Geeking About Gaming: Loz on Board Games

What do I like about board games? Well that’s a difficult question. I’ve been a gamer for over two decades, but my primary interest is roleplaying games, and then tabletop war games, with board games falling somewhere down the list. My first introduction to this form of geekery was when I was 12 and my brother introduced me to the original Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader (not the more modern RPG of the same name).

So what attracts me to these things? I guess the answer is creativity. I like the creating stories in RPGs, and I like the lore and background of wargames, plus the emergent story of how a battle plays out – I often theorise about how unusual things happen, like the Space Marine with a missile launcher defeating a Striking Scorpion in close combat by shoving a Krak missile somewhere unfortunate! I like the tactics of wargames too, and enjoy that in RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons – In all honesty I’m not very good at it, but I do enjoy it.

So what pushes board games down the list for me? Part of it is simply a lack of experience, it’s not something I grew up with in the same way so there is less emotional attachment. Another issue is rules – I don’t much like learning them. With an RPG or a war game I’ll likely have to learn the rules once and then use them many times, but with a board game that is less likely to be the case as they are usually more limited in scope and so have less replayability. Oddly this isn’t helped by the fact I am actually quite good at analysing rules, which means if there is a particularly good strategy I can often see it even if I can’t actually master it in practice.

So what do I like? I like storytelling games, and I like games that are rules light (or at least quick to learn) but have some depth. I also prefer competitive games to co-op games because playing against other people provides a different challenge than playing against a simple AI (Artificial intelligence in computer games is another matter – it can be significantly more complex and less predictable).

I do like creating games – it scratches a similar creativity itch to writing, but with a more mechanical bent. I try to design games I think I would enjoy so previously it has mostly been RPGs but recently, at the prompting of Ste and Amy, I’ve been thinking about board games. I have ideas, oh so many ideas, but I don’t know how many will actually end up working out. I guess only time, and experimentation, will tell.

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Geeking about Gaming: Ali on Board Games

This month, we’re looking at board games. Loz and I play less than the other half of the team, so a few weeks back we went to a seminar on board game design. The fundamental question they told us to ask is “What makes this fun?” Who is it fun for, and what elements add to that kind of fun? Then one can work out how to make that kind of fun – be that problem solving, storytelling, surreality or whatever.

Not everyone enjoys the same things, so we’ve been thinking about what kind of games we like, as sample gamers, and this will hopefully help us make better games. May be not as technically brilliant, but more fun.

Me, I hate playing anything where the winner is pretty much “whoever owns the game”. I loathe the idea that a new player (especially if it’s me) can make a fundamental error through ignorance and just not stand a chance. I accept that there’s skill to most games, and that strategies develop with time. But it would be nice to think I’m not just fodder for a foregone conclusion. Conversely, I also dislike games where the outcome is totally random. Snakes and Ladders will not be featuring on my top ten anytime soon.

Best example of this ‘newb = loser’ problem is the Serenity boardgame. There is a best winning strategy here, and it basically goes *SPOILERS* get River Tam as fast as possible. I remember one evening playing through the game three times (someone had got it for a birthday and wanted to thoroughly road test it), and by the third one, we had resorted to making up our own stories about the cargo we were carrying, and pretty much ignoring the progress of the board part of the game.

One metric to consider is the “Christmas Day Test” Assuming you got this game for Christmas, how soon after that could you play it? Most boardgames, it should be a couple of hours or less. Wargames take a little longer if you have to paint models. RPGs, you need a group of mates, so that could be variable, but how long does chr gen take once you sit down with the book?

When Ste asked what my favorite mechanic is, I went with “incremental increases, slow build up of power”. I play a lot of RTS on computers, and my standard strategy for those is to fort up. Lots of towers, troops parked at chokepoints, and climb the tech tree. So I kind of like boardgames that have this element. Ticket to Ride, Stone Age and Privateer have all been played multiple times, and still have replayability.. I once played Lords of Waterdeep – and barring that it took ages to set up, that was great fun too.

Oh and in a complete opposite, quick little social games. I boardgame largely because my mates do, and so something a bit silly fits this nicely.. Braggart, In a Pickle and Ninja Burger fall into this category. Oh, and as a side effect of the mates I have, we tend towards words rather than numbers. That may seem odd for a bunch which contains multiple dyslexics – but words have more clues to meaning than numbers.

I guess I’m not a good fit for a boardgame market sample because one of the answers to “what games do you like” is ‘new ones’. That’s why I love the idea of boardgames libraries. Play something different every time!

That’s nice lead-in to giving a shout to our friend over at Dungeons and Flagons, who are doing a day event for Free RPG day on the 16th of June. Hmm, I’d better write something for that!

By the by, anyone who does Empire LRP, I’ll see you in a field this weekend. Hope for some good weather for us.

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Geeking about Gaming: UK Games Expo, Grokking, Modding and Creating

UK Games Expo was a draining weekend for me, followed by an unfortunate cold, so I’m a bit late in getting this up for you – but hopefully it’ll be interesting.

This month we’re concentrating on looking at various experiences and inspiration we each have with tabletop gaming – and I’m going to be talking largely about the most recent experiences at UKGE itself.

We met a lot of new people, but I’m not really going to talk about that today because social interactions are complicated and not really something I excel at – even if Board Games do make that much easier for me.

Instead I’m going to talk about the elements of Boardgames that speak to me more than the rest of our team:

Grokking Games

Loz likes learning new games – and may well talk about that on his week of this subject – but he tends to only go one-step deep with most games. He’ll play them until he fully understands the rules, and then move on. That early stage appeals to me, but I tend to be more of a deep-diver: once I understand a games rules I need to learn its metarules. 1)For an example, a simple metarule of Sudoku is that if you have two numbers that each have only the same two spots in a row/column/box they can be in, then every other number is impossible for that pair of boxes, even though they haven’t been filled. I then need to prove my understanding of the game by beating other players – but the winning isn’t the goal, that’s easy if I can choose my opponents, it’s the understanding that matters to me.

At something like UKGE I don’t have the opportunity to grok games without buying them. So, of course, I buy some of them. This time around I bought a discounted dice-crafting game called The Masters’ Trial and a simple munchkin-esque game called Champion of Earth. Both seem flawed, to some extent, but they also each have a level of fun.

The Masters’ Trial is quite a deep game, so I don’t know it after a few hours of play, but it lacks somewhat in the theming arena, and in the way the boxes contents are arranged when first unpacked – a lot of effort got put into some things, while others just missed the mark. Specifically – the cards are organised by card name, but have to immediately be reorganised by which deck they go in 2)yes, cards of the same name go in different decks. It makes sense in context and despite the fact that each monster is tied to one of the four elements they are all lava beasts…

Champion of Earth is a bit too easy to grok for me, so it’s not likely to get much play during my “serious gaming” time – but it’s a less cruel, and more pop-culture, version of Munchkin so it’ll probably see some play with my many friends who aren’t as deep into gaming. It also seems to lack the one player mode mentioned on the box – we’ll be asking the designers about that, given as we were chatting with them at the Con.

Modding Games

Talking about player numbers, we encountered Game of Thrones Catan at the con, but were unable to properly try it as it needs a minimum of three players (like all Catan games) – which inspired us to start discussing rules changes that would make it work for just me and Amy.

Modifying games is one of my favourite long-term hobbies. It started with computer games, but my programming skills are sub-par so I could never actually implement things like the four extra balanced teams I designed for Starcraft, so I eventually moved onto things like custom M:TG cards and houseruling board games, where I could actually implement my thoughts.

Making Games

Modify something enough and you make something new. For instance we did some more playtesting of Clash of Blades – our Swordfighting Card Game – at UKGE; it’s a game that started off as a concept of “How would magic look with a completely different resource system” and now looks basically nothing like M:TG.

Making something more purely innovative is where our story-telling memory game Adventurer’s Backpack comes in. We created it whole cloth, because we understand enough other games (including storytelling and roleplaying ones) that we were only taking a single thread from each – making the game as a whole new from its very beginning.

Of course no matter how you get to making the game, you then have to go right back round to the top – grok it, then mod it, rinse and repeat – because it’s never going to start out perfect.

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References   [ + ]

1. For an example, a simple metarule of Sudoku is that if you have two numbers that each have only the same two spots in a row/column/box they can be in, then every other number is impossible for that pair of boxes, even though they haven’t been filled.
2. yes, cards of the same name go in different decks. It makes sense in context