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Reconsidering Board Game Design 2/3: Board VS Video games

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

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I started to design board game because I though that it would be easier to do than video games since there is no programming, music and user interface to do. It's true that with a board game, a prototype can be playable rapidly, which takes more time as a video game because of the programming. But both medium requires a lot of time, it's just not invested at the same place.

Some might argue about the proportions, but I said once that Video Game design is 80% production and 20% design. The game design is made at the early stage of the game, and the production of the code, art, music, starts when a rough design of the game has been made. Some changes can be made on the way but there is little possible maneuverings. On the other hand, board game design are 20% production and 80% design. The core of the work is to design a good balanced game though play testing and various iteration, only at the end when you have and awesome game that you start your production by making art, graphic design and actually printing the game.

But does it have to be this way? I always said that Video games had a lot to learn from board games while on the other hand board games had a lot to learn from video games. Could it be possible to design a kind of game that would require and investment time of 50% production and 50% design in hoping to cut the most boring part out of both jobs?

Some time ago, I had an idea that partially exists, which consist in making a Video Board Game. My idea was to design some sort of framework that would allow creating more easily board games on a video medium. The goal of the framework would be to integrate all type of components like cards, and dices, make sure that they get animated, and also integrate some board game concepts, like players, turns, etc.

There are some game engines that does something similar like zillion games (If I remember correctly), but it lacks of animations. I always say that in prototyping, appearance does not matter, but to play a board game as a video game, it matters more than anything. I played Pioneer on the PC, which is a clone of settlers of Catan and it was horrible. A turn last around, 3.5 seconds. In order to know what happened, you had to look at a log of moves and die results. Seriously! On the other hand, the Xbox version of Catan is awesome. You can almost feel like if you are playing a real board game. Why? because there are animations, you can see the die rolls, the resources cards moves, you see the pieces being places on the board, etc. While in pioneer, you see a couple of number flash and it's your turn ... already!

But you'll say: "video board games are board games ported on a different medium, it's not a different from making regular board games". Unfortunately, yes it's different. It is very different. The first differences are strictly for convenience.

- Low Setup time: It takes little time to setup the game. In Catan XBOX, the board is setup in less than 10 seconds. That allows playing the game more often, with the opportunity of more play test per day.

- Quicker Resolution: Rolls and other kind of mechanics can be resolved more rapidly. Again saving time, but also allow using mechanics that would have been too long or complex to resolve in a regular board game.

- More play testing: Repeating the above, game is played faster which allow more testing. I managed to find many flaws in the "Duel Masters" card game when I could finally play the Game Boy video game since I managed to play hundreds of duels. So in the end I could see all the flaws I would like to avoid in my own game. With regular cards, I might not had a chance to play that many times.

- Easier Distribution: You can release a prototype as print and play in other to get feed back. But if a playable video prototype would be available, it would speed up the distribution process and make the game ready to play in no time. Thus getting even more feedback.

- No need to find players: Depending on the strength of the AI (discussed below), you do not really need to find players to play. Even if the AI sucks, you can still make other people play test the game much quicker.

There are other advantages that video games could gain by using board games components:

- More Structure and less flaws: Video games have almost the sky is the limit issue, so they have little restriction on the type of game they can design besides the amount of memory and processing power of the machine. By forcing to use board game components it adds a few restriction that will forces a small compression/abstraction of the mechanics like done in board game. That would have the consequence of simplifying certain aspects of the game and reducing the possibility of flaws.

- Faster to develop: If using a framework that manage board games, a lot of things will always be managed by the framework, which should accelerate the development of the game.

- Restriction stimulate creativity: By forcing certain compression, new ways to solving the problem need to be used. Which introduce some elegant mechanics found in board games. Like I said in the previous thread, it's a good thing if used in small doses. Too much compression is just a pain to do.

But most importantly are the reality cheat. Video game would allow board game to cheat reality. That has the possibility to expand the possibility of a board game and lifting some restriction board games needs to deal with, which could reduce the design time:

- Variable information components: Nothing prevents information printed on cards or tokens to be changed in the middle of the game. Very hard to do in a board game once the pieces are printed. That would allow for example in a war game to keep track of fuel and ammunition for each unit. It's possible, but very inconvenient to keep track of it on a separate piece of paper in a real board game. Random information could also be generated on the component (ex: random stats equipment).

- Space Containment: Components can contain other components. For example, a card can hold bingo tokens. But nothing can prevent a smaller component to hold a larger component. For example, having territories on a map each holding an local hex map as big as the map of territories.

- Almost unlimited pieces: Besides the memory limits of the machine, there is no limit to the amount of components you could have in a game.

So those reality cheat could remove a lot of limits encountered in board game design which could save a huge amount of time. So on one side, a framework would reduce production time of video game development. On the other side it would reduce the design time due to compression and abstraction, which in the end, I think we could end up with something 50/50.

But video game programming has it's complication.

- Artificial Intelligence: One of the biggest issue is AI design. It's one of the most complex topic in computer programming. There are various ways to deal with this. Cheating is often used, but frustrate a lot of players, random actions could give results that makes the game less challenging, but still the game will be playable. Else, the best option that does not fit to all type of game is scripted AI like in board games. The best examples are Shadow over Camelot, Battle Star Galactica and Arkham Horror. There are game mechanics that makes the game behave in a certain way to hinder the players. In that case, little AI is required because it was designed to make sure the game has no decision to make.

- Rules: Managing data in object oriented programming is easy. Rules is a bit more complex. They also need to be generic rules that both a player or an AI could interpret which complexifies a bit the implementation. This is of course if you want the game to manage the rules. But if you want a system like ZunTsu where the players manage the rules, then this is not an issue. I still prefer that the game manage the rules, it makes the game play much more fluid.

- Multi Player: One of my friend who worked for a video game company doing cell phone games told me that one of the biggest bug sources was multi Player and online connection. You end up with communication or synchronization problem that makes it a pain to manage. Of course if the game is played alone or in hot seat, that is not really an issue.

There also seem to be an optimal situation where it would be more viable to make a board game instead of a video board game. So it should be recommended to make a real board game if many of the conditions below are true:

- Low depth, level of details and components: Makes the production of prototype easier and reduce play time. Also reduce production cost, it could be a good reason why Micro games are so popular recently.

- Play time of 1 hour or less: First because people have short attention span, but most importantly, the longer is the game, the more time it takes to play test. So it require more time investment to design. I saw a funny comment for a war game that lasted 100 hours, they said that there are rumours that the designers never actually finished a game. Also testing a game requires almost twice the time of the duration of the game due to setup and note taking (especially when solo testing).

- Based on mechanics: Like explained in the previous thread, it needs to have a good pool of mechanics previously seen as functional that can be adapted to your game.

- Social aspect is more important: Board games makes it easier to perform certain type of mechanics especially when it involves social aspects like negotiation. Even if the social interaction is not part of the rules (bragging rights, role play) it should be considered as if it does make a difference. For example, playing stock ticker with real players is really not the same thing, even if the social aspect has not influence on the rules.

- Limited Thematic Span: Like explained in the previous thread, make sure the theme does not cover too much making it very hard to implement it as a board game without cutting stuff.

I think at this point, I have a better idea when a game should strictly be a board game and when it could be considered being ported as a video game instead. Of course, I don't have any video board game framework yet, so I can't use that route yet, but there might be another solution to making stronger themed games like this is the case of many video game. Of course, the medium could be a one of the reason, but the single player aspect of many video games is another reason why strong theme games are easier to achieve than in regular multi player board games. That will be the content of my final thread.

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lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
Human opposition is the fundamental difference

I finally realized as we have more video games being converted to board, and even more board games being converted to video, that the fundamental difference in design is not whether you involve a computer or not, it's whether there is human opposition or not. When you make a single-player boardgame, in a very real sense you are making something that "ought to be" a video game but for production reasons you're doing it as a boardgame. When you make a video game for more than two sides (team games don't really count, because there's almost never any cooperation with the team), it's essentially a boardgame but for technical reasons (such as fog of war) it works better with a computer involved.

See "The fundamental difference in game design is games with human opposition vs those without"

Masacroso's picture
Joined: 05/05/2014
The real difference between

The real difference between material and immaterial games, table games and videogames, is the amount of resources o mechanics that material restrict.

In other words: videogames have a HUGE space to develop, in mathematical words, his "cardinality" (if the analogy make sense) is very much higer than on material games.

So you need some reasons to develop a material game instead of a virtual one. Reasons can be:
-atmosphere (party)
-need your body to play it (example: football)

devaloki's picture
Joined: 01/15/2014
In my opinion, if you make a

In my opinion, if you make a video game board game then you have to make a physical version as well. I hate when something is digital only

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Quote:In my opinion, if you

In my opinion, if you make a video game board game then you have to make a physical version as well. I hate when something is digital only

I like beign able to playtest a game physically before making a video game. But even if a physical version is possible it might not be convenient to play as a board game.

For example, "Dai Senryaku" could in theory work as a board game. You just need to have a listing of all the units with a unique ID where after every move, you need to calculate and record fuel spendings, ammo depletion, and mark that it has finshed moving.

It could be done, but it's very unconvenient to play and it might simply multiply the play time by 3 times.

So the idea behind doing a video board games is that you can test certain mechanics with a physical prototype to see if it actually works, but playing it physically would be too annoying. But as a video game since all the computation are done by the machine, you can allow using mechanics that would have not been convenient for a board game, but they would have little impact as a video game.

Same example as above, keeping track of fuel and ammo does not require any task from the player when played as a video game.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
A computer simply makes

A computer simply makes things faster, easier and correct.
The time consummation that board games have can be much greater than just 3x.

Imagine having a RTS as a board game. First things first.

A computer can calculate numerous things at the same time and keep pushing and handling the game forward while the player can remain idle. The computer also wont complain being a referee of some sort. Like handling the fog of war in war games.

When using a player for those things, he/she can calculate 1 thing at a time and the game is actually paused during this calculation, constantly. It is hard to implement real time, for of war, a big variation in pieces, etc.

From Bright to Dark:

Bright area;
Before we enter the grey area. Every game can be a board game. But still, there also can be video games of them.
Except for...
Are there games that would do bad as a video game?

I know that you can play numerous games with just 1 deck of cards. When you know the rules of them all, you can play them all.
With the video game version, you need to have them all.
But perhaps this is a bad example.

Grey area;
In the grey area, players will already most likely choose for the video version. Only hardcore board gamers will do the board game version. Or the players are an absolute fan of a certain video game.

(I know that my game falls in this category)

Dark area;
Eventually there are players that drop out 1 by 1 because they don't have the patience of following other players handling/calculating, or doing these things themselves. When all the players are gone, the requirement is obvious to be a video game.

devaloki's picture
Joined: 01/15/2014
X3M wrote: When using a

X3M wrote:

When using a player for those things, he/she can calculate 1 thing at a time and the game is actually paused during this calculation, constantly. It is hard to implement real time, for of war, a big variation in pieces, etc.

Dark area;
Eventually there are players that drop out 1 by 1 because they don't have the patience of following other players handling/calculating, or doing these things themselves. When all the players are gone, the requirement is obvious to be a video game.

Space Alert handled real time for a board game quite well, although it is always frantic.
The dark area thing you mentioned is quite true. I think the way to avoid that is to have game turns play fast. On ps3 Dungeon Twister is pretty much dead with multiplayer because the game turns and game as a whole just takes too damn long to play.

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