What I Learned by Wednesday - The Wild Rumpus
I guess I have to accept that many gamers come from a video game background and they seek a similar experience, but something that is unique to the board game realm. Familiar, yet different.
And something that board games do that video games rarely emulate, is complete and utter bullshit randomness. Lunatic-style romps that sometimes provide decisions, but then those decisions can be completely negated through no fault of the player. And for some reason, even though it makes no sense, that’s what many gamers seek and most will never see past them and get to the nice meaty chunks of goodness beneath the shiny, chromey, shell. Removing choice and relying on chance pairs well with drinking beer and smoking pot.
Sure, I know that board games provide a unique, strategic, and social experience that video games fail to emulate. I know that there are themes and mechanics and collaborative elements that would be extremely difficult to replicate within the digital realm. There is a whole world of amazing things to discover if only you could stop ONLY BUYING STUFF THAT HAS STAR WARS OR LORD OF THE RINGS PLASTERED ON IT. Or has zombies or guns or boobs or fighting or ridiculous magical spells that take minutes to read. WHAT THE FUCK? Yes. I know these things are cool when you’re thirteen, but… okay, they are still kind of cool. All I’m saying is, play the best games, not the best branded games.
The point is, random elements like cards that tell you what to do and cool, thematic art are what drive crossover hobby sales. Knowing this, I should consider what random elements are acceptable for me to explore when creating a gateway experience, without completely feeling like a tool, and present them in a way that is palatable for the general populace. If I can add chrome or theme to an idea without compromising it’s integrity too much, then I may have a winner. If I can both excite the niche and nichier niche, I may have a recipe for success instead of a recipe for dying alone in a gutter.
What I Learned By Wednesday (ish) - 5 Destruction
I’m a regular game designer/guest on the Google Hangout on Air that is called Something From Nothing. (List of all episodes) This last weekend, we had the privilege of talking to Jamey Stegmaier and Rob Daviau, both of which are excellent designers, and one of which came up with an innovative concept of permanent destruction. Over the course of multiple playthroughs, players destroy or alter the game board based on various decisions and victory conditions, permanently scarring the game forever (or “making it your own”).
Last week, I learned that there are so many different ways to permanently damage a game and that choosing the correct method will probably make the difference between a game being considered a classic and a flop in this genre.
1. Destruction should be “player-controlled” as much as possible. Whether I get to name a country by writing on the board or place a sticker or rip up a card and throw it away, if the decision is made by the game through happenstance, players don’t feel as invested.
2. Destroying game pieces can sometimes be arbitrary or avoidable. Try to avoid destroying meeples or miniatures completely, since they can simply be “placed back in the box” rendering the destruction portion less visceral.
3. There are a ton of different, creative ways to use this mechanic. I’ve seen “scratch-off” stickers with abilities beneath mentioned, folding the board or cards, to hide or reveal info over the course of multiple games, or using little pieces of ripped up cards to affect the current game. Try to find a new twist and keep the surprises coming.
And that’s what I love about the Legacy mechanic. Surprise! If you can make people dread the consequences of losing a specific game, or the damage that could be done to the game, you are doing it right!
What I Learned By Wednesday - 4 December Pitches
When to Pitch -
Some people will tell you to always be pitching. Games, that is (it’s perfectly acceptable to be catching in other circumstances), that you have designed. Pitch early, pitch often, pitch to the right people, pitch to the wrong people, and always be on the lookout for new opportunities to network, specifically to bring your games to the market. Last week, I didn’t learn how wrong this mindset is, and how this can actually hurt your chances of publication in many cases, but I did learn some valuable info about timing your pitch.
This last week I watched: Impressions Vidcast 23: Soliciting the Game
It mentions that pitching games to retailers or publishers during December, is a very bad practice. To businesses, this is the season for selling, not buying. I never really considered this notion, but since most board game publishers arrange their line-up and pick up games during February-June, it’s very crucial to have my game prototypes ready for that time and focus on development during these cold, lonely, stressful autumn-winter days when an awkward submission email could turn into a stiff rejection. A little tidbit, but still helpful advice.
But, I also learned this week: “Do whatever the fuck you want. Cause apparently it doesn’t matter.” So, I take this advice with a grain of salt. Just like the opposite sex is simply a repository for lust and bodily fluids, you should probably just badger publishers until they break. Don’t let them put you in the designer friend zone! All business!
Game design is hard. I’m going to put myself in the right place at the right time, and get that handshake.
What I Learned By Wednesday - 3 The Blurb
The Tagline - The Blurb -
Anytime I read the description for a new board game, I realize how jaded and used to disappointment I’ve become. I read an exciting cavalcade of prose like this:
“… is a fully cooperative, Tomb Diving adventure game! …You might be fending off the forces of the King of the Forsaken, a Lion-Man damned by the Ancient Greek Gods to forever be part beast! Or perhaps you must find the magical incantation to reincarnate the Colossus of the Land to stop the Nazi’s from using the Kraken of the Sea to dominate the Second World War!”
And I sigh.
Let me guess. You draw a card, read it, then roll some dice to resolve random combat at multiple explorable locations. You have a “twist” that makes it slightly different from other games of this ilk. Uggh, I’m stopping; even typing this formulaic stuff out makes me feel even more jaded.
The point is, it doesn’t excite me. But, do you know who it excites? Just about everyone else.
An exciting blurb is important. And knowing your audience is important as well. Vigorous lexicon flamboyancy turns middle-aged individuals into salivating consumers. Whether your gamer fanboys want to vanquish Cthulhu while pulling off a sick varial heelflip, or they cream their cargo shorts every time you mention mechanics like worker placement and variable player powers, writing sells.
I’m going to make sure I sprinkle in a little zazz when talking about my games. Because, I’ve learned that, surprisingly, not everyone is me.
What I Learned by Wednesday - 1 Unique
Let’s see how long I can keep this up. Every Wednesday night, since I usually have the evening off from work, I’ll write a snippet of something interesting and new (to me) that I’ve learned about Game Design. Sounds like a good idea to me. Let’s do this:
Everything is unique.
The weird, relatable paradox in game design is that a designer’s main drive to continue working on a project stems from intrigue over a unique concept that they have created, but he develops this idea by combining other mechanics that are common and familiar.
This is why so many ideas never make it past the “concept” phase. The initial, fun part is easy. Actually implementing that unique idea into a workable theme, bland mechanical environment, and then balancing strategies through feel or statistics; this mish-mash of potential, sterile, retread combinations is the real work. And it’s not usually completed with a finger snap.
The thing to take away from all this, is that all ideas are unique and that criticizing something for being “too close” to another design is a very subjective task. I need to stop worrying that 90% of my game has been done before, and focus on really emphasizing that unique 10%.