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How important is originality?

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Rick-Holzgrafe
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I have a game, nearly finished, that I loosely based on A Game of Thrones by Christian T. Petersen. My game ("Brimstone") isn't a clone of AGOT, but I certainly lifted a lot of ideas: the command system, the combat system, the supply system, and the goal are all clearly derived from AGOT. Other mechanics in the game such as the modular board were derived from other well-known games. I can't honestly point to anything in my game that's truly original, excepting the work I've done to balance the rules and make it playable.

I'm not really planning to try to publish this game. I made it mostly so that my family and I had something AGOT-like to play that required less time and fewer people. But I do plan to enter it in the upcoming KublaCon design contest, where there's a (tiny but non-zero) chance that it would be seen by publishers.

My question is, how original does a game have to be? How many people would look at my game and consider me to be just a rip-off artist?

For those curious enough to download and wade through Brimstone's 17-page, 4 Mb manual, you can find it here. The rules for AGOT (much longer to read but only 2.8 Mb to download) are available from Fantasy Flight Games here.

Thanks for any input.

Anonymous
How important is originality?

It's an interesting situation in which you find yourself. Many here have said that there is nothing new in regards to game design. Most everything has been done in one way or another, all that we do is to refine and modify existing mechanics and to fit them into new and exciting uses within our games.

Whether or not your agree with that statement, I do feel that there is plenty of room (and necessarily so) for originality. A game should be different from other games in as many ways as possible to distinguish it as more than a clone or slightly altered version. Homage is one thing and generally acceptable, pastiche is another matter.

I'm not familiar with AGoT and I haven't read through your rulebook, but it sounds, from your post, as though you should take some time to create some unique systems for your game to infuse it with enough individuality to make it stand out from the published version. Take a step back and ask yourself what it is that you want to abstract from the books into a game. Create something that is your own. It's OK to borrow the core mechanics here and there, but don't rely on others' mechanics to hold you game together.

Rick-Holzgrafe
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How important is originality?

SiskNY wrote:
A game should be different from other games in as many ways as possible to distinguish it as more than a clone or slightly altered version. Homage is one thing and generally acceptable, pastiche is another matter.

Thanks (most sincerely) for the input. I have seen for myself that many games borrow from other games, often (as I did) giving credit for the inspiration in the rulebook. I suppose I was hoping to learn something specific enough to tell me whether I've seriously transgressed or not. But it's clearly a judgment call, and I can't expect a firm rule.

FWIW, every mechanic I borrowed from AGOT has been altered in some fashion to better suit my goal of a lighter, faster game. While the derivations are obvious to anyone who knows AGOT, I didn't just photocopy the AGOT rulebook. And there are some strong differences. Two examples: AGOT's board is fixed, while Brimstone's is highly modular; and AGOT does not distinguish terrain types, but Brimstone relies heavily on a variety of terrain types to influence both strategy and tactics. And finally, Brimstone has its own theme, markedly different from AGOT's.

I would hope that keeps Brimstone out of the "pastiche" category and firmly marks it as an "homage"... but I dunno, I'm new at this, and just trying to do my best.

Anonymous
How important is originality?

Quote:
But it's clearly a judgment call...

It really is, and you, being the most familiar with your game and those from which you have borrowed, are best suited to decide if you will be seen as having borrowed too much or not.

Quote:
How many people would look at my game and consider me to be just a rip-off artist?

Your asking the question indicates that you may already be worried that your game is a little too close to call. In these cases, it's always better to err on the side of caution. If, after reflection, you feel that it is possible that you will be seen as a rip-off artist, then you may want to put some more time and original mechanics into your game to further differentiate it from the rest.

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with AGoT (either the books or the games), maybe someone with more familiarity will chime in and lend a more usefull point of view to the discussion.

Best of luck!

jwarrend
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How important is originality?

As anyone will tell you, lots of designs borrow from other designs, sometimes with tremendous success. Games like Puerto Rico have few to no truly original mechanics, yet PR is the #1 rated game on the 'Geek. The concern I have with your game is that you did all of your borrowing from just one source, and that's where you may run into trouble. Moreover, you didn't really fix anything that was deficient about the game (and indeed, there's very little -- AGoT is a magnificently designed game).

It all depends on your goal for the project. If you want a lighter, short AGoT to play with your friends and family, you've got it! Great! If you're looking to take the next step to actually selling it, though, you may run into difficulties. Maybe. It's hard to say. I don't think there's any reason not to go for it, but it may be an uphill battle. To me, a game has to have an original mechanic or element that leads to interesting and unique decisions. I love AGoT and don't find it too heavy, so I'd probably never need to buy your game. But if you could come up with some clever twists on the idea, then you might have something -- maybe a twist on how combat is resolved; maybe combat cards must be acquired instead of getting them to start, and the acquisition process could spawn some new thoughts.

I don't know. I don't think there's a hard and fast rule for how original a game needs to be, but my process tends to cause me to seek out other similar games -- and then avoid imitating them at all costs. I've never done a "tribute" game, so I couldn't say where the line is drawn.

Good luck,

Jeff

Rick-Holzgrafe
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How important is originality?

jwarrend wrote:
The concern I have with your game is that you did all of your borrowing from just one source

Actually I didn't. Most would be an accurate word, but not all. There's an Event Card mechanic adapted from Puerto Rico's role cards, and the modular board is adapted from Settlers. (Embarrassingly, the board setup resembles TI3 more than Settlers; but I'd never seen any of the TI editions when I designed my board!)

jwarrend wrote:
maybe a twist on how combat is resolved

There's a twist on nearly everything. Combat resolution is different, recruiting is different, supply is different, the board is different. There's even an original twist on troop movement in the "Airport" hex in the center of the board. I took a lot from AGOT, but none of it is mindless imitation. That's the dilemma: without question, Brimstone owes a lot to AGOT, but I put a lot of my own work and thought into it too. Otherwise the answer to my basic question would be obvious.

jwarrend wrote:
If you want a lighter, short AGoT to play with your friends and family, you've got it! Great! If you're looking to take the next step to actually selling it, though, you may run into difficulties.

If it weren't for the upcoming KublaCon design contest, probably no one would ever see Brimstone except for family and friends. I have no plans to actively shop it around. But we all daydream -- what if some company rep sees it at KublaCon and gets interested? It isn't at all likely, of course... and I keep telling myself that, but the daydreams persist! :-)

Thanks for the commentary, Jeff!

jwarrend
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How important is originality?

Rick-Holzgrafe wrote:
jwarrend wrote:
The concern I have with your game is that you did all of your borrowing from just one source

Actually I didn't. Most would be an accurate word, but not all.

I feel like you're getting defensive here, and I don't think that's fair; we're only going on what you're telling us. At any rate, I did have a chance to read through your rulebook. Here are some thoughts:

Quote:

There's an Event Card mechanic adapted from Puerto Rico's role cards, and the modular board is adapted from Settlers. (Embarrassingly, the board setup resembles TI3 more than Settlers; but I'd never seen any of the TI editions when I designed my board!)

The start player each round does choose an Event Card, but that's just a face-up draft, it isn't really like PR's role selection mechanic. The modular board is a difference, but other than that, this really is a very close knock-off of AGoT.

It seems that the substantial changes you've made are:

-- You can "buy" additional Supply. That's an interesting idea.

-- Supply applies to all armies. That's also pretty good: in AGoT, the idea that supply affects only multi-troop armies was mildly confusing at first to us.

-- Combat is resolved with an in-the-fist bid modifier rather than a card based modifier. I don't know if this is an improvement; I wouldn't call it a dramatic difference.

-- Troops can be mustered anywhere. This seems like a difference, but not a clear improvement.

-- No bidding round with Power tokens. Ok.

-- Terrain effects. This I'm worried about. You have a lot of terrain types, and I think it will actually make your game harder to play because the terrain effects are so varied. AGoT does have terrain effects, they're just so subtle and seamless that you don't notice them. There's a big difference between a water strategy (Greyjoy, Baratheon) and a land-based strategy (Lannister, Tyrell). Also, the impasse of the river introduces some very nice spatial concerns. I like that the territorial aspects in AGoT add tactical concerns rather than additional rules. I would look seriously at the changes you've made here and try to simplify or unify the territory classes as much as possible.

Quote:

If it weren't for the upcoming KublaCon design contest, probably no one would ever see Brimstone except for family and friends. I have no plans to actively shop it around. But we all daydream -- what if some company rep sees it at KublaCon and gets interested? It isn't at all likely, of course... and I keep telling myself that, but the daydreams persist! :-)

I think you should definitely enter the contest. My prediction, since we're just daydreaming: if it does get picked up by a company, it will be changed in a ton of ways before publication. The game is, in my opinion, way too similar to AGoT to be publishable right now. To me, the concern is that the major changes (esp terrain) appear to add complexity, and with complexity comes length. I'm not convinced it's actually shorter or simpler than AGoT. How long do your playtests take typically?

But again, I hasten to point out that if the primary goal is to have a fun game to play with friends, you've achieved that. That's no small accomplishment!

Best of luck with the game!

-Jeff

Rick-Holzgrafe
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How important is originality?

jwarrend wrote:
I feel like you're getting defensive here, and I don't think that's fair; we're only going on what you're telling us.

Quite right, and I apologize if I sounded touchy. I didn't mean to.

jwarrend wrote:
The modular board is a difference, but other than that, this really is a very close knock-off of AGoT.

"A very close knock-off," yeah, that's what I was afraid of. It was hard for me to judge.

jwarrend wrote:
-- Terrain effects. This I'm worried about. You have a lot of terrain types, and I think it will actually make your game harder to play because the terrain effects are so varied. AGoT does have terrain effects, they're just so subtle and seamless that you don't notice them. There's a big difference between a water strategy (Greyjoy, Baratheon) and a land-based strategy (Lannister, Tyrell).

Very good point, I hadn't thought about water regions being a "terrain"! Also, about half of the terrain types in Brimstone are for distinguishing supply regions, goal regions, and such, and AGOT has those features too. Another point of similarity!

jwarrend wrote:
the major changes (esp terrain) appear to add complexity, and with complexity comes length. I'm not convinced it's actually shorter or simpler than AGoT. How long do your playtests take typically?

Terrain adds complexity, but I think it's the major feature that makes Brimstone interesting to play. Otherwise tactics and strategy would be too simple and dull. But I did have to put icons onto the hexes, so players don't have to memorize the terrain types or constantly refer to the rulebook. (You couldn't have noticed this, since the rulebook contains no full-size images of hexes.)

Brimstone is certainly simpler in the sense that it takes much less time to learn than AGOT. Also playtesting shows that three-player games typically run about 15 rounds, an hour and a half. With my usual crew (who sometimes over-analyze) it's rare for AGOT to come in at less than three hours. Of course the difference may be due as much to fewer players as to less complexity. I am still trying to arrange more four-player sessions, which seem to run longer. If they take longer than 20 rounds or so, I'll have to add yet another ripped-off rule from AGOT and put an end-of-game "clock" rule into Brimstone.

jwarrend wrote:
The game is, in my opinion, way too similar to AGoT to be publishable right now.

Ah, good! I'm not pleased that Brimstone is "way too similar" of course, but that was the informed opinion I wanted to hear and couldn't form for myself.

In future I don't plan to make a career of closely imitating existing games. Brimstone was a special case, something I made for my family. Daydreams notwithstanding, in my saner moments I would expect to see the moon fall before seeing Brimstone get published. :-) But now I feel I have a better idea of how much originality a publishable game should have.

Jeff, I really appreciate that you took the time to read Brimstone's rules and comment so carefully. Brimstone may be quicker to learn than AGOT as I said, but that's not saying much. :-) It's a long read and it was good of you to slog through it. I'll continue to try to pay back the community by doing the same favor for other BGDF participants.

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