Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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Board Game Designer
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Original Post

Twilight Struggle is the top ranked game on Board Game Geek and has been for some time. I've seen a fair bit of discussion of why this should be the case and while there are many contributing factors, one in particular struck me as something I'd like to think about more.

The factor I am referring to is that it is excellent at setting and then meeting an expectation. By limiting itself to two players, a theme that not everyone is interested in, and then displaying what sort of a game it is clearly on its box ensures that only players who are interested in these things will play it. The consequence of this is that a much greater proportion of people who play it love it, which leads to a higher average ranking. Contrast this with a game that claims to work for 1-8 players but doesn't scale very well and is ultimately unable to deliver.

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I've run into a slight expectations problem with this blog. I committed to updating each week day on the basis of writing quick 500 word posts, but the length of each post has been creeping up and up. This is probably not sustainable and sets an expectation that posts will be long and in depth, which I may not be able to meet. It also creates an expectation in myself that I can cover complicated topics in their entirety - which I find frustrating when I have a lot to say about a particular topic and not enough space to say it in. I may have to start breaking some ideas down into several posts.

In terms of games, an expectation is created from a great many sources. Some of these are beyond the grasp of the designer, such as what a person’s friends might have told them about the game. However, there are many others that are available. Simple things such as the order in which events happen during a turn can go a long way towards emphasising or deemphasising some element of a game. The means by which information is presented to players on the board, cards, play summaries and other game components will also set an expectation for what will be important to a game and what the game will be like.

I've noticed over the last week of playtesting that this makes a particular difference in wizard academy, with respect to people's perceptions of time.

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Groups that approach the game as a race against the clock, who go out of their way to explore the spell book as fast as possible have far outperformed groups that do not start to perceive a time pressure until problems get worse. In the scenario I've been testing, the initial state of the board and events deck have been fairly forgiving: nothing is on fire, there are no floods, the halls are free of imps, trolls and demons and very few of these things will happen for the first run through the deck. As the game goes on more and more events will appear, existing events will intensify and the event deck will become worse - whether players are in a position to deal with this depends a lot on how well they prepared during those forgiving initial stages.

At the moment I'm trying to reconcile feedback regarding difficulty, some groups found the game too easy, others felt that it was just right or even a little too hard. I think that expectations about how the game will play are as big a part of the difficulty as the game's inherent difficulty.

I'd also like to go into how the expectations a player has from the theme of a game influences how they interact with it. It's clear to me that the whimsical theme of the game and some of its rules are influencing play and players emotional reactions to that. However I'm trying to get into the habit of writing shorter posts, so I'll leave that topic for a different day. Hopefully I constructed the third paragraph of this post well enough that you were expecting that!
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