Category Archives: Game Theory

Thoughts on Game Length

An important aspect of games that needs to be kept in mind while designing a new game is its length. While not immediately apparent, game length has a surprising amount of influence on other aspects of the game including its fun and playability. While designing a game, try to imagine how long players will be able to continuously play while still having fun. Once you have a reasonable idea of how long this will be, try to set up your game so that it will finish before then. You want to be able to finish the game while the players are still interested and engaged, it is much better to hear “I just needed one more turn, let’s play again” than “how much longer is this going to take?”

Indie game designer

Mechanics are a useful tool in determining game length. Many games make use of a set amount of turns in order to keep gameplay within the expected timeframe. Some will overtly tell you that you have a set number of turns, usually delineated somewhere on the game board and occasionally dressed up thematically as something such as years or seasons. This method is most often found in games involving repeatable actions that can be taken every turn. Other games use the same principle but rely on a limited resource, such as the deck of cards or tiles being place, to achieve this effect. By controlling the number of turns, the designer has a reliable way of ensuring that the game will end when they expect it to and while players are still enjoying it.

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Game length also affects the groups of people that the game should be designed towards. Shorter games, usually under thirty minutes, tend to be less complex than other games. This simplicity, along with the shorter time required to play, makes a good target for younger gamers, who generally have a shorter attention span and may not be able to grasp harder mechanics yet. Another group that appreciates shorter games is those that play with larger groups. A short, simple game can fill the time after a longer game has finished while waiting for another group to finish so the play groups can intermix. Medium length games tend to be popular as there is sufficient time for more complex mechanics to be used, without completely dominating an entire play session. Longer games can be just as fun, with many interesting mechanics in use, but usually require advanced planning to make sure that they can fit into all the participants’ schedules. The next time you find yourself bored with a game, try asking yourself if it is the mechanics of the game boring you or if the game just went on for too long.

 

-James the Gamebreaker

Game Master Depression, is it a real thing?

Oger fills me with Game Master “Dread”

Oger, with his prized possession.
Oger, with his prized possession.
Oger the Mascot
I wanna promotion, this Mascot business is for the crows!

Our mascot here around the office Oger the Dwarf  has a huge dwarf-crush on Wil Wheaton and watches “TableTop” religiously. When he told me about the latest episodes featuring the horror-based storytelling game “Dread”, which uses a Jenga® tower instead of dice, my curiosity was peaked. Since the game is out of print, I went to Drive-Thru RPG to see if they had it, which they did as a $3 100-page PDF.

After watching the 2 TableTop episodes and looking over the rules I had to try my hand as a Game Master (or “Host”) for Dread. The basic concept is that instead of rolling dice the players pull a block from the tower when they have to use a skill that is not known to their character, or when they are doing something under duress. If the tower tumbles, the character making the pull is out of the game. I tried it last weekend and the experience wasn’t quite what I hoped for. That was my fault entirely, I broke 2 of the basic rules of Dread, maintain the atmosphere and maintain the suspense. My gaming group is supposed to meet monthly, but that has been difficult lately so we tried to take advantage of getting together for my goddaughter’s 15th birthday (who is in the group). Though a really cool game mechanic and idea, it was a case of too many people, no one was really in a “horror story” mood and a group of players that were almost completely made up of highly skilled Jenga® players. The tower never toppled and things just didn’t work out. On the ride home my wife congratulated me on a good game, but I didn’t feel it was worthy of any accolades.

 

Post Game Master Depression

Do other Game Masters walk away from a session feeling disappointed?  I’m sure that anyone taking on the responsibility of running a RPG has off nights, or a game that just didn’t fit their group. In the above  example, I know I shouldn’t beat myself up, people had fun, the players reacted to the story pretty much the way

Game Master why
Wha-wha, “I put too much work into my game and no one appreciates it”. Lighten up, humie!

I wanted. So why does it take the wind out of my sails, and not just in this case, but most gaming sessions? Part of it’s my problem, I’m known as a “plumber”, as in I “plumb the depths” of the worlds I create. They have rich, long histories and highly detailed factions with elaborate political maneuvering going on in the background, that players only scratch the surface of. When our group can’t meet regularly all those rich details get forgotten and lost. When there’s a time constraint and I have to rush 6 hours worth of play into 4, it’s those details that get cut, or worse, completely forgotten by me on the spot.

 

Is There A Curse To Being Creative?

It’s a mind frame I’ve seen with my artistic friends, and I’ve experienced myself on occasion. You start to draw, paint, sculpt with a mental image of what you want the thing to be, and as you go on you can’t reproduce that vision in your head. When you’re finished,

RPG Games
Oh boy, you’re really taking this kinda far, this is only a game we’re talking about, right?

what you created bears little resemblance to what you envisioned, which is disappointing. Here’s’ the kicker, no one else saw what you did in your head. To them this creation is wonderful, it’s something they could never do; however, in your eyes it’s not quite what you had envisioned. If a session does do play out just as I wanted those experiences that can’t be replicated; a mix of variables ranging from my mood, the players energy, the environment, the perfect amount of libation imbibed and maybe something unquantifiable. While I may be a perfectionist, I hope I’m not being too precious.

 

Oger if you’ll shut your ale-hole and stop with the side comments, I’ll see about getting you promoted from “Mascot” to “Intern”.

 

Please  share your stories of games gone right and session gone horribly, horribly wrong in the comments below and thanks for reading this.

 

Steve P.

Why Make Games?

Everyone who has made or is in the process of making games has probably asked themselves this very question. Different creators will have their own reasons for designing games. Some want to see if they can make something others will enjoy, while some may do it for the recognition. The most driving reason, however, is the desire to play. Without this desire, there would be no need to make games in the first place.

Games and the human brain

Wide selection of board games

The desire to play is not unique to humans. Many animals also exhibit this quality, especially among the young. Play promotes companionship and teaches many important life techniques, whether they be hunting and defense skills for the animals or math, critical thinking, and sportsmanship for people. Unlike other animals, however, most people tend to get bored playing the same games day after day, stemming from our longing for the newest and greatest. This longing has led to the evolution of games from the dice and cards of early history to the multitudes of games today.

What games stimulate you?

Not all games appeal to all types of people, so in an effort to make them more appealing, rules are changed, added, or removed. Sometimes the pieces themselves are changed, such as from dice to cards, cards to boards, and boards to electronics. Each has its own style of game-play favoring a combination of chance, skill, and strategy, appealing to different audiences. Games with high chance factors appeal to those who like to gamble and enjoy uncertainty. Games of skill appeal to those who enjoy the physical aspect, often as a test of strength or dexterity. Games of strategy appeal more to those who like to be in control of their actions and outwit their opponents. Few games will focus solely on one aspect over the others as this can lead to the outcome of a game being known early during play or even at the outset, removing the fun for most. At the heart of it, games are made so we can have something new to play.

-James McLean

Playing Cards: The 2nd Game mechanic

Chinese Playing cardsBelieved to first being invented by the Chinese, then traveling to the Middle East via India, playing cards may be the second oldest gaming tool in the world after dice. Despite the centuries and the adaptations and changes made to the playing deck by many cultures two things have remained fairly constant, they are Suits and Face Cards.

The Faces of Playing Cards

In early decks the face cards were all male with the Knight, the Prince and the King. It was the French who shuffled things up by added the Queen card to the mix, demoting the Prince and putting the Knight out of business. There are many stories a to whom the face cards represent and it’s hard to know which ones are true, chances are the face card represent personas unique to each culture and there is no one true origin storey to the identities of the Jack, Queen and King of each suit.

Each culture throughout history has modified the deck to suit its own needs, the biggest change to the european deck was after the French Revolution. Back when the aristocracy ruled, the highest valued card in the deck was the King; however, that didn’t sit well in a post-revolutionary France where “liberty, equality and fraternity” were the new slogan, So they took the “1” card, already called the Ace, and made it the trump card of the deck. The idea actually went back to the original Chinese deck, that had both a one card and a trump called the “Dragon” card.

The popularity and widespread acceptance of the playing card deck was largely due to its portability and wide variety of games of skill and chance that could be played with it. The first historic record of playing cards in in western Europe is in the 14th century, when the king of Spain outlawed them. Chances are they had entered a Spanish port via a Mediterranean merchant and caught on significantly enough to gain royal notice. Clearly his ban did not stifle the popularity of playing cards, and probably, as in most cases where something is banned, just fueled the desire to have them.

So what about the Tarot Deck?

The interesting variant is the Tarot deck. I’ve seen some articles that claim that the playing cards are descended from these tools of divination, and while I admit that my research is far from extensive, I believe that Tarot cards came either after Playing cards hit Europe or the Arab countries or may have been developed on a parallel track.From the standpoint of a travelling fortune teller, cards could be more easily hidden from the representatives of the church who would likely not look kindly on a person partaking in such activity.They would also be less obvious than reading the bones of dead animals or searching through their innards for portance of the future.

Regardless Playing cards introduced more of an aspect of skill into games of chance than dice allowed for. Calculating odds, misleading strategies and bluffing added more challenge to the games and an almost limitless variations to established games.