Posts Tagged variance

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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Risk/Reward and Interaction

I was pondering two separate games, or ways to play games – Concentration (or Memory), and Winston Draft – and saw a common thread of interest to comment on.  In Concentration, each player takes turns trying to find a match on the board of scrambled tiles.  In Winston Draft, one player has the option to take a pile of cards for their deck or pass, but if they pass, another mystery card is added to that pile for the other player to look at / potentially choose.  In both styles of game, the player has to measure the risk of allowing their opponent additional benefit versus the reward of doing something awesome (matching/getting better cards).

One of the dangerous areas of game design that I realized after playing Dominion is that the amount and nature of interactivity in a multiplayer game has a huge effect on the enjoyment of the players.  When there is very little interaction, the game feels like a shared Solitaire experience and you don’t have any social benefit from playing together.  On the flip side, when there’s a ton of interactivity – like people attacking each other all the time in Small World, for example – players can get upset and frustrated because they are unable to execute their strategy and/or have fun that way.

I really like the way this interaction conundrum is solved in the risk/reward scenario outlined above.  Rather than pit players against each other, make it so that both (or all) players actions contribute toward a “pool” of resources in such a way that each player can ignore the benefit being given to the other if they desire, or they can factor it into their strategy (the less I give to others, the better off I am myself).

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Making an RPG

I’ve been working on creating a simple “one-shot” style pen-and-paper role playing system built around Sanderson’s fantasy series Mistborn. The intent is to use it to run an adventure (or two) in that system and world and then file it away.

Making an RPG has some interesting game design constraints to it. The focus is in three major areas: character creation, the use of variance (usually a dice system), and the quality the makes this system unique/different from others (e.g. why use this instead of an established system).

Character creation is actually the piece of RPG design that I’ve found to share the most in common with digital game design. A lot of immersive experiences in the digital space use customization of avatar, or job/skillset choice, or in-game moral decisions that affect character. In an RPG, you are just making sure those choices are meaningful and that they are up-front. The selection of “classes” and of quirks/advantages/disadvantages is very important to get right so that the players (and eventually the GM) have enough options to tailor their experience within the world you have created.

Variance is another matter. This is the aspect of RPG design most similar to board games, where the level of variance needs to be matched to the audience – too much and your players will feel like their character choices weren’t relevant enough, and too little and they won’t have as fun a time because there aren’t enough swingy moments.

I’ll save “making the RPG system unique” for another post, since I’ll want to refer to this Mistborn system I am in the process of making.

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