Enjoyable design (Topic Discussion)

Tabletop game designers want to create an enjoyable experience for people – whatever enjoyable means in this context. From that starting point, they create a game that is balanced, flows well and meets the desired complexity requirements, as well as meets other criteria. They may use the skillset of developers to refine everything, and if a publisher is involved, there will be additional criteria that have to be met. However, in this article, I want to focus on enjoyment, what it means and whose responsibility it is to make a game enjoyable.

Setup pains (Topic Discussion)

Chits, tokens, player boards, tiles, pieces, cards and all the other components we have come to know and love can sometimes be a bit of a problem: when you need to place dozens upon dozens of them into specific places on the game board or player mat and spend hours shuffling dozens of decks of cards before you can even think about starting the game. Setup is something most of us will want to be quick, so we can get to the fun bit as soon as possible.

Turn order (Topic Discussion)

Let’s start 2020 with a serious topic and wade straight in. I might as well start the year as I mean to go on. So, turn order. It’s something that matters very little in some games, and a lot in others. In some games, players take their turns in clockwise order, in others it’s based on the faction they’ve chosen or some other similar measure, or you might bid for turn order. In some games, turn order remains the same throughout the game, in others it changes from round to round. I want to look at the different ways turn order is implemented in games and the effect this can have.

Resolutions

I know, it’s Christmas Eve, so talking about New Year’s resolutions might feel a little early, but I thought I’d get them out of the way now, so I can enjoy the holidays. As this blog is about tabletop games, my list of resolutions featured here focuses solely on what I promise to do, or stop doing, with regards to the hobby. Of course, there are many other things, that are personal and private to me and that I aim to become better at next year, but that I won’t mention below.

Dark times

I thought it would be helpful to talk about something that I, and many other people, struggle with around this time of year. It’s not quite a tabletop games related topic, but there is a link, as you will see. What I am talking about is the feelings of gloom, self-doubt and general negativity when the days get shorter and the weather is less pleasant. I hope my experiences are helpful to others, even if it’s just so people know they are not alone. After all, mental health does matter.

Working 9 to 5

I thought it might be time to give everyone an update of where I’m at with the blog, the podcast, videos and everything else I do in the industry. After all, we’re nearing the end of the year and everyone is starting to reflect on what they have achieved. However, there will be a separate article on my blog talking about what happened in 2019 in the industry in general and with regards to my work specifically, so here I focus on what is involved in producing the content for my various outlets and give you a behind-the-scenes look of what I do.

Alpha One

As some of you will know, I’m an alpha player at the core, which means I can take over co-operative games and tell people what to do. Even in competitive games I’m the one who makes sure rules are followed and actions are done in the right order. I even adjust tokens or tiles to line them up properly and ensure everything is in the right place. However, I’ve changed a lot over the last year or so and I want to share my journey with you. Maybe it will give you some tips for yourself, if you’re an alpha player too.

Games of Christmas

I guess it has become tradition now for boardgame blogs to suggest a number of games that people should play with their friends and family over the festive period. As I love tradition, I will do what everyone else is doing and give you a selection of games some of which may suit your taste and may also be a good match for whoever you choose to play with when you enjoy some time off over Christmas.

Hitting the mainstream

Apparently, modern tabletop games have had a huge surge worldwide recently. Mind you, “recently” really means a few years, and it doesn’t seem to let up. It’s great to see so many people pick up cardboard and have a great time, whether it’s alone or with friends, family or complete strangers. So I want to look at what has been happening and see where and how tabletop games have appeared in people’s lives.

Breaking down walls

As we commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, I wanted to talk about walls in tabletop gaming and look at what walls there still are that might stop people from enjoying the hobby or becoming a part of our growing community. I don’t proclaim to be able to tear down all the walls that still exist, but hopefully my thoughts will start a constructive discussion and help move us forward in some way. Maybe we can look back in 30 years and see the positive things that have happened and evaluate what else needs to be done.

Post-show blues

I’m sure, many of you are tired of hearing all about Essen Spiel 2019. Everyone who went is talking about all the games they saw, played and bought, and anyone who didn’t go is reading about all the games everyone saw, played and bought. So I want to talk about the people side of the exhibition and share my experiences of attending this major event for the first time.

One of a kind

I have previously spoken about unique games, which were something new at the time – see my article “There can be only one”. It was KeyForge by Fantasy Flight Games and designed by Richard Garfield of Magic: The Gathering fame, which started this new way of making games. There is probably a better and longer description of the term, but in short, the term unique in this context describes games where every published copy is different in a number of ways. In KeyForge this is, for example, the name and logo, as well as the composition of the different cards, but different decks will still have some cards the same. I want to look at some aspects of unique game design in more detail to explore the concept.

Games with friends

Trying to organize a group of people to regularly play games with isn’t always straightforward. I am lucky to have a weekly games night group of four, including myself, with people who live quite close, making it easy for us to meet up. I have previously described how you can play games with different groups of people (see “Night, night”). So this time I want to focus on what to consider when trying to organize regular games nights with friends.

Breaking down

Classifying things we encounter is important. It gives us a way to describe them to others, allows us to decide whether things are similar or different and provides a method to create connections between them. Classifications help us with decision making and prediction. However, classifications alone don’t fully describe things and especially when we talk about classifying tabletop games, there are a lot more nuances and details that cannot be described by classifications alone. So I want to explore how far classifications can go until their usefulness deteriorates.

I’m hooked

A hook, as per the dictionary definition, is something that draws you in. In games, a hook can be a number of different things. Often it is something visually exciting, such as beautiful illustrations, amazingly detailed miniatures, realistic resources or some sort of physical component that is integral to gameplay. Hooks can also be an interesting theme, an exciting gameplay mechanism or even the background story behind how a game was made. Certain awards or even the price of a game can be a hook too. Ultimately it’s about finding something that grabs your attention and gets you to take a closer look.

Awarding times

It is always nice to get some positive feedback for the work you do, so winning awards is even more satisfying, especially if you receive one of the many prestigious awards from the industry you work in. So far, the Tabletop Games Blog hasn’t won any awards, but in this article I am not fishing for praise, but I want to look at the many board game awards that are run every year and show how winning an award affects the popularity of a game, what costs may be attached with some awards and what the different awards try to achieve within the industry.

Count me out

Games change when played with different numbers of players. I think many of us will have found that games that are said to work for two or more players often are quite a different experience when played with two versus more players. Some games are said to work with a larger number of players, but really work best with a specific number. Games, where you form teams, are often like that, working best with an even number of people, even though they’re said to also work with odd numbers. I discussed many of these points in my article Group mentality, so this time I want to focus on some specific issues.

Overproduced

I am not sure if you’ve come across this before, but you may have heard some people on a podcast or in a tabletop games review video talk about a game being overproduced. Often the term is used in a negative way, implying that a game includes unnecessary components and therefore is more expensive than it needs to be. However, different people seem to apply this term to different games in different ways, so I wanted to look at it a bit more closely and see whether we can investigate what overproduced actually means and whether it is indeed a bad thing.

Plastic fantastic

We all know that the use of plastics has become a huge issue. So-called microplastics, tiny particles of plastic, have been found in fish and other marine life, and more recently even in arctic snow. Only last week did the World Health Organization ask for “further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.” A lot of us have started replacing single-use plastics with recyclable alternatives, such as plastic straws with paper ones, or even plastic toothbrushes with ones made from bamboo. Yet, there is still a lot of plastic in a lot of tabletop games, and I want us to consider its impact.

Independent perceptions

I think supporting independent game publishers, and I include self-publishers too here, by buying their games gives you a warm feeling. In many cases, your money goes directly to one or two people who you know by name, whose photos you’ve seen many times, whose newsletters you’ve read, who you followed on Twitter and who you’ve started to trust. If their game was published with the help of a crowdfunding platform, you will have lived through the journey of the game from its first public outing to the final, finished product. Yet, independent doesn’t always mean small, and some publishers who seem to be large are actually only a handful of people. So if you like helping small publishers, because you want to know that your money goes to a couple of great people who deserve your support, you might have to think carefully.

Viewing platforms

I recently talked about how some of us need to let people know what we’re up to, by regularly sharing updates with our followers – see my article Image matters. Now I want to drill into this a little deeper and discuss the various platforms you might want to use. My focus is on tabletop game reviews, as this is one of the things I do, but you can apply the same ideas to similar content.

Image matters

Unless you’re a very outgoing person or working in marketing, you will probably not want to boast about your achievements, or maybe not even see what you do as worth mentioning at all. In fact, you might hate the idea that everyone expects that you constantly post photos and write updates about every little thing that happens in your life. I can see where you’re coming from, and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re a game designer, publisher or a press person, you will need to try and be somehow present, even if that feels alien.

Market prices

When you look at buying a modern tabletop game, you will have a rough idea as to how much you think it is worth – or you will have some sort of budget in your head that you want to stick to, and which guides you to the sort of games that you think you can afford. Your price expectations will be based on things such as the quantity and quality of the components, replayability and probably also rarity or hotness of a game. Yet, the amount of money you’re willing to put on the counter doesn’t always match the real cost or value of a game and is either too much or too little in comparison.

I got a feeling

Playing tabletop games is something we all enjoy in this hobby. That’s by definition. Playing harks back to our childhood, and it is said that you learn a lot through play. So when a game reminds us of something from when we were little, it creates some extra magic. However, not everything in our childhood, or other stages of our lives, was positive. So there is some interesting interplay between our experiences and playing games, which I want to investigate a little further.

Limitations

I was inspired by a comment on a recent Kickstarter campaign to investigate how a publisher’s decisions about how a game is released can give customers the feeling of exclusivity in a negative sense, the fear of missing out, an opportunity for profit, and many more things that can negatively affect the opinion people have towards the company or individuals releasing the game. So let’s look at how different choices can be viewed differently.

Colorful plastic monkeys

Community spirit

There are a lot of great things happening in the tabletop game community, which is great and for a lot of us, playing games is about meeting new people, having fun and sharing a hobby. Yet, growing the community and showing people, who have never heard about board games, what it is that we all love about playing them, is a different thing and often seen as something that is up to boardgame cafes, tabletop evangelists or game publishers’ marketing teams to achieve. However, we all can do something to grow the hobby and share with more people the joy of playing games.

Group mentality

Solo gaming has a huge following and playing against an AI or trying to solve an objective or puzzle set by the game can be very satisfying. Playing two player games is a different challenge, whether you play co-operative or competitive, and I love playing games with my wife. However, having three or more players changes the situation again and it is this player count that I want to delve into a bit deeper.

Kicking it

Let’s not beat around the bush – Kickstarter seems to become more and more the de facto way to sell tabletop games. It used to be the domain for small designers to make their game become a reality, but now established publishers use the crowdfunding platform to bring their latest release to market. I don’t want to discuss whether this trend is good or bad  – there are plenty of discussions on this topic already. Instead, I want to focus on how people use it to buy games and what their expectations are.

Abstract games

Chess, draughts, cribbage, bridge and many other traditional games are completely abstract in nature. Yes, sure, there is a theme in chess. There are two fighting armies facing each other in the battlefield, and it makes sense for the peasants, i.e. the pawns, forming the biggest part of the army and being the most dispensable – but it pretty tenuous when it comes to how these pieces move. Draughts, on the other hand, is a completely abstract game of course. Many traditional games have great depth and complexity, showing that there is no need for a theme in a good game. So let’s explore this some more.

Home makers

As the tabletop games industry grows and companies consolidate, lots of independent game designers and publishers, including self-publishers, enter the market space. You would think that these smaller players’ products are of a lower quality because their budgets are smaller, but instead many of these people create amazing games with beautiful components, often made themselves by hand – and I’m not talking just about the finished product, but also very high-quality prototypes.

Another day in paradise

It was around this time last year that I came back from my first visit to a UK tabletop games exhibition, all elated and happy. I had felt welcome and saw a lot of opportunities for the little venture I had in mind at the time. I spoke to a lot of people, looked at a lot of games, bought more than I probably should have and realized that I wanted to work a lot more in this wonderful industry. Of course, I’m talking about UK Games Expo, and I was back again this year, and it was even better – if that’s possible.

Family gaming

I think for many in the hobby, playing games is about having fun with other people – and that is no more so true when it comes to enjoying a game with the family. I absolutely love spending an evening solving crimes or building the best bird reserve there is, instead of sitting in front of the TV. It’s great to play a quick mint tin game while we wait for our food in the pub on a family day out. There are many opportunities to play games with the family, and the games don’t necessarily need to be family games.

Who to see at UK Games Expo

As you will know by now, UK Games Expo 2019 is just around the corner – a week on Friday, to be precise. So the question is who you should go and see on your visit – assuming you’ll be there of course. There is no way that I can list all the over 400 exhibitors and their games, or mention all the events, seminars and other things that are going on at this amazing exhibition. However, I can focus on who I’m planning to see, bearing in mind that I’ll only be there on the Sunday. So it’s going to be a jam-packed day, but I just can’t wait.

Night, night

I am very lucky to have a group of friends who live nearby and who all love playing tabletop games. We meet once a week, more or less, round each other’s houses, taking turns to make sure nobody is the host all the time, bring snacks and drinks, so it doesn’t get too expensive for anyone, and play a game or two, depending on how we feel and what we play. These games nights are very important to me, but not everyone is blessed with this opportunity, so I want to talk about what other options there are.

UK Games Expo is coming…

UK Games Expo 2019 is around the corner now. In just over three weeks, 40,000 or so visitors and over 350 exhibitors will descend on the Birmingham NEC to explore the over 24,000 sqm’s worth of exhibition halls, plus the dozen or so of rooms in the nearby NEC Hilton Hotel and probably other venues. From Friday, 31 May to Sunday, 2 June, the family friendly exhibition celebrates all things tabletop games and offers virtually everyone something of interest. I will be there on the Sunday and can’t wait to see what’s on offer.

Replay

We all love to play lots of different games with lots of different people, it’s only natural. There is also always the draw of the Cult of the New and the Fear of Missing Out, tempting us to play new games all the time. Most of us only have a limited amount of time to play games each week, so chances are we play each game only once, or maybe twice – and if we’re really lucky three time – before moving onto the next. We might revisit a game if there is a lull, but usually only after many weeks, by which time we’ve forgotten how the game works. I am just as guilty as everyone else, but I have started to come round to the idea that playing the same game many times before moving on is actually much more fun.

Fun and games

There are many reasons why people play modern tabletop games. Some love the competitive element of games and enjoy winning. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and that is highlighted by the amount of boardgame contests that are available every year. I also enjoy when I win a game, especially because it doesn’t happen very often, but for me playing games is much more about fun – and it’s this that I want to focus on in this article.

Teacher, teacher

We have a sort of house rule in our games group where you’re not allowed to introduce a new game, unless you know the rules and can teach it to the group. It might sound harsh, but it makes for a smoother experience during the games night. I know other groups do it differently. They might expect the whole group to learn the game themselves beforehand, which is of course also an option. However, whatever approach you choose, you will probably come across a situation where you will teach a game to someone, so I wanted to discuss an approach I have started to adopt recently.

Brain burners

Don’t get me wrong – I like heavy games, where you have to plan ahead and think about every step. I particularly like strategy games where you can outmanoeuvre your opponents by choosing your tactics wisely and making the right decisions at the right time. I enjoy it when I make steady progress and my position becomes stronger on every turn. It feels very satisfying when everything snaps into place and your earlier choices allow you to continue down the same route and everything just flows. Yet, it usually takes me quite a while to get good at a heavier game.

Intelligent design

Let me start by saying that I completely appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into thinking of, prototyping, designing, playtesting and developing a game. It takes hundreds of hours of playtest sessions to refine a game and very clever people to create a great game that flows nicely, is balanced and creates the intended player experience. So when people buy a game and change its rules without second thought, they disrespect the designers’ and developers’ hard work, time and effort. After all, your quick and hasty rule changes are unlikely to improve a game that has gone through years of development and been tested by many, many people. Yet, I think there are reasons why you would want to change a game, and I don’t think there is any disrespect to anyone by doing so in those situations.

New arrivals

For many of us it is easy to forget how we started with tabletop games. We have now played so many different games and followed the industry for some time that we forget the games we used to play and love. Of course, we have stopped playing some of these early games for good reasons. Our tastes will have changed and as we discovered more games we realized what it is that we enjoy more than the games we started with. However, that doesn’t mean our early games are bad games. In fact, it will be these games that are great for introducing new people into the community.

UK Games Expo

I joined the tabletop games industry as a blogger only recently (less than a year ago actually) and my journey really started when I visited UK Games Expo in 2018. I had started to work on a little project that I thought might eventually make it onto Kickstarter, and I felt that by attending the event I could do a little research, maybe get some contacts and generally get a better feel for the tabletop games industry and community. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, because the UK Games Expo is an amazing event, and the whole atmosphere is very friendly and welcoming. I would argue that my visit to the expo made up my mind about wanting to do more within this great community – and I knew I had to return for UK Games Expo 2019.

Friendly competition

I was recently approached by Chris Anderson to be a judge in The Board Game Workshop Design Contest 2019, and I felt very honoured. After all, I’m not a well known game reviewer, nor am I a famous YouTuber with over 1,000 subscribers. However, the contest is open to anyone who is interested in tabletop games, which I think is really great. Here is a contest that aims to really help the community of designers and bring them together with real people who love playing games. It is these sort of events that we need more of.

Snookered

I recently went to the Watford Colosseum to watch the Snooker Shoot Out. I have enjoyed snooker for most of my life now and used to play it regularly with friends, even though I’ve not played in many years now. I know most people find snooker boring, and it can be, but you would have loved the Snooker Shoot Out, which is fast paced and a real laugh. Afterwards I thought about the idea that snooker could be considered a two player only, dexterity tabletop game. I appreciate it’s stretching the concept a little, but then I reckon there are other terms in the tabletop games industry that are used loosely.

Online pros

As you may know, I’m very active on Yucata.de, a website where you can play over 60 games online with other people around the world on a play-and-pass basis. I also frequent The Crucible Online a fair bit, where I play with my KeyForge decks against others. You can find me as “oliverkinne” on both, so feel free to invite me to a game. I also play a few games against an AI on my smartphone, such as Star Realms and Terra Mystica. I would say I still prefer playing with my friends and family, because I love the face-to-face social element that you just don’t get with online games. However, online games, and I include apps as well as websites in this term, offer a number of advantages that make playing that way more enjoyable in other ways.

Telling stories

The more modern tabletop games I play, the more I realize how stories are at the core of each and every one of them. I accept that there are abstract games all about mechanisms, strategy and making the most effective moves, but even these games have a story to them, even if it’s not at the fore. After all, stories are an intrinsic part of our culture, and storytelling has been around for such a long time, that nobody knows when it began.

Bling, bling

Inspired by a recent video from Jamey Stegmaier talking about “overproduced” games (see here: https://youtu.be/PxRpL-JQMfI), I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic. Please watch Jamey’s video first, so you know what the word “overproduced” means in the context of his video and my article. The topic is quite broad, and I won’t be able cover every aspect, but instead I’ll discuss a select few areas that I think can help focus everyone’s thoughts on the subject and allow you to be more constructive in your feedback to publishers.