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Subject: Stuff we all agree is good in games rss

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Matt Thrower
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Hi,

I'm an Ameritrash fan. I've got the badge and I've contributed to all the recent discussions on the subject. But truth be told there's one thing that's bugged me about some of the recent discussion.

The fact is that much as I'm happy to harp on about how good older games are, game design on the whole has improved, massively, over the last 20 years. I'd argue that the best games of the 70's and 80's still hold their own today but they're a very small handful of all the games that were sloshing around at the time and a lot of those that are still worth playing today were early examples of cool ideas and mechanics that are simply become much more commonplace nowadays. Dune is largely nonrandom. Titan sometimes looks to me like a game where the designers went to huge lengths to minimise the impact of all those dice. Blood Bowl can sometimes, extraordinarily, seem like a game of chess with added spikes.

I've seen a lot of heated argument over whether certain classic games of the past are proto-AT or proto-Euro. I think the answer is that they're both. Modern design is of course influenced by older design and what's happened is that the various streams of the hobby have taken the best things about those earlier games and developed them in different directions. I reckon that if we're honest (and I'm not at all sure that some people in the AT camp are being honest in this regard) there's some bottom-line stuff here that we can all agree on as good trends in modern gaming and thank god that we've evolved on from the old days.

I've realised this is starting to get a bit rambling and incoherent. Forgive me, I'm very tired - I have a young baby and sleep 'aint what it used to be.

So what are those bottom-line things? Here's my take:

If a game features random mechanics, those mechanics should rarely, if ever be allowed to determine a winner. Fast filler games are an exception to this clearly. But if you're going to play a game what we all want is a game that rewards good play and clever thinking. We might argue over how much thinking there should be, or how intense it should be, or exactly what small percentage of games played can turn on a random factor but basically no-one wants to go back to the days when dice ruled pretty much everything. There are so many examples of this that it'd be cruel to quote one.

Decisions in a game should always have a meaningful effect on gameplay. Again we might argue over how many decisions there should be in a game or how hard it should be to take those decisions. But the fact is that a whole slew of "classic" older games featured decision making that had no real effect on how the game panned out - Talisman is an excellent example. I think we can all agree that that approach is totally pointless.

A game should be immersive, however it chooses to draw the players in. This is kind of a roundabout way of saying that games which have play times longer than they have play value are bad. The arguments that occur here are simply about the benefits of long against short play time and what it is that immerses you in a game - theme, the excitement of gambling on random factors , deep gameplay or a combination. The days when games were allowed to drag on long after they'd become pointless thanks to chrome factors are, thankfully, long gone. For an example, see Junta, a brilliant game that could be easily ruined by too may people starting coups and dragging the game on interminably.

I'm sure there was a fourth point, but in my exhausted state, I've forgotten what it was. You're more than welcome to suggest additions to this list, and hopefully something will remind me of what this was supposed to be .

There's been a lot of divisive talk recently. Maybe we should be celebrating the things that we can thank for a better gaming experience. In my opinion the really interesting stuff that's going on nowadays is in the gaps between the genres - Richard Bog, Martin Wallce, Histogames, Columbia all produce/design games that are fiendishly hard to classify. I read a thread a little while ago suggesting that all the Ameritrash debate meant that some sort of sea change in attitude was approaching the gaming industry. I think it is, but I don't think it's some sort of AT revolution - I think that by looking in the gaps, designers are increasingly able to focus down on the common factors that we can all enjoy.
 
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Giles Pritchard
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Nice comments Matt,

You make some very good points (even in your weary state).

Games are about the people we play them with and having fun (IMO).

Your comments sing true of all the games I enjoy most from my collection - be they Euro, 'Ameritrash', abstract or other.

Cheers!

Giles.
 
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Paul DeStefano
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Some decisions (naming a character) can be important to the flavor of a game, but have no effect, simply exist for theme's sake.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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Thanks for the thoughts, Matt, and I agree in principle with your points.

I think anyone who tries to trace design lineage across the seas, through publishers, from the head of one designer to another, in pursuit of polarizing the game styles (and thus the gaming community) is at best on a fool's errand, and at worst...well, the less said about that, the better.

We are all gamers, here, and we do enough polarization of and by ourselves, without the unsolicited assistance of others.

But I am not an "Ameritrash" fan, because:

a) the categorization is nebulous, specious, and far too arbitrary.

b) there is already too much of "us vs. them" in the world, and the last, damn place I want to see such tiny-minded crap is in my hobby. I'm not talking about you, in particular, but the gears set in motion by any act of arbitrary polarization, one intent of which is to say that some people are not capable of deciding what is "fun", and therefore must be told by others what is "fun" (and thus what is "not fun"). Decide for yourself, share why you think so, but when tempted to pass judgement on the fun had by others, kindly shut the hell up.

But aside from that, I'm all for the ideas you set down in this thread.
 
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Tom Hancock
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Matt: This is a great post, and contains some facts almost no one here on the geek would disagree with. Good Job!
 
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Randy Cox
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While I usually don't like lists of "always" or "never" rules (because there are always counterexamples--see, there's an "always"), this list is fairly reasonable. My biggest issue would be with the idea that a game should be immersive (at least it didn't say a game should ALWAYS be immersive).

I'm not sure that I really want to get lost in a game, regardless of whether it's Take Your Pick or Die Macher or a Murder/Mystery Party game. I can't think of ever getting so into a game that my number one conscious thought wasn't that "we're playing a game." I will be thinking about things to do or what's on the stove, not that I've become the Dark Elf or whatnot. I can play Take it Easy and enjoy the hell out of it, but I'm not necessarily "immersed." I'm just not sure that's at all an element that's important in a game for me.
 
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Fun is the only thing I would say that everyone looks for in games they play. I know I've never met someone who wants to play games they don't think are fun.

The initial statements about what everyone looks for in a game made a lot of sense until you started mentioning games. For example:

Quote:
But the fact is that a whole slew of "classic" older games featured decision making that had no real effect on how the game panned out - Talisman is an excellent example.


In my opinion Talisman has a lot of general decisions to make about what direction to go in and how much you should push you luck in more difficult regions, though much of the fun did come from the random encounters that happened along the way.

In college, we played a lot of Talisman and we maintained stats on who won and what characters they won with. Players with the most Talisman experience won more often, and it was independent of what character they were (with the exception of some overpowered characters like the Prophetess, Monk and Astropath whose powers we eventually nerfed).

Letting the readers of this thread define for themselves what games do and don't fit your categories would make a lot more sense in terms of the peaceable goal of this thread.
 
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Matt Thrower
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Geosphere wrote:
Some decisions (naming a character) can be important to the flavor of a game, but have no effect, simply exist for theme's sake.


Fair point. But then they're not gameplay decisions, so I'm not sure that it's entirely relevant. Worth making the distinction though.

Randy Cox wrote:
My biggest issue would be with the idea that a game should be immersive (at least it didn't say a game should ALWAYS be immersive).


Perhaps I have misrepresented myself. My intent was to say that a game should remain interesting to the participants for the entire play time, rather than that the participants should "loose" themselves in the game. There are a number of older games which ran out of steam well before the endgame.

wrote:
Letting the readers of this thread define for themselves what games do and don't fit your categories would make a lot more sense in terms of the peaceable goal of this thread.


You're right - the examples were a late addition and probably a mistake. I would point out that nowhere did I say that the categories resulted in games that weren't fun - rather my intent was to say that more modern games which didn't fall into these traps had the potential to be even more fun. One of my targets is Junta, a game I enjoy immensely, but when I play I often find myself thinking it could be even better if it were streamlined a bit.



 
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Billy McBoatface
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I'll add another point, related to your fourth...

Games should end before they get boring
If you do anything for long enough it becomes dull. Games should end before their mechanics have worn you out and you don't care any more. It's OK for them to end earlier, but later is not good. Different people have different limits on this, which is why some people love Titan and some get bored midway through the second battle...but for a game to be good for a person, this rule must apply.
 
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John Paul Sodusta
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DarrellKH wrote:
Thanks for the thoughts, Matt, and I agree in principle with your points.

I think anyone who tries to trace design lineage across the seas, through publishers, from the head of one designer to another, in pursuit of polarizing the game styles (and thus the gaming community) is at best on a fool's errand, and at worst...well, the less said about that, the better.

We are all gamers, here, and we do enough polarization of and by ourselves, without the unsolicited assistance of others.

But I am not an "Ameritrash" fan, because:

a) the categorization is nebulous, specious, and far too abritrary.

b) there is already too much of "us vs. them" in the world, and the last, damn place I want to see such tiny-minded crap is in my hobby. I'm not talking about you, in particular, but the gears set in motion by any act of arbitrary polarization, one intent of which is to say that some people are not capable of deciding what is "fun", and therefore must be told by others what is "fun" (and thus what is "not fun"). Decide for yourself, share why you think so, but when tempted to pass judgement on the fun had by others, kindly shut the hell up.

But aside from that, I'm all for the ideas you set down in this thread.


You have articulated what many of us couldn't. Well done.
 
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Kudos for compiling such a list while sleep-deprived. (If you're lucky, you'll start getting a decent night's sleep in a few weeks' time. If not, a few years.) I do think this is reinventing (or redesigning?) the wheel a bit, though. See:
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/WhatMakesaGame.shtml
 
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Texas Aggie
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Gotta agree that the only thing that probably can be universally agreed upon is the fun factor. Bottom line, if a group of folks find great joy in rolling dice all night long and counting who has the high score, then that's all that matters.
 
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howl hollow howl
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Quote:
If a game features random mechanics, those mechanics should rarely, if ever be allowed to determine a winner.


I don't understand the use of "rarely", but, assuming that you are implying that allowing random mechanisms to determine a winner is *bad*, I disagree.

The extreme example is DiceChess: Play a game of chess, then roll 2 d6s, giving the chess winner a +1 DRM, with the higher roll winning the game. I agree with folks that the DiceChess game is silly, but there are similar games which work (mostly because the prework isn't as involved as chess).

Two examples are Killer Bunnies and James Ernest Goes to Vegas, which both share a "raffle" design whereby much of the game is collecting tickets, then at the end there is a drawing to see which is the winning ticket. Many folks don't mind this random mechanism determining the winner, as it adds fun suspense, allows anyone to win, and there is still a game in maximizing your chances of winning the final draw.

Even those examples are really an abstraction of games that feature any random element at all. For example, the tile draw in Carcassone. You set yourself up for useful draws, but to win against good competition you still need to get the tiles afterwards for the payoff. Maybe I misunderstand your usage of "determine a winner"?

I also disagree about your second point on decisions (again hinging on a vague phrase - "meaningful effect") and your third point on immersion (I don't want to play an immersive game, or a game requiring immersion, while watching the SuperBowl; I say this trying to playtest one of my designs during this year's SuperBowl and it was a near-disaster).

But I don't really see a "two camps" problem. My group plays games that fall under both categories. Also, the variety in play experience of Euros is wide and there is nothing close to consensus among the "Euro camp", so I wouldn't expect common ground across camps. Other than a thirst for rich chocolate Ovaltine.
 
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robin goblin
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The comments on randomness are not quite fair/accurate. You contrast 'randomness shouldn't decide the game' versus 'the bad old days when dice ruled everything'. First of all, that characterization of the olden times is baseless. Just because dice are used does not mean the dice decide the game. Many games use randomizing for many different purposes. While I would agree that Talisman is a boring game -- it isn't the randomness, it is the meaninglessness of the decision-making and the endless repetition.

And Dune has randomness by the by (two different decks of cards drawn from every turn, random drawing of traitors)....those random elements can have a significant impact on the game and *add* to the game.....

Robin
 
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Matthew M
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Geosphere wrote:
Some decisions (naming a character) can be important to the flavor of a game, but have no effect, simply exist for theme's sake.


There's a fine line between when flavor is just that and when it actually helps gameplay by making information easier to process due to it being well integrated with the theme representing it. A memorable name can thus make gameplay go much more smoothly by cutting down the time needed to reference the effects of the related feature.

Blue Moon or Heroscape come immediately to mind. Mind you, I don't have every name and related statistic memorized, but if you say you are drafting Krug or tell me that you are playing a Storm card I instantly have a pretty firm idea of how it is going to impact my play without needing to reference anything. Without the names that process grinds to a potentially game-killing halt.

-MMM
 
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Harald Torvatn
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MattDP wrote:

If a game features random mechanics, those mechanics should rarely, if ever be allowed to determine a winner. Fast filler games are an exception to this clearly. But if you're going to play a game what we all want is a game that rewards good play and clever thinking. We might argue over how much thinking there should be, or how intense it should be, or exactly what small percentage of games played can turn on a random factor but basically no-one wants to go back to the days when dice ruled pretty much everything. There are so many examples of this that it'd be cruel to quote one.

Decisions in a game should always have a meaningful effect on gameplay. Again we might argue over how many decisions there should be in a game or how hard it should be to take those decisions. But the fact is that a whole slew of "classic" older games featured decision making that had no real effect on how the game panned out - Talisman is an excellent example. I think we can all agree that that approach is totally pointless.



How much random mechanics determine the winner depends on the relative skill of the players. Between players who play with equal skill, any random mechanic will determine the winner every time. If the players can make decisions which have a meaningfull effects on gameplay, and players have different skill in making these decisions, the impact of randoness becomes much less, even if the game has strong random elements.

Therfore, the point about meningfull decisions is much more important than the point about random elements: A game with meaningfull decisions can have a lot of randomness and still be consistently won by the most skilled player, but a game without (or with very little) meaningfull decisions is uninteresting, no matter how little randomness it has.
 
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Michael Wood
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Thanks for a great thread, Matt. I've given my thumbsup on the basis that it's a thread involving discussion on ameritrash and euro games that hasn't declined into needless sniping.
I have to say i generally agree on most of your points, i think there are the occasional exceptions, but that's alway going to be the case imo.
 
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Maybe I'm thinking further back than is quite right, but what I remember from the bad old days is the huge, dense rule books. Part of the cure for that was more robust mechanics that allowed for less rules-lawyering, so the rules didn't have to account for every ridiculous case.

A far more important point is that rules were moved from the rule book into game components: cards, playing mats, displays, player aids, number of pieces available, and other mnemonics. For a great many games, the only need to refer to the rule book is for initial set up, basic play flow (the first time you play), and whether the game completes the final round or not.


I agree with the comments about length of games and immersion. I think one place where many current games are lacking is in immersion. RPGs can be played for tens of hours (if not hundreds) because a good GM can keep the game immersive. A close-to-boardgame example is Starfire, though it certainly flunks rules simplicity. Of course, a requirement for such long games is that the state of the game can be recorded quickly, and later the game can be resumed quickly.
 
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Luke Morris
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Ninjas.

Ninjas are good in games.
 
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