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Subject: Laws of Game Design rss

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Chen Changcai
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Do you have a Law of Game Design that you come up with during the process of designing games?

Here are some, extracted from this video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdTVcFo2EQw

1) Develop the core game mechanic, and a meta goal (eg. duration of gameplay, children as target players).
2) Do not spend too much effort on the initial prototypes.
3) Keep iterating.
4) Make the labels as accessible to as many people as possible.
5) Embody the player.
6) Keep the rules as simple as possible, but not simpler.
7) Add rule enhancement or variation one at a time and playtest before adding another.
8) Observe the playtesting session.
9) Match the game challenge with the player's skills, and allow variation in the level of game challenge if possible.
10) Add variety and build extensibility into the game.

Contributions from everyone on this thread:
11) Do not overthink the first iteration, get it prototyped.
12) Include pretty pictures.
13) Record design ideas on a notebook in case it's forgotten later.
14) When in doubt, leave it out.
15) Create tension and fun for the players.
16) Include randomness to increase replayability.
17) Include a mixture of old and new game mechanics.
18) Get used to disappointment.
19) Include a low risk-low gain, high risk-high gain game mechanic to induce tension.
20) Choose playtesters who can give honest opinions.
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Darrell Hanning
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I'd add (from personal experience) do not overthink the first iteration of the game. Get something printed out and assembled as early as possible - not only to be able to see your ideas in practice, but also so you have some physical manifestation of progress, which can be a big help in keeping your morale up about the game idea.
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Luke Morris
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Pretty pictures. Definitely pretty pictures.



Actually, I've got numerous notebooks just filled with board game design notes. Some games work but require stuff that I don't have (like a decent artist or some stuff I can't source easily for secondary prototypes to offer to people)....
Some I dip into from time to time, work on a little then leave for later.
Others I poured loads of time into and then realized it was fatally flawed as a game so just left it.
Others I wrote a working title and a synopsis then got bored with it.

So yeah, NOTES NOTES NOTES. Chuck the games that don't work as soon as you realize it won't work and never will.
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Nick Hayes
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I work exactly the same way as Luke.

Great video by the way. I think some of the important parts of this video to remember are:
-Prototype was in the works for four years.
-Conducted a lot of playtesting.
-Designer wasn't too attached to the rules and was able to change them for the better.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
...a Law of Game Design...


When in doubt, leave it out.



Excellent discussion.
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Peter Drake
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Almost all of these rules apply to software development as well.
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Travis Worthington
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haven't had a chacne to watch the video, but the most important thing that needs to be done early in the game design process is to determine what the interesting decisions will be created for the players and what opportunities are for strategic versus tactical actions.

too many of my game concepts "work" but don't provide tough choices - therefore no "tension".

Closely related is the quest for "fun" in a game. Sticking to "euro" type games fun and tough decisions go hand in hand.

I have taken to solo playtesting games as quickly as possible not so much to see if the mechanics work but to see if the concept has potential to create both "tension" and "fun"

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Gary Selkirk
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You must maintain the following:
1) Regardless of how desperate one players forces are in, depending on the game, some sort of victory condition must be met, even if it's Thermompalye - type game.
2) It must be replayable enough to keep the interest of all players
3) variances that involve a simple die roll for weather or re-enforcement keeps it from becoming a 'sameness'
4) keep the rules as concise as possible, with little room for question.

You will have a great game.
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Gary Simpson

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Allows have one design foot planted firmly in familiarity while the other is stepping into new territory.

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Maintain a To-Do list. I use a whiteboard for this.
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Chester Hendrix
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Da Rule
I have a Rule of Thumb for my wargame designs:

If I have to spend more time in the rulebook than I do pushing cardboard, I've wasted my money.

Euros have a different emphasis [simply because they cannot be as complex]- Does the theme fit the game system, or vice-versa? If not, move along.... nothing to see here...
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Jack Neal
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"Get used to disappointment."

Only after being let down a bunch of times do you have something truly worth someone else's time.
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Patrick Rael
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Excellent points.

I usually start with a central innovation or idea (e.g., a tile-laying game w/different shaped tiles, a game where cubes will record rising and falling values of units, a deduction game based on logic puzzles, etc.), and go from there. But I frequently get lost in the weeds.

Quote:
opportunities . . .for strategic versus tactical actions


Some games can be intensely tactical, but they're usually short. Deeper games must offer multiple long-term paths to victory, but confront players with short-term tactical challenges (some of which can disrupt the strategy).

Quote:
too many of my game concepts "work" but don't provide tough choices - therefore no "tension".


Heard that. Must have choices, but choices that at least seem to move you toward a strategic goal.

Quote:
Closely related is the quest for "fun" in a game. Sticking to "euro" type games fun and tough decisions go hand in hand.


Some Euros are not even fun. Challenging, perhaps, but not necessarily fun. This is the hardest, to me. "Fun" has to balance challenge and intellectual investment, with sufficient reward that the game moves beyond a mere exercise or puzzle.

Quote:
one design foot planted firmly in familiarity while the other is stepping into new territory.


Nicely put. Games "riff" off of existing games. Too far out there, and no one will get it (like going straight from Risk to Knizia's heavy games). Too close, and it's just derivative.
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Chris Schenck
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I love these kinds of discussions.


ccube78 wrote:
5) Embody the player.

I personally put an emphasis on this one. As I'm designing the game, even from the very beginning, I like to keep asking myself, "what should this feel like when I play the game?"

I'm normally much more of a thinker than a feeler, so it's important for me to keep coming back to this question to balance out my natural tendencies. I try to envision myself playing this game in terms of emotion. Because ultimately, when I think back about games I've played at my weekly game night, I remember the "feeling" it gave me more than the intellectual challenge. How vividly do you remember your last sudoku puzzle? Yeah...

My brain during design wrote:
* Do I want high levels of suspense and "what's going to happen next" tension? Maybe some "impeding doom" mechanics are in order. Maybe I want to feel that the players are working together but ultimately selfish. This will drive game design.

* Do I want a feeling of suspicion? Who's really my ally and who's secretly my enemy in this game? Mechanics can easily induce this environment.

* Perhaps a feeling of exploration is in order. Maybe I want to feel that this game could be played a ton of times with different strategies depending on the specific game setup.

* Sometimes a strong meta-game is in order. It's great to be able to think about playing a game while in boring meetings. Games with "player design" potential are great! Can I creatively think about my army configuration, deck configuration, or scenario design? Computer games experienced this revolution 10 or 15 years ago. Give players tools to design levels and they'll rise to the challenge -- effectively giving you free P.R.

As I progress through design iterations, I apply the "feeling" metric as a high-importance factor in all design decisions. Now as you can see, I've yet to become a highly regarded game designer, but for me this method seems to produce the best results.
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Chris Schenck
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gsimpson wrote:
Allows have one design foot planted firmly in familiarity while the other is stepping into new territory.

This is a great observation.

One of the best educational decisions I made was to go for my Masters Degree with a concentration in artificial intelligence. The field isn't very lucritive right now, but it greatly expanded my game design perspective. Being able to consider how I would create an algorithm to analyze and optimize a game system has changed my perspective completely.

One of the more interesting courses was Genetic Algorithms. Without going into needless detail, one of the prime tenets of the field is the balancing of "exploration versus exploitation" ... or, how agressively does the AI explore unfamiliar territory in exchange for refining (exploiting) known ground.

Providing the player with the option of "safer" but potentially lower-yield rewards in exchange for exploring less stable but potentially higher-yield rewards is a very compelling game mechanic. It's one of the game design elements that crosses thematic boundaries.
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Carl de Visser
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ccube78 wrote:

3) Keep iterating.


Sometimes I think you need to stop iterating, and just see how your design rides with testers for a while.

ccube78 wrote:

7) Add rule enhancement or variation one at a time and playtest before adding another.


Another rule I don't think is always true. Sometimes you need to really mix up your design, for two reasons - (1) to break away from a stale element of the game that changing just one thing can't get away from (especially where you have two linked game elements and (2) to stop playtester fatigue. Mixing the game up a bit, and then going back to an old version with a minor change will keep the playtesters from getting bored and resentful.

I'm only really nitpicking because it was such a great list. All the rest was superb.

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Steve McIlhatton
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Get input from people who don't have a vested interest in keeping you happy
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Chen Changcai
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I will periodically update the initial post with Laws that have been contributed by everyone on this discussion thread.

mundungus wrote:
Almost all of these rules apply to software development as well.

This is briefly mentioned in the video, where the presenter talks about some similarities. I am thinking, any software developer here with knowledge of software development rules who can contribute to this thread? It will be interesting to see how software development rules can be mapped back to game design.

Great discussion, keep it going! Hopefully this thread will be a useful reference and guide.
 
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Mark Manning
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When I'm creating a game, I write down a brief two, three sentence summing up of what I want the game to achieve, be about and play like.

I then pick five-six keywords out of those sentences and stick them into the header/footer of my design document in word; the idea being that I am constantly reminded of where I wanted the game to go and to keep me on track.

I also work on the "Three-Strike" rule;
> If I get someone to understand a rule first explanation, it's golden and I keep it as is.

> If it takes me a second time to explain the rule then I consider a rewording/reworking of the mechanic.

> If it takes me three attempts to explain a mechanic but they get it then I keep it but take some serious time to rework it.

> If after three times they still don't get it; the rule is obviously ambiguous or too difficult and I drop it in favor of something else.
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Mike Haverty
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For card games:

"Put the rules on the cards."

This isn't my line, I first saw it from someone on the 4GxG CCG design project. Except for unloaded traits, if you're putting text on the card, if possible include everything you need to know on the card. This is mostly seen in CCGs, but I've found it useful in other card games as well.
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Chris Schenck
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SiddGames wrote:
"Put the rules on the cards."

Internationalization can easily go too far. Seeing the look of frustration on new players of the BANG! card game is a prime example.

I'm sure it's a budgetary decision, since it means that only one deck needs to get printed. But man, I have a few games that I'd gladly shell out some more money for text on the cards.
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Patrick Rael
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Leacock speaks to my personal demon when he says: "If you try to polish a prototype too early, you become married to it, and you don’t want to make changes." Ouch; nailed.
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Peter
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SiddGames wrote:
For card games:

"Put the rules on the cards."

This isn't my line, I first saw it from someone on the 4GxG CCG design project. Except for unloaded traits, if you're putting text on the card, if possible include everything you need to know on the card. This is mostly seen in CCGs, but I've found it useful in other card games as well.


In my opinion, it really depends on the amount of information players much digest when starting out. If you assume people can remember about 7 unrelated things at a time, then anything above that number should probably be explicitly presented with text.

If the action or item can easily be portrayed with a "universal" symbol (one that is recognizable at first glance), then that action or item is one less things players have to remember. Unfortunately, I believe this is the largest detractor to Race for the Galaxy; there are just too many unrecognizable symbols. Agricola has a similar problem with the disc components. There are too many similarly looking discs for a new player to remember. Luckily the cards have text however.

Using this philosophy in a game I developed, Battlefields of Olympus only depends on symbols for the 5 Warrior card types. I tried to use recognizable icons here. It doesn't hurt that all the Warrior symbols work together. There is also a special color symbol and number value icon for the land cards. The Ares card is naturally symbolic. The rest of the cards have rules text. Besides the text I tried to use symbolic imagery for the card art and went further by attaching a symbol to each action card type.

In the end, the ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of work (memorization) a player has to endure before they can properly understand and enjoy the game.
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