# How can you have an expansion phase in board game design considering it's already constrained in time and space?

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larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008

When designing something, you generally have 2 phase, the expansion phase where you pitch idea and explore the possibilities, and the compression phase where you streamline you design and make it fit to reality.

Recently I wrote a thread that when I design video games I seem to use an additive design, where I constantly add stuff as the design progress. While why designing board game you constantly substract stuff from the design to make the game fit it reality which is limited by time (playtime, complexity) and space (components, table space) constraints.

I also previously said that it would be easier for me to design a video game, play it a lot, then abstract the game as a board game, than actually start desiging it as a board game.

Which made me realise that the additive substractive process is in fact the expansion and compression phase of design. And that expansion is easier in video game design as your are only constrained by the resources of the computer, while in board game design the expansion is harder as you are more likely to do a lot of compression to respect the restriction of time and space imposed by reality. Considering that all designable mediums would have an expansion and compression phase, the question is:

How an expansion phase could be possible in board game design considering you are always facing the restraints of reality.

For example, in board game design, I cannot go wild and explore any idea without considering if the game is going to be a card game, a tile game, or a dexterity game. Even if you could go wild, I would rapidly need to switch to compression if I wanted a playable prototype.

So from my experience, the expansion phase in board game design is very limited and you might constantly need to compress back which could create a kind of iterative pattern of compression/depression after each playtest.

While in video game design, you have a large expansion, then a large compression.

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Adding some stuff I wrote on

Adding some stuff I wrote on BGG

Quote:
How do you get to a 'workable prototype' in a "computer game"?

How is that different than the concept of getting to a 'workable prototype' in a "physical game"?

If I take a complex game idea where let say you play a pirate/merchant fleet that needs to manage various ships, with cargo, crew and weapons. Having AI fleets that has the same information. Then manage cities with commodities and transaction to influence the price, military occupation with country data, political relationships, etc.

If I want to make a video game out of it, I know that the idea above can be contained in a relational database. It might end up as a very large database, but I know it's possible. I could draw the database model right away and make some design decisions in the process to add remove features I want. The only thing I do not know so far is:

- What are the rules that will change that data
- Will it be fun
- Will it be balanced.

But I could gradually add rules that would use or modify that data as I design the game and actually test the game as I add stuff. At every step of the process I get a working game, this is the additive game design process. . For example, I could start with a landlocked ship with the set the data and rules related to ship and crew management. The game would be incomplete, but working and playable.

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Now Let say I want to do the same thing with board game design. Would it be possible to contain all that information into board game components? I am not sure, possibly: card for crew member, tiles for cargo, pen and paper for transaction log. But it will possibly require a gymnasium full of table to hold all the information I need. Now let say I do it, I find a gymnasium, and fill it with board game components. I cannot consider it as a working game, therefore I cannot play the game and get an early feel of it.

So we quickly realize that the only solution is abstraction, so I could like in the example above compress the ship management and only test that portion of the game. But the problem is that mechanics will only be able to connect it self to other mechanism if they are also compressed. But you cannot compress/abstract mechanics is isolation, you cannot say, ok I'll compress ship management, then city management, then country politics and connect everything together afterwards. Because the compression method is interrelated to other game elements since there is more than 1 way to compress the data.

So you need to compress all game elements together. You cannot use the bite and chew method above like in video game design, you need to swallow everything at the same time and if you choke, you try again. So this is why I think the medium will lead to different design approach and that the "Bite and chew" method which is more convenient for me would be impossible in board game design.

Quote:
The "expansion phase" is fun as a designer. You just write down every idea that comes through your head. But the "compression" phase is where the real designing happens.

So what you are basically saying is that the expansion phase of board game design is only about listing ideas.

tikey
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Joined: 03/31/2017
As a non-game designer of the

As a non-game designer of the industrial variety I think that you're talking about two things.
First the expansion-compresion phases are what's called, in Design Thinking terms, the double diamond process, where there is a divergence phase, where you do your research, brainstorm ideas and in general broaden your perspective on the project and possible solutions, then you fall into a convergence phase where you take everything from the first phase and turn it into an actual product (be it an app, a toaster or a boardgame). Once you advance with the project you'll start testing your solutions, so you'll have another divergent phase that, again, will lead to another convergence phase where you'll take everything you've learned from testing and apply it to your product.
This is will happen several times during the design process as more and more iterations happens. Now, that's just a normal design process but I see you talking about another thing that I believe that's just mixed up on this. You talk about videogames being more about adding and boardgames about removing. I don't think that's related to the process rather than the constrains of the medium. With videogames the computer can take a lot of the mental load off the player so you can create depth by adding complexity. Board games, on the other hand, depend on the player's mental capacity supported by just cardboard and plastic bits. In this case you can't generate depth by adding complexity, you generate it by designing systems with fewer elements but richer relationships, which of course involve a lot of streamlining.
Now, your main question, which is quite interesting, is "How an expansion phase could be possible in board game design considering you are always facing the restraints of reality."
To which my reply is that you'll always have a divergent phase in a design process, only you'll be looking at the problem from a different perspective. I propose that you CAN go wild with board game design ideas, you can explore without having to worry about the components of the game. Obviously the convergent phase will be different than with videogames because you're working with different constrains.
I suppose you're right that boardgames have much shorter iterative process than videogames* but I see it as a great advantage as you can adjust the design much much faster and get to something that's great quicker than with something that requieres more production time.

I think that themain issue you reflect on your second post has to do with the different kind of depth you can achieve with both mediums. Yes, videogame allows you to manage more information on the background but if designed well boardgames can be better at creating meaningful decisions and thus much more involved play.

Obviously I absolutely disagree that the "compression phase is where the """""real""""" design happens". Both phases are part of the process, you can't have convergence without divergence first.

tikey
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Joined: 03/31/2017
As a side note, sorry for

As a side note, sorry for imposing the terms "divergent" and "convergent" within my reply. I try to equate them to what you talk about "expansion" and "compression" but I felt that there were times that was important to be clear that I was talking specifically about those terms as they're understood in a design thinking process.

gxnpt
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Joined: 12/22/2015
constraints with digital games

When I was working on The Singularity Trap game (server/browser) I began with the constraints of the currently "minimum standard" computer/laptop display screen resolution of 1280x720 pixels and screen size 10+ inches to determine my limits on board size and then game token size since I wanted the entire gameboard to be visible all at the same time on the screen without needing to zoom in or out during play by players with normal visual capabilities.

It was this pixel limitation (and the just barely possible need to have 6 players all with a token in the same space on the board) that I had to deal with first. That and the whole 3d thing, which in the physical reduced hidden info version Fleet Admiral - Singularity is done with an altitude chit held in a fleet clip but in the server/browser version is done with a synopsis of each levels known content to the right of the board and an strategic (top down) view plus individual layer views.

After that display limitations part was resolved I began to build the database and the area map interactions etc and the commands interface and the individual unit data reports.

Going back to physical, with all fleet locations visible to all, introduced interception by other moving fleets during the move phase and sensors moved to providing ship and fleet details instead of locations in range, which also reduced backstabbing by allies somewhat. Optional tit-for-tat and averaging methods to eliminate excessive combat die rolls in the physical version.

But the basic point is that the digital game began by dealing with the limitations imposed by the available medium before it began any expansive phase.

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Quote:In this case you can't

Quote:
In this case you can't generate depth by adding complexity, you generate it by designing systems with fewer elements but richer relationships, which of course involve a lot of streamlining.

I think you might have struck something here that board games is more about relationships. While video games it's more like lego blocks, you have individual blocks that exists alone, but that can be plugged together. While board game design looks like a series of elements that cannot exist by themselves and require the presence of other elements to exists. So its relationships becomes as important and their elements.

Anyways, it's just some thought that sparked in my head.

Quote:
I suppose you're right that boardgames have much shorter iterative process than videogames* but I see it as a great advantage as you can adjust the design much much faster and get to something that's great quicker than with something that requieres more production time.

I have to decline here, making modifications in a video game can actually be faster especially when modifying game rules because you can just change a few lines of code or alter certain data and have your updated game running. In board game design, sometimes you can change a rule on the fly, but sometimes it requires redesigning, reprinting, rebuilding the prototype and starting a new game. That can take many hours of work.

Quote:

From what you say, the divergent phase of board game would not only be thematic exploration but also mechanic searching which is much more important than in video game design which does not necessarily require new mechanics.

Quote:
But the basic point is that the digital game began by dealing with the limitations imposed by the available medium before it began any expansive phase.

So the fact that you wanted everything to fit in a single screen restrained your design? In that case it's a valid point. I also had a realtime video game in mind consisting of multiple screen, but the game and layout had to remain relatively simple to be easy to operate in real time. I could not use pop up windows for example.

tikey
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Joined: 03/31/2017
From what you say, the

From what you say, the divergent phase of board game would not only be thematic exploration but also mechanic searching which is much more important than in video game design which does not necessarily require new mechanics

I guess that the easiest way to think about it is to see it as two different mental states.
Divergence is an exploratory state, you're much more open to new ideas and influences, it's about what it can be. On the other hand, a convergence state is all about implementation. You're in a focused state. Your goal is to get things done. That doesn't mean creativity is not involved, we all know you need to be really creative to solve many of the challenges in game design, but the cute idea is that you're in a much more goal oriented mindset.