Posts Tagged games

Unexpected Party

I was on the Carnival Glory, and we had set sail (after an arduous safety briefing). Our group of Magic players and significant others were set to meet in the conference room (Green Room) on the 4th Deck. To get to it, I decided to walk through the bar on 4, the Ivory Lounge. When I came through the doors, my keen sense of observation immediately detected something amiss:

The place was packed with 200-300 men and women, all sitting, standing, talking, all of roughly college age.

I have never seen that many people packed together in one place on a boat, except maybe the first day on the top deck, and the safety drills. Baffled, I walked through until I caught a young lady’s eye. I asked, “So, are you all part of one group, or…?”

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “It’s this group of 300 singles, and this is our first meet-up.”

My jaw dropped a bit, but I recovered and made a cool exit. “Cool! Well, I’ll hopefully see you guys later!” I went through into the Green Room, met all of the Magic folk, and then went wandering.

After some hours at the martini bar (man, best bar ever), I went up to the top deck with friends for some 24hr pizza. Up next to the pool, about 100 of these singles had arrayed a circle of chairs and were playing some sort of crazy game. “Get in there, Dave!” said Amanda B and Lee. Yeah yeah, ok. I pulled up a chair, and immediately found out what was going on from my neighbors: Never Have I Ever Musical Chairs.

(Aside: What a wonderful merging of two well-known games! In Never Have I Ever Musical Chairs, there is 1 fewer chair than participants, so 1 person is always standing in the center. That person states a thing they have never done – “Never have I ever smoked pot” – and then each participant who HAS done the thing gets out of their chair and finds a new one to sit in. Whoever is left standing at the end states the next thing!)

It was during this game where I chatted a bit more with some of the friendly singles and found out that they were all Mormon. So, our ship had been invaded by a group of singles, which seems awesome, but they were all Mormon, which seems slightly less awesome in the drinking-and-debauchery sense. They were having a good time, though, and it was infectious!

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Scaling Up

I went to an interesting get-together that was co-organized by Brandon and attended by many of my game-designer-y friends where we took part in a few proto-game experiences involving projection on the inside of a portable “geo-dome.” It was pretty cool – saw some interesting simulations. And like in a fixed-location planetarium, the folk running the program showed us one of those “powers-of-10” style videos that they had created themselves where you zoom out from Earth to the limits of the observable universe.

When we zoomed out to about intergalactic scale, I felt huge vertigo, as I usually do, while my brain tried to process the scale involved. It makes me kind of queasy.

It’s interesting – in the abstract, I can imagine traveling between stars, but I have a really hard time imagining traveling between galaxies. It’s like my subconscious has a sense of the realspace distance between things at that scale, and just refuses to believe in what I’m seeing when the camera moves from galaxy to galaxy. Even though I believe one day humans (or some offshoot of us) will find a way to travel faster than light! It’s weird.

Another thing: I get kind of angry when I start to process the raw resources available at that scale and frustrated with how little we have to work with at our current technology. Grrr!

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Card Kingdom and Cafe Mox

There is a mecca of gaming in the Seattle area. It arrived about a year and a half ago now, I think, and it is truly outstanding. This haven is Card Kingdom’s store in Ballard, just north of Seattle, and their attached “gamer bar” Cafe Mox. I went there yesterday with some awesome co-workers to play games for like 6 hours and (as always) enjoyed every minute of it.

Card Kingdom’s store space is laid out in a somewhat unusual way for a game store. Rather than packing as many games as possible into as little space as possible, and leaving play/demo space to a minimum, there are large aisles, well organized and categorized sections of product, and many tables on which to play. There’s even an entire three rooms devoted to card games, miniature games and roleplaying games respectively, each with their own appropriate table space! It’s really amazing.

But the reason I keep returning there is actually Cafe Mox, the bar right next door owned and operated by the same folk. In this bar, there are a large variety of beers, wines, mead and even food – sandwiches, salads, some delicious fried stuff. You can check games out from Card Kingdom and play them in Mox, plus there are even two large rooms off the bar you can book for long sessions with big groups (I’ve done so for day-long drafting, for example.)

I highly recommend anyone in town who has any inclination toward playing ANY games at all (and honestly, that means everyone who reads this AT LEAST) to visit and relax there for a few hours. If you come visit me, let me know and I’ll be sure to set up a trip!

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#15: Game On

I wrote previously about the creation of game systems, but I haven’t talked more about the running of game sessions – your classic GM role for role-playing games, although I could imagine other ways to do this, like Mafia Narrator (the classic game of finger-pointing and betrayal), or some sort of Hero Quest-esque run where I set up playthroughs that “basically” play themselves with the group.  In some senses this is like setting up a game day with friends, but I do enjoy putting together stories and worlds in the “shared storytelling” way and I haven’t done it in a while, specifically not from the angle of GM/Narrator.

I think the best way to do this, for people with very busy lives (like me!) is to plan a series of sessions (like three) in what many of us have called a “manyshot” (as opposed to “oneshot” for a single session).  In a 3-4 session game, you can do quite a bit of story development, and play a significant amount of “game” too, for RPGs.  It also ends up feeling episodic if people like it enough – you can always bring back a world/story again later.  This is kind of convincing me to consider what an episodic strategy board game might look like.

15. I resolve to run at least one “manyshot” game campaign of my own design (probably RPG), with an eye toward doing it episodically (so like three-four manyshots over the course of a year).

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#6: Game Generation

I really like to work on “small games,” by which I mean the creation of smallish game systems that are for a few people to play.  I discovered this fully when I worked with Nate to make Evil Geniuses for Todd and Tory, and since then I have tried to take on a couple other projects like that (making a game for a small audience – it’s much harder without Nate’s serious skills!).  One of the reasons it’s so rewarding is obviously because it’s dedicated to a particular group, or at least to a particular kind of individual, and seeing that group or kind of person excited is a great feeling.  But another, equally important reason to me is the thrill of making something interesting and engaging that fits wholly inside my head.

I think I’d like to make a formal stab at exploring this skill and its output (more “small game systems”) over the course of many months, both because I have a lot of half-formed ideas floating around my head, and also because I have more friends I wish to surprise and delight with said games in the next year.  I also haven’t spend enough time trying to create digital versions of some of those games, which seems like a good focus for my current frame of mind and for keeping my technological skills at the ready!

#6. I resolve to spend time fleshing out a game system every other month and creating workable prototypes for said systems, for a few months in a row.

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Would You Rather, Championship Edition

Thursday, November 4, 2010
Would you rather be wealthy and ugly, wise and sickly, or beautiful and stupid?

I refer to this as “championship edition” because my friends Mick, Sam, Sarah and Brian would often play the classic party game Apples to Apples by divvying up all of the submitted words into pairs and then evaluating the pairs against each other (and the goal word) in a tag-team championship type battle.  Anyway, as for the actual would-you-rather question, I found I had an answer immediately to this, but I wanted to explore my thoughts on the matter more deeply.

Being weathly means, essentially, having a great deal more (and better) opportunities in life.  Rich people are able to do what they want, when they want, within certain bounds, and those bounds expand if you are willing to plan ahead.  Convenience and removal of financial fears are certainly useful, but to me they are not essential – I feel like I am capable, through the exercise of my will and my intellect, to achieve however close to wealthiness I desire in my lifetime.  Having it magically granted to me (at cost, we’ll talk about that in a sec) doesn’t seem like huge upside – and I admit, I might be overestimating my own abilities or taking for granted the wonderful position I have in life to be able to say the above statement of capability.  As for ugliness, although I don’t think this is as harsh a penalty as it appears (har har), it would be annoying to have the aforementioned opportunities opened up by wealth to be closed by people who care a great deal about looks.  I am not the most beautiful in the world, but I would also not be okay with being in the lower ugliness levels, just because of existing bias in our culture.

Beautiful and stupid is kind of the flip side of that coin – I think being beautiful (handsome?) would open up a lot of doors and grant a wider range of opportunities, but the cost here is prohibitive.  I define myself by my intelligence, and to have that taken away is essentially like killing the important part of Dave Guskin.  Unacceptable, and the tradeoff here is not worth considering from my point of view — what’s the point of more/better opportunities if you are unable to take advantage because you are dumb?

Wise and sickly is the choice I’d make here, but it really is great cost for great gain.  Health is very important – I often have trouble focusing or being productive when under the weather, and chronic sickliness sounds like the extreme and terrible version of that where getting things done is a huge task each day.  However, I think I’d be able to eventually train myself to accomplish great things in spite of the personal obstacle of sickliness, and the wisdom (or intelligence, both would be awesome) I’d get in return would be huge, allowing me to create, solve and do way more than my current feeble brain is likely capable of!

Whew – that went long… how about you?  What would you rather?

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Review: Small World

Small World is a board game that uses a territory-conquering system similar to risk, but has fantasy flavor and special powers for each person’s army.  Once all 1,000 pieces are punched and organized, it’s surprisingly simple to set up and to get going – and the game has only the one core mechanic to make sure play is relatively straightforward.  I thought I’d go through a list of pros and cons:


  • You get a lot of goofy combinations between race and “class” which adds to the hilarity.
  • The core mechanic is straightforward (number of pieces of cardboard in a tile = such a great way to do it!)
  • The core mechanic is fun (send your troops to kill your enemies!)


  • It’s very much an interactive, beat-each-other-up type game.  So if your audience isn’t prepared for that, things might get dicey.
  • Because the only variance is in generation of race-class combos, and I’m positive they aren’t exactly balanced with each other, it can feel like you got outlucked in that respect.
  • There’s a lot of specific rules for stuff that seems extraneous – like, more +1 for territory stuff and less Sorcerer-type abilities would aid this game in its simplicity.

As is, I would recommend this game to any group that can handle Settlers, Dominion or even Carcassone.  It’s lots of fun and once you get the base rules down you can devote free mental energy to the surprisingly complex strategy and the special rules I talk about above.

Overall: A-
Ease of Teaching: B+
Replayability: Medium-High
Brokenness of Dragon Master Skeletons: High

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Early Game Design

I wanted to do a review of Epic Win today (the task list app that Monty suggested to manage my time using quests, loot and XP) but I haven’t found time to download and try it yet.  So maybe tomorrow!  This evening, however, I gathered some folks to help me playtest version 1 of a game I am making for Kelly and Laura as a wedding present, after the fact.  (Shh, don’t tell them!)  There are some interesting properties of early game design I wanted to explore here with the playtest fresh in my mind.  (Also, huge thanks to Dylan, Nik and Rebecca for their help!)

The first is that you need to know which mechanics to be attached to, and which ones to let go.  When an aspect of a game isn’t pulling its weight – either because it isn’t fun, or it isn’t working quite right – then it’s time to take a hard look and ask “how fundamental is this aspect to my vision for this game?”  Two different mechanics in my prototype came up as concerns early on, and upon reflection, I am sure that mechanic A is “core” to the game and mechanic B is not.  Which is totally sweet to know this early, because it means I can devote my attention to finding a new, better mechanic (B’) and not waste any more time (other than post-mortem) on original B.  This is the part of playtesting where I think it helps the most to be aware of your playtesters’ revealed preferences because sensing when fun is missing is so huge in understanding when to focus on fixing a mechanic.

The second is that too much variance can be just as bad as too little.  Assuming your game has any strategic component at all (and the ones I play and/or design always do), then you need to be sure the variance doesn’t drown out the ability for a player to predict and act accordingly.  For example, and this is purely hypothetical, if the game has both cards and dice at the same time, that could be too much swing.  Mitigating one or the other will swing it further to the side of strategy, but not so much that you have a Puerto Rico or a Caylus where the more skilled/informed player always wins.  The variance knob is usually easy to turn, but hard to determine the effect of until you have played a number of times, so I generally vary it only slightly across playtests.

Of course, if I had my way, we’d be more scientific about it and only change one thing at a time (to understand exactly what effect each change has) but game design is (1) more of an art than that, due to all of the interconnectivity and emergent properties of multiple mechanics, and (2) usually more time limited than that.

But yeah, going well, and we ended up finding some new stuff as a group that’s definitely pushed it into Design Phase 2.  Woohoo!

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Review: Castle Ravenloft

Today I played the new smash hit board game from the D&D side of Wizards, Castle Ravenloft.  I was an Eladrin Wizard, obviously, and although it was a lot of fun, I’m not sure there are many games I could have played with that group of folk (Aaron, Mike, Doug, Jenna) that would not have been fun due to the group.  I’m still kind of collecting my thoughts about it, but I thought I could give a quick hits and misses on it in a review here.


  • I felt like overall it captured some good D&D flavor and mechanics.  Party of adventurers, dungeon crawl, move-attack, random encounters.
  • There were some awesome moments, like when we figured out we could freeze the gargoyle in place by moving far enough away from it.
  • I liked the tile generation for the game board, it really made it feel like we were exploring.
  • Good use of miniatures, probably even better than how regular 4th Edition uses them (since here the game is about the movement, and sometimes in the RPG the figures can get in the way of the RP.)


  • Some of the D&D stuff was not well implemented, and it stuck out like a sore thumb to me: leveling up, for example, and the lack of overt incentives to stick together while walking around.
  • It was very odd that when you sprung a trap or found a monster, it would (a) be yours to control, but (b) immediately attack you.  Kind of a “stop hitting yourself” moment, over and over.
  • Each dungeon tile could have had a lot more flavor to it – instead of a generic “encounter” deck, there could have been named places with stuff that triggers when you find the place (like in Betrayal at House on the Hill).
  • Too many fidgety pieces to the game, and like five different decks of cards.
  • Too close to a straight-up representation of D&D’s rules – I feel like this could have been abstracted down for simplicity’s sake and would have made a better game and also a better stepping-stone toward D&D.

I definitely want to play it again sometime.  It’s probably not the best game to pick up for a more casual board game audience.

Overall: B-
Potential as a Substitute Evening for an RPG Group: High
Magic Missile: +8 to hit and 1 damage, pulls enemy if you miss

  • Way, way too many pieces.

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Not for Me

Today Paul posted an interesting read on the internal R&D folder, which was the lead designer of League of Legends talking about some of their design lessons.  It was an excellent read (find it here), lessons that I feel like I have learned through experience of my own or of those I work with, and certainly some of the points he makes are ones that Wizards strives to enact in its design and its production.  An even more interesting read, if only because I see it so much on our own community site and am now coming to understand it, are the comments on his post by players who attempt to refute his points.

First off, it’s pretty goddamn difficult to use one’s own motivations and reasoning to refute the time-tested, profit-driven experience of a company.  They are not going to make decisions that sabotage them financially, and a regular human might because regular humans (a) sometimes make bad choices and (b) often do not understand their true preferences.  Of course, because a lot of regular humans don’t understand this about themselves, they take any opportunity they can to point out the error in reasoning of designers who are trying to design fun-for-all (or fun-for-target-audience, sometimes) and end up being very frustrating for designers like me to listen to.

I applaud Zileas’s straightforwardness and honesty about game design, but since game design is essentially psychological engineering for activities, it makes sense that those who are the intended target of the engineering would refuse to believe in its ability to influence them.  We humans can be pretty dogged about what’s “not for me,” and extend it quite easily to “therefore, not for anyone.”

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