Mike Compton
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Game Design Theory

I am currently a member of the Board Game Designers Club of Utah which is a group of (at present) amateur board game designers who all meet together once a month at Game Night Games in Salt Lake City, UT. The bulk of the time at these meetings is devoted to playtesting of various prototypes but we also have about 15 minutes at the beginning of each meeting devoted to some sort of presentation of content relevent to board game design. As quick examples of such presentations, one member of the group self-published some time ago and gave a presentation on that and one member has competed effectively in the Hippodice competition and gave a presentation on that. A couple of members are having games published at present - one through a local bookstore and one through a company in Italy. I'm currently waiting to hear back from a publisher with a prototype I sent to them (so I'm keeping my fingers crossed).

I've prepared and given several presentations so far at these meetings. I've also uploaded the content of those presentations here on BGG in various forms. Here are some of the links:

The Nine Phases of Game Design:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/19164

Effective Playtesting Feedback
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/19846


My next presentation will be on providing quality, efficient feedback following the playtesting of a game by using a specific set of criteria that can apply to any game. The criteria/tool I've created for that presentation is in the form of a Microsoft Word document and I've uploaded it as a file in the "Unpublished Prototype" game listing here on BGG. Here's the link:

Game Evaluation Criteria
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/fileinfo.php?fileid=24600

The presentation I will be making after that will be on the theory of "fun" in game design and that presentation is what immediately follows in this thread.

There have been other posts/lists that discuss what makes a game fun and some of the topics of feedback in the evaluation criteria I created and uploaded also discuss other factors that can impact a game's fun (such as the time the game takes versus the fun it offers as well as other factors). What follows is not a discussion about all of the factors that come together to create a great game. Instead, it is a listing of the different categories of enjoyment that various games offer - along with a few examples of each category.

Enjoy,
-Mike.

The Theory of Fun in Gaming

Fun is a relative concept, not an absolute, static thing. What constitutes "fun" for one person may constitute "tedium" for another and vice versa. From the perspective of board game design, a designer’s goal is usually to create a game that can be considered "fun" by at least a sizeable audience of people such that their game will be published and enjoyed by others. Thus, it’s important for the designer to figure out just what "kind" or which "kinds" of fun his or her game is trying to implement or offer.

It’s also important for playtesters to know what kind of "fun" they typically prefer to have and which kinds don’t really work for them. This way, they can provide feedback that is appropriately qualified from their relative perspective (ex. "this game wasn’t fun for me because of…" instead of stating in an absolute manner "this game wasn’t fun.")

What follows is a list of different forms of "fun" that various board and card games can offer along with a few examples of games that offer that particular form of fun:


1. Socialization: having an opportunity to spend time with others doing something that doesn’t get in the way or distract from the conversations taking place but yet provides some sort of "glue" for the social setting

Examples:
-Any game that has very few rules, very little strategy, and minimal competition
-Puzzles as a genre
-Lots of card games fit in this category


2. Amusement / Humor: having silly themes, doing silly things, or experiencing silly circumstances

Examples:
-Curses
-Apples to Apples
-Killer Bunnies
-Mad Gab
-Munchkin


3. Organization: taking a set number of things from a chaotic state and putting them into an organized state

Examples:
-Puzzles
-Rubik’s Cube


4. Spatial Thinking: envisioning different shapes in varying arrangements or envisioning different objects moving

Examples:
-Blokus
-Ubongo
-The Princes of Florence
-Arkadia
-Robo Rally
-Fearsome Floors
-Wings of War
-Ricochet Robots
-Ingenious


5. Pattern Recognition: opportunity to recognize or envision meaningful patterns in various sets of symbols, words, letters, or objects

Examples:
-Set
-Scrabble
-Boggle
-Tri-Bond
-Zendo


6. Efficiency / Racing: trying to accomplish a goal in the most efficient manner possible or before anyone else does

Examples:
-TransAmerica
-Fearsome Floors
-Ricochet Robots
-Power Grid
-Pitch Car


7. Deduction: trying to do mental algebra and infer unknown information from known information

Examples:
-Sleuth
-Mystery of the Abbey


8. Inference: trying to infer other people’s motives or their standings in a given setting by reading their body language, facial expressions, and general demeanor

Examples:
-Werewolves
-Poker
-Shadows Over Camelot


9. Role-Playing: exploring some sort of interesting thematic setting or making decisions from the standpoint of an interesting thematic character

-Historical Wargames as a genre
-Arkham Horror
-Fury of Dracula
-Doom
-The “How to Host a Murder” games


10. Conflict: opportunity to directly compete/match wits with at least one other individual or to directly impact another individual’s position through one’s own choices:

Examples:
-Yinsh
-Chess
-Go
-Wargames as a genre


11. Acquisition / Conquering: opportunity to acquire resources, items, or territory from another player or to obtain the same from a limited market

Examples:
-Saint Petersburg
-RA
-Puerto Rico
-The Princes of Florence
-El Grande
-China
-Wargames as a genre


12. Creativity / Cleverness: opportunity to be clever and/or creative in the decisions and plans you make

Examples:
-Tikal
-The deck building/construction aspect of CCG’s.


13. Self-Testing: opportunity to test personal knowledge or physical dexterity

Examples:
-Trivial Pursuit
-Jenga
-Polarity


14. Communication: opportunity to utilize conversation skills, word skills, drawing skills, or general communication skills

Examples:
-Taboo
-Catch Phrase
-What’s It To Ya
-Pictionary
-Time’s Up


15. Opportunity Cost: having to weigh the relative worth of two or more options that at least appear to be equally good but either of which could turn out to be quite different in their significance

Examples:
-Puerto Rico
-Caylus
-Loot
-Coloretto
-No Thanks
-Die Macher


16. Risk Taking / Anticipation of the Unknown: hoping for some desired result, be it positive or negative, either for yourself or for someone else

Examples:
-Can’t Stop
-Incan Gold
-Cloud 9
-Blackjack
-Any game where the decisions of the other players have the potential to impact your position in the game
-Any game that involves some random element such as cards or dice


17. Variety: aspects of the game being different each time

Examples:
-Carcassonne
-Settlers of Catan
-Hey! That’s My Fish
-Card Games as a genre


Summary:

1. Socialization
2. Amusement / Humor
3. Organization
4. Spatial Thinking
5. Pattern Recognition
6. Efficiency / Racing
7. Deduction
8. Inference
9. Role-Playing
10. Conflict
11. Acquisition / Conquering
12. Creativity / Cleverness
13. Self-Testing
14. Communication
15. Opportunity Cost
16. Risk Taking / Anticipation of the Unknown
17. Variety


Update: As a means of organizing all of my posts into one place, I have started my own board gaming blog. Here's the link:

http://www.mike-compton.blogspot.com/

Come check it out.
-Mike.
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Mark Reich
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I think it's beneficial when thinking about this topic to distinguish between 'fun' and 'enjoyable'. When I think of what a 'fun' game is, it usually involves laughing, light-heartedness, and very high social interaction. I wouldn't class Chess as a fun game, but for many (including myself), it is an enjoyable game.
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Mike Compton
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Mark_Owen_Reich wrote:
I think it's beneficial when thinking about this topic to distinguish between 'fun' and 'enjoyable'. When I think of what a 'fun' game is, it usually involves laughing, light-heartedness, and very high social interaction. I wouldn't class Chess as a fun game, but for many (including myself), it is an enjoyable game.


In this discussion, I'm using the terms interchangeably and distinguishing between the different types of "fun" or "enjoyment" that games offer people. Essentially, people respond to different things in a game. For me, I consider a game of chess "fun" rather than just a mental exercise because I enjoy the types of visualization, competition, and decision-making the game offers me. For someone else, it might not be "fun" at all because it simply isn't appealing to their definition or "preferred type" of fun.
 
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Yehuda Berlinger
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You might want to read some books on game design that cover all this territory, such as A Theory of Fun in Game Design by Raph Koster, or Chris Crawford's books, etc...

Yehuda
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Mike Compton
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Shade_Jon wrote:
You might want to read some books on game design that cover all this territory, such as A Theory of Fun in Game Design by Raph Koster, or Chris Crawford's books, etc...

Yehuda


Just checked out the reference for Koster's book on Amazon. Looks like promising reading. Thanks for the recommendation.
 
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Mark C
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One thing I think that helps with game design is to have an audience in mind when you're putting it together. Most designers have the game they want to play in mind, which is fine, but usually winds up being unpublishable. There are a lot of very different, but successful games already out there, which gives you an idea of the different styles of game that have appeal.
 
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Mike Compton
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I posted an article yesterday on my blog that touches somewhat on audience. It's about the importance of theme in actually getting one's game design looked at by others.
 
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Ta-Te Wu
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Can anyone please tell me if there are standards for the min age requirement? Thanx!
 
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