Short Cut to Remote Gaming Forum (29 Aug 2020)
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Jim Felli on Streamlining
I generally dislike spending time and energy streamlining my game designs. To people who know my work, that’s probably a pretty obvious statement. Given the choice, I’ll always opt to move onto a fresh project rather than polish and tweak and refine.
*not saying I've never been guilty of this, or won't be again
As much as I appreciate the symmetry and elegance of a lot of Knizia stuff, given the choice, I'll normally opt for the chrome, just because it will leave behind those stories to tell.
I'd rather feel something than be told what to feel.
Vysetron wrote: See that's the thing! I get so much more out of a Knizia game than games with more flavor text than effects on the cards. A game of Samurai or T&E tells an incredible story. Massive swings of influence and power, temporary alliances, cold wars that escalate until everything finally explodes, etc. The discussions and decisions around those games stick with me. They're evoactive.
Just to be clear, I'm not trying to say that they're flavorless or that things NEED flavor text to work. There really isn't that much flavor text in Talisman, for example. It's all pretty much straightforward "This happens to you. It sucks. But enjoy it!" (which is part of why I no longer play Talisman...) Two of my all-time favorites are Modern Art and Blue Moon(!); evocative art, perhaps, but the joy is in the play.
Maybe this is why Michael Oracz is my fave designer of the moment? The various factions in Theseus and Cry Havoc aren't complicated, but they feel like they're supposed to. If you're playing the Pilgrims, your abilities and technology are starkly different from the same feel you get from playing the Troggs. And there really aren't that many abilities to keep track of in any given game, but every game feels like an episode of some SF series.
To me Talisman doesn't really evoke its setting. There's no high fantasy adventuring going on there, just chaos, pain, and how incredibly funny it all is. I love it for fully embracing that chaos. It also makes it pretty bad as a game, but at least it's pretty good as a story box.
Oracz is a favorite of mine purely for Neuroshima Hex. That game is a masterpiece. Every faction is incredibly expressive and unique but the game still provides a fantastic tactical experience every time. Steel Police for life. Still need to play Theseus at some point.
Perhaps some day I'll go insane and collect every game he has ever made, which will be an expensive endeavor thanks to that crazy skirmish game he made for Awaken Realms. I really do want to play that.
Though I largely agree with what you're talking about in principle, I think there is a difference between streamlining and refining. It's important to view the two differently, because I think the first is risky, the second dependable.
Streamlining is more about removal to make something more simple, more palatable in a more frenetic world. Streamlining gets gets a lot of attention these days because there are so many other things looking for your time, most of them in order to monetize your attention. 40 years ago this was much less of an issue, where a rainy day in the Summer meant playing Star Fleet Battles or watching Days of Our Lives. Star Fleet Battles ain't exactly streamlined, but it sure is better than Days of our Lives. A game like that could go the distance in an environment where there isn't 100,000 on-demand data streams competing for your attention. It's length could be a positive feature because by the end of Summer you start getting pretty bored.
Refinement is another story, where the result of the effort could actually result in a bigger product. Refinement isn't necessarily about reducing as much as it is about making something more precise to the concept. I'm a big fan of refinement.
That said, a streamlined game is easier to teach and easier to get on the table. I have some very enjoyable longer games in my collection that hardly ever get played anymore.
I'm tackling the task of revising FFG's 8th ed. of Wiz-War for purposes of adding more content as the main objective. But the secondary objective has allowed me to tighten up a few areas that needed tweaks which were common complaints among players.
Given that this is an old game, rife with some warty card interactions that are the characteristic of the game, many wonder if the work Kevin Wilson made to 8th was even necessary at all.
Personally, I like what was attempted by Wilson a lot. It's why my tweaks ended up as a revision of 8th Ed and not the classic editions.
But when does the attempt to revise become too much? Do I go down the rabbit hole as Bill did when he went exhaustively through FFG's Cosmic Encounter to clarify every potential error and idiosyncracy for the sake of a smoother and refined experience? I'd rather not, since that particular depth has proven to not benefit the game at large from practical experience using his suggestions. But the temptation is certainly there.
And on a thematic front, do I strictly adhere to what is classically known of the game, or do I add my own sensibilities to areas that I believe could be improved upon?
Finding this balance has proven to be difficult. Likely moreso in retheming or revision than devising your own original design I would hazard to guess.
This thought experiment on streamlining is an odd beast for me for the reason that M:tG exists.
M:tG is a refinement of Wiz-War. A highly successful refinement that I can see Wiz-War benefitting from in some areas, by re-retrofitting some key refinements.
The Stack (concerning responses and resolution), a few key areas in turn structure, some card mechanisms and designs, even the artwork.
Do I add some flavor to each card effect? Or do I make card effects just concise rules only and rely on the player to infer the theme through the name/image/rules provided?
I think you and I have the same goal. For players to have a shared experience they will remember because of the rollercoaster they have been placed upon. That goal is branded in my mind and steers nearly every decision I make in such efforts.
But, at least from where my own perspective lies, it seems that there is a lot of room for many games to better allow that experience to take place when there is refinement. I play too many games where the warts get in the way and make a bumpier ride than should otherwise be necessary. Too many games that are published before they are ready for primetime, but you can see the potential greatness.
Maybe that's just a personal problem for me and I'm alone. After all, a lot of people swear by classic Wiz-War, where I see a beautiful thing locked behind layers of mud that don't need to be there and could (fairly) easily be cleaned to enjoy it's full beauty.
Anyways, thanks for taking the time to write the article. It's given me a lot to ponder.
[Edit] I see Sagrilarus has said it more succinctly than me again. I wished I read the whole thread before responding. Ah well. [/Edit]