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BG Design - Simple Advice for Writing Game Rules

The thoughts of an unpublished layman/hobbyist game designer

Sitting down to write out the rules of a game is one of the most daunting tasks a games designer will ever face. The thought process, methods, and interests of a designer, a writer, and a player are all very different. As designers we need to first understand the design of the game, become a great writer to express it, and think through as what information a player will need to understand and successfully play the game. As designers shifting into the role of a player is not all that hard, but becoming a writer is somewhat more challenging.

BG Design - Simple Advice?

Advice for the next generation of designers

When I first became interested in board game design back in the late 80’s there was not much of an internet to search. My local library did not have any books on board game design and few people around me thought much about such things. This is not the case today, now a google search for board game design returns “About 40,000,000 results in (0.56 seconds)”.

BG Mechanics - #5 The Turncoat!

The Turncoat (Traitor Mechanic)

Let me start out with a rant about how this is not a mechanic… no that won't do, as I want you to actually listen to what I have to say on this point.... Humm, what if I said that I am a traitor to all game designers by thinking this is not a mechanic… no, that won’t do either… THIS IS NOT A BOARD GAME MECHANIC!!! (I am joking)

The traitor “mechanic” is actually just a simple a variant of the variable player powers or player roles mechanic(s) designed to create an asymmetric player role whose purpose is to instigate conflict and add intrigue to the game. There I said it...

BG Mechanics - #4 Action Points

Action Point Allowance Systems

For many years games would only let players take the same action over and over each turn, in chess that action is to move one piece. Then games started letting players pick from a short list of actions but they still could only do one of those actions each turn. While things keep changing, many games still use the pick one from a list of actions mechanic, and for those games, it can (and often does) work well. Over the years designers have begun to introduce the idea that players could take several actions in the same turn, this has given players the ability to do more combinations and feel that they have more control over what was going on in the game.

Deciding how many actions the players get each turn and how other players should be able to react to this string of actions has also evolved over time. Some games let players do one action for each of their game pieces on the board, while others limit the player's total actions per turn to a set amount. Many worker placement games have players taking turns up to the limit of workers (actions) they have left each round. All of these are the foundation pieces for what has now become known as the Action Point Allowance System or just the Action Point (AP) mechanic for short.

BG Mechanics - #3 Set Collection

Set Collection

This workhorse of a mechanic has historically filled many roles in games. This has been everything from the core mechanic of a game all the way down to a small sub-mechanic that you might not have realized was even set collection. Games like Gin Rummy, and Go Fish, are examples of games where the core mechanic is set collection. Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, and 7 Wonders are all games that have a heavy use of set collection, but they also have other mechanics that play a large role in shaping the gameplay. Then there are games like Forbidden Desert that have many other mechanics all working toward the singular goal of making a set. Did I lose anyone?

Understand, Forbidden Desert is not a set collection game (in the traditional sense), but it does have one set to collect. The players need to find all of the parts to fix their ship… collecting this one set of components is the goal of the game. As a workhorse mechanic, no matter what role set collection has in building gameplay, it is capable of filling that role. This means deciding how much of a role set collection will have in your game is the first step.

BG Mechanics - #1a Dice Actions

Dice Actions

Players can take many types of actions in a game, this article will deal with just some of the actions related to dice. Dice rolling is normally considered a random mechanic in games, and rightly so. However, giving players actions related to the already rolled dice and not just giving them the task of rolling them to decide the outcome, opens up another world of possibilities in game design. This deals with choice, as the fundamental difference between a task a player must do and an action they have selected.

For thousands of years and across many types of games, players have been told by the game rules to roll dice. This has traditionally only been used to find the outcome of an action that is happening in the game. The player might be able to choose the action but then are told to perform the task of rolling dice to determine the outcome of that action. What if the designer just changed the order of these things? We could make many other combinations of actions, tasks, and outcomes relating to dice. (discussed further down, under the title, “dice and the outcome”.)

Note: This is a follow-up article to one that I wrote called Dice Rolling

BG Design Concepts - #6 Resources

Resources

Having “something” for players to “collect” or “gain” or “make” and then “consume” or “use” or “spend” adds “interest” to a game and can “enhance” a game’s theme. It can also quickly drive up the amount of complexity in the game. As designers, we need to understand when to add resources to a game and how to make them fit within a game’s "flow" and theme. From the most simple “infinite bank” to the most complicated “economic simulations”, knowing “how many” and “what kinds” of resources you need for the game you are working on, can be a challenging issue.

Fitting the resources into the theme has more to do with “what” the resources are “named” and “what” they are used for. When it comes to fitting them into the “flow” of a game, we are talking more about “how” the resources are produced and used turn-to-turn and “how” those things might change throughout the game. As long as things make sense to the players you should be fine. Just remember, wood should not become spaceships... (unless you are Russian)

BG Design Concepts #5 - Building Paths to Victory

Building multiple balanced tactical pathways to victory

This is a mouth full, a challenge all board game designers face, and a goal to aspire to! Game design is a complex process. The type of game you are trying to make might have just one easy goal or "path to victory" and there is nothing wrong with that type of game. However, some game designers are trying to build "grand strategy" games. These are not "better" only different from other games. The main difference between these games (from one point of view) is, there target audience! Players looking for a challenge in tactical strategy building.

In this case, we are dealing more with the type of game that suffers from constant headaches from working on balancing all the many mechanics or trying desperately to figure out how to use some mathematical formula for calculating the probability of some combination of dice. These game are sometimes "component or mechanic heavy games" that have longer rulebooks and longer play times.

BG Design Concepts - #4 Tactical Vs. Strategic

Tactical Vs. Strategic

In games, players need to make decisions about “what to do next” when it is their turn to take actions. These decisions or choices are based on what they know about the current state of the game on this turn and knowledge they might have about how the game needs to be played in order to win (along with many other factors). This is most often called a player’s “skill level” at the game. Among “gamers”, players that have a high general level of skill across many types of difficult games are called “Tactical or Strategic” thinkers. These two terms are commonly used interchangeably but actually have very different meanings when we use them for game design.

As designers, we need to understand the differences between these two ideas so that we can build games that are both tactical and strategic. This will also help us to build games that limit, restrict or simplify the tactical or strategic elements of the game if desired.

BG Design Concepts #3 - The Role of Randomness

The Role of Randomness

In game design, a “random element” or “random mechanic” is not always desirable. Randomness in some circles is even looked down upon as a “cheap” mechanic that degrades the strategic or tactical elements of a game. The phrase “luck based” has been used to label the random element of games to showcase that the skill of the player cannot be fully expressed in that type of game. On the flip side, many games hinge solely on a central random mechanic and in some circles “luck based” or random games are considered more fun or more inclusive of all players regardless of skill level.

So what is the role of randomness in games? Don’t be shocked now… but the role is to provide a random element to the game. *gasp... looks right then left*... did I lose anyone?

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by Dr. Radut