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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

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jwarrend
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The discussion of the memory element in the El Grande chat has gotten me thinking about aspects like "trackable but hidden information". For myself, and for the majority of players I think, elements like shares in Acquire, the Castillo in El Grande, or how many of each color everyone has in Tigris are trackable "in theory" but not in practice.

However, there do seem to be some people who are capable of tracking these kinds of things. And it would seem that designers, were they designing their games for such players, would obviously see that their games were "flawed" when played with such players, yet almost every great designer -- Sackson, Knizia, Kramer, Schacht -- has used an element like this, or some other aspect that "breaks" the game when it is played a certain way or a certain player.

My personal conclusion is that these games are being designed by people who are more like "me", a fairly casual player, than the "hypothetical person who can and does memorize everything." And frankly, I'm not even remotely positive this is a bad thing. I really feel like German games are not meant to be played like Chess or Go. They are not, in my opinion, meant to be played with a heavy level of analysis. They present an interesting set of decisions that, in theory, should evoke a certain experience and should create a fun context for a social gathering, but it is the social context that is more important than the competitive context.

This may sound like I'm excusing sloppy design, but I'm not. What I'm trying to do, instead, is to "poo-poo" overanalyzers. A great example is what Joe said last night -- that the Castillo is a "bad" element because at any time, you can count how many cubes everyone has on the board and in their holdings, and deduce how many are left. But, I can tell you with absolute certainty, if someone insisted on counting all of everyone's cubes on every single turn, I would never play that game with that person again. Why? Because, someone who insists on availing himself of perfect information at the expense of bringing the game to a screeching halt just so he can make the "best" move is not necessarily breaking the game, but he's breaking the player experience that the game intends to provide. The reality is, I don't know if very many people can count into the Castillo, and if they can't, then the uncertainty is part of what makes the play experience fun.

Frankly, I think the "chatter" on the game groups has made me somewhat lose interest in discussing games very much on those groups. I feel like people just analyze these things in WAAAAY too much detail, and as a result have in some sense lost the ability to just have a good time playing games. It's as if everyone is just looking to pounce on every single flaw that a game might have, no matter how hypothetical it might be.

That said, I think it's quite valid to analyze these games from a design standpoint and try to learn how to make our own games better. And I do think it's good as designers to minimize trouble points whenever possible. But, if there's a memory element that makes the game fun for 99% of the people who will play, I must honestly say that I don't care about that very vocal 1% who will whine about that aspect.

And, I do agree with Joe that it's good to have the game be playable with public information. But I think Rene's philosophy, of having a little randomness and a little hidden information is a great balance between keeping AP down yet also preventing an outright benefit to memorizing.

With El Grande, I haven't played enough to have a definitive opinion, but with other "hidden but trackable info" games, for me, I don't/can't track the info, and I enjoy the experience of trying to play based on "impression". And I feel, based on the fact that these are excellent designers who nevertheless included these elements in their games, that this is really the spirit in which these games are intended to be played.

Perhaps there's an issue whereby the people who gravitate to gaming, at least in the US, tend to be very analytical types, which is great in a way but also perhaps leads to a level of thinking about these games that goes beyond the spirit in which they're meant to be enjoyed.

As always, I could be way off...

-Jeff

Anonymous
Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

I dunno.
I dare to disagree.

I have never played El Grande or Tigirs and it has been so long since I played Acquire that I don't even remember us playing with hidden shares...

But one thing that I do have a LOT of experience playing is Settlers... which does have a sort of memory aspect to tracking what resources people have. Now, granted, you pretty much only need think a few turns deep to track what people have in their hands... it actually SPEEDS the game up. If I need brick, and I can remember that a 3, 5 or 9 hasn't been rolled in a while and the last person to get brick used it on that turn, I know that NO ONE has it and I'm not going to waste time asking to trade for it, or playing a Knight/Soldier in attempt to take it.

Now, with that said, I consider myself to be a damn good Settlers player. It is quite likely the only game I win consistently.... hell, it might even be the only game I win. Why? Because I have played the game SOO much, even if I didn't spend time analyzing it, it would have just sunk in... it would have become what it is now... instinct. I play the game on instincts that were developed through trial and error/analysis.

BUT... I do lose. I can maximize my potential to win... but I CAN'T win all the time... these are games with a factor NO ONE can control, randomness. I can theorize and count on statistics all day long, but we've ALL played those games of Settlers where you're on the 6 and 8... but 4's get rolled all game long....

...and I think the designers COUNT on this. I think they built their games with tracking in mind... thus they have not made the tracking aspect of the game so immense that the game screeches to a halt while someone counts himself to sleep. The trick is to make a game that you can have FUN playing without even trying, as well as play competitively with analysis.

Take Puerto Rico for instance. My family doesn't like to play that game. Why? Because there's too much to think about. You can't just blindly pick stuff and still stay in the game... but they love Settlers... because they don't HAVE to think if they don't want too...

But, that's just my opinion...
Tyler

jwarrend
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

Random_Person wrote:
I dunno.
I dare to disagree.

Gasp!

Quote:

Now, with that said, I consider myself to be a damn good Settlers player. It is quite likely the only game I win consistently.... hell, it might even be the only game I win. Why? Because I have played the game SOO much, even if I didn't spend time analyzing it, it would have just sunk in... it would have become what it is now... instinct. I play the game on instincts that were developed through trial and error/analysis.

I think my point is, though, that the people I'm labeling as "whiners" would argue, perhaps, "You should play Settlers with everyone's cards face-up at all times, so that people who can remember every transaction don't have an unfair advantage." What I think your example does is actually agree with my point -- you aren't playing by manually keeping track of every single transaction, it's just "organic" to you to have a rough sense of what people are holding based on having a rough sense of what has been rolled, and a lot of familiarity with the game.

That's what I'm saying about Acquire, Tigris, and El Grande as well. When I'm playing Acquire, I probably couldn't tell you at any given moment exactly how many shares of each company each player is holding, yet I can usually say approximately who holds the majority in each company, and who I am most concerned about based on my own holdings. I agree, these are skills that are game-specific and are honed by playing and developing a "feel" for the game and it's nuances. But I DON'T think that this necessitates playing every game with "perfect information" -- I think playing by feeling is so much more satisfying, and encourages you to explore games in depth and detail.

I could be way off here, but I sometimes feel, correctly or not, that there's this perception among the spielfrieks community that games are boxes to be checked off on a list -- "I played this, I played that, I haven't played this one yet -- need to get in on a game soon!" Unless these folks have WAY more time to game than I do (and most actually do, I suspect), it just seems counterproductive to adopt a "play everything" strategy, because you lose the ability to appreciate the games in their full depth. That said, I think most have played Acquire, El Grande, or Tigris a lot of times, and I think their suggestions to play the games "open" need to be taken seriously, I just tend to disagree with them.

So, I think I actually agree with everything you said, though perhaps I gave the impression from my earlier post that I wouldn't have...

-Jeff

Torrent
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

I think there are certainly degree's of the Counter. In El Grande, I try to remember who has put how many cubes into the tower. Since there are only three rounds of this, it's not too hard. I don't count all the cubes on the board and box to deduce the number in the tower, so I do make mistakes every so often. I guess this is more what people have called 'playing by feel'. I just count things at some degree to get my 'feel'.

ON the other hand, I remember a summer playing Hearts with a guy who could remember all the cards played, and knowing his own hand, could really almost KNOW what you would play in response to his lead card by about halfway through the round. It got to be almost no fun, except for trying to 'beat' his count.

I think some trackable hidden info is certainly useful in certain games. However an over use will also make me not want to play anymore (especially as I have a horrible micro-term memory).

Andy

Anonymous
Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

jwarrend wrote:
I think my point is, though, that the people I'm labeling as "whiners" would argue, perhaps, "You should play Settlers with everyone's cards face-up at all times, so that people who can remember every transaction don't have an unfair advantage." What I think your example does is actually agree with my point -- you aren't playing by manually keeping track of every single transaction, it's just "organic" to you to have a rough sense of what people are holding based on having a rough sense of what has been rolled, and a lot of familiarity with the game.

That's what I'm saying about Acquire, Tigris, and El Grande as well. When I'm playing Acquire, I probably couldn't tell you at any given moment exactly how many shares of each company each player is holding, yet I can usually say approximately who holds the majority in each company, and who I am most concerned about based on my own holdings. I agree, these are skills that are game-specific and are honed by playing and developing a "feel" for the game and it's nuances. But I DON'T think that this necessitates playing every game with "perfect information" -- I think playing by feeling is so much more satisfying, and encourages you to explore games in depth and detail.

LOL.
I think we've successfully both misunderstood each other. :-)

What I meant is that at any given time I COULD tell you EXACTLY what everyone has in their hand... but this isn't because I'm sitting there memorizing everything... or telling people to pause while I think... it's because in my early days of playing Settlers, I was also a SERIOUS Magic: the Gathering player... which meant that I spent my time counting cards, an analysing deck construction methods so that I could ascertain what the probability of someone having X in their hand was based on the deck they played and how many cards were in hand/discard pile... whatever. SO, when I started playing Settlers, I looked DEEP into these things... I memorised how many of each card was in the development deck... I studied the probablities of drawing a particular card. When I played, I memorized what people had in their hands... I memorized setup after setup... position after position... and after playing a few thousand games, it's all become instinct. I don't have to THINK about tracking anything anymore... I just know.

Physical trainers talk about "muscle memory"... the ability for your body to become fluid at certain positions, based on repetition...... I have developed "instinct memory"... I have been in and analized thousands of Settlers positions... thus, I "just know" what is best to do/who has what...

Then I agree with you again :-)
There are Spielfrieks who consider it some sort of elite club to be able to play EVERYTHING... and they'll never reach a level in any game where they have developed a "perfect instinct" for the game, simply because they don't play individual games often enough... instead they play everything and attempt to but a broad/general strategy to work.... which usually involves knowing anything and everything at a particular moment (ie Counting).......

Tyler

Tube_Maxwell
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

I'd say I'm lucky in that the group I play with is very good at "getting" how a game was intended to be played. This means that any (most, anyway) game that we play will be fun. I do my share of analysis, but it happens after the game is over. This is where we talk statistics and probability and ways to 'beat the system'.

I can't argue with people that sit under the defense of "It doesn't say I CAN'T do that in the rules, so I'm gonna do it!". I just try not to play with those kinds of people.

Quote:

Frankly, I think the "chatter" on the game groups has made me somewhat lose interest in discussing games very much on those groups.

You don't mean the Thursday chats do you? I'm only new to them, but I value and respect your ideas about and towards game design and I'd hate to see you give 'em up cold turkey! :(

jwarrend
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

Tube_Maxwell wrote:

Quote:

Frankly, I think the "chatter" on the game groups has made me somewhat lose interest in discussing games very much on those groups.

You don't mean the Thursday chats do you? I'm only new to them, but I value and respect your ideas about and towards game design and I'd hate to see you give 'em up cold turkey! :(

No, I was talking more about the "spielfrieks" yahoo group. I've never been a big participant there, but I generally find the discussions interesting. I just feel, though, probably incorrectly, that there's a real sense where everyone needs to be a "know-it-all" there; you have to have played everything, and have a strong opinion about everything. It just feels a little too much like a "clique" to me.

I feel very differently about this group. I must say, this board contains the nicest people I've gotten to know across the net, and I really enjoy and value the time I spend here discussing games. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the difference is, because indeed, I think we play a lot of games, and we also analyze games in great detail. Yet, I just feel like something is different here. I think it's probably just the difference between, for example, a gathering of film critics and a gathering of film makers. Both groups presumably watch a lot of movies, yet the discussions of the latter group are something I'd much rather sit in on.

Not sure what I'm realy trying to say, but anyway, there's an attempt at clarifying...

-Jeff

Scurra
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

Tube_Maxwell wrote:

You don't mean the Thursday chats do you? I'm only new to them, but I value and respect your ideas about and towards game design and I'd hate to see you give 'em up cold turkey! :(

We're deliberately trying not to talk about "strategy" in the Thursday chats even though we talk about specific games - there are other places to do that. Obviously those aspects come up because they have to, but it's usually because we need to discuss why the game uses them, not necessarily how the player uses them.

And, hopefully, we can start to discern some patterns - such as "counting issues" that can be used as pointers; when a game uses a particular technique well and when it uses it to disguise other shortcomings.

That's mostly why I enjoy the discussions on here more than those on game-play groups, where they do tend to take analysis past a point that I am happy with. (Mind you, that's probably because I'm only a "decently-solid" gamer: I rarely win but I even more rarely come last.)

Joe_Huber
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

Quote:
The discussion of the memory element in the El Grande chat has gotten me thinking about aspects like "trackable but hidden information". For myself, and for the majority of players I think, elements like shares in Acquire, the Castillo in El Grande, or how many of each color everyone has in Tigris are trackable "in theory" but not in practice.

I can track both reasonably exactly; I regularly play with players who can even more precisely. I play Bridge regularly, and this skill is _required_ to play the game even decently (which is about all I manage); it's no harder to track scores in E&T, and far easier to track troops in the Castillo.

Quote:
However, there do seem to be some people who are capable of tracking these kinds of things. And it would seem that designers, were they designing their games for such players, would obviously see that their games were "flawed" when played with such players, yet almost every great designer -- Sackson, Knizia, Kramer, Schacht -- has used an element like this, or some other aspect that "breaks" the game when it is played a certain way or a certain player.

Nothing against Schacht, but somehow I don't see him quite in a class with the other three just yet.

Anyway, the advantage of trackable hidden information is that it speeds gameplay. There are two potentially disadvantages:

1) The game doesn't work if the information is made public. I consider such a game broken; thankfully most games avoid this.

2) Players make sub-optimal plays. Somehow, it's not as satisfying to win a game because a non-tracker made silly decisions.

Quote:
My personal conclusion is that these games are being designed by people who are more like "me", a fairly casual player, than the "hypothetical person who can and does memorize everything." And frankly, I'm not even remotely positive this is a bad thing. I really feel like German games are not meant to be played like Chess or Go. They are not, in my opinion, meant to be played with a heavy level of analysis. They present an interesting set of decisions that, in theory, should evoke a certain experience and should create a fun context for a social gathering, but it is the social context that is more important than the competitive context.

I agree - but I don't think making trackable information public should inherently lead to a heavy level of analysis. It can - but I try to avoid particular games where it does.

Quote:
This may sound like I'm excusing sloppy design, but I'm not. What I'm trying to do, instead, is to "poo-poo" overanalyzers. A great example
is what Joe said last night -- that the Castillo is a "bad" element
because at any time, you can count how many cubes everyone has on the
board and in their holdings, and deduce how many are left. But, I can tell you with absolute certainty, if someone insisted on counting all of everyone's cubes on every single turn, I would never play that game with that person again. Why? Because, someone who insists on availing himself of perfect information at the expense of bringing the game to a screeching halt just so he can make the "best" move is not necessarily breaking the game, but he's breaking the player experience that the game intends to provide. The reality is, I don't know if very many people can count into the Castillo, and if they can't, then the uncertainty is part of what makes the play experience fun.

But why not just give that information to everyone? Does it really help to hide it?

Quote:
That said, I think it's quite valid to analyze these games from a design standpoint and try to learn how to make our own games better. And I do think it's good as designers to minimize trouble points whenever possible. But, if there's a memory element that makes the game fun for 99% of the people who will play, I must honestly say that I don't care about that very vocal 1% who will whine about that aspect.

Absolutely - ya can't please everyone.

Quote:
And, I do agree with Joe that it's good to have the game be playable with public information. But I think Rene's philosophy, of having a little randomness and a little hidden information is a great balance between keeping AP down yet also preventing an outright benefit to memorizing.

Then why not design the game in such a way that it is _untrackable_ hidden information? I really, really enjoy designs that foil card/etc. counters by making it truly impossible to do so - it makes _everybody_ happy. Well, OK, not everybody - but certainly some of both those who mind trackable hidden data and those who don't.

There's another issue involved here - design intent. But I'll start a separate threat for that...

Joe

jwarrend
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

Joe_Huber wrote:

I can track both reasonably exactly; I regularly play with players who can even more precisely. I play Bridge regularly, and this skill is _required_ to play the game even decently (which is about all I manage); it's no harder to track scores in E&T, and far easier to track troops in the Castillo.

Wouldn't you say, though, that you and your group are probably "unrepresentative" of gamers in this sense? Do you think more gamers are like "you", who can track everything, or "me", who can't? I would suspect that among the "spielfrieks" set, there might be more like you, but for every spielfriek there are, what, maybe 50? 100? 200? gamers out there, and I suspect the majority are more "like me", but I could be way off here.

Quote:

Nothing against Schacht, but somehow I don't see him quite in a class with the other three just yet.

Ok, fair enough, although he did have 3 games nominated for the SdJ last year, so hey, he's farther along than we are!

Quote:

Anyway, the advantage of trackable hidden information is that it speeds gameplay.

Yes, but I think "hidden information", trackable or not, also creates a certain kind of play experience.

Quote:

There are two potentially disadvantages:

1) The game doesn't work if the information is made public. I consider such a game broken; thankfully most games avoid this.

2) Players make sub-optimal plays. Somehow, it's not as satisfying to win a game because a non-tracker made silly decisions.

These are indeed valid concerns, but people are always going to make sub-optimal plays. I know, I know...why include a system that will increase the chances that they'll make suboptimal plays? I think that it's kind of like what Random_Person said -- having a rough (or in his case, exact) sense of what other people have is part of the skill of some of these games, and being able to know roughly where you stand in the Castillo, or in "red cubes", or in "Luxor" shares, is something the game rewards. I don't know if it's so much the "memory" aspect as just the "intuition/feel" aspect. That takes time to cultivate with certain games, yet I think it gets poo-pooed dismissively and perhaps sometimes unfairly so. The reality is, in some games, full public info would be information overload, and some things, you still couldn't keep track of (because there's too much info), and people would still make bad plays, and then people would complain about that instead.

Quote:

But why not just give that information to everyone? Does it really help to hide it?

I think it's game-specific. In some cases, Acquire e.g., I think it would be more of an information overload issue that could lead to A.P. But in most cases, I really just think it's a nice source of end-game tension that works because the majority of people aren't counting exactly how many of X everyone else has.

Quote:

Then why not design the game in such a way that it is _untrackable_ hidden information? I really, really enjoy designs that foil card/etc. counters by making it truly impossible to do so - it makes _everybody_ happy. Well, OK, not everybody - but certainly some of both those who mind trackable hidden data and those who don't.

I totally agree, and if we can design our games with this in mind, we'll keep everyone happy!

Quote:

There's another issue involved here - design intent. But I'll start a separate threat for that...

Joe

Cool. I'll try to comment there as well. Thanks for your thoughts!

-Jeff

Joe_Huber
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

jwarrend wrote:
Wouldn't you say, though, that you and your group are probably "unrepresentative" of gamers in this sense? Do you think more gamers are like "you", who can track everything, or "me", who can't? I would suspect that among the "spielfrieks" set, there might be more like you, but for every spielfriek there are, what, maybe 50? 100? 200? gamers out there, and I suspect the majority are more "like me", but I could be way off here.

I'm not certain. There are a lot of people who play Bridge, and who can count cards quite well. I suspect the percentage of "gamers" who do track is at least 10%, and the number who can is far higher. To get to a 50-200/1 ratio, I think you're counting a lot of people who wouldn't identify themselves as gamers.

Quote:
Ok, fair enough, although he (Schacht) did have 3 games nominated for the SdJ last year, so hey, he's farther along than we are!

Well, sure. But still, you're comparing an up and coming star with three first ballot hall-of-famers. Yeah, compared to minor leaguers Schacht looks awfully good...

Quote:
Yes, but I think "hidden information", trackable or not, also creates a certain kind of play experience.

If it's trackable, it does so only to the extent players don't bother to track, though.

Quote:
These are indeed valid concerns, but people are always going to make sub-optimal plays. I know, I know...why include a system that will increase the chances that they'll make suboptimal plays? I think that it's kind of like what Random_Person said -- having a rough (or in his case, exact) sense of what other people have is part of the skill of some of these games, and being able to know roughly where you stand in the Castillo, or in "red cubes", or in "Luxor" shares, is something the game rewards. I don't know if it's so much the "memory" aspect as just the "intuition/feel" aspect. That takes time to cultivate with certain games, yet I think it gets poo-pooed dismissively and perhaps sometimes unfairly so. The reality is, in some games, full public info would be information overload, and some things, you still couldn't keep track of (because there's too much info), and people would still make bad plays, and then people would complain about that instead.

But isn't the ability to handle a large information space a more interesting ability for a game to test than memory? _Particularly_ if everyone can see the score and what's being tested is how to change the situation?

Having asked the question, I'm not certain - a memory element in games can be quite enjoyable, in its own way.

Quote:
I think it's game-specific. In some cases, Acquire e.g., I think it would be more of an information overload issue that could lead to A.P. But in most cases, I really just think it's a nice source of end-game tension that works because the majority of people aren't counting exactly how many of X everyone else has.

Having played Acquire many, many times both ways, I've never - not even once - seen a case of AP with open stocks. I understand the concern - I just find that the volume of information, hidden or not, is the cause of AP far more so than the state of the information.

Joe

Scurra
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Who are games designed for? (re: El Grande chat)

Joe_Huber wrote:

Having played Acquire many, many times both ways, I've never - not even once - seen a case of AP with open stocks. I understand the concern - I just find that the volume of information, hidden or not, is the cause of AP far more so than the state of the information.

I think I have to agree with Joe here - Acquire with "closed holdings" seems to take longer than that with "open holdings". IMO this is mostly because the random component is always hidden. If the tiles players held were also open the game would collapse into a level of AP that would make Chess seem rapid :)

Anyway, we're discussing "Euphrates & Tigris" in a couple of weeks at the Thursday chat, and if ever there was an argument about open vs closed, that's got to be up there...

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