Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some Quick Thoughts

This is just a quick post about some thoughts of mine. Enjoy.

The shorter the game is, the more you can forgive.

Is there some sort of wonky rule in the game? Is the game not that balanced? Is it more of a luck fest than a game? Well, if the game's only 10 minutes long, then so what? Who cares? I mean it's only 10 minutes. If the game is an hour long, then it's a different story. (Sure I'm saying this partly tongue in cheek but, seriously, if the game is very short then it's much easier to overlook things that would be unforgivable in a longer game.) The next thought follows naturally.

The longer the game is, the more it needs to offer.

If you're playing a light game that could be classified as a filler, that's totally okay - but not if the game is a 2 hour long game. If people are going to see their time investment as being worth it, the game had better deliver if it's going to go longer.

As the number of internal bookkeeping processes in a game's design increases, so does the likelihood that the game should be a video game instead of a board game.

If there are lots of calculations or procedures where things are happening in the game that don't involve player choice, or perhaps the game has modifiers stacked on top of modifiers, then it's probably best that the game be made into a computer game so the computer can handle those bookkeeping tasks without burdening the players with them.

Looking for ways to reduce the number of components often results in simplified rules - which tends to result in better games.

Usually, more components equals more procedures and more rules. Otherwise, why would the components be necessary? Either that, or the systems for tracking information in the game are very inefficient and need to be streamlined. Either way, consistently trying to lessen the component density is a good habit to have. At the same time, this next thought should also be considered.

With respect to utility and clarity, the type of components used in a prototype matters.

If there is a marker that is going to be passed around from player to player and/or is one that needs to be easily seen from across the table, then using a small, thin, flat disc, is a bad idea. You would need something that's larger so it's easier to see and/or pick up. It's easy to think that this sort of thing doesn't matter but, if players get frustrated with simple, tactile aspects of the prototype, then that frustration will carry over into their underlying, general impression of the game. I'm not saying that a prototype has to be a Kinkos masterpiece to be playable. There are times when I've marked up a board with a Sharpie and then used that same board for more playtesting - but the board was still clear and it was easy to see what was going on.

Be willing to "cut your favorite scene".

Through the iterative process, game designs evolve and that evolution starts to take on directions as aspects of the game start to gel and other aspects do not. If there was some mechanic that was your whole inspiration for starting the design in the first place, but the design has now evolved such that that original mechanic is the very thing that's wrong with the game now, then be willing to throw that mechanic out. It's a better goal to make a good game than to just to make a game with some particular mechanic in it.

Make a prototype of your game idea before taking your idea to far.

Sometimes an idea comes to us and, in our minds, it seems like the best thing ever thought of. If one takes an idea and then adds other ideas to it, and then more ideas, and then more ideas without having actually put together a physical prototype first, then a person may find that their original idea had basic flaws in it and all the time they spent on coming up with subsequent ideas to go with the original were just interesting musings on an unworkable premise. Get the idea into a physical prototype of some kind (even if it's just post-it notes) before taking the idea too far.

Iterate A LOT before printing off a nice new board or a new rule book.

I mean, sure, if money is no object and you don't care about costs, then knock yourself out. I, however, have learned the hard way that thinking the game is done before it really is can get expensive really fast if you're not careful. At the same time...

Start writing a rule book as soon as possible.

Just like how making a physical prototype will clarify benefits and problems with an idea quicker than just thinking about it will, the act of trying to write a rule book will do the same thing. Thinking about how a rule should be worded, what terms are involved in the explanation, and which examples are important in illustrating to a new player how the game works will accelerate the design process by bringing to the surface potential flaws or areas of ambiguity in your game that need to be clarified. Granted, it will take a bit of playing around with the initial prototype and game structure before beginning a rule book is warranted. However, if a designer allows himself to go too far into the design process without requiring a rough-draft rule book of some kind from himself, then he stands to potentially waste a lot of time that could have been saved had he applied himself towards actually putting the current version of the game's rules down in some sort of readable medium. If how the rule should be worded is not clear to you, then perhaps the rule its self needs some examination.

I'm not saying go full throttle with a final version rule book early on. I am saying that at least beginning one - even just a designer having a rough draft as a Word document on his computer that he can go to and work on from time to time as he works through the iterations of his design - will help clarify fundamental thinking about a particular design in critical ways.

I personally find that trying to put my thoughts into words helps me clarify my thinking about board game design. That's partly why I put together these blog posts. : )

Update: I've had to shut down comments on this particular post because, for whatever reason, it was attracting lots of spam comments.