learning games from the rule book and advice I can impart onto you. In this I will talk about what are the best ways to get the turns going, how to handle confusing/complex rules, and all the while provide some tips on how to play through your first game. Of course, some of the advice here depends on the kind of game you are playing and should be taken as rough guidelines.

Getting the Game Going

First and foremost, the best way to learn a game is to play it. There are several ways to get to this point including learning from someone, watching videos on YouTube, or by reading the rules. With any of these methods there are some key points of information: How are we set up at first?, How you win?, What can you do?, and What key rules should you look out for? The reason I picked these questions is because more of the key information can be gleaned from the answers and prompt any additional questions that come up specific to the game itself. If possible you should also have the rules next to you to help speed up any confusing parts.

If you are learning from someone, hopefully they have read the rules but the important part is to listen to their explanation: are they providing answers to the four questions? What parts are they leaving out/coming back to? It is important that you first start with the broad information and try not to become bogged down in the details at first. As you play you can ask questions and ask for points of clarification so don’t worry about learning everything at once. The benefit to this approach of learning from someone is that you will be playing the game almost immediately putting what you have learned into practice.

If you are learning from YouTube, try to find videos from after a game has been released since some rules may change slightly as the game is produced. Also have a copy of the rules handy so that you can follow along as the game is being explained. The obvious benefit is that you can pause and rewind the explanations as necessary so that you can understand more easily. The drawback, however, is that you may not be ready to play after getting the explanation and in some cases the explainer does not know the rules or misses a key rule (hence the need for the rules as a guide). As you go through the video see if it answers the four big questions: if they do then awesome! If they don’t then it is worth it to see the game play and to use the rulebook as a companion resource.

Finally, the last strategy for learning a game is to just read the rules. This is both the easiest to set up and hardest way to learn a game. The reason for this is that all you need to do is follow the instructions in that game. This can get bogged down with confusingly written rules or unclear verbiage but does not require anyone who has played the game before or an internet connection. To best learn from the rules I find that I need to read through it all first to grab the key pieces of information and then a second time to get the setup and basics firmly down and then to get your first game setup and start playing. As you go through the game, you might need to refer to the rules more often than you would like but with everyone working to learn the game, you all will be on the same footing in terms of experience.

Dealing with Confusing Rules

Before beginning this section, I want to say one thing: writing rules is hard. It is difficult to clearly and concisely organize all of the complexities of a game into a format that is easy to read and understand and publishers have their work cut out for them and I want to talk about that in another post. All of that being said, rules can be overly complex or confusing and thus make a perfectly enjoyable game difficult to learn.

The first key thing that you should discern is why the rules are overly confusing or complex? Is it too much information? Is it organized weirdly? Is the wording is vague and unclear? If you take the time to understand what is confusing then you can start to work around the problem. With Vinhos for instance the rules are divided into a book that describes the setup and a book that describes one set of rules and a third that describes another set of rules. This was obviously an issue of organization and so I had to find the places that have the parts I needed to understand how to play and recognize the different needs the different books provided. If there is too much information just try to read for the large concepts and go into details at later reads of the rules (and/or games played). If there seems to be a lot of corner cases that the rules bring up, try to ignore them until they are relevant. Finally, when tackling confusing wordings, you should try to understand and agree on an interpretation of the rule(s) in question. If you are still confused then talk with people who have played the game before or use YouTube to clear up disputes over the rule(s) in question (or that are confusing).

Final Thoughts

For me, learning a new game is always exciting and a great learning experience. When learning a new game, no matter how I am learning I try to first gather the basic info to help me make good decisions and then try to fill in details as I go. Other players, YouTube, and (of course) the rules are great resources to learn from with their pros and cons. Try to see which approach helps you get to the table and playing the fastest because that is reason we learn games; to play them!

I hope that with these guidelines you can have an easier time learning new games and enjoying them. I hope you have a great morning and would love to hear what things you do to learn a new game.
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Sun Oct 1, 2017 4:50 pm
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Virtual vs. Physical Games

Trevor Harron
United States
Washington
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As someone who majored in Computer Science, whenever I talk to someone about making games as a second job frequently I’m first asked “For what platform?” I then explain that I make board games and the conversation continues. Personally I feel that each medium for games has its own pros and cons and for this morning I wanted to look at digital board games and why they work in the digital space with a few nods to physical counterparts. For the most part, board games that are digital tend to fall into 2 categories:

Games that are physical games as well and were made into digital games and, games that for the most part only able to exist digitally.

Now the first group is obvious but let me elaborate on that second group, these games have some mechanics designed that could not work in the real world. For instance Hearthstone has cards that can ‘Discover’ other cards where the player is presented 3 cards to choose from (those 3 cards being randomly selected) or cards that create unique cards that cannot be found anywhere else in the game. This means that in theory to play this game in the real world not only would a person need multiples of every card in the game at their disposal but also would mean that calculating the random cards would need large tables of percentages and cause the game to take reeeeeaaaallllly long and kill the fun. A second example of this is a dungeon-making, rpg game called The Guild of Dungeoneering where we are trying to construct a dungeon for our dungeoneer to explore and monsters to fight. The basic tile laying mechanics the would be doable but then what happens when you run out of tiles? However the second set of mechanics comes from the dungeoneer having a deck of attack cards that get augmented by abilities and effects in the game; for example a helmet can add some defense cards to the dungeoneer’s deck. Making this into a physical game is not hard to think about but difficult to implement and that’s the key: to implement some of these digital games in the real word the experience suffers becoming bogged down with extra calculations and/or pieces.

Physical games have a few things they do better than their digital counterparts: randomness, tactile feel of a game, and the social factor. Computers are good at several things including complex calculations but randomness is not one of them. For a physical game however we have had nifty little things to help us with randomness: dice and/or cards. Coming to the 2nd item, how many times as you play Pandemic or even Monopoly where you realize that part of the experience is moving the cubes/tokens around, money changing hands, or even moving pieces? In a physical game things feel more real and enhance the experience but *most* digital games cannot do this. Finally, while you can play a physical game everyone has to be present (though one could argue that using skype and a robot could be used but that is a trivial case). This social aspect is why a lot of people play board games or families have board game nights. Some could argue that being linked to people via the internet is similar but anyone who has played D&D via skype would understand that there are some big differences from a screen and seeing people across from you and talking with them.

However this can augment some of the physical games out there such as calculating the score of 7 Wonders or handling the fiddly phases and mechanics of Power Grid so my thought is that there are definite upsides to having a digital version of some physical games since that will enhance the experience of the player by not needing to look up complicated tables or even worry about setting up or cleaning up afterwards.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that there are advantages for both physical and digital games. As of this article I have not played a mixed media game (and would love to) but that is also a different set of design considerations. If you want a game where you can connect with anyone anywhere and potentially access every part of your game (almost) infinitely, then a digital game would be great! If you want a tactile experience with true randomness then a physical game is the game for you. Both have something they bring to the table and can be a lot of fun!
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Wed Sep 27, 2017 9:36 pm
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Teaching Games

Trevor Harron
United States
Washington
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We all have that game we love, whether you have created it or bought it, there might come a time where you need to explain this game to another person and teach it. Today I will cover the seven things I have seen work best when teaching a new game to someone. Keep in mind that this may not be a complete list and many of my readers may have already implemented some of these:

Set expectations: make sure they are aware of how complex, how much time it will take, and what the basic mechanics and theme is since no one wants to feel like they were tricked into a 5 hour board game with gameplay they weren’t expecting.

Know your audience: are they german-boardgame loving hobby game players? Family? People from a convention? It is important to gauge and know if the game you want to teach is a good fit for the group. If it isn’t then you should probably find another game to suggest. Also let everyone know that there are new players so that they can help as well.

Find common points to other games: what games are similar in mechanics or gameplay to the game you want to teach? Even before cracking open the rule book if you can give some context a new player might need is critical so that they can focus on learning the new rules and concepts.

Explain goal of the game and how to win: This (on top of the other common points you have just explained) will help the new player get a focus on the important aspects of the game without becoming bogged down in the nitty gritty gameplay at first. Also knowing how to win and what to do to win is vital for playing and understanding a game as a whole.
Have the rulebook ready: While always a good tool for breaking up disputes, the rules can provide additional explanation into the nuances into the game and even provide imagery that would aid the explanation.

Have the new player end the round: Start the game with a player that knows how to play so that the new player can see as many turns in action as possible. This will help the new player understand all of the rules they were just explained with real world examples.

Listen for and answer questions: You can try to cover everything but inevitably a scenario will come up that the new player has a question on. Answer these questions as they come up so that the new player can understand what is going on and use that new information in their play.

Teaching a new player or players a game you love can be difficult but hopefully with these seven tips you can help any new player learn quickly. This list of tips is what I have found to be effective in teaching games to players and especially in teaching games I have/in the process of creating. Your goal is to share something you like with other people I hope you find these suggestions useful.

All of this is just food for thought so take some time, sip some of your morning beverage, and have a great day!
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Sun Sep 24, 2017 5:14 pm
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