Elegantly Wasted: my happy-death-spiral obsession with game design
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
Recommend
31 
 Thumb up
1.02
 tip
 Hide
Games are pleasantly destroying me. I can't stop designing them. I feel perpetually as though I'm talking to one of those people who push conversations way past their appropriate endings. Except he's me, and he's fascinating, but only to himself. My designs don't support me, or curry favor from the 'lost-cities' sex, or draw me nearer to God or whatever it is that one would want to be near to if one really understood what the universe is About. Still, I while my time away in conversation with myself.

Though it's a corrosive addiction, I learn from it now and then. For example: I've identified some design constraints to ensure I'll make games that I like. They apply chiefly to 2-player abstract games, my specialty. Here I describe the constraints, discuss why I like them and why others may not. They are in no particular order. I submit them for your own good, and for that of all mankind.

Reactions and counter-arguments welcome. I've left the list open, so feel free to add your own favorite constraints.
Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: game_design [+] [View All]
  • [+] Dice rolls
1. Board Game: Win, Lose or Draw [Average Rating:5.25 Overall Rank:18419]
Board Game: Win, Lose or Draw
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
1. Draws must be impossible.

When I finish in a drawn position, I ululate like a hysterical Victorian duchess. Since it's easy to ensure that a game has no draws, I do.

Beyond my personal preference, allowing for draws can be risky from a design point of view, since if a draw is possible, someone might discover how to force it, which would ruin the game. Unfortunately, the designer may only realize this after taking time and effort to explore and/or promote his game. For this reason, ensuring that a game has no draws eliminates a little risk (but not much, because there remains the equally unappealing possibility that someone will discover how to force a win).

Finally, I design games to be played in competitive environments. Games with high draw ratios require more complicated tournament formats.

There's a contrary point of view with which I sympathize, however: games without draws are unfair. Even if both players play perfectly, one will win in a drawless game, in virtue only of his starting position. That seems wrong, and runs counter to design constraint number three below, that "Before the game begins, equally-skilled players must have equal chances to win". Of course, if real players could actually play perfectly, the game would be broken anyway, so the issue would be moot. In practice, if a game is designed carefully, the theoretical advantage inherent in a drawless game need never affect play, and that is why I embrace drawlessness.

Nonetheless, I suppose the ideal game would have exactly one drawn position, only achievable through perfect play by both players. I've spent a little time trying to invent a game like this, but without success. I challenge BGG's budding designers to create one. The simplest way to make a one-draw game is to start with a game without draws, and then arbitrarily designate one easy-to-remember endgame position as a draw. But the real genius will be in finding a single drawn position that is in no way arbitrary, that is in fact the only sensible drawn position one can imagine. You deserve a Nobel Prize for game design if you can do it.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
2. Board Game: Infinite Armies [Average Rating:6.27 Unranked]
Board Game: Infinite Armies
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
2. The game must be certain to end within a finite number of moves.

A game that never ends is even more frustrating to me than a game that ends in a draw, since I don't even get the satisfaction of playing someone to a standstill. If I am consigned to hell upon death, Lucifer will make me play such a game for all eternity.

I also think there is comfort and convenience in knowing at the outset about how long a game will last. Theoretically finite games can provide this.

Some games which are not naturally finite have extra rules that make them finite so as to be playable, like Chess' repetition rule or Go's ko rule. These work well, and I'd certainly rather live with those rules than go without those ethereal games, but I prefer to design games that are finite by nature. It helps to keep the rules brief (see constraint number 5 below), and helps to evoke that special feeling of wholeness and unity that certain very austere games like Hex evoke in me.

[EDIT: this is not to say that the game must always end in EXACTLY the same number of moves, but rather, there must be some provable upper limit to the number of moves. Think Hex.]
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
3. Board Game: Parity [Average Rating:3.80 Overall Rank:18293]
Board Game: Parity
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
3. Before the game begins, equally skilled players must have equal chances to win.

Three reasons:

Reason 1: my sense of fairness demands it.

Reason 2: when both players have equal chances of winning and losing, it leads on average to more tense games, more keen and strenuous thinking, and more opportunity for learning. Why? I quote the excellent book "Mudcrack Y & Poly-Y" by Schensted and Titus:

"To be able to learn from your games you must win sometimes and lose sometimes. Only in this way can you tell when you are playing better than usual and when poorer than usual." I agree, and when two players' chances are equal, it maximizes the amount of information each gets about his play from winning or losing. Basic information theory.

One contrary point of view is that you don't need to learn from your games, you just need to have fun, and if that's the case, balance doesn't matter much. I agree, but when it comes to abstract strategy games, much of the fun that may be had from them comes from the learning, from the strange expansion of perception that goes with it. It's a quiet kind of fun, and not the only kind. If you want to have other kinds of fun, you may be better off playing another sort of game. For example, Ameritrash fans embrace imbalance, which is better suited for the kind of fun that one can have playing an Ameritrash game, like immersion in a theme or simulation.

Reason 3: this comes from the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's study of "flow" experiences. Flow refers to a state of complete absorption that one sometimes gets when deeply engaged in an activity. It's the experience sometimes called "losing oneself", when one loses track of time and like. Nearly everybody enjoys this state, and Csikszentmihalyi has spent decades exploring how to encourage it. One of his main findings is that people are more likely to experience flow when engaged in activities that are not too hard but not too easy, where success is neither given nor impossible. Having a %50 percent chance of winning seems to me the epitome of "not too hard, but not too easy".

Of course, Csikszentmihalyi's observations are true only in a statistical sense, and each individual is different. There are many factors contributing to flow, and they differ from person to person. But I cannot design a game to fit each person perfectly, so here I humbly genuflect to statistics, and more importantly, my own taste.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
4. Board Game: Handicap [Average Rating:5.75 Unranked]
Board Game: Handicap
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
4. The game should be handicap-able so that players of different skill levels can have equal chances to win.

I offer three lines of argument:

Argument 1: see the second 2 items in constraint number 3 above.

Argument 2: it's hard for a player of any unknown strategy game to find opponents. His problem is worse for the fact that to fully enjoy himself, he may need opponents of comparable skill (see point 3 above), and there may not be many if the game can be played with varying degrees of acumen. A good handicapping system offers breathing room. Handicapping systems are easiest to implement for games whose outcomes hinge on victory points, since a point handicap is straightforward. Side note: for a two player game with victory points, it's easy to make draws impossible, since part of the handicap can be a half-point with one player. These are just two reasons why victory point systems are very convenient. Nonetheless, I dislike victory points except in rare cases (see point 10). I digress. The point here is that handicapping makes it easier to find opponents with whom one can enjoy a game, so it's important.

Argument 3: When handicapping is available, it encourages a community feeling around a game. This is sometimes cited as the reason that chess culture seems a bit less friendly than Go culture (when I say Go culture, I am NOT referring to the Grunting Philistines who play Go on Yahoo games. They belong to Grunting Philistine culture). Chess doesn't allow a good player to enjoy himself as much when helping a weaker one, and so chess culture is a little more solipsistic.

On the other hand, some people don't like handicaps because it makes the weaker player feel he's lost before the game has even begun. That seems to me the symptom of an overly delicate ego.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
5. Board Game: A Simple Civil War Game Deluxe [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Board Game: A Simple Civil War Game Deluxe
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
5. The rules must be so simple and intuitive that one can learn them in a minute or so.

I don't mean like Settlers simple. I mean Hex simple.

For many BGGers, simple rules are boring. Many want rules to be evocative, to offer some idea about what the players are in for. I don't. Here's why:

First, I love the idea that simplicity can hide or harbor complexity. It always astonishes when simple rules give rise to complexity in play. It seems like witchcraft. It's like a great scientific theory that can explain hundreds of experimental observations. Like general relativity. There's something sort of divine or eternal about it. How do simplicity and complexity coexist in weird formation like that?

Second, when I design a game with simple rules that satisfies many constraints, I feel like I've discovered something rather than laboriously built something. It feels more like inspiration and less like perspiration, which I try to avoid.

Third, simple rules are easier to playtest.

Finally, it's easy to get people to try games with simple rules, and simple games can spread easily as memes.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
6. Board Game: Cogno: Deep Worlds [Average Rating:5.60 Unranked]
Board Game: Cogno: Deep Worlds
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
6. The game must support inexhaustible strategic possibility.

I want to learn, to change and broaden my ability to think, and to do that I need challenges that stretch me to capacity. It's like lifting weights. It's hard to get buff without maxing out. I want to play games that that add weight as I grow stronger. There's no romance in mastering something. Better to strive endlessly.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
7. Board Game: And Now For Something Completely Different... The Board Game [Average Rating:3.83 Unranked]
Board Game: And Now For Something Completely Different... The Board Game
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
7. Individual games should play out in dramatically different ways.

This is a very subjective, but nonetheless very important, constraint. It's what people mean when they talk about the need for variety. Individual games must feel different, whatever that means. I wish I could articulate in more concrete terms what variety is. Please pitch in if you can help.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
8. Board Game: c-jump Computer Programming Board Game [Average Rating:2.94 Unranked]
Board Game: c-jump Computer Programming Board Game
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
8. It must be hard to program a computer to play well.

I'm a neurobiologist, and I want to help promote artificial intelligence and to figure out how the brain performs its miraculous computational feats. If a computer can be made to play well easily, it won't stimulate much thought about how we think. There is a drawback, however: it's easier to introduce people to a game and get them playing on the web if there's a good bot available.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
9. Board Game: Precious Moments Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Precious Moments Game
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
9. It must take only a moment to set up the game before play.

I'm easily bored. I don't like to wait around to set things up. I want get right into it. I don't want just minimal set-up; I want NO setup. I like games that start off with a totally empty board for this reason. Also, I don't like to have to sort playing components before play. By minimizing activities unrelated to game play itself, one keeps the experience of playing pure and singular.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
10. Board Game: Now You See It [Average Rating:6.36 Unranked]
Board Game: Now You See It
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
10. It must be easy to see when a player has won.

There should be no counting up of scores or tedious calculations to determine the winner. The whole game should be visually intuitive. This keeps the focus on the game itself and not ancillary stuff. It sharpens the whole experience. This is why I don't like many 'win on victory points' games. Victory points in themselves are not bad (All win conditions can be described in terms of victory points anyway, so there is no such thing as a game without them), but when a designer decides that his game will hinge on explicit victory points, he is tempted to be sort of arbitrary about the win condition. Instead of persistently looking for victory conditions which are unique, unified, and vivid, he ends up taking the "a little of this, a little of that" approach. You can assign victory points in any of thousands of different ways, and without clear guiding principles regarding how to assign them, arbitrariness sets in. The result is a game that feels... inelegant...unromantic...diffuse. The game feels less like a unified, majestic whole, and more like a fuzzy pastiche. This is one issue about which I am probably at odds with many BGGer's, based on the popularity of games with victory points here. Also, a game with victory points does not feel like much of a design accomplishment to me. I want to think about the win condition "Yes! That's the only way it could have been!", given the other mechanics in the game.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
11. Board Game: Story [Average Rating:3.94 Unranked]
Board Game: Story
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
11. Players must be able to remember their games as stories, not as sequences of calculations/moves.

Why?

For one, it makes games easier to remember. If you can remember prior games, they can be evoked by association in a current game, creating a richer experience and a basis for strategic thinking. It is to satisfy this constraint that many of my games are about forming visual patterns of some kind out of uniform pieces. This allows players to remember individual games as high-level shifts in partial patterns instead of sequences of individual moves. This can be seen as a kind of data compression. The human brain has a real knack for playing with and remembering such patterns (this is part of the reason that humans are so much better at Go than computers).

Also, if you can remember a game as a story, it means that the game had drama: buildup of tension, swings in fortune, etc. These things entertain us.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
12. Board Game: Slim Chance [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
From gallery of BoardGameGeek
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
12. There should be no in-game chance events.

This is a very personal preference and I won't strain to justify it. I'll just say that it is easier for me to learn when playing a game without chance, and learning is one of my favorite pastimes. In games with chance, whether I win or lose, it's difficult to figure out why. Did I lose because of a chance event? Did I lose because of my decisions? In truth it's always a hard-to-define combination of the two. But then, how do I improve? Chance events make this a much harder question for *me* to answer. A second justification is that my goal is to design the deepest game I can, and it has proven harder for me to design deep games with chance events than without. Same story for hidden information.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
13. Board Game: Hurtgen Forest: Approach to the Roer, November 1944 [Average Rating:5.72 Unranked]
Board Game: Hurtgen Forest: Approach to the Roer, November 1944
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
13. Approachability.

This has to do with a player's psychological response when he plays for the first time. Does he feel like he understands something about the game the first time out? If he doesn't, he may not play again, and then the game may not ever satisfy constraint #16 below. Still, I am ambivalent about this constraint, because I personally prefer unapproachable games. I like to feel lost at first, and then to fight to gain understanding. It makes understanding more rewarding for me when it finally comes. It also seems to me that the very deepest games are a bit unapproachable. Go, for example. The depth of the game has to do with how much there is to learn about it, and games that hide their lessons at first seem often to leave more room for learning (provided, of course, that a game's secrets are not fundamentally and permanently obscure to human players, which is also a risk). I have a theory. If you look at the ratings distributions for some of the "lifestyle" games here on the geek, like Go, or Bridge, you will see that they are often bimodal (i.e. they have two peaks). I believe the reason is that these games are somewhat unapproachable, and the higher of the two peaks is due to players who have played past the initial confusion. I want to design and play games like that. So what is a poor designer to do? I honestly don't know, but I have read one interesting suggestion. It's from Kris Burm, in an interview, as part of a discussion about why Abalone sold well at a time when abstract games were performing miserably in the marketplace (as if anything has changed):

"The biggest problem you face when introducing a new abstract game, is how to make a player aware of the difference between a good move and a bad move. Most will get the impression of wasting time if they don't start having a clue about what to do after, let's say, two games. If the click hasn't come by then, most will never start a third game.

Abalone has an answer to that. Even if you haven't the slightest idea about what you are doing in the beginning, that game still feels like having a good time because of the sheer fun of making a move. You enjoy yourself pushing the marbles for a number of games and meanwhile, bit by bit, you find out more about the strategy. That is the perfect script.

In the beginning you don't play Abalone as a game, no, you play with it as a kind of gadget. And the more you play it, the less gadget it is and the more game it becomes. That is how you reach people who are normally not interested in playing an abstract game."

The whole interview can be found here: http://www.msoworld.com/mindzine/news/iview/burm_abstract.ht...

Mr. Burm's words lead naturally to the next constraint:
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
14. Board Game: Forma [Average Rating:5.57 Unranked]
Board Game: Forma
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
14. The game's physical form must be beautiful and simple, and a pleasure to manipulate in play.

I was surprised to learn that a game's form can profoundly affect players' responses to it. This is surely a surprise to no one but me. Mr. Burm clearly takes pains to ensure that his games satisfy this constraint. Consider, for example, a Dvonn piece. Notice how the outer lip is curved slightly upward, so that when you press down on it, the other end of the piece tips up, making it easy to grasp. Many people are unaware of this fact, even if they take advantage of it all the time. I have tried playing Dvonn with poker chips, and it is considerably less enjoyable because the act of moving single pieces around is more halting.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
15. Board Game: The Peter Principle Game [Average Rating:4.01 Overall Rank:18477]
Board Game: The Peter Principle Game
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
15. Design from first principles.

What I mean is: design as though you will have no opportunity to play test, as though you must be able to verify that the game has all the properties you want merely by inspecting the rules. This is less a constraint on a game's design than on the designer's methodology. It forces the designer to think deeply, creatively, analytically, it keeps the focus on fundamentals, and on the simplest regions of rule-space. With practice, a designer can in fact reduce the need for play testing, as he grows adept at designing from first principles. Of course, testing is always necessary, but it can become a crutch, a reason not to think as deeply about a design as one could. If you find yourself saying: "We'll just see how it works out in play testing", you are missing an opportunity to attain a more fundamental understanding.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
16. Board Game: Community [Average Rating:4.75 Unranked]
Board Game: Community
Nick Bentley
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level II - If I have seen further, it's only by standing on the apex of other's dice.Microbadge: BloggerMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level IV - The journey of a thousand crits begins with a single roll...Microbadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level V - My God! It's Full of Stars!
16. A game is nowhere near finished until a community of players forms around it.

Games are really just prompts for social interaction. If nobody plays your game, it hasn't served any purpose- it's like a song never sung. A game is MORE than its rules. This is especially true of games that are best played competitively, which are the kind I try to design. I argue that no more than 10% of the value of such a game resides in its rules. The rest resides in the community that forms around it. This is why standard chess is great and thousands of other chess variants are not. Gary Kasparov is a fine person, for example, and is as much a part of chess as the rules are. This was a hard truth for me to swallow, because I spend creepy amounts of time inventing and testing rule sets that nobody will ever play. I have barely tried to satisfy this constraint, but now I'm going to hold my feet to the fire, and try to promote my best game, not for profit or glory, but because it won't be finished until I do.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
17. Board Game: Sleuth [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1144]
Board Game: Sleuth
Just call me Erik
United States
Waldorf
Maryland
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
Microbadge: Coffee drinkerMicrobadge: French Press Coffee drinkerMicrobadge: I play games at the coffee shopMicrobadge: I don't just press... I AeropressMicrobadge: Chemex Coffee drinker
The Game Must Not Require the use of Consumable Materials, such as scorepads or record sheets, or require users to track score with pen and paper.

This annoys me for two reasons.

1. If I buy a game that may go out of print someday, I will no longer be able to buy the "official" scorepad to go along with it. I also don't like the feeling that i'm "Using Up" the game as i play sessions of it.

2. If I have to remember to have a pen and paper on me to play it, I feel as though the game author or publisher has been "lazy" and not allowed sufficient design to track this with the components provided.

In Cheapass games I understand it. and certainly lots of games I love violate rule 1 (Formula De, Sleuth, and one of my favorites, Battletech, though to be fair for BT i use BattleMech Designer to print new ones), and other games i like violate Rule 2 (Puerto Rico, Lost cities, Take Stock.) I don't avoid playing these games....But i will never, ever, EVER design a game this way.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
Loading... | Locked Hide Show Unlock Lock Comment     View Previous {{limitCount(numprevitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}
{{error.message}}
{{comment.error.message}}
    View More Comments {{limitCount(numnextitems_calculated,commentParams.showcount)}} / {{numnextitems_calculated}} 1 « Pg. {{commentParams.pageid}} » {{data.config.endpage}}