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Design Intent

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Joe_Huber
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Joined: 12/31/1969

The recent discussion about the seriousness with which games are played brings up the issue of design intent. Ray Mulford and I once played a prototype of Al Newman's, and got into a long debate afterwards - I thought the game was intened to be a light family game, and made my comments in that context, while Ray thought it was a more spielfreaky game, and suggested tuning in that direction.

Of course, in that case we could _ask_ Al what his intent was. But this isn't normally possible, and there are a lot of games that don't work well when not played as intended. (In fact, I believe that many bad ratings are the result of games not being played as intended.)

So...

1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?

3) Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)

Joe

sedjtroll
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Re: Design Intent

Joe_Huber wrote:
Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)

8/7 Central was originally intended to be a more deep, one-on-one game, similar to Magic I guess- with TV shows as sort of creatures doing battle in certain arenas (days/time slots).

I think it fits the theme better to be somewhat lighter than say your average German Strategy game, and as it turned out via testing, the mechanics that I liked for it (which to me really give the game the right feel) just work better in a 3 player game. 8/7c can be played 2-player, and it tends to be more cutthroat, and I think it ends up being less fun that way. [EDIT: That is to say less fun from a scoring standpoint, not from a 2-player vs 3-player standpoint]

- Seth

IngredientX
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Re: Design Intent

This is a great subject. My thoughts...

Quote:
1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

First, the theme is usually a hint. If Game A is about players establishing trading relations in colonial Central America, and Game B is about using mad cows from England to blow up unexploded land mines in France... my guess is that Game A will be the deeper, heavier game.

There are oodles of exceptions, but most of the time, it works.

Second, if a game seems to have a lot of obvious "luck" mechanics (plenty of die rolling, card flipping, etc.), or borrows mechanics from more established games, we can infer that it's a lighter game. If the mechanics are more unusual and original, or if they're more sophisticated and interactive (auctions, stock purchases), we can assume that the game is heavier.

Finally, if the rulebook is heavier than most high school textbooks... well, there's a dead giveaway right there.

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2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?

My (relatively uninformed) opinion? I think a designer should hone his/her design to be as specific as possible. There are less variables that way, so the players are given a more consistent experience.

Quote:
3) Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)

First let me come up with a game that works well. :)

Torrent
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Re: Design Intent

Joe_Huber wrote:

1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

Along with IngrediantX's comment about Theme, I will add Artwork. Take Scream Machine for example. Had the ride pictures been of schematics, blueprint-y, or photographic renderings; and the people just different the game would have certainly a different feel and maybe not come across as it should (a light-ish game with depth, right?)
Humorous art almost always adds to a feeling of light-ness.

Quote:

2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?
I think most hobby dsigners make games that they would enjoy to play. This is to say that if someone really hates a certain type of gameplay or mechanic, they will almost certainly not use it in one of their designs. This goes for gameplay too. I really enjoy the light-er games, so that is more what I design. The point of all of this is that usually when we design and test things we have a certain mindset, this colors the tests. So I think it is somewhat important to make sure the players atleast understand the intent of it for the maximum chance of fun. NOt to mention on box packaging, if it is described well the 'right' people will be attracted to it.

Quote:

3) Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)
I as well don't have any finished games to point at, but I have some designs that started in one intent and have evolved into another intent. I do admire games that can be played in multiple intents.

Andy

Anonymous
Re: Design Intent

Joe_Huber wrote:

1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

I think everyone's hit this one on the head... if it's a "silly" theme, the game should be light... but as always, there are exceptions.

I try to write the "story" or "intro" with a feel for what the game play should be like. Also, if you write the rules for a "rules lawyer" in mind (ie numbered sectioning and lots of references... like a M:tG rulebook) then the game will be played with some ammount of strategy now matter how sillly the theme is.

Quote:

2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?

It's hard to say really. I think a designer should play a game that he/she enjoys playing... if there is enough playtesting and blindtesting done, I think any of these "problems" will be resolved before publication...

Quote:

3) Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)

Read my little post about my "race" game in the "How do you make an abstract game?" thread... I intended my game to be a simple little race.... turns out, it's balls-to-the-wall strategy all the way.

Tyler

Joe_Huber
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: Design Intent

I should probably answer my own questions...

Quote:
1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

I'd certainly agree that theme is a fine way to convey this information - but given that theme is often not in the control of the designer (unless self-publishing), I think play examples might be another option.

Quote:
2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?

I don't think I phrased the question carefully enough - as I see it, there are a lot of games where players _have_ to play a certain way or the game just won't work (or won't work well). I believe that the rules should clearly emphasize the play style the designer intends. Easiest example - if you are designing a war-like game, and want players to be ruthlessly attacking each other, the rules should provide an advantage for attacking. If you want players to take chances of any type - reward it. Or if there's something you _don't_ want the players to do, penalize it.

Quote:
3) Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)

Yes - best example bring a game that started as an hour-long auction game and ended as a 15 minute drafting game (vaguely reminiscent of King's Breakfast, but nowhere near as good).

Joe

FastLearner
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Design Intent

Joe_Huber wrote:
1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

I think this is accomplished several ways, none of which applies to all games but of which several in combination tend to do a reasonable job of communicating the intent. In a sense, I think, it's mostly communicated by the publishers:
  • Time: Games that list shorter playing times are assumed by most to be lighter, while games that are longer (over an hour, say) are assumed to be heavier. This doesn't always turn out to be true, certainly, but it's not uncommon for games that don't fit that stricture to be panned for being too heavy or too light for "what they are".

  • Age: Games that say "Age 8+" would generally be considered light, while something that said "Age 12+" or even more would indicate a heavier game.
  • Graphics: With non-abstract games the intent is often communicated through the graphics. Cartoonish-illustrations and bright colors often indicate a lighter game, while realistic illustration and more reserved colors usually indicate a more serious -- and therefore heavier -- game.
  • Theme: As has been mentioned, theme communicates a lot. There are plenty of counter-examples, certainly, but as one more indicator I think that the lightness or heaviness of the theme tells you a lot about the intent of the game.
  • Rules Length: I think players assume that the longer the rules, the heavier the game. There are of course plenty of games where the rules are short but the play is deep, and plenty of games where the rules are incredibly long but it turns out that the play is quite light, but again, I think publishers will try to match the length of explanation with the difficulty of the game.

    Quote:
    2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?

    This is an excellent question that's come up here before. One of the biggest discussions of it was about Mystery of the Abbey. If it's played as a pure, focused deduction game then, frankly, it falls apart. If played as a fun, slightly goofy couple of hours of light entertainment then it can be quite fun for the right groups. The difficulty for me is that you have to play it "right" for it to be the game the designer intended.

    Is that what Bruno intended, that it be light and fun? In this case I know that it is what he wanted because I've heard from him.

    Finstere Flure is another interesting example. If you play it slowly then it's really a game of interactive Black Box. To me that's not much of a fun game, so in our group we have an informal understanding that the game is to be played very quickly, and none of us operate at Huber-speed. It's fun, though, to pretend like we're running in panic from the monster, in our "panic" making the occasional mistake. It's a hoot that way, and I don't think I'd like it slow.

    Is that what Friedmann intended? I have no idea. The theme suggests to me that it is, but I really don't know. I do know, though, that we're enjoying it this way and will keep playing it this way.

    I think blind playtests are a great way to figure out if you game will be played the way you intended, and if not, whether the game will work just as well when played another way. If it doesn't work when played differently than you intended, then yeah, I think it's your job as the designer to fix the game so that -- to the best of your ability -- ensure that the potential players will be able to play it "right" and have fun.

    Quote:
    3) Have you ever had a game that worked well - but not in the way you intended? (For example, a game you'd designed to be a light romp that worked best played very strategically.)

    Aye, both ways. I had a "find the terrorist" game (that's since warped into a spy game) that I thought would be reasonably heavy but turned out to be quite light -- still pretty fun, but far from my intent. I have a political game that I thought would be light-to-middle weight, but that is instead a brain burner. :)

    -- Matthew

  • Anonymous
    Re: Design Intent

    Joe_Huber wrote:

    1) How do you effectively pass along to the players design intent in the rules?

    From a publisher's POV, you don't. If you have the intent of the game in the rules and not on the box/packaging then players will buy a game they may not be interested in. This may seem logical, but I've ready many boxes and thought the game would be one way and the rules are laid out in a different way.

    From a designer's POV, I think you make a conscious decision when you start writing the rules as to the intent of the game. Sometimes though, you may be surprized. I think that's why its good to not let the players know about the intent of the game during the design/playtesting stages. Let them decide what is the best way to play the game. Then, take this knowledge to heart when you start trying to market your game.

    Quote:

    2) Should a designer aim to design a game that works any way - or try to make sure the players play it the way intended?

    See my earlier point above. Sometimes, if you try to force a game one direction or the other, you may not get what you intended.

    Just my two pence.
    - Geoff

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