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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

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Anonymous

I was recently amused when I rediscovered the Gamers' Glossary published in Steve Jackson Games' "Murphy's Rules and other Strangeness" cartoon book. In that Glossary feature, the readers of SJG's Space Gamer magazine had offered translations of commonly used phrases in the games industry. As a lot of these affect us I thought I'd share a few:

Basic rules book = You'd better plan on buying our advanced rules, too.
[Ron Peetz]

Flexible rules system = Will be interpreted differently by everyone who reads them.
[Randy Divinski]

Create your own scenarios = We couldn't think of any outselves
[Glenn Mai]

10 years in the making! = Someone thought of the idea ten years ago and now it's a game.

Level of complexity: easy = Moderate

Level of complexity: moderate = Hard

Level of complexity: hard = Too complicated to play even the basic game.
[Stephen Melisi]

Hottest game on the market = Everyone's burning his copy
[Ernest Johnson]

Throughly researched = We looked it up in the encyclopedia.
[Mike Hurst]

Diceless combat resolution system = Slightly modified rock-paper-scissors.

Extensively blindtested = The playtesters were blind.

Widely acclaimed = Widely Advertised
[Rob Heinsoo]

Official errata = Second half of the rules
[Louis Soldano]

Like nothing any gamer has seen before! = Not playtested.
[Stefan Jones]

Game of exploration = More time will be spent searching through the rulebook than playing the game.

Game of diplomacy = More time will be spent convincing your friends that your rule interpretations are correct than playing the game.

Game of combat = More time will be spent arguing and fighting about the unclear rules than playing the game.
[Bob Dahla]

First edition = Rough draft

Completely revised and updated = Second draft

Playability = A magic word of power invoked to avoid the necessity of research.

Historically accurate = A magic word of power invoked to avoid the necessity of playtesting.

Based on the famous book = The names of the counters are the same as those in the book.
[Jay Rudin]

(No designer listed) = Noone wants the blame.

For 2 to 4 players = For 2 or 4 players.
[Space Gamer 42]

The book is long out of print, but worth getting if you ever see a copy second hand (ISBN 1-55634-099-0).

Best wishes,

Richard.

Anonymous
Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Richard_Huzzey wrote:

Level of complexity: easy = Moderate

Level of complexity: moderate = Hard

Level of complexity: hard = Too complicated to play even the basic game.
[Stephen Melisi]

I think this was written with old AH wargames in mind and I can certainly sympathise in that context.

Richard_Huzzey wrote:

Based on the famous book = The names of the counters are the same as hose in the book.
[Jay Rudin]

It is certainly true that too many games seem to have a license tacked on. I know it divides opinions widely, but Knizia's cooperative Lord of the Rings game is one that I really admire for capturing its theme properly, whereas the LOTR theme in "The Search" is nonsensical and unwelcome.

Richard_Huzzey wrote:
(No designer listed) = Noone wants the blame.

I can only imagine the contributor was thinking about the American wargames industry in the 1980s (when this was written), as German game designers were fighting *for* their names on boxes.

Richard_Huzzey wrote:
For 2 to 4 players = For 2 or 4 players.
[Space Gamer 42]

This one is fairly accurate in some games-- three is a difficult number. The other variant of this I've seen is games that say 2-4 when clearly they mean 3-4; the two player version being completely hopeless as the rules were clearly designed to be multiplayer. This is an issue I've been thinking about recently, as I'm working on a 2-player game; the change in a game's dynamics when it becomes zero-sum are immense.

Best wishes,

Richard.

zaiga
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Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Richard_Huzzey wrote:

The other variant of this I've seen is games that say 2-4 when clearly they mean 3-4; the two player version being completely hopeless as the rules were clearly designed to be multiplayer. This is an issue I've been thinking about recently, as I'm working on a 2-player game; the change in a game's dynamics when it becomes zero-sum are immense.

This is true and something I have experienced as well. A lot of multiplayer games don't really work well when played with 2 players, because they become "too zero-sum". Especially majority games tend to fall apart with 2 players. I've found a few tricks that work well to make a game playable with 2 players:

- Assymetry. Make sure the game becomes assymetric very quickly, so that different resources will have a different value for both players. Lost Cities uses the handshakes and the "8 cards = 20 extra points" rule to make sure that a card will have a different value to both players. LotR: Confrontation is assymetric from the start, because of the different abilities of the playing pieces and it even has different winning conditions for both sides!

- Hidden information. Introduce a healthy dose of hidden information. In Lost Cities both players have a hand of 8 cards which are (mostly) unknown to an opponent. In LotR: Confrontation you don't know which playing piece is which on your opponent's side at the start. In Clans (which works well with 2 players) you don't know which color your opponent is.

- Simultaneous action selection. The "I think that he thinks that I think..." problem works best with 2 players. The cardplay in LotR: Confrontation is a good example of this.

- Single point victory conditions. I strongly advocate to use a victory point system in multiplayer games. However, in 2 player games kingmaker situations do not exist, so victory conditions such as "you win when you accomplish goal X" are perfectly acceptable in 2 player games and perhaps even preferable. Again, LotR: Confrontation is a good example.

- "Fuzziness". Have a large permutation of moves and countermoves so that it is impossible for a human being to calculate the "best" move. Most abstracts are pretty "fuzzy". In multiplayer games this is often considered a problem, because it might lead to analysis paralysis, but it is acceptable in 2 player games.

The 2-player game of Puerto Rico is pretty good. This game is fuzzy and assymetric. Chess is also fuzzy and assymetric and has a single point victory condition on top of that. Balloon Cup fails as a 2 player game in my opinion because it is not assymetric.

- René Wiersma

Anonymous
Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

zaiga wrote:

This is true and something I have experienced as well. A lot of multiplayer games don't really work well when played with 2 players, because they become "too zero-sum". Especially majority games tend to fall apart with 2 players. I've found a few tricks that work well to make a game playable with 2 players:

Your list is full of good points which I agree with. Lost Cities, as you say, successfully introduces its assymetry during the game, but two player (or, I suppose, assymetrical multiplayer games too) are much more demanding in their need for playtesting if they start players off with different positions. My 2-player game is a German-style implimentation of the American Civil War, from a strategic level. It's quite tricky to keep the sides sufficiently varied as to be interesting, whilst not railroading players into a particular strategy or making one side inherently more powerful than the other. For example, almost all the mechanics play *against* the Confederacy (blockades, manpower shortages etc. are far more likely for them) but their victory condition is, accurately, less ambitious: they win if they haven't lost by the end of the game. Managing to find the balance to let players' skill decide who wins, is difficult, though. I think it will be a long time before it reaches a balanced state.

Richard.

FastLearner
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Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Richard_Huzzey wrote:
I was recently amused when I rediscovered the Gamers' Glossary published in Steve Jackson Games' "Murphy's Rules and other Strangeness" cartoon book.

Those are great, thanks!

They remind me that the online zine Spielboy has a great Boardgamer's Dictionary with a ton of hilarious entries. Here are a few:

ambiguous (adjective) (of rules) 1. not clear, admitting of more than one interpretation. 2. Not favouring the reader.
Source: Gene Wirchenko from Kamloops, BC, Canada

attack the leader problem (noun) Not a problem as long as you're not the leader.
Source: Spielboy staff

auction (noun) A game mechanic where all players try to figure out the incorrect value of an item.
Source: Wei-Hwa Huang

balanced (adjective) I win.
Source: Gene Wirchenko from Kamloops, BC, Canada

broken (adjective) A game that at least one person hates.
Source: Mike Mayer

errata (noun) The rules the designer held back just because he could.
Source: Mike Mayer

Some (not meaning the ones above) are admittedly pretty lame, but there are enough gems to make it a worthwhile read.

-- Matthew

Anonymous
Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

FastLearner wrote:

attack the leader problem (noun) Not a problem as long as you're not the leader.
Source: Spielboy staff

One thing about this is that in many games it is not necessarily clear who *is* the leader in reality. With hidden scoring or hidden assets, a player can be attacked in this way beyond his actual advantage. So, even though it's probably true that we tend not to complain unless we're being hit, it is a design issue, I guess. My biggest gripe of this kind is with Vinci, where the last few turns are dictated wholly by the open scores: if a leader can be overtaken he'll be stomped to the stage where the 2nd or 3rd player will slip through; if he's too far for 3rd or 4th to catch, they may all just attack 2nd to improve their own position (depending on personal philosophy- I look for position whereas some friends consider all places but 1st to be equally poor).

FastLearner wrote:

auction (noun) A game mechanic where all players try to figure out the incorrect value of an item.
Source: Wei-Hwa Huang

Going back to the topic of balance in design, I remember thinking, when I first started playing German games, that auction games looked very complicated to design competently. It wasn't long before I realised they're one of the easiest and most self-balancing systems, which I guess is why we see them so much.

I know in our group we definitely do get group think over the misvaluation of items: "Right, so this is worth three to Gordon, but only two the rest of us, except James, for whom it isn't worth a thing".

Thanks for the link!

Richard.

FastLearner
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Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Richard_Huzzey wrote:
Going back to the topic of balance in design, I remember thinking, when I first started playing German games, that auction games looked very complicated to design competently. It wasn't long before I realised they're one of the easiest and most self-balancing systems, which I guess is why we see them so much.

Heartily agreed. I've tended to keep auctions out of my designs because they almost feel like cheating!

-- Matthew

Anonymous
Re: [Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

FastLearner wrote:
Richard_Huzzey wrote:
Going back to the topic of balance in design, I remember thinking, when I first started playing German games, that auction games looked very complicated to design competently. It wasn't long before I realised they're one of the easiest and most self-balancing systems, which I guess is why we see them so much.

Heartily agreed. I've tended to keep auctions out of my designs because they almost feel like cheating!

-- Matthew

Hm, I'm quite fond of them, but I see what you mean.

Richard.

FastLearner
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Just to be sure, please don't think I'm down on auctions or using them in designs. In my particular case in my early games I'm working on strengthening particular design skills, and the hardest thing for me to do is to achieve balance in games that (effectively) involve money, so I've been avoiding auctions because they will serve as a "crutch" for these particular designs.

Frankly I love auction games, and once I get past this hurdle I'm sure I'll design a variety of them.

-- Matthew

Anonymous
[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

FastLearner wrote:
Just to be sure, please don't think I'm down on auctions or using them in designs. In my particular case in my early games I'm working on strengthening particular design skills, and the hardest thing for me to do is to achieve balance in games that (effectively) involve money, so I've been avoiding auctions because they will serve as a "crutch" for these particular designs.

Frankly I love auction games, and once I get past this hurdle I'm sure I'll design a variety of them.

-- Matthew

Fair enough-- sounds like a very organised and dedicated approach. I just tend to muddle through designs, flicking from one to another as enthusiasm takes me, so I suppose I conflated keeping them out of designs with disliking them. Anyway, please don't think I was meaning to sound sceptical of your stand, I hadn't quite grasped what you meant.

Regarding money, I am always amused when people playing Media Mogul say "I think it would be interested if we started with one extra money", as we must have been through every possible permuatation of both starting money and costs, trying to find one that worked in balancing the power of the pieces, keeping things tight, and still allowing for a variety of opening strategies with that initial cash. I can't remember the number of times the prices went up, and then the starting cash went up, and then a few weeks later we'd drop them down again because of a change in another part of the game... . Anyway, I definitely agree with you about money and the difficulties of balancing costs.

One idea I've been playing with: how to do a game where players choose the price they'd like to buy/sell at? (And then provide penalties for being caught being too cheap). It would seem that something themed on Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company would work, but I never quite got things to click.

Richard.

Scurra
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Richard_Huzzey wrote:

One idea I've been playing with: how to do a game where players choose the price they'd like to buy/sell at? (And then provide penalties for being caught being too cheap). It would seem that something themed on Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company would work, but I never quite got things to click.

It doesn't quite work in "Fantasy Business", does it? (That's the closest I can think of to this idea - and that game has to have an auction in it to make the purchasing part work!)

Darke and I have both been working (independently!) on a "marketplace" game, where prices go up and down according to supply and demand, but neither of us seem to have got it to work properly (and it doesn't work in Bean Trader either...) It looks as though that's a tough economic model to implement successfully.

Anonymous
[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Scurra wrote:
It doesn't quite work in "Fantasy Business", does it? (That's the closest I can think of to this idea - and that game has to have an auction in it to make the purchasing part work!)

I've not played that, but I can imagine it is hard to work.

Scurra wrote:

Darke and I have both been working (independently!) on a "marketplace" game, where prices go up and down according to supply and demand, but neither of us seem to have got it to work properly (and it doesn't work in Bean Trader either...) It looks as though that's a tough economic model to implement successfully.

I have heard a lot about an old game called Supremacy that tried to do a market model but broken when people decided (quite reasonably) to hoarde all of one good an then sell when the price had gone high.

Best wishes,

Richard.

phpbbadmin
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Scurra wrote:

Darke and I have both been working (independently!) on a "marketplace" game, where prices go up and down according to supply and demand, but neither of us seem to have got it to work properly (and it doesn't work in Bean Trader either...) It looks as though that's a tough economic model to implement successfully.

Says you. =P I think I have figured out an idea of how to do it. But it requires a lot of careful planning in the design aspect (I.E. a carefully weighted table for each good). Also, the demand is based upon the game world's demand, and not the demand of the actual players (I'm not sure about your game, but in my game the players don't sell things to each other, only 'back' to the game). If you're interested on the system I came up, drop me a line. It probably won't work for you, but it might get your juices flowing.

-Darke

Anonymous
[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Very funny list of definitions! Thanks for posting!

Richard_Huzzey wrote:
One idea I've been playing with: how to do a game where players choose the price they'd like to buy/sell at? (And then provide penalties for being caught being too cheap).

One of the first games I created (with the help of my wife) involves such a mechanic. Players see the estimated value of an item they want to try to buy (to fill a collection), but not the appraisal of the item (which indicates its actual value). The seller may let it go for WAY more than it's worth, but the penalty comes in when the player buying the piece of junk looks at the appraisal and realizes he got hosed. The seller's penalty is in the loss of reputation with other players (and he may have a difficult time selling anything for much of a profit). Selling for too much profit too early costs in long term sales in the game.

Scurra
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Darkehorse wrote:
Scurra wrote:

Darke and I have both been working (independently!) on a "marketplace" game, where prices go up and down according to supply and demand, but neither of us seem to have got it to work properly

Says you. =P I think I have figured out an idea of how to do it. But it requires a lot of careful planning in the design aspect [...]
(I'm not sure about your game, but in my game the players don't sell things to each other, only 'back' to the game).

Well, I did say "seem" you know :)
And of course it requires careful planning in the design stage... it wouldn't be much of a challenge otherwise, would it? (FWIW I think I've got an interesting one too now, so we might exchange some notes on this :)

FastLearner
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Doesn't the system work fine in Vino?

IngredientX
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Power Grid/Funkenschlag has a great implementation of supply/demand for energy resources.

FastLearner
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

Ooh, excellent example, I agree. That's probably my favorite market simulation.

-- Matthew

Anonymous
[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

SiskNY wrote:
One of the first games I created (with the help of my wife) involves such a mechanic. Players see the estimated value of an item they want to try to buy (to fill a collection), but not the appraisal of the item (which indicates its actual value). The seller may let it go for WAY more than it's worth, but the penalty comes in when the player buying the piece of junk looks at the appraisal and realizes he got hosed. The seller's penalty is in the loss of reputation with other players (and he may have a difficult time selling anything for much of a profit). Selling for too much profit too early costs in long term sales in the game.

That sounds like a great game and I can imagine enjoying that with Diplomacy players as it has the same "I must aim to lie only when it will win me the game" aspect.

It would also be a superb tool for Business Studies teachers to use in their classes to educate on trust in business. I recall on a 'Work Taster' day at school (which for some reason beyond me was schewed towards business) they had a game where two teams each recieved a set of cards-- one King and one Ace. They then selected one, secretly, each turn and revealed them simultaneously, having had 2 minutes to negotiate amongst the team on what to do.

If both teams revealed a King, they both scored 1 point. If both revealled an Ace, they both lost 3 points. If one revealed a King and the other an Ace, the Ace team scored 5 points.

We played the games in small groups, with the promise that the best two teams would go forward to a £100 prize final. In our group, we brokered a deal that the other team would always play the King and we'd always reveal an Ace, thus securing the highest possible score: any prize would then be split with them as well as us.

This worked fine, and we qualified miles ahead of any other team, but in the Final both groups ended up trying to backstab and ended on negative points: a criterion which meant the prize wasn't awarded to anyone. I later found out that they'd had the same £100 HMV voucher for years, as no two teams had managed not to betray each other once a significant prize was at stake. A slight digression, but the "must build up trust" discussion reminded me of it!

Getting back to "sell at your own price" mechanics, I was imagining players being Rockefeller types, who would dictate the prices railroad companies would be paid to transport oil. There would have to be some sort of mechanic where muckrakers slowly unearthed incidents of corrupt monopolising and players were hit by muck if they were the most outrageous in their prices. Quite how to do this beyond making it a "chance of getting caught" aspect (i.e. a mere probability to gain assessment) I'm unsure. Perhaps players dictated their prices secretly and then revealed them simultaneously; the cheapest would then get a 'muck' counter, and the player with the most 'muck' sticking at the end of the game was ineligible for victory. That could work.

Best wishes,

Richard.

jwarrend
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[Humour] The Game Designer's Glossary

SiskNY's game sounds kind of like a vague idea I had for a game about selling used cars, the idea being that you had in front of you a card indicating the actual value of the car and had to reveal several pieces of information, some of which had to be true and some had to be false, and then set an asking price, with the winner being the one who bought cars closest to their actual value and sold cars for the highest markup. It seemed like it was going to be more of a bluffing game than a market simulation, though.

For the first game that I put up in the Game Design Workshop, an archaeology-themed bidding game, I tried something of an "inverse market" model whereby you maximize your score if you are most successful with the commodities that the most people are dealing with (as opposed to a conventional model where you do the best by cornering the market). Although, I guess this is kind of a standard market model, since it does sort of say that value is determined by demand...

Richard's £100 game sounds like a variant of the "prisoner's dilemma", in which two prisoners are separated and trying to decide whether to snitch on the other, the idea being that if only one snitches, he gets a reduced sentence, but if both snitch, they both get an even more severe sentence (or something like that). It's kind of at the same level of the decisions in LotR: The Confrontation, which zaiga discussed in another thread as being "I think that he thinks that I think...(etc)". These feel like agonizing decisions, but I feel like at some level they reduce to guesswork. I'm not sure how I feel about such decisions as game design elements. I think that I try to avoid them, but I'm not sure if I've yet had a game that had a simultaneous selection mechanic where such decisions could be important....

Anyway, just some random musings on a few things that occured to me after reading some of the other posts...

-Jeff

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