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Links: Variability, Rulebook Quality, and Game Classification

W. Eric Martin
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I'm clearing house in the wake of SPIEL '18 as many things were pushed into a bucket labeled "later" while I tried to keep up with everything related to that show. Thus, the items below might not be recent, but I still think they're of interest:

• On his blog Go Play Listen, designer Chris Marling advises us that "variability doesn't equal replayability", pointing out that "[d]esigners and developers are flogging themselves to death creating variants which can be set up 'X' different ways for games which will likely sell a maximum of 5,000 copies and be played once or twice by each purchaser". An excerpt:

Quote:
If you look at the games that have stood the test of time, they haven't needed this kind of variety to make their reputation. Poker, Chess and Go – or modern classics Pandemic, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne – couldn't be simpler on setup and components. They rely on simplicity, randomness and interaction rather than powers, variable setups or asymmetry. Even Catan, with variable setup, uses everything in the box. Classic modern war and board games that have been in print for decades are usually similarly unburdened. Most games don't need it to be successful.
• In an article on Opinionated Gamers, Chris Wray introduced the concept of the Rule Quality Index (RQI). Says Wray, "RQI is simply the number of ratings a board game has [on BGG] divided by the number of rules threads a game has inspired. It's a crude way to evaluate the problem, but it's the best method I could think of." The problem to which Wray refers is one of rulebooks that make it difficult for one to play the game, something that seems antithetical to what a rulebook should do. An excerpt:

Quote:
I was recently chatting with some fellow game reviewers about Charterstone, a game I gave a negative review after struggling to figure out how to even play parts of it. They seemed skeptical of my criticism, so I pointed out that, despite it having only about 5,600 ratings on BGG, it already had more than 740 rules threads. That's shockingly bad: there's a rules thread for about every 7.5 ratings.
Wray included all types of caveats for his measuring system since not every player rates their games on BGG. He also noted that legacy games seem particularly prone to rule questions, possibly because each playing of such a game has more relevance and consequence than something that's a one-off experience.




• The graph above comes from Reddit user Shepperstein, who downloaded BGG data for board games released between 1990 and 2018 that have at least twenty ratings in order to visualize how board game categories on BGG relate to one another. The graph below indicates how games within categories relate to one another in complexity (with larger nodes indicating a higher average complexity) and in ratings (with redder nodes indicating a higher average rating).




Designer Oliver Kiley riffed on Shepperstein's work to create a relationship chart of his own that merges information related to both categories and mechanisms to see how these overlap and get a better understanding of how such things could be reorganized. An excerpt:

Quote:
In the dead center are a few big communities, including card games and the obviously associated hand management, along with Dice and press your luck type systems. Some of these, like cards and dice are so ubiquitous across domains of games that it's not at all surprising to see them in the middle of the graph with connections to just about everywhere. I tried excluding them from graph and it basically had no structural impact at all, more or less confirming this assessment. Of course you get things like "take that" games and "trick-taking" games [that] are very closely associated with card games, so I left it in for clarity and completeness.

I also thought it was interesting to compare opposite sides of the graph. Wargames are directly opposite to Children's games. Highly thematic games in the Fantasy/Fighting, Science fiction, and Cooperative realms are all opposite to Economic (euro-style) games and abstract games. Likewise, games that focus on area control/majority elements and derive much of their deep strategic play from spatial positioning and the like are opposite to party and deduction style games, which emphasize an entirely different sort of player-to-player interactions.
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