The Holy Grails of Game Design
Paul Elliott
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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There are certain ideals in game design that have proved to be an incredible challenge. While we do not know if these lofty heights are reachable, I think we would all agree that a game designer would be hailed as a genius if he or she could actually attain them. These are great Holy Grails of game design that many quest after.

So, are these possible?? Are they worth it??

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1. Board Game: Civilization [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:225] [Average Rating:7.52 Unranked]
Paul Elliott
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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A Playable Civilization

Ever since Civilization has been released, there has been a quest to create a game that matches its vast scope, epic feel, and depth of strategy while streamlining the playing time. After all, very few people have 7 hours to dedicate to a single session and as many friends willing to put in that sort of time. Of the attempts to attain this Holy Grail, they have fallen short in different ways:
1) Too long (7 Ages)
2) Too narrow/abstract (Mare Nostrum, Vinci)
3) Just plain inferior (Sid Meier's Civ: The Boardgame)
 
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2. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Paul Elliott
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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Mass-Market Gamers' Game

Many have fantasized over a deep, meaty gamers' game that could actually outsell Monopoly, Risk, Game of Life, Uno, etc. It would be the sort of blockbuster game to fundamentally change the game market. The closest that any have come to this Holy Grail is probably Settlers of Catan. However, it has a long way to go to outsell Monopoly. Moreover, many would argue that it's not strategic enough to be a gamers' game--more like a gateway game.
 
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3. Board Game: Struggle of Empires [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:327]
Paul Elliott
United States
Cincinnati
Ohio
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Multi-Player Conquest Game without Multi-Player Politics, etc.

The genre of Multi-Player Conquest Game is very popular, and the games have come a long way since Risk. However, many of these games still succumb to the vageries and meta-game politics that tend to determine the fate of any Risk game. For example,
1) Everyone gangs up against player X for no good reason
2) Player A attacks player B, upsetting the balance of power, so that player C runs away with the game
3) Player Y is so far out of the lead that he or she plays the kingmaker
4) Players D and E are significant others, so they form an unbreakable alliance
5) Player Q attacks player M because it sounds like fun/he has a grudge/etc.

Some games, such as Diplomacy, embrace these sort of conflicts and make THAT into the game. However, many games want to reward good tactical play and good strategic vision to a greater degree. Thus, it is something of a Holy Grail to make a multi-player conquest game that eliminates the majority of these situations. I list Struggle of Empires as one attempt because of its alliance mechanics. Since each round involves the players forming two unbreakable alliances, the conflict focuses more on which alliance one is in and how well one plays tactically/strategically. Nonetheless, there are still reports of abuse even in this clever system.
 
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4. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:47]
Mike Siggins
England
Bexhill
SUSSEX
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To my mind we are still waiting for the ultimate space exploration game. Most are fiddly, long or just plain awful. This game represents the latest great hope. Let's hope after three tries it works this time?
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5. Board Game: Wildlife Safari [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1298]
Paul Blake
United States
Westerville
Ohio
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Ultimate Simplicity

Many designers strive for the ultimate in simplistic designs, trimming out anything which might weigh the game down. Gone are fiddly rules, clumsy mechanics, and over-produced components.

Unfortunately, this also sometimes takes theme away.

Even I, as a fledgeling game designer, have reached towards this goal, at one point aspiring to create a single card game: That is, a game which used either only one card, or multiple copies of the same card. Tokens were permitted.
 
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6. Board Game: Kensington [Average Rating:5.33 Overall Rank:14625]
Liz Wald
United Kingdom
Winchester
Hampshire
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A "better" game than chess

Western chess seems to be the "Monopoly" of strategy games, i.e. mass appeal and the feeling that everyone has a chess set in the cupboard, even though there may be better games (e.g. xiang qi, shogi or go). Attempts have been made to design a strategy game with simple rules and complex strategy that would have the same mass appeal. Kensington is an example that comes to mind: it was hailed as a challenge to the supremacy of chess when it came out. It has since died a death.
 
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7. Board Game: Star Fleet Battles [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:1665]
John Lopez
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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A tactically rich yet playable ship to ship combat system. The closest I have come is Silent Death (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/3895) and Hard Vacuum (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/3340). The former suffers from a lack of interesting tactical decisions and an initiative based movement system (which is mitigated by moving fractions of forces) and the latter becomes a game of "guess where I went" but otherwise has interesting yet easy to use systems. (I especially like the "apparent velocity" modifier to targeting).

Having cut my teeth on Star Fleet, it is hard to accept that two ships can run straight past each other in such a way that they must have been close, and yet have no firing opprotunity. The classic example of this is to pull up in front, just out of firing range. On the next turn pull behind your target and spin around so you have tailing. Somehow the target never gets to fire during this, even though in silent death the ship may have used every available move in a straight line and then spun at the end. Must be some pretty poor gunnery crews.

The alternative is something like SFB, which when playing fleet battles has more paperwork than an IRS audit. I get my firing opprotunity though...
 
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8. Board Game: Monopoly [Average Rating:4.39 Overall Rank:15319]
Michael Lewis
United States
Unspecified
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The minimum number of rule changes to turn Monopoly into a decent game.
Some of you may have heard me on this soapbox before, but I think somewhere, deep down, there is a good game just crying to be let out of Monopoly. As the rules stand now, Monopoly represents everything that makes games unpleasent (player elimination (which contributes to making it long), taking your turn can only harm you, etc.)
I keep thinking that Monopoly should be fun, I mean, it's a good concept, a decent theme, has reasonably nice components (including big handfulls of play money, and if you don't think that matters, play Acquire for points). It's just a shame that Monopoly sucks so bad.
 
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9. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:15]
 
Yaron Racah
Israel
Tel Aviv
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A Game that Requires You to React in Interesting Ways to Opponents' Choice of Abilities (When Choosing Your Own Abilities)

I put Puerto Rico here because many people would say it fits the bill. It doesn't for me - perhaps because I'm only good enough to adapt my tactics (=choice of roles) to other players' strategies, while my strategic choice of abilities (=buildings) centers mainly on my own position. You see, I avoid goods produced by my righthand neighbour, but that's not "an interesting way". People taking Trading House because they needed to "generally slow down trading" definitely qualifies, but I feel that that level of reasoning is just cream in this game, by which I mean not necessary to win often.

Of course, any game where you choose abilities has a claim for this title (Ursuppe? Civ?), but I've never played a game where the sub-game of choosing paths of development was interactive and interesting enough, being complete with moves, feints and responses, all of which are non-trivial (buying the Defense gene because your opponent has Struggle for Survival in Ursuppe - is trivial...).

Is anyone in agreement about this being a Grail? Or willing to nominate a candidate?
 
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10. Board Game: Attack Vector: Tactical [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:4338]
Ken Burnside
United States
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
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3-D Vector Movement Spaceship Combat, with accurate physics - all while actually remaining playable. Not "playable" in the "Yeah, two people can do it, and brag that they didn't need a computer" level of playable, but playable in the "Holy crap, that was fun...and my head didn't explode!"

That is the Holy Grail of space combat boardgames of the space simulationist variety, rather than the "Let's refight WWII navals with spaceships" camp. AV:T's come closer to achieving it than anyone else.

While not quite Full Thrust simple, it actually works - and if you're willing to do a little arithmetic on a regular basis, it's got the low overhead to let you focus on tactics. The damage allocation system is fun, but time consuming. The actual 3-D mechanics just work, and extend seamlessly from 2D hex grid games. The sidebars with the science behind the rules showcase the thought behind this game.

If you aren't willing to do the arithmetic, you probably consider this "Holy Grail" a sign of madness.

(NB: I'm the lead designer of this title - I'm trying to give as balanced an assessment as I can, without sounding like I'm aggressivly shilling it.)
 
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11. Board Game: Dragons of Glory [Average Rating:6.18 Overall Rank:9492]
Robert Bracey
United Kingdom
London
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A true epic of war in a fantasy world, which gives command of great armies in a world of magic and sorcery, against a backdrop of vast armies, all in a final conflict between good and evil. Dragons of Glory isn't that game but it does have some of the core elements that would be needed to reach this, which is essentially a grail about assembling a synthesising a series of elements succesfully:

1, A fantasy world which is believable.
2, A proper sense of the integration of fantasy and magic
3, A true strategic sense to the whole event

In essence its like trying to create a fantasy WWII.
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