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April 2014 Miscellany

Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

A "new" Britannia-like game:
Wallace Nicoll has prepared a PDF edition of Roger Heyworth's game Conquest Europa.  Roger was the uncredited editor of Britannia for its original publication by H. P. Gibsons in Britain in 1986.  He passed away in 2000, unfortunately.  Wallace was involved in the testing.

The game covers all of Europe and North Africa, from the fall of the Roman Empire to Tamerlane and beyond.  With some 500 pieces, 35 nations, and 106 areas, it lasts 10-12 hours with experienced players.

When I began to think about doing a new edition of Britannia, around 2004, a 1980 all-of-Europe game I had done while developing Britannia.  Though not as big as Conquest Europa, it took 12 hours to play the first time, so I set it aside and then completely forgot about it.

One of the first new games I started when I came back into the hobby was an all-Europe game, which was playtested at WBC in 2008.  It turned out to be a natural five player rather than four player game.  Someday it may see print, perhaps in Against-the-Odds magazine or annual.  In the meantime I've devised another all-Europe game that lasts about two hours, and has been played in 1:40.

These games both end with the Mongol invasion, after starting with the fall of the West Roman Empire.

Before playtesting (of "D&D Next") started I wrote:  I don't see how WotC can accommodate  fans of 1e/2e and 3e and 4e, because gameplay depth was important to many 1e players, self-expression and one-man-armies was important for 3e (fantasy Squad Leader), 4e is all tactical battles, and variety has become the main interest in 3e and 4e.

And now that the public playtesting is done, I'll repeat what I said above.  I didn't even see an effort to accommodate such different play styles.  The game seemed to be an attempt to upgrade 3e with some 1e/2e, and very little 4e.

Am I the only person who is really distrustful of these pre-"reviews" I see on Kickstarter games?  This is such an obvious marketing tactic, and the reviews I've seen are so fulsomely (overflowingly?) positive, all of my skepticism receptors light up.

Convergence:  The broadest difference between traditional video games and tabletop games is that the former are used to pass the time (or kill time) while the latter are used to spend time with friends - socializing if you will.

"New" video games such co-ops, some Wii games, and some MMOs are going toward the "spend time with friends" side.

Why I fundamentally "never get" most Euro-style games (and I'm using the traditional definition, not the "heavy strategy non-wargame" definition now in vogue)

1) I prefer games of conflict and maneuver.  Euro games are usually designed to reduce and deemphasize conflict, and rarely use maneuver and geospatial location.

2) I try to design a game that someone can enjoy playing many, many times (there are folks who have played Britannia more than five hundred times).  Most Euros are designed to attract for a few plays only, after which the players will move on to something else ("the cult of the new")

3) I like games.  Euros tend to be interactive solvable puzzles.

I like people-watching in board and card games more than I like playing (in part because I gave up playing games against other people when I was 25).  If a game is good for people-watching, it probably has lots of interaction; Dominion, for example, is nothing for people-watching, there's nothing to see/hear really.

I was looking for a word to compare games where software is needed, to those where it isn't.  The former tend to be sports, latter heavily involve the mind.  Someone (my wife?) came up with software versus "brainware".

Some games require software.  Others (e.g. most tabletop) don't use software, just "brainware".

Some recent tweets

My talk "On the horns of a dilemma" at East Coast Game Conference (Raleigh NC): 3:15pm–4:15pm Thursday April 24, 302C

Two Kickstarter game groups: one susceptible to/attracted by "smoke and mirrors", the other doing pre-order "P500" via another medium?

Links to free versions of books that inspired Gary Gygax (Appendix N of D&D):

My video What are you trying to do when you design a level or adventure?:

Why do people pay $4 for a coffee, not for a mobile game? Maybe because no cost to making more of the game, there is to making more coffee

If I were a professional story-maker I'd never call myself "narrative consultant."  Narratives - accounts of what happens - are often not good stories, not interesting unless you're the person it happened to.

If you're interested in RPG news, reviews, analysis, look at this near-daily column:

Commodity Game Design - Avoiding Clones.

My videa about PrezCon2014:

My video from "Learning Game Design" course: What is the player going to do?:

Gamasutra blog by Zachary Strebeck, Three contracts every game developer needs:

I have two new courses at
How to design levels/adventures for video and tabletop games ($19)
How to write clear rules ($15)

These are priced as though they were books, despite being audiovisual courses.  There are no discounts.  The same courses, when on Udemy, cost about 50% more.


Re: kickstarter (p)reviews

...and (designer) board game reviews in general.

1. Reviews are just too freakin positive! Last night I watched Tom Vasel's review of some pirate game that's ranked over 5500. The way he was talking, you'd think that he would - at the very least - be playing it every so often.
But there's no way TV plays the pirate game. It's not on any of his lists; he never mentions it... (and it doesn't strike me as all that fun. Not that my first impressions are always right)

So our reviewers are getting watered-down. Nobody wants to hear something negative about a game, until/unless said game gets to such a point that is it overhyped... THEN, everyone jumps on the hate train.

2. Kickstarter (p)reviews are the norm, with many campaigns having some mixture of written and video reviews. It's tough to think that hundreds of bucks are being spent on many strategy game reviews, while miniatures games don't even have to know what the rules are before finishing the campaign!

But I digress. People want to know if they'll like the game, and they want someone that they trust to tell them.

So where does that leave us? We (those involved in the upcoming campaign for "Ophir") are having reviews done. We have reached out to many of the "usual suspects". We have targeted reviewers who are really into games like ours, and can you blame us?
In asking 500+ backers to put their faith in us, I think it's reasonable to give them a serious sign of good faith (or two).

Other signs of faith: involvement in the designer community, PnP availability, rulebook.pdf on the KS page, etc.


There's no substitute for

There's no substitute for having the rules available to read. In the long run they'll be out there anyway, you may as well use them to help drum up interest. Of course, most game players do not read the rules . . .

So another important feature would be a video showing people playing the game. A longish video, so that the viewer gets the idea of what's going on. Even if (I think) they're playing a prototype, not a production-quality copy.

You'd think prior track record of successful publishing would be important, but so many KS by people no one ever heard of succeed that I'm not sure the typical supporter pays much attention to track record.

As I don't trust a pre-review as far as I can throw a telephone poll, then why not have the designer (or someone else) go through much of what you'd see in a video review, without reviewing. That is, TV shows what the game looks like and how it plays, but gives an evaluation. To muster KS support, why not do the same but without the evaluation. It may be more honest (depends).

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blog | by Dr. Radut