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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Choose your own adventure

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You are reading a blog post entitled "choose your own adventure", in which the author talks about meatspace games that might not strictly be considered board games and what might be learned from them.

To ask about the 'choose your own adventure' genre, turn to 2
To ask about the relevance of this to board games, turn to 4
For a brief rant on the nature of labels turn to 6


These books are generally solo adventure games. Rather than being read in a linear fashion, the reader makes a decision at the end of each section and that decision will drive the narrative. This blog post is in the same style, hopefully you're reading this section because of an active choice to ask more about the genre than because you're reading the post in order. The game books worked the same way, with players taking the role of the story's protagonist. My first experience of this was Fighting Fantasy's Warlock of Firetop Mountain, though I don't know if they were the first to pioneer this genre.

To discuss the pros and cons of the genre turn to 8
To find out what this has to do with games turn to 4
To experience a tribute to the warlock of firetop mountain turn to 9


It This This is looks is the like not again. gibberish. gibberish.


I think that some of the design space that is being explored by boardgames is actually created by the choose your own adventure genre. Tales of The Arabian Nights is focused on the stories you develop by going through a narrative, the method of navigation differs from the CYOA books but there are similarities and some of the lessons that work in one could be applies to the other. Ace of Aces implemented the concept more directly, creating a competitive experience by essentially having a two player CYOA series in which players are taking it in turns to make choices. Each player gets their own booklet and so gets to see the situation from the perspective of their own pilot, it was kind of a cool experiment, I might try something similar sometime in a different setting. Does anyone know of any other games that have taken this forward?

If you do and wish to share, turn to 10
If you would rather speculate on implementations of this kind of game turn to 7


If movement were more restricted the environment could be more interesting. One way to go about this might be to simulate something like a duel. In fencing combatants are permitted to move forwards and backwards but not side to side and it shares a lot of the dogfight aspects of needing to predict your opponent's moves and misdirect them. In general fighting games abstract the low level stuff, but decisions on exactly where to feint and how to react to opposing attacks could produce some interesting mechanics.

Well, that's all for this week. I hope you've enjoyed this somewhat non-linear approach to a blog post, it's always interesting to think about new styles of game, even if they're re-workings of old styles.


Labels are kinda neat. I like them; you can tell that this is paragraph six because it's conveniently labelled as such. However like every tool, there are ways to misuse it and there are some particular approaches that really get on my nerves. It's tempting to rant about how labels can be used to oppress people (though they are and they're powerful and we should care a lot more about it when it happens) but that's not really on topic. We got here because of a mention about what counts as a game, for a lot of people the Fighting Fantasy games don't count. Whenever I hear this sort of distinction there's usually an undercurrent of snobbery or superiority rather than an attempt to realise what labels mean and how they're useful to us. In general if I'm interested in whether something is a 'game' it's because I want to know if I'm going to play it and whether I should look into it in that way. I don't care if it comes in a box with tokens or not or whether it's played outside or not. Of course it's useful to distinguish within the (broad) category of 'games' but I think it's good to be inclusive rahter than exclusive. I'd rather risk having something that's "not quite right" get into a category than miss out on something awesome because someone decided it didn't fit and should be listed on a different place in the catalogue or that it shouldn't go onto BGG or that it shouldn't be discussed by "real gamers" (whoever the hell they are). It gets worse once people start doing it with things like art or language.

To hear Steven Fry rant about language click here.
Why would you want a second option? If you have a good idea for one turn to 10.


I can imagine that it'd be great to have some sort of gladiator game in this style. Each player can walk around the arena and see their opponent relative to their position. They might make decisions about when and where to move or how to attack. I can imagine all sorts of dramatic situations that they could get into that would look good from the first person perspective and give some interesting tactical decisions.

The problem is the branching factor. You need one entry in each book for every possible relative position of the combatants. Ace of Aces benefits from being in the sky, so that the background in all directions is identical. Only your relative position to your opponent matters. If the world is more interesting even a simple one becomes problematic, a three by three arena in which combatants could face any direction would require 1296 pages, just for the combatants to walk around. If the arena were symmetrical this could be cut down somewhat as some positions are rotations of each other but it's still unwieldy.

To contemplate alternatives to featureless environments turn to 5
To suggest a way to make a fully featured environment work turn to 10


The CYOA books have a significant advantage over traditional solo games in that they are trivial to set up and play anywhere. They're also able to do a much better job of an AI than most solo board games, as you don't need to do nearly so much maintenance of your opponent's position. In theory it'd be possible to get a more visceral reaction from a book than a board game, as the genre has traditionally shown itself capable of producing very emotive reactions. This potential is often somewhat squandered, as the early entries in this genre weren't aimed at adult audiences there haven't been many serious attempts to use it to tell stories with any emotional depth. They also suffer from being somewhat unwieldy if randomisers are called for; the combat in the Fighting Fantasy series has always been a bit of an unwieldy kludge, though I've heard that later books got around this by using a description of action based system rather than a dice based one. It'd be good to find ways to bring across the depth and variety of some of these books to board games, though that might require a serious re-conceptualisation of what a board game is.

For a rant about labels turn to 6
To talk more about how boardgames could be (or have been) inspired by CYOA games turn to 4


You are in a maze. There are exits to the North, South, West and East. All of the walls and exits look exactly alike.

To go North turn to 9
To go South turn to 9
To go East turn to 9
To go West turn to 9


Congratulations young adventurer! You have won the day. Everyone thrives on ideas, by deciding to communicate yours in the comments below you have started to pave the way to a richer world for everyone.

To continue, hit the comment button below.
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