Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Monday Brews: 7-29-13

What a splendid week we had last week. I ordered prototype cards for Conclave. I playtested new components for Scoville. And I enjoyed a few beverages.

Here’s a recap of what I drank and what I played last week:

The Barley:

Here are the tasty beverages I was able to enjoy last week:

Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss: This was an easy choice since we were camping. It’s a pretty easy-drinking wheat and honey beer from Wisconsin brewer Leinenkugel’s. We needed something in a can (Not Pabst!) that would be enjoyable around a campfire. I had requested Leinie’s Summer Shandy, but my wife choose Honey Weiss instead. No complaints there.

Ben Franklin’s Honey: This is my second homebrew and is rather enjoyable. Perhaps I have something for honey beers. This was enjoyed while working on game design. A perfect combination!

New Belgium Fat Tire: This fine beverage was enjoyed after our softball game where we won and became the first half champions of our league, thus locking in a spot in the championship game for our team.

Lake Louie Warped Speed Scotch Ale: This delicious scotch ale from nearby Lake Louie Brewery was also a post-game celebratory beverage. It is probably my favorite scotch ale and I hope to visit and tour the brewery someday.

Pearl St. Mills Pils: This was the last of the celebratory softball beverages and unfortunately also was my least favorite. It was a typical pils and nothing about it really stood out. Or it could have been because I had two before this one, it was late, and I was really tired. I guess I’ll have to give it another attempt.

Alberti Amber: This is my first homebrew and I only have a few of them left. I saved the very first bottle and it will remain in my basement/man cave forever! I was able to enjoy this during a game night last Friday. I think it’s pretty decent for a first go at homebrewing.

The Boards:

Here are the delightful games I was able to enjoy last week:

Conclave: This prototype of mine is still very rough. I solo tested it and learned that it needed some mathematical tweaks to make sure things are balanced for all players, and so that it can actually be played the way I want it to be played. I’ll likely have this with me at GenCon if anyone is interested.

Scoville: Four of my Level 1 friends were willing to test some new components for this game. The components are bonus abilities that let you do things you normally can’t do. But you can only do them once per game. If you use an ability, then you sacrifice the four points that it is worth. If you do not use them, then each is worth 4 points at the end of the game. This is like the train stations in Ticket to Ride: Europe.

Tsuro: This tile-laying game plays quickly and can be frustrating. We played twice, but the finish to the first was quite memorable. This picture shows the final tile placement, which resulted in all three remaining players being eliminated at the same time.

The grand elimination/victory moment for the Red, White, and Blue!

The grand elimination/victory moment for the Red, White, and Blue!

Gentlemen Thieves: This is a competitive game where you are trying to earn your own character the most loot from participating in different robberies throughout the game. On your turn you place a piece of evidence onto one of the five locations. If a location then has at least one of each of the five different types of evidence, then that location is robbed. The evidence tokens are flipped over to the loot side and divvied up between whichever team robbed the location. The team that robbed the location is the one with more evidence of their player colors in that spot. The game ends when the Brigadier makes a showing, and the player with the most loot wins. This is a fun light-ish game with a large mental aspect. I’ve now played twice (Once 2p and once 5p). I enjoy it, though it feels like my brain wants to explode each time!

***

So what Barley or Boards were your favorites from this past week? Anything you’re hoping to enjoy this week?

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Symmetry in Board Game Design

My recent design, Conclave, initially suffered from a lack of symmetry. After a great playtest session with Jeremy Van Maanen, Adam Buckingham, Corey Young, and Brett Myers I received some great feedback that pointed out how the initial round could greatly influence the game due to the asymmetry. So I balanced the player decks to eliminate that asymmetry. What followed was a nice conversation on Twitter about symmetry versus asymmetry. So I though I’d write a brief guide about putting symmetry into your game design, and where it might be appropriate.

My Definition of Symmetry:

Before discussing where symmetry or asymmetry is important it is necessary for me to define the terms so that you understand what I mean throughout the rest of this article.

SYMMETRY: when conditions within a game are equal for all players.

This could be that all players have the same options on a turn or that they all start with the same cards or they all have the same opportunity to progress. Symmetry is typically only present at the beginning of a game. Once one player has taken a turn, then the game is different for the next player. So games where all players have an equal opportunity to be the first player inherently are symmetric at the start. Games where a random player goes first are not inherently symmetric since by the time the second player goes, the game conditions for that player are different than they were for the first player.

An example of a symmetric game starting condition is one where players simultaneously bid for turn order. Another example is when all players simultaneously make their first move in a game.

ASYMMETRY: when conditions within a game are unequal for all players.

I think of asymmetry as the situations where players have differing decks of cards, or different options on their turn, or different opportunities in the game. But asymmetry also applies to when games change from turn to turn and thus no two players ever face identical game conditions. There are many examples of asymmetry within games. And to provide examples could take a long time. Instead, check out Lewis Pulsipher‘s thread on BoardGameGeek: Looking at Game Design as Ways of Introducing Asymmetry.

Where to design for Symmetry:

There are definitely places within game designs for symmetry. If conditions within a game ever put a game out of balance, where one player has a distinct advantage toward victory through no means of their own, then the design calls for symmetry to remove that lack of balance.

My example, from Conclave, fits perfectly here. The original design provided each player with a 30 card deck. However, during the game not all of the cards were used. This caused a problem with probability. There was a chance that one player may end up only getting cards of their own color to place on the table while another player would only end up getting cards of the other player’s colors. This would then cause the game to be very much in favor of that first player despite them not earning that opportunity. This lack of balance called for adding symmetry to the game.

In this case symmetry refers to all players having the same amount of opportunity on the table. With balanced decks where all players play all of their cards it means all players will have the same opportunity within the remainder of the game.

This is my recommendation:

Apply symmetry where a game could otherwise randomly favor any single player.

This will not only make sure the game is fair, but it will also make sure that players can enjoy the game without feeling like they never had a chance.

Where to design for Asymmetry:

I would recommend designing for asymmetry anywhere and everywhere, as long as it does not conflict with my recommendation above.

Asymmetry for Conclave would mean adding different abilities based on the person you are representing.

Asymmetry can refer to players having unique abilities or different ways to move forward in the game or different cards and thus different opportunities. Examples of asymmetry in games are plentiful. The Settlers of Catan has a beautiful level of asymmetry that depends where players place their initial settlements. Ticket to Ride has asymmetry with the destination tickets, which determine each players individual path to victory.

Asymmetry in a game can add to the variability and replayability of games. And often it can add to the tension of a game as well. One example that comes to mind is Shipyard. In that game there is a great asymmetry in players options on their turn. This is simply due to limiting the options that a player can take on their turn. No two players turns in a row are the same. Yet the asymmetry in player options add a lot of tension and strategy.

I am definitely an advocate for asymmetry in game design.

My Bottom Line:

Now that we’ve briefly discussed symmetry versus asymmetry in game design I want to make my point one more time. When a game design creates an unfair advantage for a player that is not based on the choices of any player, the game requires symmetry and balance. Apply symmetry to a game to balance the game and make it fair. In all other circumstances, feel free to apply asymmetry to your design. It will be harder to design and require more playtesting to balance, but it adds so much to the game.

What are your thoughts about symmetry versus asymmetry in game design? Do you prefer one over the other? How would you define the two? I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

Scoville Under Contract by TMG!

TMG Dragon loves peppers!

TMG Dragon loves peppers!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I can finally announce that Tasty Minstrel Games has contracted my game Scoville for publication!

As you can imagine, I am very excited about this. Scoville will be my first published game and I’m grateful for TMG taking me into their fold.

So who is Tasty Minstrel Games? TMG is a board game publishing company run by Michael Mindes. On board with Michael is game designer/developer Seth Jaffee. You can check out Seth’s blog at sedjtroll.blogspot.com.

TMG has been putting out very quality games that contain beautiful artwork and are exceptionally enjoyable. Some of their recent awesomeness includes these games:

In Dungeon Roll the player’s goal is to collect the most experience points by defeating monsters, battling the dragon, and amassing treasure. Each player selects a Hero avatar, such as a Mercenary, Half-Goblin, or Enchantress, which provides them with unique powers. Then players take turns being the Adventurer, who boldly enters the dungeon seeking glory.

Belfort is a worker placement game with area majority scoring in each district as well as for each type of worker. Buildings give you influence in the districts as well as income, but taxes increase based on your score so the winning players will have to pay more than those behind! Manage your resources and gold well, choose your buildings wisely, and help build the city of Belfort!

The process is simple: Factories produce the goods (machinery, textiles, chemicals, food, and luxuries) that are coveted by the city folk. Airships – forbidden from landing in the cities but capable of carrying cargo over great distances – must be used to gather those goods and deliver them to depots along the rail network. Trains then haul the goods to the cities that want them, earning cash for the competitor who gets there first! Will you be the “King of Air and Steam?”

Also in the TMG queue and coming to stores soon is the new Stefan Feld game Rialto, the game about Florentine Medici-ness called Il Vecchio, as well as the expansion for Village (the 2012 Kennerspiel des Jahres) known as Village Inn.

But don’t forget about their other highly rated game, Eminent Domain, by Seth Jaffee. You can learn more on the BoardGameGeek page.

I will be keeping you all updated as Scoville progresses toward publication. Thanks for all of your interest. If there are any questions you have regarding Scoville, please post them as a comment below and I’ll be happy to reply!

Thanks! These are exciting times for me and for Tasty Minstrel Games! Make sure you visit them at GenCon at booth 459:

This booth will be filled with awesomeness!

Game Design Process: Applying Feedback

GDPFeedbackIt’s time for another article on the Game Design Process. Today I am providing a guide for interpreting feedback and applying it in beneficial ways to your game design.

This is a critical area of the game design process. It is very important to listen to what your playtesters mention. There’s usually a reason they say the things they do. But understanding what they actually mean can be tricky. Let’s start with some basics.

Common Feedback:

Matt Loomis, fellow game designer and blogger who I had the privilege of meeting at Protospiel-Milwaukee back in March, recently wrote an article all about this topic. You can find it on his blog – TheMetaGame.blogspot.com.

If you are a game designer I recommend reading his article and following his advice. One piece of advice from the article that I have also mentioned is this:

If players start the game taking the same actions every game, start the game from there.

The point of that is that if everyone makes the same decision on the first or second turns, make that decision part of the game setup. Players should start the game making unique decisions. I totally agree with Matt!

Here are a few pieces of common feedback that should be understood and interpreted:

  • The game takes too long. (They are bored)
  • The game isn’t fun. (They are bored)
  • The game felt like work. (The game isn’t fun – see above)
  • The game was really slow. (Too much downtime, or not enough to do on their turn)
  • I couldn’t do much on my turn. (Not enough unique options or too limited per turn)
  • My decisions felt scripted. (Not enough unique options)
  • I don’t like the art. (Get over it… it’s a prototype!)
  • You should use such-and-such component. (Thanks. Hey, did you realize this is a prototype?)

Obviously some of these are just not helpful. But players are saying them for some reason or another. So let’s try to examine why playtesters say the things they say…

Advice from Chevee Dodd:

I pinged Chevee about advice for interpreting and understanding feedback. For those who don’t know him, please visit his website (cheveedodd.com). He is the designer of Scallywags and a few other upcoming games that are awesome. Here’s what he had to say:

Understanding feedback is a vital part of game design that many people don’t understand. When someone tells you that you should dramatically change your game because they don’t like an aspect of it, that is not bad feedback… they may have just not worded their concern properly. Take this feedback and look at it objectively. If they want you to toss out a portion of your game, or add in a whole new layer, ask yourself “Why?” It is often because they felt that their options were limited or their actions weren’t meaningful enough. So, maybe their suggestion is to add atomic cannons that shoot rainbow fireballs, blinding your opponents and making them discard their hands. It’s very likely that this is completely wrong for your game… but at the core, maybe there IS a need for you to be able to mess with your opponents hands and not having that is making the game frustrating. So, you add a little ability here that lets you discard a card at random from their hand and suddenly you’ve added a bit of control (through chaos) to the hand-management portion of your game.

Now that's what I'm talking about!

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

That is some excellent advice! I think the atomic cannons shooting rainbow fireballs sound particularly awesome!

I think Chevee’s point is that sometimes playtesters will mention something while meaning something else. When players mention things like adding awesome cannons that let you do great things, they are probably suggesting it because they don’t feel like they are able to do great things. And that is an important point of applying feedback. Before we get into interpreting feedback I want to make a more global point about all of this…

Don’t Take It Personally:

You’ve invited people over to try out your latest and greatest game design. This is the one you think will make it big and revolutionize the board game industry. You can’t wait to get it on the table because you just know people are going to laud and magnify you for it.

And then they play it. And then they hate it. Uh Oh.

They slander it. They posterize it. They straight up say it was the worst thing ever. You start to feel angry and think to yourself, “These idiots… they have no idea how awesome this is.” You get upset and ask them to leave. You feel dejected. You feel like you’ve been rocked by a rainbow fireball. You start to wonder where things went wrong and why they don’t like you. Boom… that’s the problem – It’s not about YOU!

Here is my favorite advice for applying feedback:

They are not rejecting or criticizing YOU. They are rejecting or criticizing your GAME!

The same goes for praise. Just because someone might love your game doesn’t necessarily mean they like you. The bottom line here is that we are applying feedback to the game and not to the designer. The game is what matters at this point. Don’t let your emotions cloud your opinion of your playtester’s feedback. And don’t take it personally if they think the design seems broken. Often if players feel a design is broken, it’s because it is broken. Get over it and move on!

Interpreting Feedback:

Okay. So you did not take it personally and you are ready to interpret what your playtesters were really meaning when they said they hate your game.

Often playtesters do not think like a game designer. That’s why I recommend attending things like UnPub or Protospiel where you can get feedback from other game designers. You can often find other designers at your friendly local game store. But how can you interpret feedback from non-designers who may not know the best way to state what they actually mean? Let’s examine a few scenarios of a hypothetical game about boll weevils.

Please not boll weevils again.

Your game design has players developing a colony of boll weevils. Players will build a structure for the weevils, feed the weevils, and try to claim the best territory for the boll weevils.

During your playtest someone mentions that colonization seems too valuable. Another player mentions that they think you should have different abilities for the boll weevils. A third player mentions that they got to a point where no matter what they did it didn’t seem to help. Let’s examine these three pieces of feedback and interpret what they may actually mean.

#1: Colonization seems too valuable. (Balance is the issue)

In this case I could imagine the player falling behind another player who had chosen the colonize action. The best way to interpret this feedback is to understand that the player felt like the actions they chose were not as good as those of the colonizing player. In this case, as the designer, you may need to work on balancing the short-term/long-term benefits of taking one action over the other. Balance in a game is often a very difficult thing to get correct. The result is that you will often receive feedback that is directly related to balance without the playtesters mentioning the word balance.

#2: Add Different Abilities. (Lack of interesting choices is the issue)

The playtester that wants different abilities for their boll weevils is likely feeling that they cannot do enough on their turn, or that they cannot do anything interesting on their turn. They recommend adding abilities as a way to specialize their game and give them something more interesting to do. The key to understand here is that the player doesn’t feel like they can do enough interesting things. They want abilities so that they can turn dull decisions into decisions that require more strategy. When playtesters suggest adding things to a game it is often because they feel the game is lacking interesting choices.

#3: Nothing They Do Can Help. (Results of decisions are not apparent)

When players begin to complain that there is nothing they can do that will help them there could be several reasons. The first reason is that the game is about to end and they are so far behind that it does not matter what they do because they just cannot win. The second is that the game limits how much a player can do on a turn that each decision is so insignificant that it won’t matter. And a third reason is that players may not be able to understand how their decisions are effecting the game. Keep an ear open for any time players feel like their decisions don’t matter. This is a big deal. Games are supposed to be fun and if players decisions do not matter, how much fun could they be having? Players may say things like this when they are not having fun, or when they have lost interest. This will require taking a deep look at your game design and perhaps reworking a few things. As a designer it is critical to understand that you want every single decision that a player makes to have a significant effect on their opportunity to win the game.

Those are just a few scenarios out of an infinite playbook of playtester feedback. What I hope you have understood from this is that often playtesters will say one thing and mean something else. They may be very specific about what they think should change in a game while actually meaning something very vague.

So when playtesters offer feedback I recommend asking them why they suggested the change. Asking them why can open the conversation up to the real feedback that they are really trying to tell you. Ask them what is at the heart of their comment. This can be really useful.

Applying Feedback:

We’ve discussed interpreting feedback. Now we dive into applying that feedback. This can be difficult and tedious, but now that you understand what your playtesters were actually saying, you are ready to improve your game.

As shown in the graphic at the top of this article I prefer having ten playtests between changes in my games. Ten seems to be a good enough number where you can likely hear the same feedback from several different players. If, over the course of those ten playtests, you do hear the same feedback, then you likely know this is something that should be changed or adjusted. If you make sweeping changes between each playtest you’ll have no idea what part may or may not have improved the game.

The other thing I like to do with feedback is apply one change at a time. With Scoville, for example, several different people had mentioned that the brown cubes felt a little weird in the game. But it took several playtests to hear it from those several people. Later on other players said they loved that brown cubes introduce a way to mess with your opponents. Here’s the key:

Don’t let one person’s opinion of your game dominate how you change the design.

When multiple people mention the same thing then you know that something’s up. Then you can feel free to address that feedback.

So my two guidelines are these:

  1. Only apply one major change to the design at a time.
  2. Try to playtest each change at least 10 times before adding the next change.

Using these two guidelines should help you to understand which parts of your game design are awesome and which need some work.

***

So now you have a way to interpret and apply feedback. Get to the root of what your playtesters are saying. Apply the appropriate changes one at a time. You will be well on your way to creating a well polished gem of a game! Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave your feedback of this article below. I will try to interpret it correctly!

Giveaway #2—We Have a Winner!

I’m a winner! I won a copy of Sunrise City from the awesome bloggers at Theology of Games. They are celebrating their 1-year blogiversary and they post a ton of great stuff. Go check them out: http://www.theologyofgames.com. Or you can learn more about Sunrise City.

Theology of Games

sunrisecitycoverThanks to the fine folks at Clever Mojo Games, we have a copy of Sunrise City to give away to celebrate our 1-year blogiversary. Did you win…?

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