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[GDS] MAY 2016 "Human-scale games" critiques thread

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richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009

The May contest was HARD. And I get it, - in the tabletop space it's hard to think of mechanics that couldn't also be done with little pawns as well.

Or is that way off, and designers just weren't inspired by this challenge?

So with only 2 real entries, (and a couple more supplied by Mindspike to fill it out a bit), we'll go right into the critiques.

What makes a human-scale game?

How did these entries do at it?

How could a current game be changed to be human scale?

Here are the entries. Read them first!

Joined: 07/26/2015
There is a fine line

For this contest, there is a fine line between tabletop games and live action games.
To be a "board game", we had to avoid doing anything that depended on agility or physical ability, and didn't need a ridiculous setup time, and we also need a certain amount of replayability. On the other hand, the challenge was "cannot be played at a table".

You can put people on the game board, but what can people do that meeples can't?

The only element I could think of that fit this description was information hiding or information partitioning. From the games we saw, there can be many different ways to have this element in a game.

Another thing that I didn't think of until I saw the entries was that human scale games have so much room for immersion and theme. House detective did that quite well, though I wonder how hard/easy the game is in practice. Human-scale mazes are always awesome, though setting up would be fairly difficult.

Other than the entries we already have, I would argue that "Diplomacy" is actually a human-scale game in some ways.

mindspike's picture
Joined: 09/06/2011
I came to many of the same

I came to many of the same conclusions about what people can do that meeples cannot. Board games are inherently designed to imitate the capabilities of people. So what factors cannot be quantified and calculated and readily assigned a probability?

Memory. The human mind doesn't just forget things, it makes up information to fill in gaps of inattention.

Bluffing. Game pieces may present misleading information, but it's never intentional.

Decision Making. As epitomized in The Prisoner's Dilemma, the logical choice is not necessarily the one a player makes.

Communication. What we mean, what we say, and what others understand are often three different things.

I had a really difficult time figuring out what to do with upscaled pieces, and I couldn't really come up with something. It's fairly easy to run variations on sports, or even just to make freeze-tag a bit more strategic. For some reason, that doesn't really feel like a board game, as it depends on human physical ability and I've always seen board games as an exercise in decision making. Like the man said, I need to find a way to change my expectations.

richdurham's picture
Joined: 12/26/2009
Object Immanence

This is a topic we wrestle with constantly at Wild Streets when we're making new games for a festival. All of our games are played at human scale, and what you all have noted are some of our common "human" issues.

One thing in particular that overlaps tabletop and humanscale is the idea of "object immanence." That is, does the representation of an in-game object help indicate the mechanics that govern it? Are the traits inherent in the form?

For example, we have a game based on John Carpenter's The Thing played in a space the size of a warehouse. In the game, players are allowed to only carry one object per hand. Originally, the objects were on cards that they earned from minigames played at the base's various stations. The game is a tense one - players need to be aware of who's around them at any time, as they might be turned into an alien. Because of this, procedural rules like "only 1 card per hand" are lost. You can easily hold more than one card in hand.

In a later version, the cards were replaced with coloured balls - the kind you'd find in a ball pit. With the larger object, the rule of 1 per hand was naturally enforced. Sure players could physically hold more than 1, but the natural grip on a single ball implies the rule. Players with special powers were given the ability to break this - and it felt like breaking a rule.

In other words, the ball had immanence of "scale' that reinforced the hand-limit mechanic (crucial to getting players to move around and cooperate).

The other aspects mentioned above are also utilised in games like this. There is no great structure around an alien player "turning" a human. The game is played in timed round - the "daytime" where players run around gathering materials, performing tasks at stations, etc in order to prepare for the "evening" when players gather in the common room to resolve the day's mission. The aliens' get to turn only 1 person each day, and that's the only rule. Being quiet about it, getting people alone, earning trust; all that stuff is simply in their best interest (as it is in many social games). Because of the physical space, and players' locations being among the "hidden information" of the game, the aliens have a lot of very REAL flexibility in how they use the space and play. This is in contrast to boardgame deduction games, where there is often abstract card play (like Battlestar Galactica) to indicate cooperation/deception.

Joined: 02/02/2015
Human Scale games

Yep, this was a tough one. Hard to make a human scale game not a sport, or athletic competition, so kudos to those who submitted some good ideas! I had started to think of a game that may have been a lot of fun and interesting, but would have involved an expensive set up of like an entire gymnasium and ended up not fleshing it out enough to submit in time. Alas. Here are some thoughts:

House Detective

The first time I read through this I thought it was too complicated to be effective – hard to find the right venue, the right people, etc.. Then I thought about it some and I think it is a really intriguing fun idea, if done right, with the right group of people. This one may have been an excellent submission for the recent competition requiring a dominant player (Detective). It could also be billed as a competition between a few detectives. If there are say three detectives who all hear the testimony and then randomly get to make guesses (probably fair to make it like a serpentine selection: Det W draws the first guess, M the second, and S the third so the guesses go: W – 1 M – 2 S – 3 S- 4 M – 5 W – 6 W – 7 etc… like a fantasy football draft). The detective who finds the most thieves wins. Or all detectives win if all thieves are picked in the first X guesses. You could also experiment with much fewer or many more rooms. There are a lot of good play testing potentials.


I love mazes, and I like how straight forward this one is. With large groups of people, complicated rules are unlikely to be successful. If I was voting I would have picked this as my number 1, and would like to play it as is!

Nobel Prize

I really like the No Teams mechanic at the beginning of the game. The drawback I see to this one is that as soon as one team starts to gain some people, and some resources, it becomes the clear choice all unaffiliated players want to join, and that team will then select the best candidates available, and it will rapidly become clear who the winner is, or only one team will form and win. Making the smaller team score more for a breakthrough is an excellent way to potentially nullify this, but you could also end up just having the 3 or 4 players who clearly have the best resources join up quickly, claim breakthrough and win. Guess we will only know with play testing which method will become dominant, or if they will compete well. The other drawback I see is that this can be played around a large table, and may not necessarily be restricted to human scale only.

Snakes and Spiders

This could be a fun game played out at a park with people running around and clustering around different designated spots. I think more missions are probably needed, but I like the example ones presented. It may be difficult to regulate the 1 minute time outs if the group gets too large.

All in all nice work with a tough challenge!

mindspike's picture
Joined: 09/06/2011
Random observations

The game-show "Survivor" addresses the issue of human-scale games in practically every episode. When teams compete, they do so within a structured environment and according to a specific set of rules.

Each game contains most of the elements we've mentioned. The contestants are required to communicate with each other, often unclearly. A certain degree of physical ability is required, but not emphasized. Components use the form-follows-function rule, and convey the limitations of the rules in their design. The games are not terribly strategic, but its meant for tv.

Some games approach human scale without really crossing over into full-fledged sports. Shuffleboard and hopscotch come to mind. Bowling is a game where the dynamics of scale radically change the skills required and the strategy employed.

Team games and large play groups seem to be the most natural fit. I wonder if that is just because the scale makes us also think in terms of groups.

Arthur Wohlwill
Joined: 05/30/2015
Re; Human Scale Games

Thanks for the suggestions, I had not considered those possibilities. I will say that in general, I do not do well at social deduction games which means that I would be the wrong person to play my game. I did like the Snakes an Spiders game, but again I probably would not struggle playing it. As a scientist, I appreciate the Nobel Prize game and was glad to see to see that not all of the entries to this contest were social deductions. The maze game is fun. Perhaps there should be cheese at the end...

Corsaire's picture
Joined: 06/27/2013
Definitely some interesting

Definitely some interesting ideas, the one item scavenger hunt bit was appealing. I might've thrown in but all my design bandwidth is currently focused on a human scale cooperative game, as in I'm designing an escape room with plans on starting a business.

For this challenge, my big thought was on how hard fog of war is on a board and how solvable it is at human scale. I was thinking of movable wall segments, but that's all the further I got.

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