Saturday, December 22, 2012

Growth of the Game Group

I've made passing mention of the fellow on BGG who got in contact with me to start up a game group here in town.  I wanted to take some time to talk about the group and some of the things I've learned through the early growing process.

We started the group in mid-September, so I think 3 months is a good time to expound upon what I've learned.  Things started really small, usually only 3 or 4 people, but we had a good time.  The storeowner got behind us, and continues to promote it to his customers which is a great boost.  We've had a few people join us through that, and others through meetup.  As a group, we have a lot of different tastes in games, so finding something that works for everyone can be a challenge.  I've taken the approach of "I'll play anything at least once."  It helps ease tensions when you have a group of people who are open to anything.  The downside of that, no one wants to be the one to make a decision.  Since I'm the "leader" (I use leader loosely, I just try to organize things, and make sure people are having fun.) I tend to suggest games and try to keep things moving.  It usually works well, but sometimes you just have to be flexible.

Game selection and variety are big keys to success.  I have a very nice Costco tote bag full of games that I bring to game night.  Currently it has the following games in it: Seasons, Ticket to Ride, High Society, For Sale, Incan Gold, Tsuro, Fleet, No Thanks, Coloretto, Martian Dice, Lost Cities, and 7 Wonders.  It's a good blend of short and long games, a good player range 2-8, and a good mix of themes and mechanics.  I'm always open to playing games other people bring, but these present some reliable options for people to enjoy.

Another important aspect is splitting up the group.  This past week we had 11 people, so the group had to split into 3.  There were 5 of us who wanted to play Airlines Europe, so we did, and then the other 6 split into 4 and 2 to play Last Night on Earth and the Star Trek Deckbuilding game.  Due to the timing of these games, we never got a chance to mix the groups, but there's always future meetings.  Other times we've had 7, so that means 4-3 unless you want a big game of 7 Wonders.  When that happens it's all about being flexible, and making sure people have a good time.

I've been talking with the store owner to try to get more people involved, so we'll see what happens.  Just by being there, we get people walking by and watching what's going on.  As you look to build a public gaming group, have patience.  It takes time to get the word out.  Work with your local game stores to drive up attendance.  Be flexible with the games you play, and be willing to play just about anything once.  If you try it and don't like it, that's ok.  Stay positive, and try to bring in your friends and family if at all possible.  Most of all, have fun and be positive.  A smile goes a long way towards making people feel welcome.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What's in a Design?

Over the past several days I've been searching for something to write about.  I'm making up prototypes for my game design to send to some friends for beta testing, so game design is on my mind.  It lead to me to think, "what goes in to designing a game?"  I'm by no means an expert, but I thought I'd share my thoughts.

The first thing is the idea.
Maybe it's a theme, a mechanic, a twist on an existing game, or something else.  All game designs start with some idea.  Now here's where you say something like "well duh, of course there's an idea."  So let me elaborate.  Ideas come in many forms, but there's always some form of inspiration.  Maybe it's a TV show, maybe a mundane task like house chores, or something completely random.  All those things serve as a basis for ideas.  Maybe you're playing a game like Dominion, and you love the deckbuilding aspect, but you want to do something totally different with it. Great, go for it.  Or maybe it's something even more simple than all of that.  Maybe you want a game you can play with your friends, so you figure out a fun theme, some neat mechanics, and you go for it.  With any of those things, an idea happened.  Something sparked and an idea was born.

Now, ideas are plentiful and cheap.  So the next step is developing gameplay.
In order for a game to be fun, it has to be playable.  Now, I'm not saying that a game is going to be great out of the gate, but it does need a basic structure.  I like to start with how the game is won.  This gives me a framework to follow.  All player choices should be geared towards accomplishing the winning conditions.  If the condition is earning the most points, then player actions should be things that get them points directly, or lead to points being scored in the future.  Designers should be careful to avoid the optimal route.  If there are things that players must do in order to win, the game is less enjoyable.  Sure, there may be things players have to do in order to actually win the game, but there should be multiple ways to win the game.  Let me use Catan as an example.  In order to win a game of Catan, players have to build things.  Additional settlements and cities are good things to have, but players can also go after development cards, largest army, longest road, etc.  There are multiple ways to score points in Catan, and players can use any or all of those ways to win games.  There is no single "right" way to win a game.

Limiting player options.
This is the unintuitive step at first for any designer.  Thoughts along the lines of "wouldn't it be great if players could do whatever they want" sound good in theory, but they make for terrible games.  Good games thrive on players having important choices to make.  Usually this is accomplished by having several good things that a player can do, but only allowing them to do a few of them.  Not being able to do certain things prevents some of the runaway leader problems.  Even if players are faced with a variety of bad options, they have to try to figure out which option hurts them the least, or which might help them in the future.

Incorporate Theme
Some people will disagree with me here, but I feel that a hallmark to good games is how well the theme fits in.  How much theme immersion exists depends on the theme as well as the players.  If you have a mystery game, players should feel like their solving a puzzle, searching for clues, etc.  If you have a sports game, the game should play at a fast pace and have a tense feel to it.

Play and Talk
Many times, things sound great in your head, but they don't quite work in an actual game.  This can happen for a number of reasons, so many that it just is prudent to go in to all of them.  This is why you have to play the game.  The more you play, the more you see what works and what doesn't work.  The second part of playtesting is talking about it.  I find that it's good to spend 5-20 minutes talking about the game afterwards.  Find out what people liked, what they didn't like, what strategies they were trying, did they feel like they could win throughout the game, do they think they'd do better if they played it again, etc.  It might help to have some of these questions written down so you can talk about them.  Also open it up to the players, see what they have to say.  Most people have something to say about a game after they play it, so listen to what they have to say.

Make Revisions
After you've played, go back and tweak things.  Most of the time there are only small changes that need to be made.  Maybe it's something in the presentation, maybe an area of the board being unclear or too cluttered, maybe it's the distribution of cards in a deck.  Whatever it is, monkey around with it for a bit and then play again.  Don't be afraid of the major revisions.  My design has already been through a complete overhaul, and a major map modification.  There are always ways to improve a design, so try and see how it works.

What is in a design?  Ideas, solid gameplay, theme incorporation, a lot of playtesting, and a lot of trial and error.  The creative process isn't an easy one, and often takes months or even years.  Don't get discouraged if your first N ideas fail. It might just be the (N+1) idea that works really well.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

1 Year Anniversary

1 Year in the world of boardgame blogging is a bit of an accomplishment.  Sure, I'm still the new guy on the block, but I've been at this a year, with more to come.  It hasn't always been easy, nor has it always been consistent, but it has been fun.  I've enjoyed being able to share my thoughts on specific games, as well as the world of boardgames.  I know it's a hobby, and I know I'm biased to say it's one of the best, but boardgames have meant a lot to me for the last 6 years.

Anniversaries are a time for celebrating.  They're a time to look at the good things in the past, and a time to look ahead to the growth of the relationship.  While I don't know what the future holds, I do know that games will be a part of my life for as long as I live.  As for the looking back, I give you my top 7 articles written in the last year.  These have been determined by you and your pageviews.

#7 Top 7 Games that I want to Play, but not Buy
This article took a bit of flak on BGG, and I never really understood why.  To me, these are good games.  They just have some little part that makes me not want to own them.  Could be the lack of opponents for the game, or the storage required, or the investment cost.

#6 Forbidden Island vs Pandemic
Two really good co-op games by the same designer thrown into an arena and only one can come out.  Perhaps I need to do more face-off reviews?

#5 Playing to Win?
This is a look at playing games to have fun, while trying to win, but not getting caught up in the winning.  It's important to do your best, and to have fun.

#4 Ticket to Ride Review
It's only fitting that Ticket would make an appearance here.  I've had so many fun moments with Ticket to Ride, and I'm glad that you all have enjoyed reading my thoughts on a great game.

#3 Dominion Dark Ages
Part review, part in depth look at every card in the expansion.  This article took me many hours to compose, but I'm glad I took the time to do it.  I've been meaning to write more on Dominion, and I think that will be a series coming sometime in 2013.

#2 Why We Play
A look at the various reasons people have for playing games.

#1 Collection Building: 2 Player Games
A bit funny that this would be my top article considering how rarely I play 2-player games.  Still, it's nice to know that this article, and the collection building series in general, have been well received.

So that's where we stand after one year. 123 posts, 15,817 views. Not the biggest of numbers, but more than I ever dreamed possible in the span of 1 year.

From the top and bottom of my heart, thank-you all for reading.  I couldn't do it without each of you.

November 2012 Recap

Welcome to December, the month of holidays, family gatherings, far too many desserts, parties, and snow.  Also, Happy Birthday to the blog. It was one year ago today that BoBG came to exist.  Though the first article wasn't published until December 2nd, the first moments happened on the 1st.

November was a great month for games.  I was able to go to a meetup about an hour away, as well as continue the local meetup Monday nights.  Throw in some good weekend gaming, and a lot of games around Thanksgiving, and life is good.  

What got playing in November?

  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue x6
  • X-Wing x6
  • Tsuro x5
  • Incan Gold x4
  • Archaeology: The Card Game x2
  • For Sale x2
  • No Thanks x2
  • Scary Tales x2
  • Solar Circuit Racing x2
  • Black Friday x1
  • Cosmic Encounter x1
  • Dominion: Dark Ages x1
  • Fauna x1
  • Fleet x1
  • Roll Through the Ages x1
  • Small World x1
  • Smash Up x1
  • Ticket to Ride: Europe x1
Total 40 plays

That brings the YTD total to 275, which is right on pace for 300.  Knowing how December goes, I'm hopeful to surpass 300 right around Christmas, and let New Years Eve bring it over the top.

I acquired 1 new game in November, Black Friday.  It's a few years old, but I got a chance to play it at game night, and I just knew it was a game for me.  Helps that I was able to win it in a BGG auction for a pretty good price.  I've held back because secret santa is right around the corner, and I want to be able to enjoy those games/expansions.

November was a slower month for posts, but I think there was some good quality.

I got out 3 reviews, Incan GoldLooting London, and X-Wing.  That accounts for the end of my review series of the bookshelf games, at least for now.  I was going to review Birds on a Wire, but I decided not to.
There were 2 additions to the Collection Building Series, Card Games and Animal Games.  
Finally, there was the Christmas Game Guide which was even referenced on Board Game Geek's guide under "Other Resources."  Seeing that made me really excited, and it's great to know that hard work does get rewarded.

Looking ahead to December, I'm not really sure what's going to happen on the blog.  I'll likely do something fun for our 1 year anniversary.  At some point I hope to report that the Secret Santa packages have arrived, though the contents will remain a mystery until Christmas.

Game wise, I am looking forward to my first X-Wing tournament.  The local shop is doing a Kessel Run Event (Yes, in 12 Parsecs) on the 15th, so we get to preview the new ships, and hopefully I'll be walking away with 2 (I get one for being a Tournament Organizer).

If you have suggestions for games I should review, feel free to leave a comment, or head over to the BoBG facebook page and vote there.  

Also, if you have any suggestions for 2013 goals, those would be great to hear.

Thank-you everyone for reading, commenting, tweeting, re-tweeting, etc. You all are the reason I keep writing articles.