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xopods
Oct 26, 2010



Welcome to the Board Game Design Workshop thread!



Although I am, as far as I know, the only regular of the Board Game Thread who has had games published professionally, an increasing number of goons have expressed an interest in designing games as a hobby, some with the eventual aspiration to get them into print. As such, it was suggested that I start a thread for discussing the theory and practice of game design, whether as an amateur or a professional.

Things this thread is about : Riffing for inspiration, analysis of specific mechanics, soliciting playtesters and critiquing others' designs, talking about the creative process, tips and techniques for building prototypes, questions and answers about probability and other technical and strategic aspects of games, questions and answers about the game industry and the logistics of publishing or finding a publisher, post-mortems and analyses of your own completed games, etc., etc.

Things this thread isn't about : Discussions about or reviews of published games (except as examples of specific mechanics), discussions about graphic design or illustration for games, complaining about bad experiences with publishers, artists or other designers, making GBS threads on other people's ideas in a non-constructive fashion, or really anything else not directly related to designing better games and/or trying to get them out to the public.

Regarding self-promotion: Talking about or linking to your published game, print-and-play or Kickstarter project is totally okay for regular contributors to the thread, within reason. If you've never posted in the thread before, though, please do post a bit and get to know people, rather than just plugging yourself and leaving.

First, A Warning about the Industry



So you want to be a game designer? Purely for the joy of it, or partly because you're hoping to get rich by inventing the "next big thing"? If it's the latter, I'm afraid I have to burst your bubble.

There are a huge number of board games coming out these days, and only a limited number of consumers. As a result, the art and science of game design are progressing in leaps and bounds, yet only a very small percentage of games sell more than a few thousand copies. This makes it an exciting time both for designers and players, but a very hard time to make any money. As one publisher has put it, "The best way to make a small pile of money in board games is to start with a large pile of money and only lose half of it."

Furthermore, only a small percentage (3-5% is a typical ballpark) of a game's sales go to the designer. Between printers, publishers, distributors and retailers, the pie is getting chopped up many ways, and unless you are self-publishing (which has its own problems, as detailed below), you will only get the thinnest of slices. If you're lucky enough to find a publisher at all.

General Advice on Designing your First Game

For a first-time designer, I have two very important pieces of advice: keep things simple, and don't get married to your idea.

No matter how experienced you are as a gamer, understanding how a complex game works and designing one from scratch are two very different things... and although everyone dreams of creating an epic masterpiece, most attempts will result in a sprawling mess instead, especially if the designer lacks experience. I highly recommend working on something like a card game, dice game, or abstract strategy game as your first design, before attempting something with a lot of moving parts.

Equally important is the ability to just let go of the ideas that don't quite work. A lot of beginners get frustrated because they went in with the notion that they'd take their first good idea and work on it until they've perfected it. Some ideas just aren't destined for perfection - I recommend rapidly developing first drafts of ideas as they occur to you, but then discarding 70-90% of them, only devoting effort to those that show the greatest potential. Don't worry - the best aspects of the discarded ideas will find their way into future designs.

General Advice on Prototyping

You'll find prototyping much easier if you get yourself well set up to start with. Here's a list of equipment that no game designer should be without:

  • A printer (preferably color, preferably laser, preferably one that can handle cardstock)
  • A guillotine-style paper cutter
  • Rubber cement
  • Foamcore and bristol board
  • Permanent markers
  • Blank dice (available through various online merchants)
  • Pawns
  • Poker chips and paper money
  • A jar of pennies
  • A collection of board games to scavenge other bits from as needed

Don't put too much effort into a prototype (either the art, or the physical production of it) until the game is very close to being finished. You'll be much more reluctant to discard or make major changes to your ideas once you've spent a lot of time building a prototype.

General Advice on Testing

Playtesting a game is hugely important, of course. There are four basic ways to test: by yourself, with yourself leading a group through it, with yourself present, but only watching, and entirely blind, where you simply give a group a prototype, allow them to play it in your absence, and receive their collected feedback later.

It's important to do all of these, and generally in that order. Players will tend to follow your lead if you're teaching them, so you may never discover the strategies you hadn't thought of yourself if you're always involved... on the other hand, you'll burn a lot of good will if you ask a group to playtest something blind, and it turns out to be horribly broken, incomprehensible or unfun because you didn't really give it a proper try by yourself first.

It's also important to distinguish between useful and non-useful feedback. In general, useful feedback is that which concerns how well the game produces the experience you intended from it. Non-useful feedback is that which concerns how much the players or group approve of that sort of experience. People have differing tastes, and you will never please everyone. If someone complains that your supposedly-deep abstract strategy game has too much luck, you might want to listen to them... but if they made the same complaint about your five-minute dice game, all that tells you is that they're not the best tester for that particular game.

General Advice on Publishing

You have five basic options for getting your game out into the wild: conventional publishing, self-publishing, crowdfunding, print-and-play, or digital publishing. Here is my advice about each:

Conventional Publishing: This is the ideal route for most people and most games, if you can manage it. Be warned that it's likely to take a lot of looking and a lot of disappointment before you find a publisher, however. Identify games that seem to have the same market as yours and visit their publishers' websites. Each publisher has different submission guidelines, but usually the process is that you submit a "sell sheet" or nutshell pitch, and it catches their fancy, they'll ask for a copy of the rules, and if you're lucky, eventually a physical prototype. That initial pitch is very important, and critiquing one another's pitches is one of the things we can do here!

Self-Publishing: This seems like a good idea in theory, but is usually a financial disaster. Printing games is expensive; most manufacturers will require you to do a minimum run of 2500 or 5000 (for several dollars per unit) and those that don't will have much higher per-unit costs. If you do go this route, try to make sure you have a distributor lined up beforehand. Getting your game on shelves will be very hard without one. The advice that was given to me when I was considering this route was that if I became a publisher, I would no longer have time to design games of my own, so I should choose up front whether I wanted to design or publish. I now recognize this as very solid advice and am glad I was talked out of self-publishing.

Crowdfunding: This is preferable to self-publishing in that you don't incur any financial risk yourself, and you will effectively have preorders for at least part of your stock before you go to press. On the other hand, production is no trivial matter either, and I suspect plenty of Kickstarter project owners are finding themselves in over their heads when they do get funding. Additionally, most Kickstarter drives do not hit their targets, and a failed Kickstarter drive will probably do a lot of damage to your odds of finding a conventional publisher later, so think things through before trying to go this route.

Print-and-Play: This is the minimal-risk, minimal-reward route for people who just want to get their game out there and let people play it. You can offer it for free, or charge a few dollars for a downloadable PDF, but either way you should not expect too many people to be playing it. Publishers are split on the print-and-play issue; some will give preference to games that received a positive response when released as Print-and-Play, while others won't consider anything that has been released to the general public, and others are totally indifferent. If there are any particular publishers you have in mind, be sure to find out their attitude before releasing your game for Print-and-Play.

Digital Publishing: You could also develop a digital version of your game for e.g. iPad, or the web, or any other platform. Unless you are a programmer yourself, however, this is likely to be a more expensive proposition than physical self-publishing. On the other hand, distribution won't be quite as much of an issue, especially if you plan to make use of services like Steam or the App Store. Nonetheless, I still would not recommend it unless you could do the bulk of the work yourself, as freelance programmers and game artists are not cheap.

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 01:01

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xopods
Oct 26, 2010



A list of publishers openly accepting submissions
(thanks mostly to Nemesis of Moles - post additions in thread or PM to me)

http://www.indieboardsandcards.com/publishers.php - Indie Board and Card Games
http://www.wishingtreegames.com/submit-a-game.html - Wishing Tree Games
http://www.atlas-games.com/information_writer.php - Atlas Games
http://www.brain-games.com/contacts/for-game-designers/ - Brain Games
http://cocktailgames.com/en/cocktailgames/faq - Cocktail Games
http://rprod.com/index.php?page=contact-2 - Repos Games
http://www.miniongames.com/contact-us.html - Minion Games
http://www.riograndegames.com/contact.html - Rio Grande: only accepts proposals in person; email to book an appointment to meet at a convention
customerservice@alderac.com - Alderac
info@nestorgames.com - Nestorgames - Does not like card games
submissions@playrooment.com - Looks like they like simpler, younger people games mostly
ideas@cambridgegames.com - Super Simple, non collectable stuff, no custom models.
contact_us@asmodee.com - Asmodee Games
max@otb-games.com - Out Of The Box Games - (Party games, simple stuff, etc)

Other resources for game designers

http://www.boardgamegeek.com - BoardGameGeek; if you're designing games, you probably know this site already
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/forum/...ard-game-design - Game Design subforum on BoardGameGeek
http://www.bgdf.com/ - Board Game Designer's Forum
http://unpub.net/ - Unpub: a convention for showing off and testing prototypes
http://www.gameparts.net/ - GameParts.net, a source for buying generic game pieces in bulk. Relatively cheap prices, but expensive shipping (at least to Canada... maybe reasonable within the US?)
Blank playing cards for sale on Amazon

Game-design sites created by thread contributors
http://www.benefactum.ca/ - Owned by Xopods
http://sandypuggames.com/ - Owned by Nemesis of Moles

Not recommended

https://www.thegamecrafter.com/ - Print-on-Demand game production service; poor quality, expensive prices. Not suitable for producing games for commercial sale, but possibly okay if you just want one copy of your design to play with your friends and family, and can't produce a nice prototype yourself.

xopods fucked around with this message at Feb 26, 2013 around 01:31

Pixelante
Mar 15, 2006

we sublimate our sense of doom, but it's always there... flickering


This is relevant to my interests.

Ulta
Oct 3, 2006

Snail on my head ready to go.

To kick off some dicussion, how long do you feel is the most time a single player should have to wait before making a decision of some kind. For example, Ascension, which is a game I love, can crawl to and absolute crawl in 4 person games, especially if there are new people. If its not my turn, there's no decisions for me to make, and I get bored if the time between turns grows to more than a minute or two.

So two questions, how long is an acceptable wait, and how do you minimize the lack of interactions between turns?

I personally think if you arnt doing something at least once a minute, the game is failing on this level.

As for techniques, anything that allows you to trade, a la Settlers of Catan. Magic also has this off turn interaction, with blocking and instants, but this can obviously be circumvented based on player choice.

jmzero
Jul 24, 2007



quote:

If its not my turn, there's no decisions for me to make, and I get bored if the time between turns grows to more than a minute or two.

I appreciated a point Richard Garfield made about Monopoly - the positive events (people landing on your properties) mostly happen to you when it's not your turn, and that makes other peoples' turns more enjoyable. I prefer games where there's a continuous flow of decisions and interactions (7 Wonders and Space Alert come to mind here), but barring that (it won't be possible for all games) I think it's worthwhile to consider other ways of making downtime more pleasant.

Nemesis Of Moles
Jul 25, 2007


Hello, I'm Nemesis of Moles and I design board games now.

Great OP, first off.

Secondly, for anyone that finds it helpful, here is a list of some small time indie publishers I found recently. Xopods can go over the list and be all 'No Nems those people just post junk on Kickstarter' and stuff.

http://www.cambridgegames.com/index...age=submissions
http://www.indieboardsandcards.com/publishers.php
http://www.wishingtreegames.com/submit-a-game.html

Currently I'm taking part in the SA Board Game Contests, and rapidly throwing together prototypes and ideas for games as quick as they come to me. I'll post a lil about some of the designs I've done later on, just wanted to say this should be a neato thread.

Ulta
Oct 3, 2006

Snail on my head ready to go.

jmzero posted:

I appreciated a point Richard Garfield made about Monopoly - the positive events (people landing on your properties) mostly happen to you when it's not your turn, and that makes other peoples' turns more enjoyable. I prefer games where there's a continuous flow of decisions and interactions (7 Wonders and Space Alert come to mind here), but barring that (it won't be possible for all games) I think it's worthwhile to consider other ways of making downtime more pleasant.

I do agree this does make it more pleasant, but I'm not sure this counts as a decision. It's also robing Peter to pay Paul, since the active players turn worse and not offering them a choice. Not that Monopoly is held up as a good example of design.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



A lot depends on the genre of game and the people you expect to be playing it. For instance, wargame grognards will put up with hour-long turns in which the inactive player does nothing except watch the position evolve, complain about the other guy's lucky die rolls, and try to plan his own turn. Casual gamers, on the other hand, tend to space out if they don't have something to do for more than 30 seconds at time, or even less.

As far as level of tolerance goes, I'd say it's in proportion to the strategic complexity of the game, for three reasons. One, impatient people don't like brain-burny games in the first place. Two, a strategically complex game gives you something to think about during your opponent's turn, so you're still engaged even if you're not doing something. Three, a really difficult game is mentally exhausting, and having some downtime to rest your brain can actually be a relief.

That said, reducing downtime where possible is one of the few things in game design that is just about always* a good thing. There are a few ways to do it, such as reducing the number of things (pieces, cards in hand, whatever) that the players have available to use, finding clever ways to avoid bookkeeping tasks (like reshuffling decks, replacing counters, etc.), and switching from a turn-by-turn system to a step-by-step one (i.e. instead of you doing ABC then I do ABC, you do A, I do A, you do B, I do B, etc.).

And as jmzero points out, when the nature of the game doesn't let you do that, there may be ways to add opportunities for other players to do something during the active player's turn, be it trading, taking "interrupt" actions, making choices about the outcome of the active player's action (e.g. "opponent chooses: you get 2 gold, or 2 energy"), etc. Or introduce a memory component to the game, so that players have to pay attention and remember what they saw during an opponent's turn.

EDIT: Or, of course, as has been brought up below, you can avoid the issue entirely with simultaneous turns... but they are of course not appropriate for all games, and introduce an element of chaos and chance that you might not want.

*: The exception being if the game is primarily intended to be played digitally and asynchronously, in which case you'd prefer to be able to take your whole turn and then let the opponent take his, rather than having yours interrupted frequently while the opponent makes some mid-turn decision. For instance, something with Magic-like interrupt effects is terrible for async, as you'd have to wait after every single decision to see if your opponent wants to play an interrupt.

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 00:44

Ebethron
Apr 27, 2008

"I hear the coast is nice this time of year."
"If you're in the right business, it's nice all the year."


Weird, I was having just this discussion this evening. I think that the downtime problem is a serious one for many games. Simultaneous actions should be default game design. Settlers/monopoly 'get something nice on an opponent's turn' is a good way of offsetting the problem, as is barring players from making whole strings of decisions on their turn. The MtG route of heavy interactivity and the possibility of reacting on an opponent's turn probably can't be supported by most games.

The exception might be in longer (2hrs+) multiplayer games, where I find several minutes of downtime can be welcome.

Ninja edit: I really should have said 'default BOARDGAME design' as I wasn't thinking about wargames etc.

Ebethron fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 00:20

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



Nemesis Of Moles posted:

Secondly, for anyone that finds it helpful, here is a list of some small time indie publishers I found recently. Xopods can go over the list and be all 'No Nems those people just post junk on Kickstarter' and stuff.

http://www.cambridgegames.com/index...age=submissions
http://www.indieboardsandcards.com/publishers.php
http://www.wishingtreegames.com/submit-a-game.html

I don't know the other two at all, but Travis at Indie Boards & Cards is a great guy. He's just about the only serious publisher I know of who posts regularly in the BoardGameGeek Game Design forum, and is much more likely to respond to your pitches than most publishers, and at least tell you why he doesn't like your idea.

(For instance, I pitched one of my designs to him, called Duck & Cover, which is an auction game about stocking up supplies to survive an impending nuclear war... he told me the theme was original, but that it was his professional opinion that auction games are unpopular in general these days. Not sure I 100% agree, and it's one of my better designs that I still hope will find a home somewhere one day... but it's valuable information to know that I should avoid games with auctions as a central mechanic if I want to pitch to him in future. Much better than the usual black hole that is a publisher's submissions address.)

Nemesis Of Moles
Jul 25, 2007


The way Chaos In The Old World handles downtime is pretty good. It minimizes it by making each player do one minor action on their turn, then play passes to the next player. Turns go quick because you spend the rest of the (short) turn time planning out your next move, and generally you'll have most of your turn planned out by the time the action phase comes up anyway.

Encouraging talking or engagement outside of mechanical actions is always useful too. All my fave games tell you to openly discuss things, make deals, backstab, etc outside of your actual turn.

In Parlay, I have players able to interject at any point in someone else's story. It seems like this is doing the trick of allowing people to stay engaged in the player speaking, while prepping them for their turns.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



Ebethron posted:

Simultaneous actions should be default game design.

I don't think anything should be the "default," really. I love simultaneous action selection as a mechanic, but simultaneous vs. sequential moves is a really big, high-level design decision, and I think the world of games would be much poorer if we labeled one of those branches as "inferior" and tried to avoid it.

jmzero
Jul 24, 2007



quote:

Not that Monopoly is held up as a good example of design

It think it has some real problems, but (again paraphrasing Garfield) it's also very successful, and it's worth looking at for good ideas. The good idea here is that, even if there's no decisions to be made, having good things happen to you during downtime can make the wait more pleasant (and perhaps Settlers is a better example of a game with this property).

It's not the most direct way to address the problem, but it's an idea I've tried a bit in my most recent project. It's a co-op game, one feature of which is that players choose items for other players (rather than themselves).

(I definitely recommend Garfield's book: Characteristics of Games if you're interested in game design and analysis. It's not a "how to make a game" book, but it outlines a great framework for understanding them.)

JMBosch
May 28, 2006
Don fear nuh offisah

For those looking at the self-publishing route, I've been told Superior POD and The Game Crafter are pretty good resources, but good luck with that whole distribution and turning-a-decent-profit thing.

And of course, BGG's forums can be mined by those with time for lots more design and publishing resources.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



JMBosch posted:

For those looking at the self-publishing route, I've been told Superior POD and The Game Crafter are pretty good resources, but good luck with that whole distribution and turning-a-decent-profit thing.

And of course, BGG's forums can be mined by those with time for lots more design and publishing resources.

Print-on-demand is more or less the same "business" model as print-and-play, i.e. if you have no business aspirations at all, and just want to open the possibility for curious parties to try your game by buying it through your website. As far as outside distribution goes, your only hope is maybe you can get your FLGS to put a few copies on their shelves on consignment, especially if you run demos of the game at the shop.

The reason it doesn't work as a serious business model is that the per-unit costs are much higher than mass producing. The MSRP you see in stores is generally something like 5-8x the manufacturing cost, because the publisher, distributor and retailer each double or close-to-double the price to make their profits. So maybe the game costs $5/unit when you get 5000 copies done in China, or $7 if you get 2500 copies done more locally, and it goes for $40ish in the shops... but if you got it produced through TGC for $20 and tried to do go through normal channels to get it into stores, it'd be $120 by the time it got there and no one would buy it.

That said, they are great resources if your main motivation is just turning your brainchild into a physical thing that you can play with your friends and give people for Christmas.

EDIT: Keep the links coming, by the way. After writing that huge OP, I had no motivation left to collect and organize a whole bunch of links, but once this thread hits a few pages, I'll go through and take all the resources people mention + some of my own and put them in the second post.

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 03:23

Railing Kill
Nov 14, 2008

Computer:
Erase this entire post.

Great OP. I'm not new to being a "serious gamer" (forgiving how odd that term is), but I am new to board game design. The publishing process is intimidating as hell to me and I'm grateful for the OP's break-down, suggestions, and resources.

What are people's thoughts on cooperative board games? These seem to be on the rise and have been for a while now. The differences in dynamics and balance make them an interesting challenge that I've tried to tackle with a couple of games.

jmzero
Jul 24, 2007



quote:

What are people's thoughts on cooperative board games? These seem to be on the rise and have been for a while now. The differences in dynamics and balance make them an interesting challenge that I've tried to tackle with a couple of games.

I think there's a real opportunity for advancement in the co-op genre. Real time games are finally catching on, and people are coming up with novel ways to hide information and limit a single player's dominance over the game. But I think the biggest frontier is in automating the "enemy". Games like Forbidden Island and Flash Point, where hazards pop up randomly, whack-a-mole style seem to be played out. We're starting to see more stuff like interesting enemy action decks and even some simple heuristics to play against. I think there's some more clever answers waiting to be found that will make these games more interesting, and less "predictably unpredictable".

Some people have poked around a bit with using an iPad to automate parts of a game. I could see this catching on, especially for co-ops.

Right now many of these games feel like you win or lose on the strength of random events, rather than on how well you play (or, alternatively, they feel like puzzles that are only good until you find "the strategy"). As the enemy becomes more sensible, wins will get more strategic and more satisfying.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



So here's something I'm interested in discussing. I've been having a little Facebook debate with a friend of my mother's who is... well, I actually don't quite know what field he's in, except that he seems to have an interest in pedagogy and economics, so I'm guessing an econ teacher or prof of some sort.

Anyway, he and I got to talking because of some of my posts about this economics textbook I'm reading about game theory (Games and Information, 2nd Edition, Eric Rasmusen, if anyone's interested).

The subject of luck factor came up, and he said something about its influence on the learning curve. I thought about it a while and said that I think luck factor and learning curve are actually independent variables.

The debate is complicated a little by the fact that "learning curve" is a considerably harder concept to pin down (since it depends on subjective things like intuitiveness, and the point at which you can say someone "understands" a game). But say we consider strategic complexity vs. luck factor instead.

I proposed three chess variants to show how the introduction of a luck factor into a game can increase, decrease or leave constant the strategic complexity of a game:

Chess + Luck: Same rules as regular chess, except that when checkmate is given, the player giving checkmate rolls a die. On a 1-5 he wins, on a 6 the checkmated player wins.

Chess + Random Promotions: Same rules as regular chess, except that when a pawn is promoted, a four-sided die is rolled to determine whether it becomes a knight, bishop, rook or queen.

Chess + Move Lottery: Same rules as regular chess, except that prior to a player's move, all the pieces he could legally move are written down on tickets and thrown into a hat. He draws one ticket at random and must move that piece, though he can choose any legal move for it under the regular rules.

The first game clearly has the same strategic complexity as regular chess, since the only random element comes after the conclusion of the regular game, and does not change its objective (you would prefer a 5/6 chance of winning than a 1/6 chance, so you're still trying to checkmate the guy). All it does is reduce the advantage a strong player has over a weaker one, which is generally what we mean by "luck factor."

But what about the other two? To me, it's clear that one of them is strategically more complex than chess and the other is less, but I'll save my argument until after I hear some other opinions.

What do you guys think? Does adding a luck factor to a game always make it less strategically complex? Or more? Or can it work either way? What is your opinion about those two specific chess variants? (Not in terms of how interesting they are to play... clearly they're both worse than chess as games; we're just talking about their strategic complexity.)

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 04:08

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



Railing Kill posted:

What are people's thoughts on cooperative board games? These seem to be on the rise and have been for a while now. The differences in dynamics and balance make them an interesting challenge that I've tried to tackle with a couple of games.

Personally, I think they're better when there's either a real-time, limited-communication or traitor element. From a game theory perspective, a cooperative game with equal payoffs for all players (i.e. everyone wins or everyone loses) and full communication isn't really a game at all; there's no difference between one player or another making any given decision, which is what leads to the quarterbacking problem.

Railing Kill
Nov 14, 2008

Computer:
Erase this entire post.

xopods posted:

Personally, I think they're better when there's either a real-time, limited-communication or traitor element. From a game theory perspective, a cooperative game with equal payoffs for all players (i.e. everyone wins or everyone loses) and full communication isn't really a game at all; there's no difference between one player or another making any given decision, which is what leads to the quarterbacking problem.

I'm with you on "semi-cooperatives" i.e. traitor mechanics and the like. One of the ideas I have for a game is mostly cooperative but allows for players to win singularly at times throughout the game. It's basically a way for me to tempt players into veering away from cooperation. It's kind of a psychological thing, but it has made for an interesting game so far.

I recently tried a couple of real-time games which aren't cooperative but are interesting to me from a design standpoint. There's a print-and-play called Paper Route that is based on the video game Paper Boy. Two players face off, chucking controller button cards at a spread of houses in a race to complete the "button combinations" needed to score the houses. Similar is Jab, a game about boxing where you fling different punches at your opponent's body parts, or at your own in order to block. Both blow me away from a design standpoint because typical issues about gameplay are just gone in such frantic games. They're fun, but I can't wrap my head around designing one just yet.

jmzero
Jul 24, 2007



quote:

I proposed three chess variants to show how the introduction of a luck factor into a game can increase, decrease or leave constant the strategic complexity of a game

Garfield comes to essentially the same conclusion - luck and strategy components for a game are mostly independent. He even uses a similar example in his justification; he calls the first game you describe "Randochess". (Rather than "strategy" he is talking about the more general "skill" in his discussion, but it's the same conclusion.)

quote:

Not in terms of how interesting they are to play... clearly they're both worse than chess as games; we're just talking about their strategic complexity.

Strategic depth, for me, is inextricable from the nature of the players. If we played super-chess with 1000 pieces on a gigantic board, it would have a mammoth state space and tremendously more options. It would be much harder to solve - and experienced by some super-intelligent being, it would almost certainly be much more strategic. Experienced by humans it would be much less strategic, I think - the broad strategy would be very hard to grasp, and wins would be decided by randomness, endurance, and unsatisfying tactical skirmishes (like Go is often kind of random, and purely tactical, when two new players try it).

Similarly, I think introducing random elements would make chess harder to solve, but much less strategic - less of a measure of skill - for humans. Randomness would level the playing field in terms of people's ability to plan through them. Players would be less able to exploit differences in skill to win, not because of game-by-game random outcomes - which would tend to even out - but because of their shared inability to analyze effectively through the wall of randomness. It would be beyond us, a game for some more intelligent being.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



I think there's a lot of room to explore in terms of alternative payout structures. There's a political wargame, for instance, Fief, where players can either win individually or as a team. It takes 4 points to win as a team, 3 points to win by yourself. Teams are formed by marriage between nobles, but if one of the nobles dies (e.g. by assassination), the team is broken. So if you've got 3 but your partner has 0, you can try to assassinate your own noble's wife to break up the alliance and thus win instantly on your own. Or even if you couldn't win right away, if you thought another partnership looked more promising, you could assassinate your husband/wife and then propose to another player if they were single.

It wasn't my favorite game ever, but that particular dynamic was interesting.

In mostly-cooperative games, you've got all sorts of options to play with... aside from the "win together or win alone" thing you're proposing, I was also thinking about one where there are three possibilities: "everyone wins, one person loses, or everyone loses." So some kind of escape or survival horror scenario, where if you work together and everything goes well, you can all make it out... but if things start going badly, it's a competition over who is getting left behind... but if you start that fight too early instead of working together, you're all going to die.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



jmzero posted:

Strategic depth, for me, is inextricable from the nature of the players. If we played super-chess with 1000 pieces on a gigantic board, it would have a mammoth state space and tremendously more options. It would be much harder to solve - and experienced by some super-intelligent being, it would almost certainly be much more strategic. Experienced by humans it would be much less strategic, I think - the broad strategy would be very hard to grasp, and wins would be decided by randomness, endurance, and unsatisfying tactical skirmishes (like Go is often kind of random, and purely tactical, when two new players try it).

Similarly, I think introducing random elements would make chess harder to solve, but much less strategic - less of a measure of skill - for humans. Randomness would level the playing field in terms of people's ability to plan through them. Players would be less able to exploit differences in skill to win, not because of game-by-game random outcomes - which would tend to even out - but because of their shared inability to analyze effectively through the wall of randomness. It would be beyond us, a game for some more intelligent being.

That's a very good point, and something I've often argued in the past... specifically in terms of Go, in fact. People on the Go forums I used to frequent would often argue about whether there was any justification for saying that you got "unlucky" in a game, given that it's a game of zero chance and perfect information.

Most people felt you couldn't, but I always argued that when you can't read something out exactly, you're making a probabilistic decision that's not much different from estimating the likelihood that your opponent just made his flush in poker, or that you're going to draw enough to buy a Province next turn in Dominion. Sure, if your opponent is better than you, his assessment of the probabilities is going to be better than yours, but except in cases where you can actually read something out to the end, you're both going to make some mistakes, and there's luck involved in how many you make in a given game and how much they're worth. Otherwise even the slightest difference in skill would mean one person won 100% of the time.

I don't know whether I agree with you about terminology, though, when you say that increasing complexity beyond a certain point decreases the effective strategic depth. That's where I'd go back to talking about "learning curves" and argue that increasing the complexity steepens the learning curve, thus increasing the amount of effort required to achieve a certain win rate over a static opponent. I.e. let's say we're both beginners at chess and have similar intuitions for it, so we're each winning 50%. Maybe if I study for a week while you don't play at all, I can now beat you 70% of the time. Maybe in your proposed "super-chess," to achieve that same win rate against you, I would need to study for a month... but I think that's just a steeper learning curve, not less strategic depth or more "pseudo-luck."

jmzero
Jul 24, 2007



quote:

I can now beat you 70% of the time. Maybe in your proposed "super-chess," to achieve that same win rate against you, I would need to study for a month... but I think that's just a steeper learning curve, not less strategic depth or more "pseudo-luck."

I don't think we'd likely disagree on our assessments of any real practical games, but I find the theory here very interesting so I've written a big wall of text below. Do skip this post if you're just interested in designing actual games. Sorry.

First off, I think plotting out a learning curve is a really good way to talk about the skill component of a game.

For me, the strategic depth of a game is a measure of the number of "steps up" (how do you measure the size of a step? I have no idea) the learning curve a prospective player would practically be able to take. If a learning curve is too steep (for a human) it limits the effective strategic depth. I kind of see this "effective strategic depth" (the depth a human can see) as separate from the "absolute strategic depth", which I think is perhaps better defined as a measure of the complexity of a perfect strategy.

To clarify what I'm thinking, perhaps a simpler example game than chess: A player picks a number between 1 and 2 trillion (using some randomiser if they'd like). The opponent gets 1 point if they can name the digit of pi at that location (within a minute, say). For some level of intelligence, this is a highly skilled game where you can use a variety of calculation heuristics and practice to climb the learning curve. For a human, the learning curve is not really visible; the game is purely luck.

Conversely, for a less intelligent being, Tic-Tac-Toe could be very skill-based and interesting. They could slowly climb the learning curve as they recognized two-in-a-rows that could be completed, then started noticing those possibilities for their opponents, then maybe memorizing opening moves. The very dim players see a learning curve here, but for humans the curve is again pretty much invisible.

And it's not just absolutes; there's games where humans may only be able to climb the first rungs (Battleship is a good example here, it's far more complicated than Chess in absolute terms, but humans are very limited in the strategies they can implement and few people think of Battleship as a interesting strategic game) - or where only the best players can look back at the end of the curve (Checkers is close to being a game like this for modern computers).

I think Super Chess and Move-a-Random-Piece chess are both games that humans wouldn't be able to get very good at; and thus while they both have more absolute depth than Chess, they would have less effective depth for human players.

I think it's very fair to say all of this is just quibbling about terms. Again, I'm not really disagreeing with your assessment in any practical sense, I'm just kind of thinking out loud about how we might usefully define something like "strategic depth".

quote:

That's a very good point, and something I've often argued in the past... specifically in terms of Go, in fact. People on the Go forums I used to frequent would often argue about whether there was any justification for saying that you got "unlucky" in a game, given that it's a game of zero chance and perfect information.

Garfield does call this kind of complexity beyond players' ability to predict "luck"; in general his use of "luck" (which has very much leaked into how I think about these things) is pretty much "unpredictability". But he doesn't give a terribly satisfying way of extracting "luck" and "skill" elements from something cleanly measurable like play results. It seems like an awkward problem.

Ebethron
Apr 27, 2008

"I hear the coast is nice this time of year."
"If you're in the right business, it's nice all the year."


jmzero posted:

Garfield does call this kind of complexity beyond players' ability to predict "luck"; in general his use of "luck" (which has very much leaked into how I think about these things) is pretty much "unpredictability". But he doesn't give a terribly satisfying way of extracting "luck" and "skill" elements from something cleanly measurable like play results. It seems like an awkward problem.

How about this: the more skill-based a game is, the better the win-record of two players will predict who will win in a game between them.

I agree that there can be luck in games without random elements. In game theory, when there multiple equally valid options the rational thing to do is to randomise one's choices - e.g. when playing scissors, paper, stone. But I think when playing against other people this kind of luck is sometimes mitigated by the fact that players don't make their decisions entirely randomly, meaning that other players can try to guess or intuit the opponent's choice rather than make a random choice themselves.

I think that depth could potentially be defined as the size of the decision-tree of a game and the complexity of the simplest algorithm that produces the optimal strategy.

For example, people on BGG have criticised Dominion for providing only an illusion of depth because a robotic 'Big Money' strategy can easily win games (i.e. decision-tree is large, but navigating the decision-tree is in fact very simple). Defenders hit back that although this strategy wiped the floor with new players, it was a long way from being the dominant strategy.

Tunga
May 7, 2004



jmzero posted:

Conversely, for a less intelligent being, Tic-Tac-Toe could be very skill-based and interesting. They could slowly climb the learning curve as they recognized two-in-a-rows that could be completed, then started noticing those possibilities for their opponents, then maybe memorizing opening moves. The very dim players see a learning curve here, but for humans the curve is again pretty much invisible.
ething cleanly measurable like play results. It seems like an awkward problem.
Just to add to this, you can easily see this if you give Tic-Tac-Toe to children of the right age. I'm not sure what age that is exactly, and for sure it would vary per child. I certainly remember "solving" the game for myself as a child and then repeatedly beating other people at it who hadn't done so yet (take that you horrible non-nerds).

lilljonas
May 6, 2007

We got crabs? We got crabs!

Is this thread also an acceptable place do discuss designing miniature games, or is is specifically for board games?

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



First off, let me say that finding mutually agreed-upon definitions for certain terms was something I was hoping we could do in this thread, and part of the reason I left room for a glossary in the second post. So if someone says Game X is "deeper" than Game Y, we have an objective, agreed-upon definition of what that means so we can argue that point productively instead of just saying "I think X is deeper than Y," "No, that's just because you're dumb or haven't played Y enough, Y is clearly deeper."

So if we can come closer to that through this conversation, that's something I was hoping for.


jmzero posted:

For me, the strategic depth of a game is a measure of the number of "steps up" (how do you measure the size of a step? I have no idea)

Here's my proposed definition of a skill level: in a perfect strategy, zero-information game, players are exactly one skill level apart if the better player beats the weaker twice as often, i.e. 66.7%-33.3%. In a game with hidden information or random chance, you have to normalize this relative to the margin by which perfect play beats random play. I.e. if perfect play only wins 80% of the time, we take that 16.7% advantage and scale it by (80-50)/(100-50) = 30/50 = 0.6. So one skill level difference in that game is when the better player wins at a rate 6% better than 50/50, i.e. 56% to 44%.

(It gets more complicated if the game allows ties, but let's ignore that for now.)

From there, we can define the learning curve as the function of effort to skill level for a player of average intelligence and instincts. So an extraordinarily complex game, even if it's theoretically a game of pure skill, might require you to put in a year of work just to get to the point of being able to beat completely random play by 2-1.

quote:

If a learning curve is too steep (for a human) it limits the effective strategic depth. I kind of see this "effective strategic depth" (the depth a human can see) as separate from the "absolute strategic depth", which I think is perhaps better defined as a measure of the complexity of a perfect strategy.

I think we could talk about "effective strategic depth" as the number of skill levels attainable within the maximum effort you expect anyone to expend on a game. So you take the best player who will ever exist in the world, and find someone he can beat 67% of the time (assuming perfect info, zero chance), and then find someone that person can beat 67% of the time, and so on... and see how many people you have to go through before you get down to someone who is just moving randomly (or your best approximation thereof, e.g. someone with no background in any games, let alone this one).

Which it a funny thing because it's so heavily influenced by culture. Go has a ridiculous effective strategic depth, not only because of its massive position space and number of options at each node, but also because its long history and cultural importance means that it's reasonable to expect some people to literally dedicate their lives to getting better at it and advancing knowledge of it. Whereas if I design an abstract strategy game, we expect a relatively low number of players and low level of effort, so its effective strategic depth is hampered by factors extrinsic to the game itself. It may have absolute depth that is irrelevant in that it will never be plumbed.

This is why some people may describe a game as "really deep" after a few games, because they've improved by one or more skill levels with every play, while others may describe the same game as "really shallow" because they've mastered all the easy strategies, and hit the skill plateau after which a huge effort in the calculating of subtle odds is required to achieve even a marginal improvement in performance. It's also why I often lament that if you designed Go today, you would never get it published. Designers of modern commercial games have to deliberately cut down on absolute depth in order to flatten out the learning curve and increase effective depth.

quote:

The opponent gets 1 point if they can name the digit of pi at that location (within a minute, say).

There's actually a formula they discovered to calculate any digit of Pi without having to know any of the preceding ones. But I get your point.

quote:

I think Super Chess and Move-a-Random-Piece chess are both games that humans wouldn't be able to get very good at; and thus while they both have more absolute depth than Chess, they would have less effective depth for human players.

Hmmm... move-a-random-piece may have been a bad choice, actually. Now that you mention it, I think you're right that while I was trying to use it as an example of making the game "easier" while adding luck (by dramatically reducing both the ability to and importance of reading several moves in advance), what it actually does is just create a gigantic "step" in the learning curve - a wall which most people will stop at, thus limiting the game's effective strategic depth.

(Random-promotion chess was meant as the example of steepening the learning curve, in that it increases the difficulty of reading out endgame positions, since you can no longer prune off the stupid promotion options that would never get chosen. I.e. if you have the choice between promoting your pawn to a Queen and letting your opponent do the same, or capturing his pawn and letting him capture yours... instead of comparing two resulting positions, you now have to compare 17).

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 14:51

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



lilljonas posted:

Is this thread also an acceptable place do discuss designing miniature games, or is is specifically for board games?

Sure. Basically anything with winners and losers, and which could be played as a physical game (even if it currently exists only digitally) is within the scope of this thread...

I basically just don't want to get into:

(a) Digital games, other than those which are meant to replicate a board/card game experience,
(b) Roleplaying games, whose rules are vague and subjective, and which lack win and loss conditions, and
(c) Sports (though dexterity games are a grey area and probably okay)

Not because I have anything against any of those, it's just that the design challenges involved are sufficiently different that they deserve separate threads.

Miniatures are probably similar enough to board games that they work here, even though the switch from discrete space (i.e. a hex-based tactics game) to freeform movement introduces a few design challenges you don't see in most board games.

Tunga
May 7, 2004



Something I struggle with is rapid prototyping. I have a lot of ideas that get to the stage where I have a ruleset and most of the card concepts and then I am too lazy to actually make the cards. There were a couple of tools which got posted in the board game design competition thread which I forget now but might good for the OP if anyone can find them. And then, on that note, does anyone have any tips for ways to make this part of the process easier/faster?

Nemesis Of Moles
Jul 25, 2007


Tunga posted:

Something I struggle with is rapid prototyping. I have a lot of ideas that get to the stage where I have a ruleset and most of the card concepts and then I am too lazy to actually make the cards. There were a couple of tools which got posted in the board game design competition thread which I forget now but might good for the OP if anyone can find them. And then, on that note, does anyone have any tips for ways to make this part of the process easier/faster?

Magic Set Editor speeds up card creation like whoa so long as you're ok ripping off other card templates. Making your own is a non-trivial, but still not difficult process, but for rapid prototyping its no bigs.

Rapid Prototyping is kind of an art in and of itself. Dont worry about art or anything, simplify your components down to their basics and try to steal stuff from other games/resources. Instead of making your own counters, use pennies, instead of putting tons of info on the cards, just the bare essentials. It's still a process, one that you'll go through a bunch of times, but I've prototyped Games out in less than a week, Parlay took me a day to go from 'Rules' to 'First Prototype' when I was happy with it.

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



The most important thing in prototyping is to forget about making it pretty. I'm a professional graphic designer, and my prototypes are ugly as gently caress.

Here are two images. One is the final card art for my upcoming game Creatures of Dark Manor. The other is what I made for the prototype. Can you guess which is which?



Aside from saving you time, making your prototype ugly and functional is a good way to make sure your game's mechanics are fun on their own, without needed to be carried by visual and theme appeal. (And publishers understand this too... the image on the left - which is the prototype, did you guess right? - is what I brought to my publisher, and what he played with his testers, and showed to his distributors, and so on. The final image was only done after contracts were signed and production was underway.)

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 16:31

Ulta
Oct 3, 2006

Snail on my head ready to go.

Just because nerds like to classify things, would this be a list that encompasses the skills that exist in board games (no it is not, but its what I can come up with at the moment, please add more)

1. Probability evaluation - games with imperfect information, but enough that the most probable best move can be calculated. Examples - evaluating where to build in Settlers, poker, deck building games
2. Thinking ahead - evaluating games of perfect information, examples tic tax toe, chess
3. Information hiding- tricking other players to think the gamestate is something different than it is. Examples - Being a Cylon in Battlestar, bluffing in poker
4. Trivia - knowing information outside of the game - Trivia Pursuit
5. Memory - recalling things - Scene It, where you answer a question about a scene you just watched
6. Communication - Usually within some restriction, getting an idea to someone else - Pictionary, Charades
7. Physical Stuff - a broad catagory for reflex, strength based tasks - Spoons, Jenga
8. Negotiation - trading, buying and selling with other players. Trading in Settlers, auction in Powergrid

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



Ulta posted:

Just because nerds like to classify things, would this be a list that encompasses the skills that exist in board games (no it is not, but its what I can come up with at the moment, please add more)

My breakdown would be a little different. I'd say something like:

  1. Tactics (aka "reading ahead"): The ability to hold multiple chains of events in mind, visualize their outcomes, and eliminate clearly inferior options. In other words, the ability to know what the short-term outcome of a move will be, assuming predictable responses by the opponents
  2. Strategy (aka "positional judgment"): The ability to assess a position and decide which player it favors, when reading from there to the end of the game is beyond one's tactical abilities, and in the absence of an explicit metric like a score. Covers the setting of intermediate goals in order to simplify the game (i.e. "if I can take Paris, I'll be in a good position to win, so let's just focus on getting to that point.")
  3. Estimation: The ability to estimate the relative likelihood of various outcomes on the tactical scale when the mathematics are too complicated to work out exactly. (I say on the tactical scale because the strategic scale already implicitly includes estimation of long-term odds).
  4. Psychology: The ability to anticipate and influence an opponent's moves outside of strategic and tactical considerations, and to anticipate their expectations of your play. (Covers information hiding, communication, negotiation, and part of probability evaluation under your model).
  5. Concentration: The ability to play up to your maximum ability in a consistent manner - also covers memory.
  6. Trivia: As you say.
  7. Physical skills: As you say.

xopods fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 17:00

jmzero
Jul 24, 2007



quote:

I think we could talk about "effective strategic depth" as the number of skill levels attainable within the maximum effort you expect anyone to expend on a game. So you take the best player who will ever exist in the world, and find someone he can beat 67% of the time (assuming perfect info, zero chance), and then find someone that person can beat 67% of the time, and so on... and see how many people you have to go through before you get down to someone who is just moving randomly (or your best approximation thereof, e.g. someone with no background in any games, let alone this one).

I really like this definition; it points at a reasonable result (one that matches my kind of intuitive feel about different games) for any game I can think of (real, trivial, or otherwise).

On prototyping:

I really like "Mod Podge Puzzle Saver" to improve the feel of printed materials. Glue a picture to a clay poker chip, put a little Puzzle Saver on it, and it feels really good for play.

For cards, my strategy for a while has been to put Magic cards (junk cards are essentially free) in Magic sleeves (cheap, available everywhere) and then slide in regular paper printed inserts in front of the Magic card. I've yet to find cardboard that both "feels" right for shuffling and also goes through the cheap color printers I have access to. Magic cards in sleeves shuffle very well, and being sleeved means you don't have to be overly careful cutting/etc.. If you print your cards a little small, sleeving them and unsleeving them (with the Magic card already in there) is very fast.

PaybackJack
May 21, 2003

Someone to have your back when your number's up.


xopods posted:

The most important thing in prototyping is to forget about making it pretty. I'm a professional graphic designer, and my prototypes are ugly as gently caress.

Here are two images. One is the final card art for my upcoming game Creatures of Dark Manor. The other is what I made for the prototype. Can you guess which is which?



Aside from saving you time, making your prototype ugly and functional is a good way to make sure your game's mechanics are fun on their own, without needed to be carried by visual and theme appeal. (And publishers understand this too... the image on the left - which is the prototype, did you guess right? - is what I brought to my publisher, and what he played with his testers, and showed to his distributors, and so on. The final image was only done after contracts were signed and production was underway.)

One thing I'll say is that it's a good idea to label all the components either on the component itself or have a components overview in the game manual. For all FFG does wrong with their manuals, they always list what each component is. As someone who plays a lot of games with people who don't speak English very well, or German for that matter, deciphering what each piece is can be tricky for them if it's not clearly labeled. There's been a few instances where we had the quantity of each piece in the manual and had to figure it out that way.

jmzero posted:

For cards, my strategy for a while has been to put Magic cards (junk cards are essentially free) in Magic sleeves (cheap, available everywhere) and then slide in regular paper printed inserts in front of the Magic card. I've yet to find cardboard that both "feels" right for shuffling and also goes through the cheap color printers I have access to. Magic cards in sleeves shuffle very well, and being sleeved means you don't have to be overly careful cutting/etc.. If you print your cards a little small, sleeving them and unsleeving them (with the Magic card already in there) is very fast.

This is what I do as well, I usually use L5R cards though as they come in two different color card backs so if I need to separate two decks I don't have to print and cut backs as well, not a recommendation though as L5R cards are not nearly as easy to get in bulk as M:tg cards. You can also buy one of those 'Costco' packs of Hoyle cards and sleeve those, again: good if you need two different color backs.

PaybackJack fucked around with this message at Nov 22, 2012 around 17:04

xopods
Oct 26, 2010



PaybackJack posted:

One thing I'll say is that it's a good idea to label all the components either on the component itself or have a components overview in the game manual. For all FFG does wrong with their manuals, they always list what each component is. As someone who plays a lot of games with people who don't speak English very well, or German for that matter, deciphering what each piece is can be tricky for them if it's not clearly labeled. There's been a few instances where we had the quantity of each piece in the manual and had to figure it out that way.

This is an area where an ugly prototype can work in your favor. Whereas in a finished game, you're concerned with aesthetics, and sometimes end up making compromises in terms of clarity (just look at the board for Dungeon Lords or Dungeon Petz!), when you're prototyping, it's unequivocally better to e.g. write "BLUE PLAYER HOME" in giant ugly block letters on your board than to try to draw a blue castle or whatever. You can be super explicit and save yourself effort at the same time by just labeling things as what they are instead of trying to come up with an iconography.

Syphilis Fish
Apr 27, 2006


Hi Guys this thread is of interest to me. I like to dream up boardgames but rarely get to a prototype/playtest. I have one in the works, and one on the brain right now.

EddieDean
Nov 17, 2009


I'm watching the thread with interest, and will certainly be contributing regarding my time-travel criminal empires game which I'm still working on...

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PlaneGuy
Mar 28, 2001



I like Nandeck for cards.

I whip up a quick layout to show all the info in nandeck and link it to a .csv I work with through excel. Mash "export to PDF" -> print -> cut -> old ccg cards in sleeves -> write edits on them until there's no more room -> repeat.


I also made a custom 6nimmt deck completely in nandeck for peak nerd.

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