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Board #Game #Design

Posted on August 15th, 2016

Central Jersey Mensa @Mensa

08/12/2016 @ APA Hotel Woodbridge, 120 S Wood Ave, Iselin, NJ

IMG_20160812_211308[1] IMG_20160812_203105[1]

Gil Hova @FormalFerretGames, a designer and publisher of #BoardGames talked about how to design a good board game.

Unlike transformative games (only play once, but it changes you), his games are entertaining, but he emphasized that fun is not a general term, but needs to be applied to a specific audience.

To describe his approach, Gil talked about four key terms

  1. flow – feeling of being in the zone. Ways to get players in the flow include
    1. clear set of goals
    2. immediate feedback
    3. goals neither too difficult nor too easy
    4. need to make challenges progressively more difficult
  2. fiero – feeling after triumphing over adversity. emotional peak. counterbalance to flow. its a fleeting moment. For instance, the “take that” mechanism in which you punish another player. The concept of about meaningful play. see Jane McGonigal – “Reality is broken”.
  3. heuristics – rules of thumb that are not part of the rules, but ways that players figure out to play the game – e.g. bluffing in poker. The developer needs to see how rule changes change behavior. Players start with “zero level heuristics” that they use the first time you play a game. As your play more, you “climb the heuristic tree” It’s also called “lenticular design” as we see new things every time we play the game. The heuristic tree can have many shapes:
    1. bush (e.g. tic-tac-toe, only 1 or 2 heuristic rules to win –e.g. take the center square)
    2. palm tree – a long climb before you understand how to play the game and then there are a lot of tools at your disposal
    3. sequoia – lots of heuristic levels with new concepts & tools at each level (e.g. chess)
  4. core engagement – the core that appeals to players. The one thing on which game is based.
    1. Scrabble – mastery of words
    2. Bridge – communication with partner

The key thing is to incentivize interesting behavior: “game design is mind control”

If game is too random, then the play becomes not meaningful. e.g. Flux
The game needs to reward good play. The game needs to get them into the 4 key terms.
Theme and Mechanism – it doesn’t matter which comes first, but it helps if they support each other.
The theme is a promise to the players, so make the mechanism consistent with the player’s expectations from the theme.
If there is no theme, then its better be simple to explain the rules.
MDA – mechanism dynamic aesthetics – dynamics is the intersection of the aesthetics and the mechanism.
Players start with the theme and drill down to the mechanism.
Designer starts with the mechanism and moves to the theme.
In the goal of uniting the theme and mechanism, Gil advises – remove the flavor text on the card (used to describe the card) since the flavor of the card should be implied by how the card plays

Gil then talked about the game development process he uses: 4 stages of play testing

  1. proof of concept – play solo. is this a game? is it interesting?
  2. alpha – plain broad strokes, talk about it, play with other designers. discuss why it broke. discard after each play test
  3. beta functional, balanced, show it. its now a functional game. Google image for graphics
  4. gamma beautiful, graphic tests, release to market

and 3 types of playtesters that he uses during the play testing stages

  1. silent tester – just a silent opponent
  2. brilliant tester – “what if you could do this”
  3. crazy tester – play with a opponent that tries things you have not considered.

Gil closed by talking generally about the game-development industry

you cannot play a great idea!
no one will steal your game.
do not ask for an NDA
don’t be attached to your game
let your game be what it wants to be
he recommends listing to the podcast, flip the table, which looks at obscure board games.

You will need 75 to 100 tests overall to get from idea to published game.


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