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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The Best Bit

United Kingdom
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I've been storyboarding the kickstarter video this week, I want to keep it to less than 2:30, because long kickstarter videos are boring and this'll make it easier to just say the super important stuff. There's plenty of room on the front page and in backer updates to provide more details, the act of parsing months of work down to a minute or so (Other folks who worked on the project, artists and the like, need some of the time too) is pretty stressful for someone as verbose as me. I've been trying to pick out exactly what the best bit of my game is.

If any of you remember the post in which I was trying to choose which game to make, having prototyped a few, I listed the pros and cons of the finalists:

"Arena is a deeper game, strategies will evolve more over repeated plays and changing characters completely changes the nature of the game. It’s got a bunch of manufacturing advances, due to its modular nature. The rules are easier for new players to learn and grasp. The variety of characters gets players instantly invested in the game. It’ll be easier to market as the characters and their associated minis help with this. I think I’d enjoy working on it more; it’s quite a lot of fun to come up with new bits and try them out. It’s better suited to stretch goals, as more arenas and characters are easy to add.

Monkeygame is fun."

I've then spent the last few months trying to work out why it's fun and emphasise those traits. A lot of time this has been a bit of a black box to me, I tweak things and see how it makes the playtesters feel. It's easy to see when people are having fun and when people want me to run more demo games than I have time for it's a very good sign. Through this, I can tell when a tweak has improved things for a particular group, but not necessarily why. On most occasions I can say why the game worked for an individual in a particular game. I can make observations like "The fellow who read the rules really bought into the theme and it carried him through the game.", "That player laughed when she read the organise breathing objective and delighted in solving the problem by suffocating most of the humans in order to make it easier to organise the breathing of the survivors." or "Those players very quickly escalated an accidental shove into a bitter rivalry and enjoyed messing with each other for the rest of the game, perhaps more than is strictly healthy." It's quite hard to take a step back from that and try to identify the general aspects of the game that are generating what's generally very positive feedback.

Having sat and thought about it, I think that there are genuinely a bunch of positive aspects to the game and that different parts appeal to different people. However I'm not saying "It's fun" on a kickstarter video, that's a cop out and doesn't tell the viewer anything meaningful about the game. Looking at the things that work out, it seems that a lot of the positive moments and anecdotes I have from observing playtests (I generally don't get to participate in the games myself anymore) a lot of them are drawn from the same concept, which as you'll see in a moment is a good and bad thing.

The concept of emergence seems central to why this game works. The rules are written in a very general way and each game is represents some specific instance of these. For example, rather than making humans special (you are not special, I am sorry) in most respects they are treated as objects (though I generally disagree with objectifying people, except in this way) which leads to properties that I'd never intended when writing the rules. For instance if a robot kidnaps a couple of scientists and drags them into weaponry, they'll immediately start loading and firing missiles, but once they run out of missiles they'll start scrabbling to shove each other into the launch tube as alternative ammunition.

So all I need to do is highlight how general rules and general objectives lead to a lot of specific situations that are interesting. It offers benefits in terms of re-playability and meaningful choices, both of which are kind of a big deal in board gaming. There's just one problem.

Right. That. I guess I could just talk about replayability and meaningful choices directly, without justifying the patterns that allow those things to exist in the game, but that feels like a very information lite way to go about things. Then again, I've only got a minute or two, maybe there's no way to avoid being information lite in that kind of time frame. I've been thinking about how to resolve the dilemma this morning.

Meanwhile, in the past:

"If only I had a blog post that talked about how the emergence property related to the game. Then I could mention it in passing and link to it in the FAQ or a backer update for anyone who was curious about the details."

Well that's all to the good then. How to you guys feel about it as a solution? How do the people who've been playtesting feel about what the best part of the game is? Have I nailed it or do I still not properly understand why people enjoy playing this game?
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