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How do you make an Abstract Game?

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sedjtroll
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I have thought a couple of times on the subject of designing an Abstract Game... The likes of Chess or any of the Solitaire card games that abound. As it turns out, I can think of very little. I am usually pretty good at pulling game mechanics out of thin air which match or exemplify various themes or actions, but for some reason, without the theme to work from I seem to be unable to come up with much of anything.

The only time I can seem to even think about an Abstract game is when I look at the Piecepack contests... Even then I tend to draw blanks more often then come up with anything worth persuing.

So how is it done? How do you go about designing a game without a theme?

- Seth

Anonymous
How do you make an Abstract Game?

My most requested abstract started as a mechanic idea. I didn't really know what sort of theme to "tack on" so I made a small test sample to play around with the mechanic...
... as it turns out, everyone liked it just as it was.

Haven't done a whole lot too the game since, and my friends ask for it often.

Tyler

sedjtroll
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

Random_Person wrote:
My most requested abstract started as a mechanic idea.

Cool. What game is it? How does it work?

Dralius
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

With abstract games different things than theme shape them.

When i created Cannon i was attempting to devise a movement and capture mechanic dependent on formation rather than piece type, this is something under explored in abstracts games.

For OP-Position, my entry to the Shared Pieces Game Design Competition it was simply the rules of the competition that guided my design and the desire to create something that had never been done before.

If you play tile games your going to have tile game ideas, same goes for abstracts. That's why there are so many chess variants. Try spending some time playing some of the classics like chess, fanorana, reversi, Go, or Tafl. If you want to get in over your head try this site

http://www.di.fc.ul.pt/%7Ejpn/gv/

There are enough abstract games ancient and modern there to choke a knight.

tjgames
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

Why can't an abstract game have a theme. When I designed Wizard's Garden (my game for the about.com contest) I started with some mechs first and common game pieces, but it really didn't come together until I added the theme. Once I started looking at the reversi pieces as seeds being planted on the board and interacting with these odd mysticial plants next to them when planted. Players harvesting the plants when they were ready (removing the pieces). It seemed to fall into place with the theme. I sometimes start designing games from a theme and sometimes I start with a mech, but I think some of my best games come together when I use both. What I would suggest is play with some new mechs (or old mechs) and see if a theme comes up. Does the mech remind you of something like say a person running or a boat sailing etc.. Don't be afraid to create a whole werid world to go with the game too.
:twisted:

Anonymous
Re: How do you make an Abstract Game?

sedjtroll wrote:
So how is it done? How do you go about designing a game without a theme?

- Seth

You combine just mechanics and components.

tjgames wrote:

Why can't an abstract game have a theme.

Because it stops being an abstract game.

An abstraction is a shape that has been brought down to its most simple form. In a game, it would be a one that is composed by the most basic elements, a core mechanic. If you stripped down a game to or build it up to its minimum, you would have its structure supported only by the mechanic(s), and of course, the components.

If you add a theme that supports a narrative, it is not abstract anymore.

Some mechanics are dry, they need a theme and a narrative to make the game enjoyable, fun to play. Others are rich, maybe even elegant, and make for an entertaining game without the need of a story. That is an abstract game.

You can create a game, starting with a theme and a mechanic, and suddenly realize that you can simplify it, strip it down, maybe even get rid of the theme, without destroying what makes it enjoyable. That is one way to create an abstract game.

sedjtroll
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Re: How do you make an Abstract Game?

artbytes_too wrote:
sedjtroll wrote:

Why can't an abstract game have a theme.

Because it stops being an abstract game.
For the record... that was tjgames who said that... I have a similar answer for him. Why can't an abstract game have a theme? By definition.

- Seth

Anonymous
How do you make an Abstract Game?

You are right. Sorry!! :oops: ... Probably a quoting mechanism mixup.

It should be OK now.

Anonymous
How do you make an Abstract Game?

sedjtroll wrote:

Cool. What game is it? How does it work?

The game doesn't have a name.
Basically, my idea in the beginning was to make a race game, in which both players had an equal number of movement resources... I did this by giving each player 6 cards numbered 1-6. I then realized that I needed a way to manipulate movement....

....so I made the "track" 6 tiles that each have 4 spots to land on.... so placed end-to-end the track is 24 spaces long. Playing all six cards would allow you to move 21 spaces... BUT, each of the 4 spaces on a tile manipulate either a players piece or a tile. So, landing on one spot may move YOUR piece forwards or backwards, move your opponents piece forwards or backwards, move the tile you are on forwards or backwards, or move another tile forwards or backwards.

It was supposed to be silly fun... but without theme or other actions that effect the race, the base mechanic turned into a chess sort of game. If you can look deep enough, you will be able to make the correct moves.... AND, you can argue that two players, capable of looking deep enough, will make the game an activity.... a Tic-Tac-Toe really... but we haven't gotten that far. :)

I've since tried to apply the mechanic to a theme I originally intended.... I tried to incorporate 4-way movement into a 2 dimensional board... but I've found that the mechanic gets bogged down the more you add and my original "test" set is the best version of the game...

Tyler

tjgames
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

Quote:

Why can't an abstract game have a theme.

Quote:

Because it stops being an abstract game.

I was told that an abstract strategy game must have the following attributes
1) For two players only
2) Turn based
3) No luck components like cards or dice.
4) No hidden information

I never heard that they can't have a theme :oops: (my bad), although I always thought chess had somewhat of a theme. Then I would suggest making a game from a theme point of view (if that's how you design) and then drop the theme when you are done so the game is pure mechs.

Scurra
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

tjgames wrote:

I was told that an abstract strategy game must have the following attributes
1) For two players only
2) Turn based
3) No luck components like cards or dice.
4) No hidden information

Well now, I'd agree with all of those except the first, since the only abstract strategy game I have so far designed is for three to six players! - and probably doesn't actually work with just two (although there has been no intensive testing of this theory...)

The Abstract Games competition doesn't restrict entries to two-player only games, although ISTR that they must be playable by two players.

I do think that the theme issue is a thorny one. I think that once you start labelling the components you probably do have a themed game, rather than an abstract one. But there are some very fine lines to be drawn here too.

Anonymous
How do you make an Abstract Game?

Quote:
...although I always thought chess had somewhat of a theme.

Quote:
I think that once you start labelling the components you probably do have a themed game, rather than an abstract one. But there are some very fine lines to be drawn here too.

I believe that fine line thing. Take a look at the concepts theme, storyline, narrative, and setting.

Take a look at the introduction of hpox's "Micropul" posted a couple of days ago.

http://neutralbox.com/micropul/rules/micropul-Rules-1.0.pdf

DavemanUK
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wallpaper, floor-tiles, and marquetry furniture

10-15 years ago, there was a story about a teenager who had designed and published an abstract game similar to nine-men morris / chequers simply from looking at the pattern on a small table in his house (lines and connected dots).

One (non-abstract) game I've designed came from staring at my bathroom floor tiles :)

Dave W.
(IIRC, the story was on the UK TV programme "That's Life!")

doho123
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

I would argue that ALL games are abstract games until you start adding art or text that tries to equate it to something tangible in the 'real' world. At that point, all you are doing is covering the abstractness with a varying degree of themeness. But the abstractness is still always there.

Of course, when you get into the "is Chess just a really simplified themed war game" or "wargames are just really complicated abstract games" argument, things get hairy...

So, if you want to design an abstract game, make a themed game, but then strip all of the components down to just things like color and shapes.

Scurra
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

Well I don't know about that. Have a read of my journal entry for "All for One", which started from the theme and added mechanics on top of that, but mechanics which were intended to reinforce the theme. And although you could strip off all the theme stuff, I'm not actually sure the game would make any sense - or even work - without the theme bits!

And I understand that this isn't an uncommon way for games to be developed.

If you start from the other end (as we did in the "Design Challenge" the other week), which was essentially with a couple of specific mechanics and perhaps a goal, then yes, I reckon they were indeed all abstract games with a theme painted on top. But they couldn't be anything else, really :)

Torrent
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

I normally hate to do symantic arguements, but I think there is an important distinction here. All games are 'abstractions' not all games are thought of as 'abstract'. An 'abstraction' in this sense is a simplification of a real world idea or object into a game piece or mechanic. 'Abstract' games are generally where this simplification process is done severely and the result does not resemble the model as much.

Take my game Tourney. (see GDW of weeks past, plug plug) No one is going to claim that you are actually Jousting and playing with swords. So the game is an abstraction of the theme. The contests are 'abstracted' to single plays of cards. There was a comment that the game wasn't quite realistic because most every event itself is a set of rounds. I abstracted the events to single card plays (more or less) to get a reasonable view of the whole tourney experience.

A game of Chess is a heavy abstraction of war and or political intrigue. It is so heavily abstracted that the theme isn't really there. Checkers (draughts I guess in Britain) is So heavily abstracted that the theme is even harder to fathom than in chess.

So I think when some people say 'abstract' they really mean these heavily abstracted games, which is why the arguement of little or no theme applies. But I get the feeling when doho says that all games are abstract, that the idea of abstractions from reality applies. The next arguement is which direction you design. From mechanic to reality adding detail, or from reality to game abstracting concepts into mechanics and peices. I for one do the later.

I hope this helps. At least it helps me to understand this way.

Andy

doho123
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

Quote:
Well I don't know about that. Have a read of my journal entry for "All for One", which started from the theme and added mechanics on top of that, but mechanics which were intended to reinforce the theme. And although you could strip off all the theme stuff, I'm not actually sure the game would make any sense - or even work - without the theme bits!

Oh, I disagree. For you, since your goal was to make a game drenching in theme, it might seem like it becomes unplayable without it, but ultimately, the goal is to collect the most Victory Points. Heck, you alpha description reads very abstractly: A map with spaces labelled A-Z. Players move pawns from location to location. Cards describe the target goal of various tokens, and/or comparative strength points.

I think that it sounds like a fun game, and it captures the selected theme very well. But at some it is an abstract game, like all games, with one of many themes applied to it to help with the flavor.

jwarrend
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

I don't know much about Abstracts, and don't have a burning desire to design one, but for me, the "separation point" between whether I consider a game "abstract" or "themed" is usually the game board. Abstracts, almost without fail, have some sort of non-descript board, typically a square grid. Themed games, almost without fail, have a game board that is a "map" of some sort. Of course, this is very loose and full of holes, but it's a starting point...

To that end, I would consider Brykovian's game "Castle Danger" an abstract, despite the fact that the moving pieces have names and act in a manner that is roughly evocative of their theme. There are some "themed" games that come very close to the line -- Leo Colvini's games, for example. However, I don't think I'd formally consider them "abstracts" -- rather, I'd just say they do a lousy job of evoking the theme they purport to evoke. There are plenty of German games that are flimsily themed, yet I'd tend to consider them "abstract", but not "Abstracts".

I think Torrent is right, this is somewhat of a symantic point. In my case, I'm sure my bias is causing me to miss a lot of good games, but for me, a game where you place and/or move little stones on a square grid holds very little appeal, yet a game where you move pawns around on a map is much more likely to potentially be something I'm interested in. Call me crazy, I guess.

-Jeff

FastLearner
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

There are tons of games that are considered abstract that blow through the 4 rules on the previous page. See the BoardGameGeek's list of games that folks generally consider to be "abstract strategy" for a bunch of games that break all of those rules.

Off the top of my head, here are some very common rule-breakers:

Quote:
1) For two players only

Chinese Checkers

Quote:
2) Turn based

Set (Ok, so it's not "very common" -- can anyone think of a more common game that breaks this rule?)

Quote:
3) No luck components like cards or dice.

Yahtzee

Quote:
4) No hidden information

Poker, Dominoes. Nearly all card games.

I think determing whether a game is abstract or not is all about a spectrum of abstractness to simulation. On one end of the spectrum are completely and utterly abstract games, games that are in no way simulations of anything, and on the other end are extremely detailed simulations, games whose rules (and bits) very nearly completely simulate some real-world thing.

At the abstract extreme are things like most card games. Is poker supposed to "be like" anything? At the simulation extreme are games like Advanced Squad Leader, where there are huge notebooks full of rules that describe how nearly every little imaginable thing is dealt with.

Somewhere along that line is a big fuzzy gray area where people will argue for ages about whether a game is considered abstract or not.

I know that when there was a flurry of activity here on the boards related t the Abstract Games magazine competition and who was or wasn't entering, I decided to look up the previous winners, to get a sense of how one might design an abstract game. Much to my surprise they all had themes! Last year's winner was Snoop's Assembly Line, which had a very real theme.

To sum, I don't think whether or not a game has a theme has anything to do with it being abstract. Rather I think it's about how closely the rules attempt to simulate something in the real-world.

-- Matthew

Scurra
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How do you make an Abstract Game?

doho123 wrote:

Oh, I disagree. For you, since your goal was to make a game drenching in theme, it might seem like it becomes unplayable without it, but ultimately, the goal is to collect the most Victory Points. Heck, you alpha description reads very abstractly: A map with spaces labelled A-Z. Players move pawns from location to location. Cards describe the target goal of various tokens, and/or comparative strength points.

OK, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree about this one!
I understand that at some fundamental level you are perfectly correct - you can strip everything theme related off and produce an entirely abstract game with almost any title (and, of course, some games are nearer to that than others.) Indeed, I did just that with the "Fate of Atlantis" game, after Chris had commented about the theming, in an attempt to see if any alternative theme came to mind. And the end result was that I became more convinced that the original theme was correct; albeit needing some extra stuff added.

You can reduce All for One to those abstract levels, but there would be no real "game" left behind: pretty much the whole experience is about the theming of the bits, although what that theming is is not restricted to the one I chose. In that sense it falls into the same category as Knizia's Lord of the Rings game - remove the theming and you get an abstract concept that doesn't really work, but will work fine if you paste something entirely different on top (cf. my "Harry Potter" reworking somewhere on the forums.)

And that's what I think differentiates an "abstract" game from a "themed" game. Chess isn't any better or worse if the pieces lose their names. Go and Backgammon don't even name their pieces. The games in the Gipf Project work just fine. (I suspect that most Piecepack games qualify under this category too.) By all means add names to the component parts and make an experience out of it, but those games work fine without that. And my postion is that that's not the case for every game - that you can distinguish between them.

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