Not Necessarily the News

BGG News editor W. Eric Martin exhibits signs of obsessive completeness and complete obsessiveness – and invites you to join him in this fruitless, yet satisfying quest
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Ongoing Project: Create Better Game Descriptions

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Carcassonne
Check out the game description for Carcassonne in the BGG database:

A clever tile-laying game. The southern French city of Carcassonne is famous for its unique Roman and Medieval fortifications. The players develop the area around Carcassonne and deploy their followers on the roads, in the cities, in the cloisters and in the fields. The skill of the players to best develop the area will determine who is victorious.

Part of the Carcassonne series.
Lame! And how about this description of The Settlers of Catan (minus the mostly extraneous links)?

In Settlers of Catan, players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game. Multi-award-winning and one of the most popular games in recent history due to its amazing ability to appeal to non-gamers and gamers alike.

Die Siedler von Catan was originally published by Kosmos and has gone through multiple editions. It was licensed by Mayfair and has undergone at least 4 editions as Settlers of Catan. It has also been re-published in a travel edition by Kosmos and in yet another edition for Japan/Asia, Settlers of Catan: Rockman Edition.

Settlers of Catan is the original game in the Catan Series.
Really? More than 15 million copies of The Settlers of Catan sold, and that's all it gets?! For comparison, here's the description for Queen Games' 2012 release Edo:

In Edo, players represent daimyo in mid-second millennium Japan who are trying to serve their shogun by using their samurai to construct castles, markets and houses in Tokyo and surrounding areas.

At the start of Edo – which won "best evening-length game" in the 2010 Hippodice Game Design competition under the name Altiplano – each player has five samurai tokens, seven houses, one market and three square action cards, each of which has four possible actions on it. One card, for example, allows a player to:

• Collect rice (up to four bundles depending on the number of samurai applied to the action),
• Collect $5 (per samurai),
• Collect wood (up to four, with one samurai on the action and one in the forest for each wood you want), or
• Build (up to two buildings, with two samurai on the card and one in the desired city, along with the required resources)

Each turn, the players simultaneously choose which actions they want to take with their three cards and in which order, programming those actions on their player cards, similar to the planning phase in Dirk Henn's Wallenstein and Shogun. Players then take actions in turn order, moving samurai on the board as needed (paying $1 per space moved) in order to complete actions (to the forest for wood, the rice fields for rice, cities to build, and so on). Before a player can move samurai, however, he must use an action to place them on the game board; some actions allow free movement, and others allow a player to recruit additional samurai beyond the initial five.

One other action allows you to recruit additional action cards from an array on the side of the game board, thereby giving you four (or more) cards from which to choose for the rest of the game.

Building in cities costs resources and gives you points as well as money; as more players build in a city, the funds are split among all present, with those first in the city receiving a larger share. Players can also receive points or buy stone by dealing with a traveling merchant.

Once at least one player has twelve points, the game finishes at the end of the round, with players scoring endgame bonuses for money in hand and other things. The player with the most points wins.

Edo includes separate game boards for 2-3 players and 4-5 players.
Now admittedly I wrote that description of Edo – which may be part of why I think it's so good – as I was covering the game on BGG News after a demo at BGG.CON 2011, but I think we can all agree that the descriptions of Carcassonne, The Settlers of Catan and many other titles in the BGG database are lacking. That's somewhat to be expected since one of the hazards of a ten-year-old database is that material from years past typically stays untouched – and until the start of 2011 BGG had no one on staff creating content for the site, instead relying solely on user submissions, which vary greatly in quality.

And that brings us to this challenge: Visit the BGG pages of your three favorite games and (if necessary) rewrite their descriptions.

The goal behind a game description, as noted in the BGG Guide to Game Submissions, is to cover theme, the mechanisms of game play, and the goal of the game. As a potential player, I want to know what I'm trying to do, how I'm trying to do it, and where and when all this is taking place and what I'm pretending to be while doing stuff. Further advice from the Guide to Game Submissions:

A game description should be written as a neutral statement about the game. Editorial comments about the quality of the game components or opinions about the game play should not be present in the game description and should be reserved for reviews or a user's personal commentary about the game.
Now, that's not to say you need to be formulaic or boring in your description. None of this "The goal of this game is to..." stuff, please! My goal, both for BGG News in general and for game descriptions in particular, is to write about games so that someone who would be likely to enjoy the game realizes that. I don't have to be a fan of a game to write something that describes it well; I just need to describe it objectively and hope that the description resonates with potential fans (and keeps those who would dislike the game from following a false path).

While BGG has a detailed page on wiki formatting – and game descriptions use a wiki style – you don't need to worry about most of the formatting. This should be enough to get you through a description:

• Use ''''' around a title to embolden and italicize the first use of the game's name, e.g., '''''The Settlers of Catan''''' = The Settlers of Catan.
• Use '' around a title for all other mentions of that game's title in the description, or any other game mentioned, e.g., ''The Settlers of Catan'' = The Settlers of Catan.
• Use * in front of items in a bulleted list.
• Omit links to expansions, designers, publishers and other such information that is included in the header at the top of the game page.
• Include a component list (if one is available) in the "More Information" section and not in the main description.
• Use keywords like "Reimplements:" or "Reimplemented by:" or "Similar to:" at the bottom of the description when a game is a cousin to an existing game. The coding for this is:


with XXXX being replaced the ID number of the game in question. Check the description of the new version of Wallenstein for an example.

If you take on this challenge, please comment below with the names of the games that you have edited, preferably with links to those games. I'll send Geekgold your way as a thank you. If you run across other games that have poor descriptions and don't know enough to rewrite the description yourself (or have other stuff to do, like all the rest of us), add needs-better-description as a tag at the bottom of the page. Enterprising parties who get their kicks rewriting game descriptions then know where to go for more such charity cases. Thanks for your help!
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