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Subject: Is Micromangement and Book-keeping bad? rss

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Thomas Schwarz
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Hi!

Over the last couple of years many ideas for games have come to my mind, held me busy for a couple of days and vanished without me even trying to shape them out.
But I have this one idea for some time by now. I even started to write down rules, thinking about layouts etc.So maybe this time I will get serious (well... as I said: maybe!).

I don't know if this is the right board (and if not, please tell me and point to the right one). But I do have a question about game design. It is more about "should I do that" than "how should I do that". Even if the latter will come maybe later...
But for my question: As I said, I have this idea about a game (it will be a Dungeon Crawler like game which should do the things right which bother me with other games in that category). What bothers me is, it would have a good amount of micromanagement and bookkeeping. The player board alone would have 10+ tracks to keep values (only a couple of them will move regulary, but it's still a lot of tracks with a lot of counters) plus there shall be a couple of cards in the common playing area on which players could put counter for different effects.

Is this a "do" or a "don't"?
You see, I don't mind micromanagement and bookkeeping in games, as long as everything is well arranged. A friend of mine, with which I play quiet often hates micromanagement in games (he refuses to play Through the ages because of this). A second friend of mine also doesn't really likes it, but goes with it if it is necessary...

So, I'm not quiet sure what the received opinion on this topic is. Have you ever had an idea for a game, but "trashed" it because of too much bookkeeping? What do you think about this mechanic (is it even a mechanic? I lack a better word for it though...).

I hope, that I was able to make my point clear. You see, english isn't my mother tongue and sometimes I miss to make a point (by trying to explain everything).
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Mike L.
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A good game should be as streamlined as possible. So, the question becomes, do you really need 10+ tracks? Can you combine any of them to reduce the micromanaging? What creative ways are there to get the same result, without all of the little bits? This is but one of the trials of being a good game designer.

If you can't tell if your setup has too much micromanaging, build a quick and cheap prototype and test it out yourself and then test it out on your friends.
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Nate K
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There IS a market for games with lots of little things to track, but it's not huge--mostly roleplayers and wargamer who have been trained to track a lot of different things at once and don't mind a ton of micromanagement.

Your game will have a broader appeal if its more streamlined. This will not necessarily make it a better game, but it will be a game that a wider variety of players will try and enjoy.

Still, if you like games with lots of micromanagement and you think you can add to the dungeon-crawler genre with this game, by all means, go for it! I think it's important for amateur game designers to make games that they, themselves, would enjoy, and not what they think their audience wants. They'll make better games that way, if only because they're more excited about their own projects.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Really depends on the target audience. Some will get into it or even want more options. Others will dislike it and demand less.

It also depends on what you want to do with the gameplay.

In a space empire game I've been working on for a while now I have alot of elements to keep track of during the course of play. I want alot of variety to keep things interesting. But I have to look at ways to simplify the bookeeeping side so its not too much even for a game like this.
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Laura Creighton
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Everybody said that Eclipse would have too much bookkeeping. The world ate it up. But I would worry a bit if your game isn't a wargame and has a lot more bookkeeping than Eclipse. Trajan also has a good bit of bookkeeping. Enough that many people say it is 'too fiddly' for them. But it's still selling well.
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Zaid Crouch
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While it will mainly come down to the players and their personal tastes, I think there are two main areas that you can work on to make bookkeeping more user friendly. First, you want to make things as transparent as possible, to minimise the cognitive load of your game. Eclipse is an excellent example of this -- the layout of the player board means you can get a very good sense of your empire at a single glance, with minimal calculations. Also, the more straight forward the interactions the better -- as an example, in a design of mine we've changed from stats granting an extra die at certain breakpoints (eg. 2 dice at 4, 3 at 7, 4 at 9, and 5 at 10) to each point giving an extra die.

The other area where bookkeeping can be problematic is if you have parts of the game where players have to do a lot all at once, especially if that involves a bit of work. This is not entirely separate from the previous point, and Eclipse is again a good example -- it would suck if you needed to count up the resources your planets produced each turn.
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David Sevier
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I'll second the statement that some people love it and some hate it, so make what you want to play.
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Ben Pinchback
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Endeavor is a Euro game where players track 4 different things that level up on a player board. I've never had anyone complain about keeping track of 4 tracks. So, there you go. 10 tracks is probably too many for the masses, but 4 is easy all day. Somewhere in the middle might be a sweet spot like 6 or 7.
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Brook Gentlestream
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If you have a lot of chits, it can be hard to distinguish the different chits from each other. This makes the game overly fiddly, and a lot of time is wasted trying to find the right chits or trying to make change with chits. 51st State has been heavily criticized for this, while The Ares Project tried to avoid this problem by using less variety of chits and by making sure all the chits were shaped and colored very differently. (Ironically though, Ares Project still suffers from this problem because the cards on which the chits are placed all look very similar.)

Micromanaging games are also vulnerable to all manner of accidents that could ruin a game such as banging the table, spilling soda, a gust of wind, or just someone rolling a dice improperly. The more chits you have, and the more important the exact location of those chits are, the more vulnerable a game is to this problem. A good test for this if someone accidentally bangs the table and knocks everything aside a few inches, how easy is it to determine where everything should have been located? Proper streamlining, as well as intelligent thought about components and graphic layout can help reduce this problem significantly.

With more things to keep track of it becomes very difficult to gauge your opponent's progress. It's easy enough to inquire about an opponent's magical aptitude score, for example, but its harder if you also have to determine your opponent's active spell selection, available mana supply, magic affinity of his location, type of familiar he has, and any items that may have charges of specific spells. The harder it is to track your opponent's progress, the more the game becomes "multiplayer solitaire", for better or worse. One thing that could help reduce this is to come up with a convenient lexicon of game terms that makes it convenient to coordinate table talk in a natural, conversational way.

Finally, a major concern of micromanagement games would be the length of game time as players must constantly focus on moving chips, checking and double-checking values, and re-evaluating the status of the game. In addition for creating a longer game, for better or worse, it also adds significantly to the learning curve of the game, which can be a problem. Again, a good conversational lexicon can help with this, especially if the game requires you to inform opponents when certain milestones are reached. Player aides can help, especially in coordination with a procedural rules system and a web-based FAQ. Despite these, a large portion of this drawback can not be offset. Your greatest asset here is a strong theme, that may hopefully help players understand and visualize what is going on through a story context, so that they will intuitively understand the logic in the game if it is tied closely to the theme.

Despite all these disadvantages, I love the idea of micromanagement game. I'm looking forward to trying the re-release of Outpost soon, as it seems like just such a game.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Micromanagement and Book-keeping is NOT a bad thing ...
... but, like many things ... it will really depend on your target audience.

When I was developing the first Mice'n'Men, part of my struggle was having that right level of Micromanagement and Book-keeping. If you read through that thread, you may see what I'm talking about. I was wrestling with components because I wanted to streamline all of the book-keeping.

The second Mice'n'Men switched to a different gameplay. And in so doing, I think I managed to present some of the book-keeping in a different abstraction.
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Byron Campbell
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No mechanic is objectively bad, and you should be slightly wary of bias here, as lots of the users here are eurogamers, and "the mechanics should be as streamlined as possible" is a very euro assumption. I enjoy a "baroque" design with a lot going on at once, but only if all the mechanics feel like they interlock properly. I enjoy Android for this reason--it all works like clockwork to me. What I don't like is having to track things that I am liable to forget about, or perform lots of little minute actions that don't have a real impact.

Short version: micromanagement can be fun, but only if all the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense and allows for greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts emergence to happen.
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Thomas Schwarz
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First of all: Thank you all for your suggestions and help! It seems, that there are really nice and helpful people on this board!
I will take your advice into consideration and will think about a thing or two.

You see, as I'm still at a very early stage in development, I can switch things around more easily... Hopefully without loosing the goal I'm aiming for!
Most of the 10 tracks I mentioned won't be changing very often... Only 3 of the 7 have (more or less) constant change, which comes as soon as the appropriate action takes place (e.g.: Cast a spell, reduce your mana, get hit: reduce your hp).
I already thought about realizing the other tracks with cards, but I'm not sure if this will work.

Maybe the best is a suggestion which came in this thread: I create a prototype (or maybe two: one with the tracks and one with the cards) of the player board and see "how it feels like"... And if I'm happy with either solution!

I will keep you informed. And maybe... sooner or later I will need help with some more detailed questions.
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James Hutchings
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If some values don't change often, and if the initial value depends on character class, you could have seperate character sheets for each class with those values written down rather than having a track for them.

Then if that value does change, you could put a '+1' marker next to the number or whatever is appropriate.
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Thomas Schwarz
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apeloverage wrote:
If some values don't change often, and if the initial value depends on character class, you could have seperate character sheets for each class with those values written down rather than having a track for them.

Then if that value does change, you could put a '+1' marker next to the number or whatever is appropriate.
I was thinking about something like that...

Most of the tracks would track skill ranks, which will only change dependent on equipment and skill buys... So they can change if you aquire e.g a new weapon but won't change as much as hp or mana. on the other hand I#m not quiet sure if they change too often than only represent these changes with markers. What I want is, that you can read your skill level with one look at your board instead of caluculating it again and again for every skill-roll you make...

Maybe this can be done by cards, which will be placed on the board. As I said: I have to try this and see how it looks like and if it is handy...
 
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James Hutchings
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It also depends on what you do with those values.

More specifically, do you have to remember the values at times when that fact won't be specifically brought up?

For example, a high Agility might allow you to force rerolls of a number of successful attacks made against you. It's very likely that people will forget that.

However if you only used Agility when a card specifically said 'roll against Agility', then that's easy to remember.

Of course the second possibility has less player choice, so it's not that option 1 is bad and option 2 good. But the point is that complexity isn't a simple function of the number of values.
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James Hutchings
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KillerPower wrote:
Most of the tracks would track skill ranks, which will only change dependent on equipment and skill buys... So they can change if you aquire e.g a new weapon but won't change as much as hp or mana.


That reminds me of another factor: if a value is the result of several elements, it's a lot harder to remember.

For example your attack value might be based on Dexterity, but then you might get some weapons which effect it, and some magic items which give bonuses against certain types of opponent.

This is going to be a lot harder to remember than if there's one place the player can look up which has their attack value.
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Thomas Schwarz
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apeloverage wrote:
KillerPower wrote:
Most of the tracks would track skill ranks, which will only change dependent on equipment and skill buys... So they can change if you aquire e.g a new weapon but won't change as much as hp or mana.


That reminds me of another factor: if a value is the result of several elements, it's a lot harder to remember.

For example your attack value might be based on Dexterity, but then you might get some weapons which effect it, and some magic items which give bonuses against certain types of opponent.

This is going to be a lot harder to remember than if there's one place the player can look up which has their attack value.

Yes, that is exactly the case. And that is why I want "a place" where a player can track his value for this skills, so that he can look them up easily (and don't have to remember 5-8 values of different skills), because a couple of them will actually affect the outcome of his or his oppponents attack roll...
 
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linoleum blownaparte
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You don't have to streamline the mechanics but you can streamline the components.

"Book-keeping" is when you do X in a game, and then you have to move the Y counter so that the game remembers you did X. This is a problem because the X and Y are only chained together by the player remembering to act. If the player forgets once or twice then Y is screwed up; contrarily, if the player faithfully remembers, he feels like he is doing surplus work just to keep the game moving.

Through The Ages is a pretty good example of how this can cause a game to drag.

You need to find a way to put Y and X together so that the very fact of doing X helps keep track of how many X's you've done.

Just as an example, it is illegal to have more than 5 settlements in Settlers of Catan. There is no beancounting to keep players honest, each player just gets 5 settlements.

Another example is Eclipse where the track tokens are used on the board to mark your planets. That creates a very direct link between which planets you have and what you can produce.

Maybe you should think about your 10 tracks and see if there are any that you can link together.

Here are just two examples to get you thinking.

Suppose your character has 10 HP and a variety of skills. You could represent this by letting the character select up to ten "skill discs" in various combinations. When he takes a wound he has to flip over one of the discs, and no longer can use that skill or action. Now you have not only linked skills and HP in one easy to track component but you have added a whole new strategic aspect to the game for the player to make decisions.

Another example would be to combine two tracks into one track. How about "amount of weight I'm carrying" and "how fast I can move." At the top of the track - less baggage or armor, I can move faster. And at the bottom of the track vice versa. As I pick up and drop things I move my token up and down this track. And this lets me see at a glance how a decision to pick up or drop something would increase or decrease my move points.

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J Holmes
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If you can get at least 14 out of 17 accountants to positively recommend it, I'd play it.
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