Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Paper Craft Games

Our house has become something of a paper craft design centre.

My kids have started making board games full of 3D elements. I think they like making the games more than playing the games. 

This is a recent example. It's a roll-and-move game with no title. The goal is to get home (the little house in the corner) and it's full of exception rules that aren't known when we start playing. 

"You need the sword to do that."

"If you land here you pick up a card."

"You have to roll the exact number to land on the house."

Like I said, I didn't know any of these rules when we started playing. They just come up in play.

That's what it feels like playing some games with adults too. Some games have a few core rules that are easy to convey to new players, and then are followed up with truckloads of exceptions and addenda.

"But if you have the gem card and your team mate is in the blue sector, then you can't launch the missiles."

Honestly, I feel like I've played that game before. It's probably some nine hour board game with dice, cards, and a cult following. 

What's all this about? Why am I talking about the games that junior school children make? I'm making a plea to game developers. Don't make your game opaque. People want to play your game. If it's complex, fine, but find a way to communicate the exceptional nature of the rules to players. 

I guess there's also a responsibility for people explaining games to new players. Don't surprise them with rules exceptions. It's bewildering. I accept it from my kids because they're in junior school and still figuring things out. I don't want to accept it from adults. 

Ok, enough preaching. The other outcome from all this was my kids' first dungeon crawl. They seemed keen on playing something with a dragon and swords so I hastily cobbled something together.

I sketched a map, made some quick rules, and they made the scenery. Ok, so it was just the cage for the dragon. 

Anyway, they were two heroes - a wizard and a warrior - who were going to rescue their friend the dragon. I geared it around the typical crescendo model. First encounters are small with a reward that can be used later. Later encounters are tough boss fights. 

All the rules were written (fairly sparsely) on two pages, with a map on the third. See, I'm taking my own medicine about rules clarity.

And after all that, they enjoyed it! One of them tried hard not to smile. The other one asked to play it again straight away. 

"It's better than all the other games we made today, dad!"

Achievement unlocked. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Cheap but good advice for gaming in a group

I know a few musicians. One of them posted a piece of advice from Chick Corea and it makes good sense for story games too.

The earliest reference I could find to the origin of the advice was here. I thought about re-writing it to address it to the gamer, but then I remembered how smart you all are. Take his musical advice and riff off it.

1) Play only what you hear.

2) If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.

3) Don’t let your fingers and limbs just wander - place them intentionally.

4) Don’t improvise on endlessly - play something with intention, develop it or not, but then end off, take a break.

5) Leave space - create space - intentionally create places where you don’t play.

6) Make your sound blend. Listen to your sound and adjust it to the rest of the band and the room.

7) If you play more than one instrument at a time - like a drum kit or multiple keyboards - make sure they are balanced with one another.

8) Don’t make any of your music mechanically or just through patterns of habit. Create each sound, phrase and piece with choice - deliberately.

9) Guide your choice of what to play by what you like - not by what someone else will think.

10) Use contrast to balance the elements;
high - low
fast - slow
loud - soft
tense - relaxed
dense - sparse

11) Play to make the other musicians sound good. Play things that will make the overall music sound good.

12) Play with a relaxed body. Always release whatever tension you create.

13) Create space - begin, develop and end phrases with intention.

14) Never beat or pound your instrument - play it easily and gracefully.

15) Create space - then place something in it.

16) Use mimicry sparsely - mostly create phrases that contrast with and develop the phrases of other players.

Beautiful stuff.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Perfect Game?

I think I've almost played the perfect game. At Go Play Brisbane last month my game of DramaSystem using the lyrics of Queen II was perhaps the best game I've ever run, and one of the nicest storylines I've been involved with.

All credit to the players. They were interesting and inventive. They rose to the occasion, and played the hell out of that game.

I'm delighted and relived about it too. I'd had this idea for a game years ago but never had just the right moment to play it. So now that it's happened, it was worth the wait.

Maybe I will never run it again, just because of how much I enjoyed this one. It was close to the perfect game.