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When Designing a game, I speciflically Try to...

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scottbalmes
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Joined: 12/22/2010

I'm intending this post to be a nice overview of things that Game Designers try to focus on while designing. These can be certain features you think make a great game, or mistakes that you want to avoid while designing. Please feel free to add your own "focuses" in your game designing lives, and comment/support others.

For instance, one thing I like to focus on is: Replayability

This is something that I look for when buying a game, so it's something I certainly try to incorporate when I design a game. Replayability, to me, doesn't mean that you should be able to play the game 3-4 times a day for two years without it getting stale. To me, replayability means that you can play it once or twice a week for quite a while and you'll continue to have a good time.

There are a few things that lead to replayability:
- Bunches of Cards with many combination (Dominion, Race for the Galaxy)
- Modular Boards (Settlers)
- Interaction based on players (Chinatown, most trading games)

And, for completeness, an offender:
- The Adventurers (Very neat gameplay, but static board ruins replayablity, and therefore makes me question its worth in my gaming collection)

And, on the flip side, something I try to AVOID while designing: Fiddlyness

This is something that annoys me when playing games: having to remember little rules that feel "tacked on" to the game play. Games should have a smooth, organic feel. Family games and Euro games tend to do this best, with Ameritrash being the main offenders, but this isn't always the cause.

Fiddlyness, I believe, is tied to the concept "does this make thematic sense?" If a rule or an action fits the theme, then it doesn't feel fiddly. Fiddly, in fact, can pull you out of a game and ruin game immersion.

Just some thoughts. How about yours?

mdkiehl
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I try to...

Ascetics: As an artist and game designer I am often trying to think about the game graphically. Looking smooth and playing smooth often go hand in hand. I try to create ways to avoid using text because text is busy visually and I think it is great when people can look at the components and "see" how to play a game without reading the rules... it helps people get into it fast. Visually I want games to be "fun looking" but games need a look that facilitates the play of the game. I try to start with what is needed for the game to work then build from there. Also, I think the look of a game is what really sells it.

Balancing: I get so bent out of shape when a game is not fair and balanced for all players. There is nothing more frustrating than loosing a game that you knew you were going to loose. Rock-paper-scissors is maybe best example of a simple yet balanced game. In addition, if you have played any MMORPGs you realize that balancing races and classes can be the most difficult aspect of a game, taking years and years of play to work out. However, as a game designer I think that this is where a game can take on some real beauty. It is really cool to see a really complicated game systems that are also very well balanced, where players can choose to play the game in many different ways - but it is still balanced and fair for everyone. BANG! and Mag-blast are both good games that really would have benefited from additional balancing.

Difficult Decisions: I think that the best games give players hard decisions to make. This is mostly my taste in games, but I don't enjoy games where the strategy is so obvious I feel like a computer just working out the bits. For example Monopoly doesn't give me difficult decisions because I simply do what I role (maybe I have to decide to buy a property or not, but this isn't normally a hard decision). I like games where my choices (be them poor choices or good choices) determine if I win or not. Interestingly, well balanced games often create difficult decisions. For example if Rock could beat both paper and scissors than there is no difficult choice - pick Rock every time.

Light and shot, or Heavy and long: No one wants to sit and play Rock-paper-scissors for hours on end. However some people will sit and play chess for hours even years. I think that game-length can really make or break a game. The difficulty and complexity of a game needs to be proportionate to its length. A complex and difficult game can be enjoyable to play, but not if it is too short to become immersed. A simple game can be fun to play but when it gets long it is easy to loose interest.

In addition I'm often thinking about moral content. What are the values my game is suggesting to the players? Am I emphasizing greed or teamwork? Are people going to be offended by the game's content? Will the players hate each-other when they are done playing?

Your suggestions about re-playability and fiddlieness are good.

Regards,
Matthew Kiehl

http://mdkiehl.wordpress.com

treyalsup
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No: loose Yes: lose

No: loose Yes: lose

mdkiehl
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Spelling

You missed at least one :-P

Ascetics: No

Aesthetics: Yes

Pastor_Mora
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Just 3 words

When designing, I always keep the three magical words in my mind:

KEEP IT SIMPLE

I would have never designed something like Agricola (not that I could have, you know what I mean).

Interesting post. Keep thinking!

gabrielcohn
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Joined: 11/25/2010
Re: Agricola, Replayability, and Fiddlyness

Since it was mentioned, Agricola is an interesting case...I find it to be one of my MOST replayable games (Race for the Galaxy is up there too). It has so many different minor variables (improvements, occupations, order of turns, player interaction) that it is continually fascinating. It also requires tough decision-making as someone else pointed out. However, it does have some fiddlyness--lots of bits and lots of rules, but I appreciate how closely tied to theme most of them are, and how simple to remember most of them are. I find Agricola takes a while to teach, but once people play once or twice there's never a need to refer to the rules...

scottbalmes
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Joined: 12/22/2010
Limit Components

This is another "design point" I try to adhere to: Limiting Components.

It is very easy to fall into a trap and have a thousand different tokens for a thousand different actions in a game. Lots of components could allow a lot of replayability - but can drive up the cost of the game itself.

I feel there's no need to limit components more than you have to (you don't want a game to feel "sparse" or "incomplete") but being mindful of the amount of components you're using is important when finishing up a board game design.

That being said, at the BEGINNING of a board game design, I say go hog wild with components - if there ends up being a good game in there, then start trimming/simplifying/smoothing out everything. I try not to limit myself during the "rough cuts" of games.

Dralius
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Just the other way around for me.

scottbalmes wrote:
That being said, at the BEGINNING of a board game design, I say go hog wild with components - if there ends up being a good game in there, then start trimming/simplifying/smoothing out everything. I try not to limit myself during the "rough cuts" of games.

I find it is much easier to add to a game that needs a little something more to make it interesting then stripping out mechanics from a bloated game.

mdkiehl
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On another note...

When Designing a game, I specifically try... not to take criticism personally, and respect others ideas and input. Sometimes you need somebody to tell you it isn't working, that your game isn't fun, it makes you think about it more. When everyone sits around quietly and says, "yea it was alright, it was fun" it doesn't help.

This is something I learned in Art school, that when people really pick at the details it helps you to improve the product.

Regards,
Matthew Kiehl

http://mdkiehl.wordpress.com

Ewain
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Joined: 05/21/2010
Funpark

When Designing a game, I specifically try to enjoy myself. I've got the same pile of notes as everybody else with 'what if/how about a"-scenarios and a bunch of experimental board layouts that may once have been connected to a specific idea but are now up for grabs.
Once a new idea for a game presents itself, I wade through the pile and see if anything seems to match that idea.
Most of the time I get lucky.

Playtesting usually send me right back into the pile in search for a variation on theme and/or mechanics.

'Focus' varies with each and every idea/game, but one constant is keeping the players goal easy to grasp -"How do I win?".
It works, but possibly just because design is one of my hobbies -not what pays my bills ;)

scottbalmes
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Joined: 12/22/2010
Fun the first time....

"ewain" wrote:
'Focus' varies with each and every idea/game, but one constant is keeping the players goal easy to grasp -"How do I win?".

This is a good one, and it aligns with another one I try to look out for, "Will players be able to learn this?"

I personally only enjoy games I can learn and enjoy the first time I play. I'm not a fan of the "you have to play 5-6 times to 'get' it" style games. I just don't agree with that philosophy. I want to enjoy the game the first time I play. (This doesn't mean that I need to know the best strategy the first time I play - you should get better at a game after a few plays)

So, another thing I look out for: "Will players be able to learn this and enjoy it the first time they play?"

Hopefully yes!

Yort
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Joined: 11/24/2009
Originality and Endgame not Fiddlyness

Originality: Much of my headaches come from striving for Originality. I have no problem being original, and view this as a great strength of mine. However, I find that through pride, that I have difficulty including concepts that others have already used, even when they would probably fit in well and balance the tried and true with the new and unusual. I have more than once ended up confounding my playtesters by including too many original concepts. My play testers at least, seem to need some familiarity.

Endgame: With a constantly churning brain it is easy for me to lose focus on what is important; namely how the player is going to interact with the game to achieve his goal. The game must give the the players a clear idea of what it is they are trying to accomplish, other mechanisms must simply be part of the toolbox a player uses to further accomplishment of his goal.

Fiddlyness: As per the original post, I can't stand rules that feel tacked on. However, I think an initial fiddlyness may be necessary to get the game to a testable state. Refine it and make it elegant after you see the beast in motion. Much can be achieved with fiddlyness, but take these training wheels off in the designing process.

Arkiris
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I think we can never forget

I think we can never forget the clearty of the written rules. A game design can be great, but if the rules are not simple and inteligible, it's like a suicide. But, besides the written side of the rules, it's also very important to focus on the way the mechanics fits on the theme: it makes the game much more intuitive and clear for the players. Taking out the "little rules" or "exceptions" is also important, in my point of view, especially if they are too many. Simplify! (kiss)
Cheers

Gilmok
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Joined: 03/09/2010
Role-playing

I try to focus on the role-playing aspect of playing the game. That's because I'm really drawn to games that allow me to adopt a certain persona during the game. Games that use faction models are really good for this, because you are driven to try out each faction and see what you really like and are best at.

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