How to Build a Game #88 So…..Many……Games

Now that Gen Con and Essen have past I wanted to take a moment to write about something I mentioned on the podcast last week. I don’t know if designers worry about the number games that are being released but I don’t think we need to really spend time worrying about the number of games coming out during the year and at conventions. Even if a game is released and its close to one of our ideas we are working on; I view this as an opportunity.

True, it might kill off one of our ideas, but I think it is a reminder that we need to work hard to find the thing that makes our game special. We have to take the time to tell our players why they want to play our game. It has this special thing that the other game does not. Tell your players why there is room in their collection to have both games.

Of course, if you are working on one project at a time, this can be a serious gut punch, but I think that is another good reason for designers to be working on more than one game at a time. Even if you are working on one project, what changes to the theme or the mechanics can you make to give your game a new look?

No doubt, it sucks if this happens, but use this moment to adjust the game, your design approach, your marketing approach and keep going while making adjustments, or moving onto the next project.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #87 Impact Moments

This doesn’t apply to every game in the world, but what are the impact moment in your game? What are the moments that everyone stands up? Is it a battle between the two strongest players? Is it a die roll? What are the moments everyone has set up their strategy for and the game altering item is revealed?

These are the moments people remember when they are playing a game. There are some impact moments that don’t work well and there are others that are amazing. We are not going to cover the good and bad of impact moments. What I want to talk about is the importance of these moments and what kind of questions we should be asking ourselves as designers.

Do we need to add more moments like this into the game? Is the appeal of this moment the fact that it is scarce? How many people are involved in the impact moment? Do I need to add more players? Do I need to take players away? What are the players not directly involved doing during impact moments? How can players benefit from these moments? How can players prepare and protect or enhance these moments for themselves?

I am not going to type out all the question I have in mind. What I want to get across is the idea that these moments need more thought given to them. These are the moments that will sell our games to the publishers we pitch and the players who will play our games and tell their friends to play the game.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #86 Tutorials

Learning games is hard. Reading a lot of text, trying to teach other people who learn in different ways. Someone needs to read the rules before they get to play the game. All of that and no one has played your game. As a designer, I worry about this space in the game because it is not fair to the game. The game could be great, but it could have a learning curve (nothing wrong with that btw) There are a lot of games that look like they are a bull, but their turn by turn actions are quite simple. How do we get players from through this part of the fall in love with the game process?

Something Aidan and I have been thinking about is adding tutorials to the front of our games. We are not entirely sure the best way to go about including a tutorial. One way we are thinking about is to include mini games inside the box that teach just the main mechanic. Yes, it would add to the cost, but it is the kind of think that could be given to a friend who might want to sample the game before they make a full purchase. Another way, and I think this is already done, is to include guided play in your rule book.

Honestly, thats all I have so far. I really wanted to this post to be a place where we can share our ideas about what to do with tutorials, and videos do not count. The kinds of players that watch play through videos are the kind people people that research the game and read about it before they get it. What I am talking about, and most interested in, are the casual players who have a friend or family member in the hobby who rave about your game and now want to pick it up based on the raving and recommendation. These are the people that will grow the hobby and we as designers have to make sure they are not turned away from the hobby before they even get play the game for the first time, regardless of a game depth or complexity.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #85 One Card Face, Many Functions

Cards might be the most useful tool for a designer. Cards can be hidden information, cards can perform more than one function at the same time. Cards can save on the cost of components and allow for the game to benefit from all kinds of actions. Cards are a platform for art. Cards are awesome.

What I would like to focus on is the ability to segment cards. We played Kanban recently and the game used segmented cards so well I wanted to write about it.

Segmenting a card can provide incredible flexibility. Just because a card is printed one way, doesn’t mean it can’t be oriented in multiple ways. In Kanban, the segmented card was used to add parts to the game board that players could collect. Depending on how players oriented the card, they had access to different kinds of parts. It was a small part of the game, but a small part with a lot of flexibility will provide overall flexibility to the designer.

I encourage you to check out the way Kanban used this mechanic and if you know of any other games that do the same, please let us know. How can you play with what part of a card is active or turned off? Does your card need to effect a single region of a board, or can it have different effects in different areas?

This concept is new to me so I don’t have any good examples to share. If you use segmented cards or card orientation in any of your games, please share what you do and how it is working for you.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #84 Look For Dead Space

Be on the lookout for what I like to call dead space in your games. I consider dead space to be a spot in the game that is being underutilized or being utilized in a way that could be accomplished in another way.

That was a bit clunky and I don’t have the words right now to make that sound better so let me use an example from a game we are working on to explain. In our trading/colony building game, Harbor Master, we have cards that represent the weather conditions on the ocean. As ships are coming into port, bad weather will reduce the number of goods a player can collect, or there might be a hurricane and no one gets to collect any goods. The card I want to use as our example are the smooth sailing cards.

When we were playtesting our game for the first time, every weather card had some kind of effect on the market. All except the smooth sailing cards. When we were done, I was thinking about that card and thought we could use the space on the smooth sailing card for something. I don’t know what that something is at this point but the point is, be on the lookout for cards, spots on the board, other side of a token, that could be used to supplement a mechanic.

Now, I don’t want you to start filling every nook and cranny in your game with a thing. It is possible that the smooth sailing card could be removed. The fact that the card only performs one function at this point, means we need to look it over and figure out should it be added to, taken away from, or is it a singular point where we need the card to stay as is.  At least we know we have spent the time looking at the dead space on this particular card and we can feel confident it performs the job we want it to perform to create the user experience we are going for.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #83 Designer Challenge: Score Tracks

I would like to issue a challenge to myself and all you designers reading this. I would like to see score tracks become something more interesting or more versatile. I play a fair number of games that use score tracks and I always felt like these were underutilized. They take up board space and seem to only have one function and always leave me feeling dissapointed.

I would like to see some score tracks that have a little bit more flavor than vanilla. I am not asking for a reinvention of the wheel, I am asking for some vanilla ice cream with a spoonful of crushed Oreo or sprinkles.

I can think of one game that had a little flavor, that was Aquasphere where players were not allowed to pass a certain point on the score track if they did not play a crystal. (I think that was the mechanic) I am also sure there are other games out there I have not played, but the games I have played all have a vanilla score track.

Since I am issuing the challenge, I will start with what we are doing with a score track in one of our games. The working title of the game is Bounty Hunters. We are using the score track as an initiative track and as a score track. We are also dividing the players movement and their attack action on the initiative/score track. Players will have the option to roll a die during their turn and depending on what they roll, they can allocate that number to their move and attack action. So in theory, a player could pile all their initiative into attack and always move last. Something to consider are the npc characters that get to move and attack on the same turn.

So, before I get too deep into the weeds of a game Aidan and I have only talked about once. We use the score track for scoring, initiative management and npc actions. If there are games you know of that so something similar, please let me know. I would be excited to check them out.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

How to Build a Game #82 The Power of Choice #2

There are a lot of traps to fall into when it comes to game design. One of those traps is the kind of choices designers allow their players to make. Combine that with what a designer thinks is a lot of fun vs what is actually a lot of fun and we are in a danger zone. Which brings us to today’s topic:

Calculations are not choice, they are math.

I am going to start with an example using one of our own games. We were working on a Soccer GM game a few months ago and we loved it. We came up with a way to play a full season with each team playing each other. Every team would have a home and away game. We had a way to simulate injuries and give teams a home field advantage. It was great, but none of that was the special sauce of the game. The awesome of this game, was in the roster construction. I am not going to cover the particulars, but what you need to know is that the players on the roster were used to fulfill stat requirements of various soccer formations. If your roster’s combined stats met the different requirements, your team would get bonuses during the season. When Aidan and I played this game, we had a blast. Roster construction was by far the most fun thing in this game. An yet, it was the mathiest thing in this game. Looking at the rest of the game, it was die rolling. There was no compelling decisions for players to make in the game. This was a math min/max game that was tucked nicely into a soccer theme.

This game will not be a lasting game. It might be a hit at the table for a month, but there is nothing in this game that will make players want to come back because they made choice a instead of b. Players will never ask what would happen if they had picked the other thing?

Games based in the realm of calculation, like our soccer GM game, will appeal to a small group of gamers but we want our games to appeal to a wider audience. Who wants to spend their game night calculating after having been at work all day? What is your game going to do about the calculation gap between players who are experience with your game vs new players?

Digging a little deeper, calculations can be figured out. Once a player knows what they can or can’t do with their set of players, all choice is removed from the game. At that point, using Soccer GM as an example, the game turns into a dice rolling game. While there are plenty of games that are dice rolling fun, that is not what we want to game to be.

There is a place in gaming for calculation, but beware about how much that calculation means to the awesome of your game.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at c.renshall.tgik.games@gmail.com

If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.