• Here's the kind of really sad story you can hear sometimes from novice designers.  At one of the game design/game publishing seminars at GenCon, right at the end, someone raised his hand and said he and a group of friends had been working on a game for seven years, and it was a great game, and they had spent over seven years and a million dollars developing it including paying Marvel comic artists to do the art; and how could he get to talk to Fantasy Flight Games about it?  The three panelists were taken aback – if I wrote in contemporary style I would say they were "stunned" – and said nothing for a moment.  Because there's really nothing to say.  These “designers” were in cloud-cuckoo land to spend so much time and money, and their game very likely wasn't particularly good, either.

    Finally James Ernest said "when you talk to Fantasy Flight I wouldn't mention the million dollars".  (Because it would mark them as clueless noobs.)  And it turned out that much of the million dollars was a calculation of how much the developers would have paid themselves if they had paid themselves anything.  But those Marvel artists must've cost a lot of money.  Yet anyone who knows anything about the tabletop publishing business knows that the manufacturer provides the art and the designer should use clipart for the prototypes, even if it's copyrighted (fair use), rather than spend money on art.  And that virtually no game is so good as to earn a million dollars for the developers, so you shouldn't be spending a million dollars.  Yet they had done so little research that they had no idea how to approach Fantasy Flight, and while that is very far from easy to achieve, the basic steps are well-known.

    The session then ended and no more was said publicly.  But this is the kind of sad story one hears occasionally from stars-in-their-eyes "game designers".  They've done little or no research, they think their game's great because it's their game (and they probably designed it for themselves, not for other people), and they evidently think there's a lot of money in tabletop game design.  One can only shake one's head.  (And yes, I realize that it's just barely possible that they do have a great game but the odds are astronomically against it.)

    So at that moment I started to write down "Most important cautions for novice game designers ".  And after further thought, here they are.

    You won't be very good to start with.  Practice makes perfect.  When someone begins a creative endeavor they are very rarely good at it to begin with.  Nowadays so much that's involved in so many professions is hidden away or occurs in someone's mind that young people get the notion that it's easy simply because they don't see it happening.  No, there is no Easy Button.  So be prepared to throw way or give away much of your early work.

    You need to design and complete games.  Publishers don't want to buy ideas, they want to buy complete games.  It is extraordinarily rare for someone to have an original idea, that is, one that no one else has had.  An idea may be original to you but that doesn't mean a lot of other people have not also thought of it.  And may well have used it in a game years ago.  As a result, ideas are seen as worthless by publishers.

    Don't spend much money on making a prototype.  In particular, don't pay anybody for art, don't pay a lot for high-quality printing or fancy boxes, don't pay an "agent", don't pay an "evaluator".  Many prototypes don't even have a box, they are in some kind of pouch or wallet (especially considering that it's pretty hard to reduce a large board to box size, the board is often separate).  Really slick prototypes tend to put publishers off because they're afraid the designer has put so much time into the prettiness of the prototype that they've been reluctant to change it!

    With modern computer software and printers you can produce a nice-looking prototype quite cheaply.  I discuss software and other points about making prototypes in my "Game Design" book if you need more information. Ask you local library to get a copy.

    The 4 P's.  When you deal with publishers be professional, polite, punctual, and persistent.  And be friendly.  But remember that publishers are busy people who have hundreds of designers wanting to show them prototypes.  If you stand out because you're a butthead you're not going to get anywhere.

    Playtest, playtest, playtest.  Be sure to playtest your game with a wide variety of players.  Don't rely on your family to tell you whether it's a good game or not.

    You will never be finished with a game.  You'll just reach the point of diminishing marginal returns or the time it takes to make an improvement is just not worth the value of the improvement.  Even if your game is published, there will be things you may want to do in a second edition should that ever occur.

    Real designers work on many games at the same time.  But there are cases where someone designed one game that proved to be so good that they are independently wealthy (for example Blokus).  If you're working on just one game however. it probably won't be published; good luck.

    Designing a game is a form of work.  My favorite game is a game of designing games, but there are still times when I really wish I could just think of the prototype I wanted and it would appear before me, or when I get tired of tweaking rules the umpteenth time.  Shoving cards in the card sleeves, painstakingly drawing boards or pieces, is rarely enjoyable but it is necessary.

    It's even tougher in the video game industry because you almost never get to make the game you want to make, you have to make someone else's game or work with someone else's idea.  On the other hand there are many more people making a living as game designers in the video game industry than in the tabletop game industry.

    Design a game, not a story.  Stories can be important in some kinds of games, but people play a game because of the gameplay, not because of the story.

    Read.  Read articles, read blog posts, read books, about game design.  Quite apart from the many books on video game design, which admittedly often have little immediately practical advice for tabletop designers, there are books that cover tabletop game design specifically.  One objective of a book is to convey the experience of the writer to the reader so that the reader doesn't have to go through the "school of hard knocks".  And nowadays no one wants to take hard knocks.

    Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish.  L. Pulsipher.
    This is my book, and because my publisher sells a lot of books to libraries you may be able to persuade your local library to buy it if you don't want to buy it (and if they don't have it already).

    Tabletop Analog Game Design.  This is a freely downloadable book of contributions that vary widely in their approach.

    Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design.  A quite small $10 book of contributions about game design. Contemporary Perspectives on Game Design and Design Elements of Contemporary Strategy Games
    by George Phillies and Tom Vasel.  There are other books that specifically discuss tabletop game and toy licensing and marketing, as opposed to game design:
    The Game Inventor's Guidebook: How to Invent and Sell Board Games, Card Games, Role-Playing Games, & Everything in Between! by Brian Tinsman.

    Paid to Play: The Business of Game Designby Keith Meyers.

    See also my "Student Illusions About Being a Game Designer"  May 7, 09

    Just realized I missed a big one:

    Do not worry about someone “stealing” your game!  Your “great idea” likely isn’t great at all, and game designers have their own ideas.  Moreover it’s a small industry, the word gets around rapidly.  And if you don’t want to tell anyone about your great idea for fear of theft, how can anyone (especially publishers) begin to evaluate it? 
    A sure sign of a clueless noob “designer” is one who has patented his game.  At $3,000-$10,000 the patent costs more than the game is likely to make if it’s published!  And patents cost much more in legal fees if you want to try to enforce one.  Copyright is as much protection as you can expect, and copyright is free and immediate, though if you want to sue someone about copyright you’ll have had to register it, which does cost money ($35?).

  • “You can’t wire this the way you did.”

    This was the guy doing the inspection on the robot that my kid’s team had brought for competition this past Saturday.  I’ve been watching the thread entitled The Games That Shaped Us and I have an overwhelming candidate for my entry, but this thing with that guy happened before I got a chance to write it up, and now I have such a big honking example that I have to use it and don’t want to put 2000 words into a forum post.

    It was turning out to be one hell of a morning, with our robot already failing inspection once for being too wide.  We had run this bot in a prior competition and it passed, but the box at this competition (your bot has to fit inside an 18x18x18 inch cube) was apparently smaller, perhaps more correct.  We had passed the other 25 categories and returned after removing the piece that made us too wide, but they had lost our paperwork.  So we were forced to reinspect from scratch, and the second guy didn’t like our wiring.  His complaint was that we “split the wiring after our main switch but prior to it entering the first control block.”  You now understand the nature of the problem as much as I do, which is not at all, but there it was.  The guy on our team that did the wiring was right there and when I looked at him he was confused and pissed.  He said that it was not only legal, and that it was “best practice, the way you taught us in the wiring training course," which he had taken from the organization throwing the event.  The judge indicated he didn’t care, that it wasn’t legal, and that it needed to change.

    I spent a lot of years actively managing Dungeon Masters.  Most are good guys, but some are just dicks that take shit a little too seriously.  Some feel their ego is on the line if they don't screw you.  I spent a couple of decades avoiding DMs that said they liked DMing, an early sign of possible trouble.  Not a fast rule of course, but in general I wanted the guy that complained he’s already DM’d recently and wanted to play.  Players make the best DMs.  But when a player guy isn’t available you end up with a DM that thinks killing a character should be a minimum measure of their success in the job.  That’s when the people skills need to kick in, and when you start finding ways to make things work in your favor.

    Sparky our wiring guy apparently has not developed that skill, and I could see “this is such bullshit” forming on his lips.  (Sparky doesn’t suffer bullshit well.)  So I stepped in pretty quickly.  I tried to look coachly, and asked the judge if there is a rule specifically addressing the situation, or if this was something that he had latitude to rule on case by case.  Appealing one is very different from the other and his response was “it’s in the rules.”  So Sparky, the other coach and I all turned to converse between us on what we wanted to do.  We were likely out for the day if we needed to change it.  This would take an hour to do and required parts we would have to scrounge from other teams.  The games would be running by then.

    But then something happened.  We weren’t three words into the discussion when the judge added one minor adjustment to his prior sentence – “the rules don’t say you can split it like that.”

    Poor man, he didn’t know I’m a dick about such things.  Heck, I’ve written articles about such things.  But he was still the judge and had kill-a-character level of power over our team, so there was a need for careful maneuvering to get things to fall our way, and Sparky still had “this is such bullshit” hot on the deck ready for launch.  So I turned back to him with a question on the academic point on he had just presented, in order to set a precedence on what suddenly appeared to be a crap call.  “Do the rules for this competition rule things in, or rule things out?”  This is a big difference.  When he clarified his prior statement, he indicated he was unsure of what he had said.  He tipped his hand, not wanting to be caught saying something incorrect.  So now the rule book was in play, and he was on the hook to convince us that he had made a correct ruling.  Should have kept his mouth shut.

    As luck would have it one of the other kids on the team had taken liberty to pull a rule book out and was looking for the page that talked about wiring issues.  One page, short and simple.  Robotics encourages innovative thinking so they don’t want to be too restrictive.  There were six or seven concepts considered verboten for safety reasons, but none of them were in the neighborhood of our splitter.  The rules didn’t say anything about it, and they didn’t say anything about a huge amount of other things that presumably were fine as well, because they violate no rules.  That’s how rule books work after all.

    Of course DMs are funny critters as you all know.  If you corner them they dig in their heels and show their teeth, and a DM can give out a nasty bite.  What’s more getting on the wrong side of a DM in a small group can have repercussions for years, and back when I played you had to meet other players the old-fashioned way – by actually meeting them.  (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was only a couple of years old and people didn’t admit all that loudly to playing it because of rumors that people died playing it, in steam tunnels that for some reason are under every town.  I don’t even know what a steam tunnel is, but everyone knew about the kid that died playing Dungeons & Dragons in a steam tunnel.  I guess they brought a table and chairs down there with them.)  So as often as not the best option was to ask a rules question instead of telling the DM he sucked.  A DM trying to explain a crap call that a) doesn’t meet the rules, or b) can’t actually happen according to physics, is kind of over a soft barrel, and most likely will moderate his stance a bit to not look stupid.  Often this is enough to bring relief to their dickishness. 

    So in order to make sure our correction to the rules violation would fully address the problem, I asked him to show me the rule that we were in trouble with, rulebook gently laid into his hands.  There was nothing there.  “Oh, I remember” he said, “it was in the forums.”  He meant the Internet forums where teams can ask questions and there are official answers.  They usually address “rules of the road” issues on the game you’re playing, because it changes every year.  These are things that can be addressed by the running of the robot in real time, not a design change, and are reviewed prior to match.  “You mean the Internet forums?” I asked, because let’s face it, saying that you read something on the Internet is about as weighty as saying you heard it on an infomercial.  “How recently?” I added.  I put a curious tone on my questions, but I was pressing the point and I can’t imagine he didn’t understand the implications.  Boiled down, I was asking if we were breaking a rule or not, and if we were I wanted to see it.  He pulled out a three-ring binder three inches thick with 500 pages in it, apparently a printout of the forums though I didn’t ask.

    You can debate all you like about the merits of a rule book that doesn’t contain all the rules, and as far as I’m concerned clarifications for competition programs where the teams have $40,000 budgets need to be codified somehow some way, and there should have been an official set of rules announced in advance that apply to the specific event at hand.  This is what errata are for – a concise list of official changes.  This seems pretty reasonable.  It’s not how it works currently in robotics, and that put the judge in a tough position.  His answer was what I had expected he would do – he gave us an Interim Pass because our wiring imparted no tactical benefit to us, but we would need to address it if we advanced to the next level of competition at a later date.  We were wrong, but we were in.  That was a solid piece of common ground that I was more than happy to stand on.  The other coach and the team lead wanted to bitch about it more, but we walked away and had that conversation in the far corner of the room.  Embarrassing or piling on a DM does you no favors now, and just invites trouble for later.

    As it turned out we had to swing back around for our final sticker after software inspection and field inspection, and when we did they couldn’t find our inspection sheet again!  When they looked harder they pulled our original paperwork.  The guy that pulled it said, “hey, it says here that you didn’t pass the dimensions requirement” and he dropped their saggy-ass box on top of our bot and declared us too TALL this time!  He was failing us again!  My DM-management skills were tapped out at this point.  Bad-cop-bad-cop looked pretty damn reasonable, so I let the other coach pop off on him.  “Your box sags in the middle!  You can see with your eyes that it’s not 18 inches tall in the middle!”  Our bot’s tallest point just happened to be in its middle, at 17.75 inches.  The plexi box was quite old and quite clearly bowed in the middle the better part of half an inch.

     The judge’s response – “the other teams didn’t have a problem.” 

    Engineers all, it was clear that none of these guys had taken a class in rhetoric.

    “This is such bullshit.”  Sparky finally got his line in.

    “Are we within the limits of the rules or not?” I asked.  I had a tape measure with me due to our prior woes and I pulled it out.  The other coach threw “I don’t care about your box, I care about the height of the bot, and I care about the rules.  You can use our tape measure if you like, but we’ve already been measured twice.  Unless this thing is growing, we’re legal.”

    Given that inspections were running 45 minutes late the guy seemed a little more open to suggestion than most.  He signed the sheet, and we finally got to move on to competition.


  • Sagrilarius put some interesting questions in his blog " The Culture of Gaming, and Vice Versa" last week. I was struck especially by one point he made, in that "western" society doesn't accept hierarchical games. " Games with binding contracts or hierarchical player roles are simply unheard of in the genre, not because they aren't fundamentally sound, but because they simply don't occur to the usual suspects that drive boardgaming's technological progress. Not just a eurogame thing, this a western game thing." Not to leave my thought in the comments section, I put them up here.

    The comment may strike true for boardgames (although "the Great Dalmuti " springs to mind as the obvious exception) and there are some but is patently untrue if you look at other forms of gaming. In games with many players there is the opportunity for both hierarchical and 'contractual' relationships.

    If you look at the mass player games occuring online, the hierarchical (and diplomatic) aspects are very clear, with structures like guilds, corporations, alliances and clans. In these structures some players take leading roles, whether formally or informally. Another aspect is specialisation of character types and team balance.

    Another form of gaming which is inherently hierarchical is megagaming , games which involved 25 players and more. Player are grouped in hierarchies of teams, which in turn are hierarchical. In "The Last War ", a two day game about the latter half of WWII, about 150 players were grouped into 35 political or military teams , ranging for example from Roosevelt's cabinet through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to theater headquarters.

    In both types of games players seem to happily accept the different roles, some relishing in the opportunity to exert leadership, others preferring to stay out of the limelight. Some people take pride in the team effort.

    Of course, problems do occur when arguments start. Because this is only a game, and not real life, the extent to which players accept formal authority is limited. And even though there are limits to formal authority in real life (think of Guderian pushing on to the Channel Coast in May 1940, despite orders to halt), the options to punish players for disloyalty and insubordination in games are much less. On the other hand there is greater opportunity for players to excel on merrit, charisma, setting the example or by taking the lead.

    I think the lack of hierarchy in boardgames has more to do with the format of a small group of players that need about an even chance of winning, than with cultural traits. Interestingly, informal hierarchy also works with semi-cooperative boardgames, especially if connected to special powers connected to certain offices, like in Republic of Rome and Battlestar Galactica.

    So while there is a cultural propensity in the west for egalitarianism, it is not absolute, and it would be very interesting to see comparative studies of gaming culture, just like is being done for business culture (where for example the German business culture is more hierarchical than the Dutch). Do Chinese MMRPG player groups have different forms of organisations than Americans, or British?

  • A major objective of any game designer should be to avoid inflicting unnecessary frustration on the player(s).  In video games in particular it’s easy to find reviews that criticize the user interface for being difficult or fiddly or confusing.  But even manual games have interfaces.

    Sometimes we can find good advice in disciplines that are not part of the game industry.  One of these is the Website design industry.  The World Wide Web is particularly susceptible to some of the kinds of problems that can bedevil video game interfaces.  Web users tend to spend very little time on a particular page and are unwilling to expend effort to find information or to read the information they find.  Typical advice is to write half as much as you normally would and to use bullet points rather than narrative, because that’s the way most Web users read things.

    And Web users as a group tend to be technologically inept.  They are poor at searching, frequently giving up if their first search doesn’t work, and rarely going to the second page of search results. ( .) In one test Jakob Nielsen found that “only 76% of users who expressed a desire to run a Google search were successful. In other words, 1/4 of users who wanted to use Google couldn't do so. (Instead, they either completely failed to get to any search engine or ended up running their query on a different search engine — usually whatever type-in field happened to be at hand.) “  ( ).  For most anyone reading this, this would be very easy, but we’re not a group representative of Web users as a whole.
    This is the caliber of people who are playing social networking games on Facebook.  Facebook is a great blessing to the video game industry because it enables technologically inept people to play video games.  Just as many people struggle to do a specific search at a specific search engine, many people struggle to do much of anything on the Web, but many have learned to use Facebook.  Apparently for many people Facebook IS the Web, as far as they’re concerned, and they rarely do anything on the Web outside of Facebook.

    Nielsen is the guru of Web usability, and his Website ( has provided biweekly articles about usability for many years.  I think that anyone who designs video games should read many of these articles, nor will it hurt people who design tabletop games even though problems with the user interface are less common on the tabletop.

    I’ve seen people who claim to know a lot about Web design praise Websites that are hard to figure out but pretty.  Pretty may be important for certain audiences, up to a point, but not for many purposes and rarely for serious purposes.  The same can be said for game interfaces. There are also lots of Web designers who don’t test their sites, and that works about as well as game designers who don’t test their games – wretchedly.  Nielsen’s objective is to serve his market of people doing business on the Web, where a site that’s difficult to use can literally cost millions of dollars of business.  His major thrust for Web usability is that you have to test your sites regularly with the intended audience while developing them, and he devotes many of his articles to discussing how he tests and also discussing his test results in terms of preferences for different age groups.  As with the games one of the most important things is to understand who your audience is.
    Nielsen has written more or less scholarly books about Web usability, but I first recommend a small book by Steve Krug titled “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”.  Of course Krug doesn’t mean no thinking at all from the user, he means don’t make people think about how they’re acquiring their information, don’t make them make decisions that could interfere with finding and consuming the information they’re looking for.  Once they find what they’re looking for, if they want to think about that, fine. (Warning: the book predates “Web 2.0", so the examples are seen as dated, by some.  But much of the point of “don’t make me think” is “don’t fool around with extraneous displays of cuteness”, a common failing of contemporary Web sites.)  I’ve not read his more recent book about testing, “Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems”.  A look at Nielsen’s own Web site, which is very utilitarian but very easy to use, is instructive in itself.  Krug’s site ( is not quite as utilitarian, but still simple and straightforward.  (Keep the audience in mind, in both cases.)

    Let me interject here, I don’t use the word “intuitive” because it has become meaningless, a sloppy replacement for the word “easy”.  If anything is intuitive on computers it’s because people are familiar with the task from other software.  There is nothing particularly natural about how humans work with computers.  The natural way would be that we would talk to the computer as though it were a human and it would understand, but we’re not there yet.  Another natural method is that we would think at the computer and it would know what we wanted to do, and that’s even further away.

    When you think about it, games should be as easy to use as the Web needs to be.  The player should not have to think about anything except the actual decisions and challenges of the game.  They shouldn’t have to think about how to make their avatar move, they shouldn’t have to think about how to shoot, they shouldn’t have to think about keeping track of information such as the turn number.  The game should make this so easy that they don’t need to think about it.

    “Don’t make me think” isn’t quite the same as K.I.S.S. - “Keep It Simple, Simon” - as you can have a complex game that nevertheless doesn’t make the user think about how to manipulate it and tell it what to do (e.g. chess).  K.I.S.S is akin to my favorite maxim about game design, "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

    Some games that require a lot of thought for success, chess-like games or “strategy games”, may require more thought in areas other than the actual gameplay because the game itself is more complex.  Yet chess itself is an example of a complex strategy game with a very simple interface.

  • [Revised from my blog post at . ]


    In the following I’ll be using quotes gleaned from online discussions, from players and a well-known designer.  These are all personal observations, of course, and anecdotal evidence.  We simply don’t have the “scientific” evidence about games to “prove” any particular point of view.  You’ll have to examine your own experience to make an evaluation.


    As usual, I try to consider video and tabletop games rather than focus on just one or the other.  The major divide in game design isn’t video and tabletop, it’s the nature of the opposition, from human opposition at one end to simple programmed opposition at the other, with some of the more sophisticated computer opponents in the gray area between, not nearly as good as a good human opponent, but perhaps having a semblance of intelligence though not sentience.




    A while ago I read a preview of the video game XCOM:Enemy Unknown, now released and not to be confused with its successor Declassified.  I was struck by how often the author talked about “hard choices”, struck because this is what games (beyond family/party games) traditionally have involved, yet are rarely present in a great many contemporary video games, and many tabletop games.  Traditionally, a game designer wanted to put the players of a game “on the horns of a dilemma”, trying to decide between two or more things the player wants to do when he can only do one. 


    Even in family games there were occasional difficult choices to be made although the players often weren’t bothered whether they made the correct choice or not.  This may be one way of differentiating family/party games from more serious games.  That is, adult players of family/party games rarely take the game, or themselves as players, seriously.   Children often take them more seriously than the adults. 


    Diablo III is a poster boy for video games where there are no hard choices, where in the long run your choices don’t matter at all.  It’s institutionalized in the game in such things as the selection and use of skills.  You do not have to make decisions that matter when choosing which skills to use, because you can always change combinations.  This is touted as providing greater variety, which it does, but once again it means that what the player decides *doesn’t really matter*.  There are no consequences for poor choices, just a “do again” akin to guess-and-check (which used to be known as “trial and error”, but the meaning of the latter is changing).  It is no long consequence-based gaming, it has become reward-based gaming.


    In general, in Diablo III it doesn’t really matter anytime what a player does, he’ll succeed in the end.


    "I know if I invest X amount of time into D3 I will beat it with no learning curve and nothing really gained from the experience other than over hyped cinematics and the bragging rights to sell things to my peers on an auction house.


    I know this for a fact. There is no skill set or learning curve required for D3 except point, click and equip the best weapon set for my class that I own. I can die millions of times and as long as I am willing to keep clicking, I will triumph eventually. D2 had challenges/elements throughout its design that made it more unwieldy but immensely more fun. All of those points were removed from the latest version of the game to accommodate a wider audience."   (John Karnay)


    World of Warcraft is much the same.  Game designer Brenda Romero:


    "I play World of Warcraft a fair bit, but I don't really worry too much, because I know if I kill myself the very worst thing that's going to happen is I'll have to run a zillion miles back to my body.


    I am way more careful in Minecraft . . . when there's a fear of loss, your success means more to you."


    This is not confined to video games.  Another aspect of these changes was reflected in the comments on a blog post that "weeped for newbs", lamenting that even secret doors seem to be regarded as a "dirty GM trick" in 4th edition D&D.


    4th edition is WoW-ified, it doesn't ask the players to think much, it's really hard to screw up and die.  A comment on the post finally made me realize that the fundamental point of RPGs has changed between 1st and 4th edition.  In 1st edition you wanted to overcome the thrill of fear.  The referee's job was to scare the snot out of you, usually by threatening your character with death, sometimes by threatening to take or destroy your stuff, though his or her job definitely was NOT to actually kill you.  2nd edition was similar.  3rd edition (which one person called "fantasy Squad Leader") became a contest to find rules that enabled you to construct a one-man army (OMA), and then the game was about you showing off the super-duper-ness of your one-man army.  Your OMA was too tough to be scared.  Where in 1st edition most of those unearned advantages would not even be allowed, they had become the main reason for playing 3rd.  In 4th edition it has gone further, essentially you're rewarded for participation.


    In this respect many video and role-playing games are becoming pure entertainment, without any element of frustration or obstacle.


    In traditional games the consequence of making the wrong choices, or sometimes simply being unlucky, was that you lost the game (or at least were more likely to lose).  In video game “entertainments” you can’t lose; if you fail or die you simply come back and continue as before, whether this is built into the game as is often the case now (respawning) or whether you go back to your saved games.  Nor can you lose in tabletop RPGs, if the referee chooses so.


    I said in my book Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish that I thought video and tabletop games are converging, but sometimes I'm not so sure when I look at games like Farmville on one hand, and worse, the all-rewards-all-the-time games like Diablo III and many others, where anything that interferes with getting direct pleasure is regarded as a "fail".


    Yet many Eurostyle board games lean toward removing the sting or frustration of failure by removing direct conflict or direct interaction from the game.  In the extreme I call this a “contest”, where several people are attempting to achieve the same thing without significantly affecting one another, and whoever achieves it first wins.  Virtually any activity can be turned into a contest if it involves time or something else that’s measurable, such as who can get an arrow closest to the bull’s-eye, or who can type the most words in five minutes.  Many Olympics style sports are actually contests rather than games.  Some races are contests, for example most swimming races; others involve blocking an opponent which is an aspect of a game rather than a contest. 


    The heart of this point of view is that games (as opposed to puzzles) require a semblance of intelligent opposition that can affect other players, and in contests there is no by-rule way to affect other players.  Yes, you can ALWAYS have a chance to affect another person psychologically, for example going out fast in a middle distance swimming race to try to spook your opponent; but the rules don't cover or facilitate this.


    A game of hard decisions requires the player to use his brain, but that seems to be going out of fashion.  For example, Clay Johnson talked about how his son plays video games:


    "What I often observe though is that he 'cheats' to play through his games. By that I mean that he starts the game, and after a few rounds gets stuck. Instead of using his brain to try different strategies he simply looks up a guide on the net where there are countless free walkthrough guides for nearly every game out there.


    To me, this seems like it turns a puzzle into a basic clerical task, but he thrives on it !? Can this response by the users be the basic reason for 'dumbing down' games?"


    This reminds me of contemporary programming students - usually those who aren't interested in becoming professional programmers - who guess at solutions rather than reason them out.  But instead of guessing or figuring it out, Johnson's son looks it up.



    I like to say that at age 15 I "retired" from playing chess, because it had become too much like work.  Chess is a "game" (extraordinarily difficult puzzle, really) where there's always a correct, best move, and that combined with the vast weight of the chess literature, put me off.  Now, "too much like work" has changed meaning.  For a great many players, a game that requires *any*hard decisions is "too much like work."



    With a lack of hard decisions, gameplay depth (which is largely about hard decisions) is also absent or in short supply in most contemporary games.  In fact, when gamers say "depth" nowadays they often mean *variety*.  Variety is replacing gameplay depth as a goal for game design.



    It's important to most western gamers that games are "fair".  But I think the definition of fair has changed for video gamers.  Where it used to imply that you got what you deserved, that you had to *earn*something, now it means "fair" in the way my young niece used to use it.  She'd say "that's not fair", but she meant, "that's not what I want, I'm not getting what I want".  Now video game players expect a game to give them what they want, when they want it, period.


    The rise of free-to-play games has encourages reward-based gaming, because you have to engage and retain a lot of players in order to have enough paying players to make the game profitable.  There are F2P games that emphasize skill and consequent, such as League of Legends and DOTA2, but these are exceptions to the general rule.  Notice also that the opposition in those games is human, not computer.



    I'm not saying this trend away from the "horns of a dilemma" is bad, I'm saying this is what it is, and game designers have to recognize it, even if they design for a niche that prefers old-fashioned, consequence-based gaming - the niche that likes XCOM: Enemy Unknown



    Slides from this screencast:


    Interesting Decisions


    Wish Fulfillment

    Dr. Lewis Pulsipher



    Another way to look at game design

    Insofar as game design is much about thinking…

    Dividing/categorizing what game design is about can be fruitful

    So we can look at games as:

    Those with human opposition vs those without

    All math, about people, or about stories

    Linear vs “open world”

    Mind control vs players make own story

    Games vs puzzles

    The system and the psychological

    Talent vs technique


    This time it’s: games as a series of choices  versus games as wish fulfillment

    Sid Meier’s classic definition of a game as “a series of interesting choices” versus

    Games as wish-fulfillment, as “an experience” (role-play)

    AAA video games have enabled the second method

    Traditional board and card games lack ways to make something that “feels real” for the player


    Wish-fulfillment can still have choice

    But in many cases, to implement wish-fulfillment the designer/writer eliminates the larger choices in order to guide a story to a conclusion

    As in, say, Mass Effect 3?

    Role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons provide the bridge between the two

    You can play it either way

    Some RP game systems encourage one or the other


    Is one way “better?”


    “Interesting choices” is the traditional game

    “Experiences” is the “new” game

    (And puzzles are something else again)

    I’ll confess I’m mostly in the choices camp

    Yet in D&D I tended to play the game as though it was me in there, not as an actor, so in that respect it was an “experience”


    What kind of games do YOU want to make?

  • Well folks, I've been running around like crazy the past few days, and since last week's round-up was well-received (and allowed me to get a lot of my gaming thoughts and opinions crammed into one article), I thought I would follow suit this week with some more not-quite-ready-for review discussions about stuff I've played recently.  Next week--The Big Yomi Review, I promise.


    Tonight my friends I am pleased to announce a special guest writer for this very special Dice Temple post — the acclaimed Dr. Emmett Brown. So please, sit back, relax, and enjoy this one of a chance opportunity. As one of the greatest minds of our time, a specialist in the bending of space and time, analyzes one exciting game: Legacy Gears Of Time. Without further adieu…..Dr. Emmett Brown.

    -DiceTemple Andrew

    p.s. There is a Delorean with its lights on in the parking lot.

    Good evening all. Tonight we will be traversing through the malleable dimension known as time. Together, exploring each age, we will marvel as other ‘time-travelers,’ as they are colloquially known, compete to adjust and influence the lineage of technology itself to their own personal gain. These Antiquitects play a dangerous game, but the rewards are great, for an eternal Legacy awaits.

    In this competition Antiquitects will use several actions to achieve greatness. The first and foremost strategy to do so involves “establishing” technologies along the timeline (represented by segments on the board in the case of Legacy). This involves traveling to different segments of time, and paying through discards to place a technology from the Antiquitects hand in that segment. The catch however lies in that many technologies have prerequisites that must exist previously on the timeline to gain the Antiquitect legacy (legacy is scored as points at the end of each of the four rounds of play that make up the game). And so these time-travelers will be desperately trying to both establish advanced technologies as well as their basic predecessors. 

    This goal is complicated by two main factors. The first is fate cards, which are few in number but very powerful. They can undermine opponents, allow for more than the allotted number of technologies to be established in a given time segment, or do any number of other advantageous things. The second complicated factor is the use of player’s influence. As the rounds of Legacy progress, each player will gain more and more influence cubes which they may place on their or opponents technologies to take control of them. When done strategically, this can tip the scales quite heavily.

    All in all Legacy: Gears of Time is a fascinated competition, even to myself as one who has time-traveled as much as the next Antiquitect. It is a fun, medium weight way to spend an hour or two, and the thrill of molding time never does lose its luster (and neither will the board or card art in this game). So if you would, join me Emmett — yes please call me Emmett — and we will travel to experiences in realms you have never dreamed. Thank you for sitting through my lecture today. Happy Traveling.


    Dr. Emmett Brown


    Thanks a ton to Floodgate Games for sending me a copy of this great game! Readers, check out Legacy, as well as its new expansion on Kickstarter - Legacy: Forbidden Machines. Check out the link below!

    Legacy: Forbidden Machines


    Game Designer: Ben Harkins

    Artists: Shamas Demoret, Steve Maggart

    Publisher: Floodgate Games

    Year: 2012


    Thanks for reading Dice Temple! More reviews at Questions, concerns, and review inquiries can be sent to maloney_andrew_t(at)

  • Sealed I don't rightly KNOWhow many of YOU here had been "offended" with the direct exclusion for anything of YOURS at BGG, nor if you were to care about this matter in the least or at ALL, whilst myself had figured upon a 'solution' for such. I'm quite *tricksy* that 'way' eh?
  • space_hulk1.jpg
  • Squad Leader

    I recently traded away my A Game Of Thrones game and expansions. Although I enjoyed playing it, it only saw the light of day twice and my copy of A Storm of Swords sat unpunched for over a year.

    I love gaming but my family doesn't, so rather than trying to convince them to play UNO unsuccessfully (the only game my youngest wants to play) I decided that I wanted to do more solo gaming.

    A fellow gamer told me about his enjoyment of Squad Leader, over a game of Combat Commander.   Not having a regular opponent to play CC against, my desire to learn more about WWII wargaming and the fact that I could do this solo made SL a perfect fit in my collection. 

    It seems like a pretty deep system, but I look forward to playing something new.

    In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.


  • In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".  So here I am  with my first entry. 

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just  maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.



    Simulated to represent the previous evening's winning move.


    I played Napoleon's Triumph for the first time with my Geekbuddy  Ramito  on Friday night.  It was pretty much back and forth with Ramito (the Alllies) wearing me down into the third last turn of the Dec.2 scenario.

    I was down to my last morale point (as the French), with the Allies up 4 points.  On my turn as a last ditch attempt I made an attack by road with my 2 strength cavalry into the south of Buntowitz. The Allies revealed a two strength infantry unit which promptly retreated (losing 1 strength) to the east of Buntowitz. Knowing I could run those bastards down I continued the attack. Unfortunately for the Allies they had all three of their units in that locale blocking different approaches. My attack  eliminated the Inf. and caused losses from each of the three infantry units in their  approaches to reduce the Allies' morale from 3 to  -1 for the victory. It was fucking sweet!

    Even though it took about 3.5 hours, if we had the time I would have set-up, switched sides and had another go. This game is that fucking good. Brain-burner ? Mmm....sure, but I was buzzing from what had been happening during that entire session.

    It would be a crime not to do this again. Soon.

  • In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just  maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.

    My usual nightly habit. I'll play a couple games before heading to bed. It helps to fill in the gaps of PBEM games.  I'm kinda hooked on it.

  •  In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.


    Alright I don't give a fuck what anyone says but I have a binder of rules I downloaded and printed out for various games I have a high interest in purchasing.  And yes I will read one (or two) of these before going to bed or if I have time while eating breakfast.

    I use to have a wicker basket that I would put these print outs in until the bin began to overflow. So I thought by putting them in a binder it not only reduces the mess (to my wife's relief)  but it also forces me to be selective in what I keep. For example after I bought BSG and Combat Commander, I recycled their printed-out counterparts. 

    That being said I still have the rules for games I already own like Dune and Titan. Titan, mainly because I play a lot online and I like to have an accessible reference close at hand and Dune 'cuz it also has Starbase Jeff's FAQS, that I like to read now and again.

    There are also rules for games that I'm still deciding on, ( Clash Of Monarchs and Successors, I'm lookin' at you)! 

    Current rules for:

    Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage ( the first 10 +page game manual I ever read.) Plus a strategy card list (OWN)

    Commands & Colors: just cause (OWN)

    Antiquity: The theme, unforgiving, unique gameplay and graphic design fascinate me. (LIKE TO OWN)

    Space Junk: An okay space collection PnP Euro.

    Clash of Monarchs: Can't seem to get into it (THINKING ABOUT IT)

    Successors: I love the various victory conditions for this Ancient CDG. (LIKE TO OWN)

    Red Star Rising:First foray into a more complex non-CDG WW2 wargame.  (THINKING ABOUT IT)

    Titan: Already mentioned why.

    Bonaparte at Marengo: The first game that made me aware of the brilliant game designer Bowen Simmons. The closest thing to ever owning the game. (LOVE TO OWN)

    Twilight Struggle:Reference to if I play online again (hint hint Space Ghost) (OWN)

    Origins: Another fucking crazy ass design that I'd love to try but I know it would never hit the table with my current group. ( LOVE TO OWN)

    And last but maybe least:

    Pandemic:Would love to play this with the family but I don't think it's gonna fly.(THINKING ABOUT IT)

    Missing in Action> Here I Stand: Currently in my gym bag as I'm playing an online game with some F:ATties.

    There you go. What's on your shelf or in your satchel? I know I'm not the only one.


  • In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.

    Awhile ago I saw a gorgeous dice tower on BGG. Up until that point I kinda felt "meh" about them, too many fantasy, dragon, lego, ASL, medieval castle-themed towers for my liking. I really didn't see the point of having one when a box lid could do the trick.  I also thought why would you want this gaming accessory to draw focus away from your game (I'm a visual person, so some things come down to aesthetics for me)? 

    But, all that changed when I saw pics of a sleek, "sophisticated" and cleanly designed monochromatic tower. It was beautiful. When I found out that it was made from scratch I  set about to make one of my own.

    My gaming table is 3'11" by 2'6"  so when I play Warriors of God or C&C: Ancients, I have just enough room for my game, it's components & not much else including the box lid. After building it,  I was more than thrilled to be able to throw dice on the table, to not worry about a cumbersome box lid or sending games pieces flying all over the board.

    I love it. I've used it for everything from Titan to Star Wars: Queens Gambit to Warriors of God. Best of all it actually looks good with any game I play ( did I mention that I was a visual....nevermind).

    There are some ATers who frown upon them..cough... cough... mattthrower... cough,,, cough, but really, what better homage can we pay to our beloved dice than to build our very own Glorious Chamber of Randomness, in their honour.


    Oh yeah, here's my tower in and out of action:


  • n another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.


    Going through my game closet recently I came across the Battleship game I got as an X-Mas gift back when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My kids laughed when they saw the ship chart I "skilfully" drew.

    All I can say is, " Suck it UniversalHead!" :P



  • A screen shot of F:AT's current in forum game of Battlestar Galactica. Ken B has been an awesome moderator and the guys are a blast to play with.

    In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

     To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.



    I played Marvel Heroes for the first time on Friday night and had a fucking blast!  This was THE ultimate superhero board gaming experience I've ever had. It felt like I was truly in the world that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Chris Claremont etc. etc. had built.

    From what I understood before going in, was that the rulebook is  a bit of a nightmare. Fortunately the person who brought MH had prepared himself quite well for the challenge, aided with a flowchart and his keen ability for teaching games (thanks Keith!).

    Keith: Marvel Knights

    Nancy: The Fantastic Four

    Mark: The Avengers

    Me: The Xmen

    Highlights of the game:

    The Wizard after destroying Dr. Strange (w/ support from Daredevil) rushed back to his dingy apartment where he tweeted the rest of his C-list cohorts.

    Pyro having read the Wizard's tweet refused to back down from a fight with Captain America, & The Hulk. After incinerating Cap & dodging Hulk's "Smash" (0 hits on five dice) Pyro scorched then outwitted the Hulk ( 2/3 KOs).  Pyro, feeling cocky, reached for his cellphone to text Hydro-Man about his almost certain victory over the Avengers, when the smouldering Green Goliath loomed above Pyro, raised both gigantic fists in the air and smashed Pyro into pulp. "HULK SMASH!"

    The game ended with the Xmen taking the win for 21 pts, The MKs at 18pts the FF at 14 pts and the Avengers a distant 9 pts.

    I loved it! And to top it off, I never used Wolvie once as Jean Grey kicked sweet ass all over the place. I would play this again at the drop of a hat, it was that good.

    "Nuff said!


    In another thread our fellow F:ATtie Thaadd mentioned that she's doing a blog in which she is to upload at least 1 photo everyday for 100 days.  I made a comment to Mikoyan about not having my own blog and Thadd busted me by reminding me that The Fort has it's very own blog sections (duh! I forgot I had two entries already.) She then challenged me to take 100 game photos. I thought...."what the hell".

    To be realistic, I doubt I'm gonna do 1 a day but I'll try to do it at least once per week with a short write-up of some sort. I'm not promising anything spectacular but maybe, just maybe I can give you all a little glimpse into my world of gaming.

  • Shinnen Omedeto! (Happy New Year!)

    I hope all my friends in F:AT land had a safe and great New Year's Day.  I spent the day mostly loafing about at home.  Started working on a PnP called House of Horrors.  About mid-day was when I decided I'd had enough of puttering around and decided to draft out my 101-1001.

    It’s a little project that I spotted on an LJ community several years ago.  Basically, you do 101 things in 1001 days.  Some of them are relatively easy, some of them I know for a fact that I probably won't even get to finish.  Regardless, I wanted to try.

    Here is my list, in no particular order or priority:

    1.    Pay off Wells Fargo
    2.    Establish financial safety net
    3.    Paint house exterior
    4.    Learn Mandarin
    5.    Brush up on my Japanese (get fluent again)
    6.    Visit Hong Kong with family during Chinese New Year
    7.    Paint Warhammer 40k Imperial Guard army completely
    8.    Paint Warhammer 40k Eldar army completely
    9.    Get my weight down to 188 lbs.
    10.    Pass the Army fitness test
    11.    Replay Fallout 2
    12.    Arrange wife to see orthodontist
    13.    Remodel garage into game room
    14.    Get a Pachinko machine
    15.    Repaint interior of house
    16.    Help JoAnn with painting the kitchen
    17.    Plant vegetable garden
    18.    Construct a Neverwinter Nights module
    19.    New furniture for den
    20.    Reupholster Gramma's chair
    21.    Finish “To Be Human” and give it to Trish
    22.    Set up Noah's college fund
    23.    Get life insurance
    24.    Visit Chicago with family
    25.    Visit Seattle with family
    26.    Visit Boston with family
    27.    Ride an Amtrak train
    28.    Write will
    29.    Get Quiz & Dragons
    30.    Replace kitchen sink
    31.    Finish Icewind Dale II
    32.    Replace back door
    33.    Finish Devil May Cry
    34.    Finish Paraworld
    35.    Repaint raised portion of garage floor
    36.    Fix cracked pavement
    37.    Replace front door knob
    38.    Surprise JoAnn
    39.    Check credit report
    40.    Teach Noah to ride his bike without training wheels
    41.    Clear out bedroom closet
    42.    Clear out office closet
    43.    Frame Feng Shui poster
    44.    Frame Pipa
    45.    Replace wire screen on microwave cart
    46.    Clear out library
    47.    Get Soulstorm
    48.    Get new PC
    49.    Get laptop for JoAnn
    50.    Take down birdhouse and put up new one
    51.    Get new suit
    52.    Renew passport
    53.    Get Noah a passport
    54.    Landscape front yard
    55.    Stain fence
    56.    Bike ride on the St. Tammany trace with family
    57.    Watch the entire Slayers  series
    58.    Complete Cowboy Bebop collection
    59.    Complete DMC:TAS collection
    60.    Teach Noah to swim
    61.    Arrange to have German Wehrmacht Army officer's sabre to be put on loan with D-Day museum
    62.    Learn to draw 63.    Finish GOMCO game review
    64.    Finish Farseerreview
    65.    Finish PnP of Dead of Night
    66.    Finish PnP arena for The Hunt
    67.    Get rid of CDs I don't listen to anymore
    68.    Dance with JoAnn to our song
    69.    Take JoAnn on romantic trip
    70.    Finish Crone World session report
    71.    Finish Murder City session report
    72.    Help Noah graduate from being a Bear Scout
    73.    Clear out attic
    74.    Replace missing pieces to my games (D&D board game, American Dream, etc.)
    75.    Finish writing WDC Rules Omnibus
    76.    Feng Shui-ify Monster Hunter International universe to have my friends play
    77.    Convince my players to try Justifiers(again).
    78.    Convince my players to play Living Steel
    79.    Clear out the clutter in the house
    80.    Get a new weed eater
    81.    Rearrange the garage
    82.    See The Avengers with my son
    83.    See The Hobbit with the family
    84.    Finish Bauhaus Bunker paper mini terrain
    85.    Finish Imperial Bridge Head paper mini terrain
    86.    Finish Brotherhood cathedral paper mini terrain
    87.    Finish Brotherhood expansion
    88.    Get minis for Brotherhood expansion
    89.    Get a Dark Cults set for Brandy
    90.    Get the NWN Omnibus collection
    91.    Build a Cubmobile
    92.    Teach Noah the 1-12 multiplication tables
    93.    Paint Nin-Gonostminiatures
    94.    Write a game review for Tai-Pan
    95.    Write a game review for Whirlwind
    96.    Finish writing Pigeon
    97.    Finish writing Offworld
    98.    Finish creating the Demnogonis Sourcebook
    99.    Create Semai Sourcebook
    100.    Finish Genesis Rising
    101.    S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

    And the finish date is 9-28-14.  Starting this weekend... Wish me luck.