Archive for October, 2014

Eliciting Fear – Playing for Keeps

With Halloween at the end of this week, it seemed appropriate to visit the topic of fear in games. If TV and movies are to be believed, fear is one of humanity’s most powerful emotions. But boardgames have a hard time creating that experience. That leaves a large segment of emotional response that boardgames aren’t taking advantage of. I’d like to see what designers can do to change this. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review: Viva Java: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game: The Review

T. C. Petty III is a designer I really admire. I really enjoy VivaJava: The Coffee Game. It was one of the first games I added to my collection. It was also the first game I played from Dice Hate Me Games. But after owning it for 3 years, I haven’t been able to play it as much as I want, because it really wants to be played with a larger group. Then, about a week and a half ago, I got VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game. I played it every day last week (and thrice on Friday), and I love it.


There’s no crying over spilled dice

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Making an Exception

I was reading some rules clarifications for Puerto Rico, and I noticed that there were a lot of special notes and exceptions related to combining the abilities of special buildings. It struck me that exceptions were something to avoid when writing rules. Read the rest of this entry »

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Gaming Glossary: Meta

The term “meta” has gotten a bad rap. It has been a buzz-word in pop culture, associated with made-up spiritualism, and used in meaningless corporate jargon. But there is an important technical meaning: something applied to itself.

One frequent use of it is “meta-gaming”. This is commonly applied to games in which players have interaction that is not explicitly in the world of the game. Take poker: the cards have fixed values that will tell you which hands beat other hands. But poker isn’t just about getting the best cards, it is about the way players act with each other. Bluffing and secret identity games are commonly identified as having “meta-game” elements, where players are trying to game the system to their advantage. The phrase “game the system” is not used lightly; players are literally making a game out of playing the core game elements. So meta-gaming is gaming the game, because the subject of a meta-game is the game itself. (Note: this is different from the game within a game (like Inception (the movie)), in which each level is only contained within the outer one.)

So what other meta-approaches are there? Well, rules are an important element of a board game. Sometimes (in Fluxx for example) the rules are flexible, and there are more rules that tell you how rules can be changed. Those are meta-rules. Rules about rules. If you had rules about how the meta-rules can be applied (Use only certain rule-changing cards in certain games for example), they are meta-meta-rules.

Of course there are meta-concepts, too. The science of “Epistemology” deals with how concepts are formed. So epistemological concepts are meta-concepts. (And that previous sentence was a meta-meta-concept) Of course at this level, levels can start to overlap, and you can get self reference.

It’s also important to remember that “meta-” doesn’t just mean anything that’s not explicitly in the rules. For instance, long term strategy of a game is rarely in the rules, but that doesn’t make it a meta-game concept. The strategy is just part of the game. It becomes “meta” when you have a strategy about how your strategies should change from game to game. This is basically the concept of a “shark”. You lull someone into a false sense of security by intentionally playing badly, then play at your full skill level once the stakes have been raised.

This is not a comprehensive look into meta-games, or designing games using meta-game elements. It’s just an explanation of what “meta” actually means, for future discussion.


Why We Can’t Have a Great Oregon Trail Boardgame

For a lot of people my age, the video game Oregon Trail is a piece of nostalgia. It brings back memories of sitting around a computer screen, bathed in its monochrome green light (or maybe a few more colors if you were lucky), watching your family members die off one by one as they attempt to cross the thousands of miles of American wilderness with a covered wagon and some oxen. It was a magical experience. Nowadays, there are a lot of video games and board games that draw on some of the same thematic elements of pioneering in the American west. There have been attempts made at recreating the experience of Oregon Trail, but few have been very successful. Clearly, the interest in the theme is there, but nobody seems to be able to capture the feeling just right. I think the reason is that the people had no idea how to play. Read the rest of this entry »



Choosing a Game Idea

This is sort of a followup to my post last week about how to decide what to work on. Grant Rodiek’s just wrote about researching a theme, and it starts off by telling you to pick a good one (which, in turn points back to his earlier post about what makes a good theme). I wrote last week about the importance of working on something that inspires you. But there’s more to the process than choosing the ideas you want to work on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Deciding What to Work On

With New Bedford development approaching completion and getting ready for launch on Kickstarter November 2nd, it’s time for me to seriously look forward at what I want to work on next. And I really don’t know what to do.

Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t have anything to work on. I have plenty of ideas. I’ve got one file full of themes I’d like to work on, and another full of mechanic concepts. I have several games partially prototyped, and more with rule books that are half-complete. So my problem isn’t that I don’t have anything to work on. And at the same time, I don’t feel like I have too much to work on, either. These ideas aren’t struggling for attention or inspiration. My problem is that I don’t know how to choose the game I want to make. Read the rest of this entry »

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