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Simple Interactions Heuristic

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ananda
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The need to explain inspired me to write a blog post! So that's productive.

TL;DR:

New players tend to focus on the rules and their personal strategy, and don't pay much attention to their opponents. Therefore, their opponents' actions that affect them directly need to be easy to understand, or they won't react to them. So a useful design heuristic when trying to make games friendly to new players is that the mechanics that govern interactions between players should be simple (whereas non-interactive mechanics can be as complex as you like since they are devoting most of their attention to those anyway).

Re-posted:

Interactions should be simple

I remember my feeling of frustration when I first played the Game of Thrones LCG. My opponent and I used preconstructed decks that he had prepared, and I found myself stopping the game each time he played a card to pick it up and read it. Throughout the game, I kept finding myself tripped up by effects on my opponent’s cards that I had forgotten about or hadn’t realized all the implications. Just keeping track of my own cards was difficult enough – reacting properly to my opponent’s strategy was more than I could handle.

Attention is a limited resource that players tend to spend on themselves, especially when they are new to a game. Veteran players have dozens of heuristics built up to automate much of their strategy, but new players have to balance an often overwhelming set of rules with the question of what they should be doing. Keeping track of their opponents’ moves on top of that is too much, and is often ignored. If you want players, especially new players, to pay attention and react to what their opponents are doing, then the mechanics governing the relevant interactions need to be as simple as possible.

Most strategy card games (like the Game of Thrones LCG) do a terrible job of this. The problem with card-based games is that reading and understanding the text of each new card takes a surprising amount of effort. It is also difficult to read cards upside down, so picking up or reorienting the card adds further time and effort. Once players have played the game many times they can recognize cards on sight without having to read any text, but until that point, players may not be willing to dedicate attention to their opponents’ cards when their own cards already provide enough of a challenge.

An example of a game that handles interactions well is Galaxy Trucker, in which players build spaceships out of tiles and evaluate how well they built their ships against a deck of encounter cards. Player interaction is mostly indirect, with some encounter cards comparing different ships to determine which ship has the most or least of a certain attribute. In each case, it is easy to estimate how your own ship compares against the competition by looking for the relevant tiles on the other players’ ships. All the more complex mechanics in the game are non-interactive; it doesn’t matter how another player deals with intruders or meteors because it doesn’t affect how you handle them.

The trading game Sidereal Confluence has very strong player interactions, since the game requires players to trade with each other due to the weaknesses of each faction. Practically anything can be traded – resources, (binding) promises, and even sectors of a player’s economy, represented by “converter” cards that transmute resources. However, new players only pay attention to the raw resources that other players have, not to more complex options such as converters. When converters are traded, it is usually at the behest of the player that owns the converter, not the player receiving it.

One way to help players interact with each other is to find a way to highlight actions that matter to other players. Games with a strong spatial element are naturally good at this, because proximity to an opponent catches a player’s attention. In Catan, if somebody is building a road that threatens to cut you off, you notice because the road approaches your own road. In Carcassonne, if somebody is trying to get into your city, you notice because they place their meeples and tiles aggressively close to yours. Because players can ignore their opponents’ actions outside the area that they care about, they can devote enough attention to those actions to respond. In games where threats (and opportunities) do not exist at a concrete location, it may be necessary to find other ways to indicate which of an opponent’s actions are relevant to other players and which can be ignored.

With experience, players internalize enough of a game’s rules and heuristics to spend more of their attention on their opponents. But if they are frustrated by a game – as I was with my Game of Thrones experience – they may not play long enough to get to that point. So if you find that your players are ignoring each other or complaining about being overwhelmed, a good first step is to simplify their interactions.

questccg
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Those are some good points!

ananda wrote:
I remember my feeling of frustration when I first played the Game of Thrones LCG. My opponent and I used preconstructed decks that he had prepared, and I found myself stopping the game each time he played a card to pick it up and read it. Throughout the game, I kept finding myself tripped up by effects on my opponent’s cards that I had forgotten about or hadn’t realized all the implications. Just keeping track of my own cards was difficult enough – reacting properly to my opponent’s strategy was more than I could handle.

This is EXACTLY what I am trying to avoid "Monster Keep" (MK) from becoming. New players have a hard enough time playing by the rules... That and it's hard to go into too deep strategy on the first playthru. My game will be a LCG too... But Deck Construction can be easily done using simple rules. And when I mean SIMPLE, I mean a 9 year old player can do it.

Ananda wrote:
If you want players, especially new players, to pay attention and react to what their opponents are doing, then the mechanics governing the relevant interactions need to be as simple as possible.

Most strategy card games (like the Game of Thrones LCG) do a terrible job of this. The problem with card-based games is that reading and understanding the text of each new card takes a surprising amount of effort. It is also difficult to read cards upside down, so picking up or reorienting the card adds further time and effort.

Very good point. I believe that is why MANY CCGs and TCGs fail: if you CAN'T compel the NEW player in the very first game, most likely that player will never want to play your game again. And that's the challenge with MOST CCGs and TCGs: finding NEW players and keeping them!

Ananda wrote:
With experience, players internalize enough of a game’s rules and heuristics to spend more of their attention on their opponents. But if they are frustrated by a game – as I was with my Game of Thrones experience – they may not play long enough to get to that point. So if you find that your players are ignoring each other or complaining about being overwhelmed, a good first step is to simplify their interactions.

I agree 100%. That is why I designed MK in "layers". The first layer is a grid based game with concept borrowed from Chess. Each card/unit can attack only if their enemy is within their reach (think "Attack Formation"). While this layer was design, I felt like the design was lacking in "meat". So I worked on adding a "Tactical" layer which is a Loot drop system. That made it so that players could have pawns and move around the Keep (so to speak).

The bottom line is this: you need to ensure that you strip away as much as you can from a design and have a solid "core", from there you can ADD some layers to the streamlined version, if you feel it is too simple.

But then again, what's TOO SIMPLE mean???

Is it too simple because a 9 year old can play? If so this means that you want to focus your game on older players (say in their 20s). That is perfectly acceptable (and varies per design per designer). But sometimes it's a question on figuring out what is RIGHT and what should be removed.

Afterwards once you have a tight design, you can explore how to ADD to it and again land up with another streamlined game (an enhanced version).

questccg
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Some additional "thoughts"

I like to "reference" my own WIP "Monster Keep" (MK) because this "game" is all about FIXING the problems with traditional CCGs/TCGs. Although the distribution format will be LCG (a new set every year or so), at the game's "core" is a very collectible card game (with stunning artwork too!) I'm sorry that I can't share any artwork just yet (you'll have to wait until the KS — which is probably in 9 or so months).

Getting back to what I wanted to FOCUS: "What are the major pain points?"

The fact that SOMEONE ELSE "customizes" a Deck for another player is 100% WRONG! I've played Yu-Gi-Oh! in a similar context:

questccg wrote:
I was visiting a friend and one of his friend's showed up. He said that he customized two (2) deck to play the card game. I tried to keep up with him and the game. But I eventually lost because of some Super-Power Monster multiple card ability. The bottom line: I don't ever want to play Yu-Gi-Oh! again...

If you don't CONSTRUCT the deck yourself, you won't understand all the nuances of how the deck is supposed to be played with.

That's why I create simple rules to follow when customizing a Micro Deck in MK. That's also right: it's a MICRO DECK. The Micro Deck is comprised of ONLY 12 cards. Instead of requiring 40+ cards, the game is played with only 12. In a format for 2 or 4 players.

So the Deck is smaller... Another pain point addressed. A NEW player can customize it with simple rules. Another pain point addressed. The experienced player can customize it to a "one-card granularity" just like all the OTHER CCGs/TCGs on the market. Not detracting from full flexibility.

Easier learning curve to "customize" would tend to allow MORE players to enjoy their first time playing. Maybe just using the "core" Micro Deck is enough to play a game ... and the hope is once a game is played, the NEW player enjoys his experience... Allowing him to begin to "explore" the Deck Construction aspect on his next matches.

I've gone through much thought and expense to cater to a variety of players with this design. Like I said a 9 year old can customize his/her own Micro Deck. And more mature adults (Millennials) can "fully" customize the game given several Editions of the game. That's something VITAL to the way I designed this WIP.

Right now we are working on the artwork. I have begun the Rulebook... But have not completed the entire rules just yet. I'm really hoping people see the "complexity" of the design given that the game seems overall very simple to play... Perhaps that's a good sign: simple play means a larger pool of players... Especially when it can be "as complexe as you want" when constructing a player's Micro Deck!

Cheers...

X3M
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MtG, and my own wargame

A rule of thumb for new players, for any game? Start simple for yourself. Ask for easier games, if you are new.
Or make some tutorials.
(I hope, this fits in with your topic)

***

With MtG, it was very easy for me to understand.
The fact that it could become very complex. That was my understanding. I myself knew, I had to build up slowly. And start out with simple cards. So I went for a green creature deck.

While others where battling, I often asked them what deck they wanted to use against me. And if I could look in it beforehand. Just to get a good picture of it. This would save them downtime during the game.

win-win situation if you ask me.

***

While you are unaware of my hobby game. It is a wargame that resembles your basic RTS games. While turn based, it goes simultaneously.

The complexity is mainly in the statistics of the pieces. Because you compare them with your opponents.

Costs, (Size), (Stats), Armor, (at least 2) Armor Attributes, Health, Speed, Damage, Nr. of Projectiles, Accuracy, Range, (Weapon Attributes), (Bonus Damage Costs), (Bonus Action Points Costs)
((I removed all XP statistics. Which saves downtime of more than 50%!! But removed 3 single player missions as well))

The basics are the first to learn, in single player missions.
The () statistics are advanced rules. Implemented in additional single player missions.

***

As you can see. One game, I taught myself by making a plan. But knowing that most new players can't think of this. I designed single player missions for my own hobby game.

ElKobold
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ananda wrote:The need to

ananda wrote:
The need to explain inspired me to write a blog post! So that's productive.

Enjoyed reading this.
Thank you for posting.

Jay103
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Okay, now I get "interactive"

Okay, now I get "interactive" :)

larienna
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Certain games are more

Certain games are more complex to start with. Sometimes it's just complexity and fiddlyness, but other times it's additional depth that you cannot grasp on the first few plays.

For example, in Eminent Domain Microcosm, a very small game where each card has something like 4 different purpose is relatively playable for new players, but hard to plan for high score. You need to play a couple of times to get the depth of the game and actually gear your choice towards an high score.

So I think the idea is: can a new player play without really knowing what he is doing and still keep the flow of the game running. If the answer is Yes, then I think it could work. The player will have to play more to really understand the strategy and have a chance to win, but at least he can play the game and blend in with the rest of the players.

questccg
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Race For the Galaxy

larienna wrote:
For example, in Eminent Domain Microcosm, a very small game where each card has something like 4 different purpose is relatively playable for new players...

"Race For the Galaxy" has SIX potential things that can be done with each card. Now it's NOT true that all six uses are valid for all cards... Most have 1 to 3 uses... But never-the-less it adds to Analysis time when drawing cards. Not only do you need to figure out what card to play, you also need to figure HOW you will use it. Because with several OPTIONS, you might be able to use the SAME card in two (maybe three) different ways...!

That could lead to Analysis-Paralysis for NEW players.

For "Quest AC2", I am sticking with three (3) functions per card:

1. The bonus or penalty for a resource. (+/- X "resource")

2. The role of the card (Stockpile, Trade, Convert, Garrison) to build your engine and see if you can score more points.

3. The ability of each card (which could also act like a restriction).

This is enough (in my mind). Three (3) things to consider when drawing a card from your deck and figuring out what to keep and what to discard. This is a more "complexe" game than most of my other designs (so far)!

larienna
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I think it depends on the

I think it depends on the purposes of those multiuses.

In mycrocosm, you could simply ignore the scoring rule and the color of the card leaving you only with what the card does and it's icon.

Even the icon could be ignored if you want zero forward planning. The game would be pickup 1 card out of 3, and play it. You use what ever icons you have in your hand.

The more you play, the more you will try to forward plan ahead by now considering the icons, the scoring rules, etc.

But considering those are not necessary to be able to play the game. You will simply not play the game efficiently if you do not consider this information.

So this game has the "easy to learn, hard to master" syndrome which is exactly what you want because it gives depth to your game.

Juzek
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What are some of your other

What are some of your other design heuristics?

Mine are:

For every player choice there should be at least two diametrically opposing motivations.

And minimize static gameplay, as in each turn should be different and preferably alter the game for everyone

ananda
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Juzek wrote:What are some of

Juzek wrote:
What are some of your other design heuristics?

Here are the ones I can put into words/think of off the top of my head (some of these are pretty common advice, and I don't claim to have come up with all of them)

+ Each choice should benefit a player in two distinct ways
+ Random events should be foreshadowed (preferably in proportion to their impact)
+ In multiplayer games, if one player targets another with a negative effect, the victim should benefit in some way (a silver lining)
+ In multiplayer games, if one player targets another with a negative effect, the perpetrator should gain some unique benefit
+ Avoid in-game text as much as possible
+ Randomization should determine available choices, not the outcomes of a choice
+ Use at most one method of randomization per game (dice, cards, etc.)
+ Break up long procedures with choices
+ Avoid symmetrical resources
+ Replace math with tables
+ Minimize or eliminate in-game shuffling
+ Players should get stronger in some way over the course of a game (progression)

Juzek wrote:
For every player choice there should be at least two diametrically opposing motivations.

Interesting - could you start a new thread to elaborate? This is similar to the heuristic of choices providing multiple benefits, but I would describe those benefits as orthogonal, not diametrically opposing (and it is more about benefits than motivations).

Juzek wrote:
And minimize static gameplay, as in each turn should be different and preferably alter the game for everyone

Also interesting to discuss (in another thread). I can see some of the utility, but would like to hear more about your views on how to do this (and examples, if you have any)

X3M
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More than 1 random effect?

I find that "one random effect" rather odd.

What if the game needs 2 ways to function?

ananda
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X3M wrote:I find that "one

X3M wrote:
I find that "one random effect" rather odd.

What if the game needs 2 ways to function?

Then you provide two randomizers; it isn't a hard requirement.

That said, this is advice that I've seen given in several places. The more ways randomization methods you provide, the more chaotic the game feels. Dice, or cards, or chit-pulls (etc.) almost always provide enough randomization by themselves.

questccg
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Just some guidelines

ananda wrote:
Then you provide two randomizers; it isn't a hard requirement.

... The more ways randomization methods you provide, the more chaotic the game feels. Dice, or cards, or chit-pulls (etc.) almost always provide enough randomization by themselves.

Yes and dice could be used in combination WITH "cards" which would provide two types of randomizers: 1. The Cards which are drawn and 2. The dice and their rolling!

The "cards" can "control" or oversee the dice rolling process. Or the dice themselves can be handled as one step in a turn or a particular phase like a combat phase (for example).

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