Friday, June 29, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I'm writing this review of "Colosseum" as a comparison between it and "The Princes of Florence" (hereafter abbreviated "Princes") primarily because the game play in Colosseum almost demands the comparison. Usually people use the term "stark" in conjunction with a reference to differences as in the phrase "stark contrast". With Colosseum, I would say that there are "stark similarities" between it and "Princes". However, I find in comparing the two games, that "Princes" is a hands down winner on pretty much every level except for the beauty of the artwork (and even then I have some issues with how Colosseum is laid out). Perhaps the easiest way to summarize the comparison is to say that Colosseum is like "Princes" but with baggage. So, let's look at why this is.
Both games last for a set number of rounds (Colosseum: 5, "Princes": 7)
Both games have competitive auctioning as well as purchasing possibilities from a limited market.
Both games have a number of point scoring goals you work towards that are each unique in the things required to score the maximum points possible (Colosseum has attractions/programs - each requiring a unique tile set of different performers to achieve maximum points while "Princes" has Works with a unique requirement set for landscapes and buildings) - this is the strongest similarity between the two games.
You can play an attraction in Colosseum or a work in "Princes" without having all of the required items but you score less points for it.
If you have the best attraction / work of everyone in a round, you get three points for it (in Colosseum, those points count towards latter attractions and represent a recurring form of point scoring. With Princes, the three points are added immediately and are not recurring.)
You can acquire items that can, for one time only, increase the total value of your attraction or your work (for Colosseum it's Medals while, for Princes, it's Bonus Cards).
You have to make choices as to which actions are the most important to you as you only have a small number of opportunities to purchase things.
Because of these similarities, it comes as no surprise that the same designer, namely Wolfgang Kramer, was a co-designer for both games. Granted there are differences. Specifically, there is the Emperor as well as various Senators in Colosseum that may or may not attend your attractions depending on luck (you roll dice). With "Princes", the luck in the game is mitigated by drawing 5 cards and then picking the one out that you want.
The Auctioning System
The auctioning system is more complicated and less satisfying in Colosseum than it is in "Princes" for several reasons. First, you are not bidding on a single item or tile. Instead, you are bidding on sets of tiles (three tiles per set). This might seem like an improvement over "Princes" as much of the tension in the game "RA" comes from having to decide how worth it it is to you to bid on something with a mixed set of variables. However, the fact that tiles can replenish after a bid is taken makes the auctioning less interesting and more random. Further, the tiles only replenish and other players cannot bid again after they have won a bid until the initial bidding player finally takes a bid. Also, the auctioning can continue in Colosseum such that a person could win two or more auctions in a given round.
The auctioning system in "Princes" is less complicated and more tense because people are fighting over more similar things and, once they have won a bid, they are out of the bidding. This means that the decision to raise a bid and potentially take it carries a lot more weight in "Princes". In Colosseum, it's too easy (even with 5 players) for everyone to be going after different things (which dramatically reduces the tension involved in the auction).
Attractions vs. Works
With Colosseum, you can only play one attraction per turn. You may, however, play that same attraction over and over again over several turns if you choose to - which lessens the tension of playing it. With Princes, your actions are limited as well but you can play multiple works in a given turn. However, once you've played your work, you can't play it again unless someone recruits it from you and you then recruit it back. Thus, you have to decide if you want to play your work early and take less points for it or play it later and get more points for it - a decision with decidely more tension involved than what Colosseum offers.
The one main criticism of "Princes" is that the player interactivity is low. Colosseum does have more player interactivity. You can make trades and exchanges with other players involving tiles and money. There is also some indirect interactivity in that how the players move the senators and the emperor on their turn can impact the other players' abilities to score more points on their respective turns. However, the movement of the senators is not that interesting of a decision making process.
The main source of interaction in Princes is the auction and the limited market (not having enough of everything for every player to acquire one). So, what other players do on their turns with respect to purchasing items in "Princes" is more interesting than what other players are doing on their turns in Colosseum. Because everyone's tiles are out in the open in Colosseum, you can reasonably deduce what attractions they are most likely gunning for. With "Princes", by having less variables, there is actually more intrigue because you honestly can't always figure out exactly what the other players will be buying next. There are simply more possibilities that might be reasonable for them as the smaller number of variables at play have a wider range of possible solutions. Also, the works that other players have in their hands is secret and each player's money supply can be kept secret - both of which are aspects that add more intrigue to the game when compared to the open resources of Colosseum.
Ok, the artwork on Colosseum is typical Days of Wonder: very colorful and attractive. However, the functionality could have been slightly improved. The auctioning mechanism of how turn order flows and who can bid and who can't is quite clunky in my opinion. Some additional components could have easily helped make this mechanic a lot smoother by helping the players to keep track of things. Also, there are various tiles that award bonuses if you have the most of them but not all of the tiles are eligible for this bonus. Just like how RA incorporates the use of a symbol to remind the players of which tiles stay and which tiles are discarded at the end of a round, it's my position that Days of Wonder could have included symbols on the tiles to indicate which ones are eligible for a majority bonus and which ones aren't. This small addition won't make much of a difference to experienced players but it would help out a lot in trying to teach new people how to play the game.
The bottom line here is that, in my opinion, if you are looking for the kinds of decisions and intrigue offered by Colosseum, then "The Princes of Florence" offers many of the same kinds of decisions but does so to a greater, more fulfilling degree and in a more streamlined, less complicated fashion. Colosseum has more pieces involved in it's structure, but "The Princes of Florence" has stronger depth. Perhaps the easiest way to say it is that, sometimes in life, "less is more".
Monday, June 25, 2007
-Some people like to think for recreation
-Some people want to do anything but think for recreation
Board games (well, the good ones at least) are a way of engaging one's imagination in a creative way - but you have to meet the hobby half way. Most board games require some level of mental engagement and it is precisely that requirement that turns some people on and some people off. Sure, there are varying weights of board games - some very light and some very heavy - but usually they require some mental energy.
Also, there is the realism factor that must be considered: meaning that some people are unwilling to use their imagination or at least don't really derive satisfaction from doing so to the extent that a board game really requires. Here's what I mean:
Let's say a person reads a book like, oh, Harry Potter. Now, the enjoyment of that book depends on the reader's ability to pretend that, for a while, there are some characters named Harry, Ron, etc. and that these characters are wizards - which means that you have to pretend that wizards exist as well - and so on and so forth for the story to be any good to you.
Some people are so unable or unwilling to use their imagination that they get stuck right up front: "Well, since there are no such things as wizards, this is just a 'stupid' story." The same person would read a book like Lord of the Rings and, rather than focusing on the emotions of the characters or on the conflicts of the plot, they stay hung up at the beginning on basic premises such as "elves do not exist so, therefore, this is a 'stupid' story." It may sound ridiculous but it's the truth. A person's ability to imagine and envision things that are not immediately within their personal realm of experience is directly proportional to their ability to appreciate and enjoy genres of literature such as science fiction, fantasy, and the like.
You could tell a story of two lovers who are not able to be together and yet want to be (a very typical romance story) and do so twice in exactly the same manner but with one difference between the two tellings: in one story the lovers are elves and in the other they are ordinary people. The person who gets stuck on things like "elves do not exist" will hear both stories and would most likely say that the one with the elves in it is ridiculous and the other is not even though the plot would be exactly the same. Why the difference? Because there are no elves in the second story. This is what I'm getting at. Some people can't use their imagination in a way that they find satisfying outside of anything other than within the scope of their immediate, personal experience.
So it is with board games - some people enjoy using their imagination to envision themselves and the other players as master builders competing for the honor of best builder in the land and some people will just see pieces on a board much like a person would look at an assortment of knick knacks on the top of their dresser - lacking in any sort of significance.
Granted, a person can go overboard with their imagination such that they aren't keeping their feet on the ground. However, good lighthearted fun via recreational thinking is one of the main sources of appeal for the hobby board game player.
Die Macher - BoardGameGeek game I.D. #1. I'll admit that I had eagerly been anticipating the reprinting of this game simply to see if this longstanding member of the top ten and pioneering entry on BGG was really as good as its ratings indicate. I have played the game a number of times since acquiring a copy of the new Valley Games reprint. Here are my conclusions.
Various adjectives that communicate a lot of information very quickly can be ascribed to games . I've heard the term "elegant" applied to games with as few rules as possible yet books and books can be written about their strategy. The game "Go" would fall into this classification. One might say that "clunky" could be applied to a game that has lots and lots and lots of rules such that the game really resists being played in a variety of ways and can only be approached in a few reasonable ways. The term "chaotic" might be applied to a game with lots of dice rolling, blind draws, random cards, and unexpected turns of events created out of some unknown element(s) in the game.
Though Die Macher is not an "elegant" game in the sense of the word I previously described, it is not "clunky" in spite of the many rules in the game and, even though there are lots of random elements in the game, I wouldn't necessarily classify it as truly "chaotic". Perhaps the best term to describe the game is "majestic" in that the game's rules all serve to reinforce the theme and the chaos of the game makes sense within the political theme presented. Each round is composed of a series of mini-games that all come together to create a truly majestic whole. Bottom line, this game lives up to its mystique.
The "Time" Factor
About 4 hours at least is required on a first time run through with new players. When you play the game for the first time, don't be fooled by the length of the first round. The time goes by extremely quickly after getting through that first round as the rules become reinforced by their repitition in each subsequent round. The first round took about 1 1/2 hours to get through. Round 2 took about 45 minutes. Round 3 took about 30 minutes, etc. etc. Not only does the time intensity decrease but the absorbtion of the rules allows for the intrigue of the decisions offered by the rules to increase. In spite of the initial awkwardness that comes from a first time play of the game, everyone I've introduced Die Macher to has responded positively to it and has stated that they would like to play it again - the time intensity notwithstanding. In fact, as one begins to grasp the rules and begins to see the mixing of the game's "gears" the time moves quickly such that, after you are finished, you might ask yourself "was it really four hours I just spent?"
I would however strongly suggest that, if you want to make Die Macher run smoothly, you will have to invest some prep time in making player aides or downloading some off of BoardGameGeek simply to help the players keep track of where they are in the round and to help people have a vision of all of the elements going on in the game. Simply copying the summaries provided by the rule book is, in my opinion, insufficient.
The components are "okay" at best. I had some problems with the boards bowing up on me on my second run through of the game and the cards also tend to suffer from a bowing problem (i.e. the material the cards are made of is pretty stiff and tends to stay bent after shuffling). However, the tiles and cubes are okay. I had to make some clarifications out of the rule book on the second time through the game with further new players as some of the graphic designs in this edition are really lacking. The theme of the game is that each player represents a political party and, in keeping with that theme, each party has a certain number of "issues" that they take a stand on (determined by cards that you are dealt initially and that you acquire during the course of the game). In designing graphics for these various "issue" cards there are two issues ("Nuclear Power Development" and "Economic Redevelopment") that are both symbolized with a picture of a building and a crane. The crane, in fact, is the same picture. It's just been copyed and pasted and the buildings themselves look very similar. The game its self takes up a lot of table space and, with that in mind, looking at an issue card from across a larger table magnifies the problem of two issues having extremely similar graphics. After the first playing of the game, which was with a pretty "game savy" group of people I might add, I had to take a permanent marker and make distinctions on all of the cards of one of the issues (I chose "Nuclear Power Development") simply because the players were consistently confusing the two issues for each other.
Without going into a tremendous amount of detail about the rules, here is a list of the elements that go into the game:
-You take stances on certain political issues.
-You can change your stances on political issues but only one at a time per round.
-There are seven rounds (six of which involvs a series of decisions and the seventh is purely a scoring round). Each round represents an election that is held within a particular state in Germany.
-Elections are won by the player with the most number of "votes". Votes are acquired by paying to hold party meetings within the state, having a platform that matches up with the public dispositions within that state, and by how popular your party is in that state (the people in the state may disagree with you on issues but they may like you and vice versa).
-Elections also offer a certain number of "seats" based on your total number of votes. In other words, it's not a "winner take all" type of election. Even if you don't win, you still can get a certain number of seats in a state. However, winning the election allows you to obtain certain benefits in the form of end game victory points and leverage in affecting the opinions of the nation as a whole.
-There are opinion polls that are auctioned that can impact your popularity in a state or your party membership overall.
-Players can purchase a media presence or multiple media presences in a state to help them stay immune from bad opinion polls and to help that player persuade the people in that state to change their viewpoints about certain issues.
-Players may accept monetary contributions to their party from outside sources and run the risk of losing party members in the process or they may reject contributions and gain party members as a result.
-You have a personal group of henchmen who are referred to as the "Shadow Cabinet". There are essentially your own personal secret service and they can be dispatched to a state to get things going in your favor (for a price of course).
-There are auctions for opinion polls, blind bids for the right to choose who the starting player is in a round, territory control issues with media markers (there can only be so many markers in a state), competition over majority of votes in a state, competition over affecting the national opinion through winning elections, opportunities for your henchmen in certain states to make deals and create coalitions between parties in a state, in essence - there is a lot to the game.
Victory points are a culmination of the seats you win in the elections, bonus points in the form of national media presences you may receive for winning elections outright in some of the states, your total party membership, and how much your party platform squares up with the viewpoint of the nation overall at the end of the game.
This game is a heavy game that takes up lots of table space and takes a long time to play but the investment is worth the reward and the time you spend won't feel as long as it really was once you're done. I strongly advise making player aides to help the game move more smoothly (I created several necessary score sheets that were larger and easier to understand than the disposable sheets that come with the game and laminated them so the players could use dry erase markers instead of pencils). I recommend that you have a calculator on hand for the final point tabulation to speed it up.
The theme of the game works really well and has appeal in that many of the elements in the theme can be applied to a variety of political systems - not just the German one. In other words, you don't have to have lived in or be from Germany to appreciate the theme.
Bottom line, this is a game that will tend to have great appeal for gamers but will more than likely not appeal to casual gamers and will probably not work at all for non-gamer (i.e. primarily party gamer) types of people. I personally have enjoyed playing the game and I look forward to playing it again.
Information Type/Level of Luck:
-Limited (Some public, some private, some hidden from everyone)
-Private (Know your resources but no one else’s)
-None (No one knows what is coming next – “Sorry”, “War”, etc.)
-Partial elimination (possible but not required– “Shadows Over Camelot”)
-Elimination (one person left – “Risk”)
-Everyone for themselves
Chosen (“Teams of Enemies”)
-Co-operative (against the game)
-Variable co-op (possible that someone is helping the game)
-Most amount of pieces played
-Most amount of pieces acquired
-Balance (least = your score – “Tigris and Euphrates”)
-Larger amounts of small scoring moves
-Smaller amounts of large scoring moves
-Exponential scoring (“St. Pete’s”)
-Mixture of in-game and end-game scoring
-Most consecutive pieces (“Ticket to Ride”, “Settlers”)
-Bonuses for certain accomplishments in the game (“Princes”, “Puerto Rico”)
-Bonuses for certain accomplishments in a given round (“Princes”)
-Limits (“Ingenious” – no more scoring for a color after 18 points)
-Thresholds (“Lost Cities” - must score over 20 to score positively)
-Prisoner’s Dilemma (blind, dual choice conditional scoring)
-Sets, Runs, Suits,
-One time action modifiers (Offense and Defense)
-Long term action modifiers (Offense and Defense)
-Short term action modifiers
-Cards act as resources (“San Juan”)
-Cards act as monetary measurements (“San Juan”)
-Collective board (“Risk”, “Blokus”)
-Individual game boards (“Princes”, “Puerto Rico”)
-Combination of individual and collective game boards
-Various amounts of dice (“Risk”)
-Multiple options for using dice results (“That’s Life”, "Can't Stop")
-Bonuses for certain combos (ex. doubles)
-Actions occuring via dice ("War of the Ring")
-Known outcome (“Chess”)
-Unknown outcome but fixed (“Stratego”)
-Unknown outcome but random (dice rolling - “Risk”)
-Capturing through replacement (“Chess”)
-Capturing through surrounding (“Go”)
-Capturing through jumping ("Checkers" "Zertz")
-Attacking via proximity (“Wings of War”)
-Closed system ("RA")
-Blind Bid ("Die Macher")
-Single payoff (“Princes of Florence”)
-Continuous payoff (“St. Pete’s”)
-Resource upgrading (“St. Pete’s”)
-Trading ("Settlers of Catan")
-Various attributes, strengths,
and powers for different characters
Role-Taking and/or Variable Phase Order
(“Puerto Rico”, “San Juan”, “Citadels”)
-Only player ("Risk")
(“Carcassone”, "Tigris and Euphrates")
Collective Influence (on a single area or item)
Indirect Influence on another player
Plan Setting / Prediction
(“Wings of War”, "Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit")
-Thresholds that trigger events
(“Sleuth”, “Clue”, “Mystery of the Abbey”)
Negative/Positive Turn Requirement
(help opposition, then yourself - “Shadows Over Camelot”)
Additional actions for crossing a threshold
(“Diamant”, "Cash n' Guns")
Motor Skill / Dexterity
Supply and Demand
There are numerous mechanics that can be used in games. I find that trying to list them and see what they are can help build a vocabulary of useful solutions to gaming problems in the design phase. However, it's also useful to know what's out there so you can have some perspective on your own designs (i.e. are they truly unique or not).
When giving a score from 1 to 7 on the points listed, it is not enough to just give a number. The idea is that the playtester will give the game a score and then briefly explain why they felt the game should be given that score.
After every playtester has had their say using this tool, then a more organic discussion can ensue. Having gone through the points on this tool before starting that discussion helps make that discussion more effective as all of the important talking points can be brought up first. Thus, the conversation will have a more focused direction.
After all of the hype and the anticipation for the first printing of Caylus, we now find ourselves on the other side of the second major printing for the game, it's on BSW now, and it currently resides at the number 4 spot in the overall BGG rankings.
This review is not designed to be a thorough explanation of all of the game mechanics. Instead, it is intended purely to provide a comparison between it and the current #1 game on BGG: Puerto Rico.
In addressing this comparison, I do so mainly from the standpoint of "balance" in the game play/design for both games. I love Puerto Rico (and this is by no means and anti-Puerto Rico review), but I find Caylus to be a more balanced game and I do so for the following reasons:
The Effects of Seating Order
In Puerto Rico, the determined seating order remains a static influence on the game's strategy throughout the course of the game. Though this is true for any game where turn order remains consistent throughout, with Puerto Rico the choices of the players to your immediate right and immediate left have a profound impact on your capacity to compete. The person to your immediate right, if they decide to produce the same cash crop as you, can severely hurt you throughout the course of the game. The seating order then becomes an advantage in their favor that does not change (i.e. there are no situations where you would find yourself able to sit "to the right" of that player later on in the game). With Caylus, because seating order is something that can be directly competed for, the potential for a static advantage built in to the game's mechanic is removed.
With Puerto Rico, as often happens, there can be some consistent pseudo "alliances" that occur during the course of the game (i.e. you find yourself as a builder competing against an unspoken "alliance" of two shippers). The overall "alliances" created in such scenarios are not necessarily going to change as the role choices of shippers will tend to help each other. With Caylus, because what is important to you as a resource on one turn may not be important to you on the next and because of the continuing movement of the Baliff, player A may find himself working with player B on one turn to move the Provost such that both secure crucial resources and, on the very next round, that same player A may be working with player C to completely hose player B. Though Puerto Rico can present opportunities where you are hurting one player one turn and hurting another player the next, it isn't as dynamic as it can be in Caylus. This, in my opinion, offers more flavor and variety in the game play.
Barring seemingly random moves made by newbie players, there are four random aspects in Puerto Rico:
1. Seating order at the beginning
2. Who the Governor is on the first turn
3. The plantations that come up in the plantation draws
4. Potential plantations acquired through use of blind draws via an active Hacienda
The randomness of the plantation draws can result in some pretty drastic consequences for certain players (i.e. being denied a cash crop plantation for a signficant length of time). Also, because plantation draws continue to factor into the game for a significant length of time (potentially determining which crops specific players go for in their production), there is the potential for randomness to present a greater obstacle for one player as opposed to another for a longer period of time. This also holds true if the randomness of the blind draws made by an active Hacienda owner turn out to not be very helpful at all.
Again, barring random newbie moves, there are only two random aspects of Caylus:
1. Seating order in the first round
2. The order of the pink buildings at the beginning.
After that, it's purely what the players choose. There are no other elements that serve to continually introduce randomness into the game after the initial setup.
Because of the role taking mechanic of Puerto Rico, one wrong role choice taken by a newer player can completely "give" the game to another player due to a sequential advantage (i.e. Crafting at the wrong time). In Caylus, though newbies can make mistakes that help other players, the potential for such drastic, inadvertant kingmaking isn't there to the same degree. Also, because the turn order sequence can change, a newbie isn't necessarily going to help the person who happens to be sitting at the table to their right or left consistently throughout the game. Don't get me wrong, there are opportunities for kingmaking in Caylus but they aren't as drastic or consistently available like they are in Puerto Rico.
Other Minor Observations:
Both games offer lots of options. With Caylus, you have a progressively larger number of buildings to choose from regarding where you can place your workers. With Puerto Rico, you can obtain more and more buildings for your city, thus giving you more options/priviliges within the different role phases of the game.
Both games also include a "multiple paths to victory" element. In Puerto Rico, there is shipping and building. With Caylus, there is working on the road or on the castle. With Puerto Rico, you usually have to pick one area (i.e. shipping or building) and focus on it above the other. With Caylus, you can either focus exclusively on the castle, exclusively on the road, or you can do reasonably well in both aspects of the game via favors.
One area in which Puerto Rico has a slight advantage over Caylus is in the overall length of the game as Puerto Rico, from my experience, tends to be shorter. However, the flip side is that, if you are playing a face-to-face game, Puerto Rico can take a longer time to set up.
Caylus seems to present a better atmosphere for learning when compared to Puerto Rico as the sequential role taking choices can have much more drastic consequences when compared to the turn by turn individual placing of workers that takes place in Caylus. In other words, it's much more likely that a mixture of experienced and newbie players in Caylus will not result in the more experienced players getting frustrated with the choices of the newbies as can happen with the choices made in the role selections of Puerto Rico.
Finally, I've found that, because of the shifting alliances aspect of Caylus, it's actually possible for a player to rally back from an early "mistake" whereas, with Puerto Rico, one early mistake seems to carry much more drastic consequences.
The points I've made here in this review are mainly intended to illustrate how, in my opinion, Caylus is a more balanced game than Puerto Rico. However, both Puerto Rico and Caylus are great games and both are fun to play.
2. "Uninitiated gamers" These are the people who have an appetite for strategy and who gravitate to gamer's games right off the bat when introduced to them. They are simply gamers who have not yet encountered euro-games. (I was an "uninitiated gamer" who tried to make the best I could out of the games I knew about until I encountered euros and realized what I was missing.) You can introduce games like Puerto Rico, Tigris and Euphrates, and The Princes of Florence to people in this category with no problems.
3. "Potential gamers" These are the people who, given enough of the right kinds of early positive experiences with gaming can warm up to the heavier sorts of games over time to greater or lesser extents. In many cases, it's probably important that these people not be hit over the head with early gamer's games lest they potentially become resistent to the idea of learning future games. It's also probably true that each person in this category (as opposed to "uninitiated gamers") has a personal "weight limit" in that there is a certain level of complexity that they are unwilling to go beyond with their game choices. If a game exceeds that weight limit then they consider it too complex and pass on it.
4. "Non-gamers" These are people who, for the rest of their lives, will probably be averse to heavy strategy games - regardless of what games they are exposed to and in what order. There's nothing "wrong" per se with non-gamers. It's just useless to try to get them to like heavier games because what non-gamers look for in a game is typically social interaction without the "bother" of heavy strategy.
Something that most gamers experience is the frustration of trying to play the games that they enjoy with their non-gamer friends and, unfortunately, a bad experience is what they get. After enough of these types of bad experiences, it can be easy to just "give up" on playing games at all with certain friends.
Concerning this subject, I've tried adopting the philosophy that it is better to accept what is than to try and make something what I want it to be even when it's not. In other words, I don't try to turn non-gamers into gamers. I will, however, give someone the benefit of the doubt if they express a genuine interest in learning a gamer's game (if someone I consider to be a non-gamer really wants to learn Puerto Rico then I'll teach it to them).
I also believe that some people simply haven't realized that they might actually like some of the harder games. They just need to build up to them with enough positive experiences beforehand. Throwing a non-gamer directly into a gamer's game without positive prior gaming experiences will leave them in a position where they will be less inclined to like the game and more inclined to resist the game. However, helping someone "work up" to the heavier games requires knowledge of enough different titles that will appeal to gamer and non-gamer alike such that you have a variety to choose from along the way. Otherwise, if there are only one or two games you're aware of that you know you and your non-gamer friend can enjoy, then those games might not be enough to provide the variety and quantity of positive experiences necessary for a non-gamer to be open to learning heavier games. At that point, not only will upward progression towards harder games stop, you will also probably get stuck playing those same few games over and over again such that you and your friend(s) will get sick of them and eventually won't want to play them anymore.
I also believe that "needing" someone else to like something or trying to "get" them to like it potentially sets one up for disappointment because such a mentality does not leave one emotionally free enough to accept an unsuccessful gaming attempt as okay. I'm willing to try giving a non-gamer the opportunity of liking a gamer's game but I'm also willing to be okay with whatever results. In other words, if my non-gamer friend is hating the game I'm trying to show them, then I'm not above proposing that we just quit and do something else (perhaps even having a mutual laugh in the process about just how lousy the idea of playing that particular game was in that situation).
I believe, for a person to have enough emotional freedom to be okay with such an unsuccessful outcome, they need to have two things:
1. Knowlege that, if they were they one who brought up the idea of playing the game in the first place, they gave the non-gamer enough positive gaming experiences beforehand such that that person's dislike of the game was due more to that person's personality rather than because of a lack of experience.
2. A reliable venue for playing gamer's games (like a local game store, or BSW) that is not dependent on the non-gamer friend or friends in question. Without such a venue, if one wants to play heavier games, then one is going to have to "get" one's non-gamer friends to play them. This can lead to one of those afore mentioned "bad experiences" because, even if the gamer succeeds in coercing his or her friends into a game they don't want to play, it's still a game they don't want to play - thus creating some potential resentment and/or more resistence to the idea of playing that same game or same type of game in the future.
On the other side of the issue, it's important for aspiring designers to know how publishers select games and how the publishing business works. In this respect, there's no one better to hear from than Jay Tummelson - owner of Rio Grande Games. The following is an hour long interview with Jay that was posted by Boardgame Babylon and it's just chock-full of relevant content. Here's the link:
Update: It appears that these links are no longer active.
The purpose of playtesting and giving feedback is to answer certain fundamental questions about a game so that future improvements can occur. These questions include:
"How clear, consistent, and streamlined are the rules?"
"How interesting is the theme and how applicable is it to the rules?"
"How balanced are the mechanics (i.e. how fair is the game for each player)?"
"How clear and streamlined are the layout and procedures of the game?"
"How satisfying or unsatisfying is the overall length of the game?"
"How interesting are the decisions the game requires the players to make?"
"How fun is the game to play?"
"How can the game be improved?"
Be kind but honest.
-You are not doing anyone a favor by telling them their game is better than it really is -but honest feedback doesn't have to be conveyed disrespectfully.
-Designers should welcome honest, intelligent, and respectful criticism as it will provide opportunities for discovering new ways to improve their game.
-Give compliments to designers on good aspects of their game.
Keep feedback appropriate to the game's phase of design
-For example, don't be overly critical of the quality of components used in a game that is still in an early phase of design. The game will not have had much of a chance to take a solid shape yet. However, if a game is in a late stage of design, the components can and should be given more scrutiny.
Give other playtesters time to provide feedback
-Don't monopolize the discussion. Different minds have different perspectives and hearing a wider variety of perspectives tends to result in better overall feedback. Keep in mind that someone else might bring up something that you were going to bring up and might do so in a better or more insightful way than you would have done. Trust that the other playtesters have equally important feedback to offer, allow them the time to offer it, and refrain from interrupting others while they are giving their feedback.
Address the roots first, then the branches (if necessary)
-Prioritize feedback by discussion the most important issues first. Remember that a "Saturation Point" can occur where too much feedback "saturates" the group and/or the designer - resulting in fatigue with the process. Thus, it's important to discuss the more important issues before that point sets in.
-Actively look beneath the surface for more fundamental problems and direct attention there (don't un-inquisitively fixate on the surface symptoms of a potentially greater problem).
Example of prioritizing feedback:
Discussing how the game has a potential runaway leader problem before getting into a discussion about how the wording on one of the cards needs to be changed a bit.
Example of actively looking beneath the surface and not fixating on surface symptoms:
"Hmm. I find Rule X to be a bit cumbersome. But, rather than tinker with Rule X, let's ask ourselves why Rule X is there in the first place...Well, it seems to me that it's an attempt at fixing a balance problem. So, rather than focus on Rule X, let's look at the places where a balance problem might be originating from in the game and see if we can't correct those first." In the discussion that follows, Rule X may eventually become completely unnecessary if other areas of the game are corrected. Thus, a lengthy discussion about tinkering with Rule X may appear productive but, by looking beneath the surface a bit, one may find that Rule X is merely a symptom of a deeper problem in the game that should be addressed first.
Skills and Methods
-Making a claim about a game is not stating an opinion. It is making a statement and portraying that statement as a fact.
-Claims are made with the intent of proving some important fact about the game to the group and/or to the designer. Claims are usually followed by a debate with people taking a "side" on the issue. Ex "I claim that this rule is unfair".
-Claims are naturally confrontational and, as such, should not be made about arbitrary issues or about smaller aspects when a greater issue is involved. (Ex. "This scoring track is unclear" is a claim about a significant issue while "you should use a diamond instead of a circle on your scoring track" is a claim about an arbitrary issue and/or a smaller aspect of a greater issue.)
-Don't make a claim unless you are willing and able to support it with evidence (don't be rash and don't jump to conclusions). Ex "The wording on that card is unclear and my evidence is that I can justly construe a meaning from those words that the designer did not intend."
Making Observations / Proposing Hypothesis
-Making an observation or proposing a hypothesis is making a statement about the game but from an admitted standpoint of uncertainty. Ex. "I think this rule might be unfair."
-Observations are made - not with the intent to prove anything - but for the purpose of instigating a discussion about an issue.
-Usually, people make the mistake of making claims when they really should be making observations.
-Posing questions is a covert way of offering suggestions that is non-threatening and allows for a variety of responses. It also helps people remain open to newly presented ideas whereas making claims requires a more immediate response of acceptance or rejection (again, it requires people to take a "side" on the issue). Ex. "I'm wondering how the game might incorporate more player interaction and what that would do for the game's intrigue?" - is a more effective means of instigating change and keeping people open to considering potential changes than trying to introduce the same idea with a claim like "The game needs more player interaction".
-Suggestions are usually made in the discussions that follow from claims, observations, or questions that are posed.
-Suggestions should be phrased as "possibilities" rather than as imperatives. This is because phrasing something as if it were a command makes people naturally defensive while phrasing something as a possibility takes away that unwelcome pressure of having to accept or reject it immediately. It also prevents the designer from feeling like you are trying to "take over" the design of their game. Ex. "One possibility you might consider is using a coloring scheme to make your cards clearer."
-It should be remembered that, often, there are several viable ways of accomplishing a task and, because of this, suggestions should not be phrased like claims. Bad example: "You need to use a coloring scheme."
-Remember that, often, playtesters will be making suggestions but will inadvertently phrase them imperatively as claims. Be patient with people if they do this because it's a common error.
-Asking questions involves actively asking the designer about the intent or the methodology behind some particular aspect of their game. Obviously this would not be a possibility if the situation were a blind playtest but, in non-blind playtesting situations where the designer is present, it's a very good idea for the following reasons:
1. Asking questions prevents the "Saturation Point" from occuring as quickly for the designer (an active, two-way dialogue is more interesting and involving than a passive, one-way monologue where someone is going on and on with their feedback).
2. Asking questions makes it much more likely that the designer will actually listen to your criticism because they will be listening to someone who has actively sought out and comprehended their position on the issue first. Otherwise, a designer might dismiss good feedback by telling themselves "this person just doesn't get it".
3. Asking questions can save time. Ex. "This information track is unclear. What solutions have you tried in the past to make this more clear?....Hmmm. Ok, well, you might try this as one possibility..." - versus - "This information track is unclear. Perhaps you could try (blah blah blah blah)....Oh, you've tried that already."
-Opinions are not claims nor are they observations. They are statements concerning personal preference and, as such, are completely arbitrary. Ex. "I personally don't like how you've named these options".
-Because opinions are arbitrary, they should be qualified so that they aren't portrayed like claims. Ex "For me personally, I don't find your theme very interesting" instead of "Your theme isn't very interesting".
-Keep in mind that some people will not like your game regardless of how good it may actually be. This could be due to a number of reasons:
*Different preferences for theme
*Different preferences for the level of strategy involved / Different levels of comprehension (if you present a heavy strategy game to a person who prefers light party games, then you're probably going to get a bad reaction)
*Different preferences for the amount of luck involved in a game (if you present a very luck driven card game to a person who strongly prefers perfect information games, then you're probably going to get a bad reaction)
*Many other factors
-Because of the wide variety of preferences and personalities there are in the world, it is best to playtest your game with a diversity of people to see how different types of people respond to it.
-Because opinions are arbitrary, they should be taken with a "grain of salt". But, if you recognize patterns in the opinions you get from people - especially people who tend to fit the gaming demographic your game is intended for - then you might consider giving those opinions a little more weight in planning out future designs or versions of your game.
1. Show up on time
If the learning game is a prescheduled event, please be on time. A "learning game" will already take a longer than average amount of time anyway. There's no need to make it any longer than it has to be.
2. Make sure you have enough time to finish the game before you begin
Don't sit down to a table to learn a game without figuring out if you have enough time to finish it. Having to a leave any game (what's more - a "learning game") in the middle pretty much wrecks the experience for everyone else.
3. Please turn off your cell phone..or at least don't answer it.
For some reason, some people just don't understand the idea that their phone conversation puts the entire game on hold as it halts the game explanation for everybody. If you're in the initial stages of a game explanation and you receive a very important call that:
-Can't be ignored and
-Will take some time ..
..then do the noble thing and withdraw from the game so you aren't holding it up for everyone else.
4. Be willing to fail
My motto with learning games is this:"The purpose of a learning game is to learn the rules, not to win."If I happen to win then that's great. However, it's important to just try things out and not to worry so much about trying to play a perfect game the first time. Otherwise, what happens is a person takes way too much time on each turn and it makes the already long learning game even longer.
5. Choose your game instructor carefully
A bad teaching experience can taint one's experience with a game - thus causing a game one might otherwise enjoy to leave a negative first impression. There are some people that I honestly would not want to learn a game from as I know their inability to explain things clearly will result in a frustrating experience for me. There are times when I may still press forward because I want to learn a particular game and I'm willing to deal with a sub-par explaination - but I try to avoid it when I can.
6. When possible, be selective about who will be learning the game with you
If I'm debating about whether to sit down and learn a game, often it is the group of people involved that can make the decision for me. I try to make sure I avoid learning a game with "rules lawyers", "chronic APers", people who "have to win at all costs", or people for whom the game would not be appropriate (ex. if I want to learn a heavy game and I see that the table is made up of people who are primarily party gamers who don't usually like "thinking games", then I'm probably not going to join so I don't have to put up with their inevitable attempts at getting attention, making jokes, and trying to "lighten" the situation up once they realize that the game requires more thought than they anticipated).
This point is not about being mean. It's about knowing your limits and being realistic about other people. If a person is known for being a "rules lawyer" then they are probably going to do that during the game. Am I willing to deal with that or am I not? If I join a game where a rules lawyer is learning as well, I do so with the understanding and acceptance that there will be some accompanying baggage. If I'm not willing to deal with that, then I shouldn't sit down at the table and then proceed to get upset at the other person when they start doing what they are inevitably going to do. In other words, don't try to "force" the learning game into being a better experience. Rather, accept the situation for what it is and make an informed decision about whether or not to join.
7. Be respectful of the instructor
If someone is going to go to the trouble of explaining a game to me, the least I can do is make sure I'm not overburdening them in the process with excessive distractions. I occasionally like to joke around when learning a game but I try to be mindful of the situation and of whether or not it is reaching the point of annoying the instructor. Too much distraction can make an instructor really feel like they are "working" to explain a game - and that's just rude to do that to them.
8. Ask questions (but be willing to wait for the answers)
If you have a question, it's okay to ask it but remember that some questions, to be properly answered (or for the answer to make sense), you will have to wait until several further aspects of a game are explained first before you get your answer. Remember that patience is a strong virtue when learning a game.
9. If you find that you are not liking the game, try to maintain a positive attitude
This is the one I struggle with the most. If I'm not liking a game, it's usually obvious to everyone around me. However, the proper thing to do is to maintain a positive attitude because, after all, someone else was willing to spend their time to teach you a game. You don't have to lie and say you love the game but having a bad attitude makes it much less likely that the person who taught you the game will be willing to teach you other games in the future - which leads into my last point.
10. Be sure to thank the instructor for taking the time to teach you the game
Even if you hated the game, always be sure to express some gratitude to the person who was willing to teach you the game. Teaching games can be hard work. We should be grateful learners.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
1. A quality game instructor is familiar with a wide variety of games (different types, different levels of depth, different group sizes, etc.)
This is important because it's not all about teaching the game well. In many cases, it's about selecting the right game to teach in the first place. If one is familiar with a wide enough variety of games then one can recommend or select a game that will work for the particular situation at hand. No matter how good of a teacher you are, if you have the wrong game for the wrong crowd, you probably won't have a great experience.
2. A quality game instructor is familiar with the rules of the particular game he or she is trying to teach.
3. A quality game instructor takes an “active learning” approach to teaching.
What this means is that the instructor explains things while encouraging people to participate in the process. Instead of reading half the rule book out loud or spending a large amount of time explaining the rules verbally before beginning the game, a quality instructor tries to get the players into the game quickly so the rules are explained within some kind of context. Without context, too much information flow leads to an early saturation level at which point the learner will simply shut down and any further explanation only has the illusion of effectiveness. A classic example of someone making this kind of mistake is the person who tries to explain what every single building does in Puerto Rico before any of the players have even selected a role or started the game.
4. A quality game instructor is aware of the responses of his or her learners and can recognize body language. (Ex. spaced out look = not understanding what’s going on).
5. A quality game instructor is flexible - particularly in two main areas:
a. The instructor can vary the speed or depth of the explanation to fit the needs of the learners
b. The instructor knows how to explain concepts, rules, and mechanics in several different ways (not just one way)
6. A quality game instructor clarifies the meanings of specific game terms and other jargon before using those terms as part of explaining the rules.
This is the principle I see violated perhaps more than any other on this list. It's probably the most easy failing to suffer from for a person who knows a game really well because they have used the game's terms for so long that they have simply forgotten that new players don't automatically know what those terms mean.
7. A quality game instructor clarifies potential misconceptions while explaining rules (ex. “this rule means that you can do A, B, or C but you can’t do X, Y, or Z”).
8. A quality game instructor is patient in that he or she is willing to explain a rule again, willing to re-explain a rule a different way, and willing to answer questions as the game progresses.
This is a big one. I've seen people who know the rules of a game really well become quickly irritated just because someone asked a simple clarification question. Another context in which this principle is violated is when a gamer who is experienced with the game at hand is playing with new learners but where someone else is the designated instructor. Too often, the experienced gamer will impatiently chime in and try to answer questions from the new player instead of letting the designated instructor do their job. What results when this happens is that the new player becomes hesitant to ask any more questions because it results in getting scattered answers from several people all at the same time.
9. A quality game instructor let’s the players play the game (i.e. doesn’t get in the way by offering too much unsolicited or unwarranted advice).
This is perhaps the second most violated principle on this list because gamers tend to have this really bad habit of insisting on trying to discuss lots of strategy with someone who is simply trying to learn the rules of the game. This hearkens back to principle 3 of this list in that trying to discuss lots of strategy without a firm context in the learner's mind yet results in a saturation point where all of the extra talk becomes just that - extra talk.
10. A quality game instructor has an attitude conducive to a learning atmosphere - meaning they:
-like to teach
-consistently reinforce the idea of “this is just a learning game” to take the pressure off of newer gamers when teaching a new game
-genuinely enjoy gaming
-Beginnings of either theme, basic mechanics, or both
-Beginning designs: many ideas considered and written down for further testing
-Small prototyping (very simple pieces, perhaps a basic printed board)
-Beginnings of some minor play-testing for various ideas
-Medium prototyping (some generic pieces, more refined board layout)
-Play-testing begins to reveal loopholes and potential breaking points of the game system
-Lots of experimentation - typically major adjustments to the game take place in this phase (such as a change in theme or a major change in mechanics)
-Many ideas will be tested and many will be discarded
-If the basic game idea is not working, it will generally be in this phase that the project is abandoned.
-Game beginning to take shape: Theme and Basic Mechanics are somewhat in place
-Many loopholes and breaking points have been discovered and compensated for but many more have yet to be discovered
-Beginnings of a working, organized rulebook (instead of just personal notes)
-Game mechanics and theme are nearing completion
-Major loopholes and breaking points have been discovered and compensated for but minor ones may still exist
-Play-testing begins to take on specific purposes (such as trying out extreme strategies simply for the sake of testing potential loopholes or breaking points)
-More formalized prototyping (beginning to acquire more theme appropriate game components)
-Continued work on rulebook
-Game mechanics and theme are now complete
-Play-testing of the rulebook - how its worded, terminology used - now becomes a focus (i.e. can someone take your rulebook and your prototype and understand how to play the game without you being there to teach or answer questions)
-Perhaps employment of an artist for a final prototype
-Final prototype with play-tested rulebook completed
-Contacting of publishers begins
-Prototype(s) sent to publisher(s) for consideration
-Final adjustments from publisher
-Game formally published
It’s also important for playtesters to know what kind of “fun” they typically prefer to have and which kinds don’t really work for them. This way, they can provide feedback that is appropriately qualified from their relative perspective (ex. “this game wasn’t fun for me because of…” instead of stating in an absolute manner “this game wasn’t fun.”)
What follows is a list of different forms of “fun” that various board and card games can offer along with examples of games that offer that particular form of fun:
1. Socialization: having an opportunity to spend time with others doing something that doesn’t get in the way or distract from the conversations taking place but yet provides some sort of “glue” for the social setting
Any game that has very few rules, very little strategy, and minimal competition
Puzzles as a genre
Lots of card games fit in this category
2. Amusement / Humor: having silly themes, doing silly things, or experiencing silly circumstances
Apples to Apples
3. Organization: taking a set number of things from a chaotic state and putting them into an organized state
4. Spatial Thinking: envisioning different shapes in varying arrangements or envisioning different objects moving
The Princes of Florence
Wings of War
5. Pattern Recognition: opportunity to recognize or envision meaningful patterns in various sets of symbols, words, letters, or objects
6. Efficiency / Racing: trying to accomplish a goal in the most efficient manner possible or before anyone else does
7. Deduction: trying to do mental algebra and infer unknown information from known information
Mystery of the Abbey
8. Inference: trying to infer other people’s motives or their standings in a given setting by reading their body language, facial expressions, and general demeanor
Shadows Over Camelot
9. Role-Playing: exploring some sort of interesting thematic setting or making decisions from the standpoint of an interesting thematic character
Historical Wargames as a genre
Fury of Dracula
The “How to Host a Murder” games
10. Conflict: opportunity to directly compete/match wits with at least one other individual or to directly impact another individual’s position through one’s own choices:
Wargames as a genre
11. Acquisition / Conquering: opportunity to acquire resources, items, or territory from another player or to obtain the same from a limited market
The Princes of Florence
Wargames as a genre
12. Creativity / Cleverness: opportunity to be clever and/or creative in the decisions and plans you make
The deck building/construction aspect of CCG’s.
13. Self-Testing: opportunity to test personal knowledge or physical dexterity
14. Communication: opportunity to utilize conversation skills, word skills, drawing skills, or general communication skills
What’s It To Ya
15. Opportunity Cost: having to weigh the relative worth of two or more options that at least appear to be equally good but either of which could turn out to be quite different in their significance
16. Risk Taking / Anticipation of the Unknown: hoping for some desired result, be it positive or negative, either for yourself or for someone else
Any game where the decisions of the other players have the potential to impact
your position in the game
Any game that involves some random element such as cards or dice
17. Variety: aspects of the game being different each time
Settlers of Catan
Hey! That’s My Fish
Card Games as a genre
2. Amusement / Humor
4. Spatial Thinking
5. Pattern Recognition
6. Efficiency / Racing
11. Acquisition / Conquering
12. Creativity / Cleverness
15. Opportunity Cost
16. Risk Taking / Anticipation of the Unknown
Here are a few highlighted articles that may be of interest:
The Importance of Theme in European Game Design
Game Instruction: The Ten Essential Characteristics of a Quality Game Instructor
Game Design: Game Evaluation Criteria
Game Design: Two Very Helpful Podcasts
Game Design: Triangulation and Scaling in Game Systems
Board Game Companies With Game Submission Pages
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