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.

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.

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

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.

Clans of Caledonia (Saturday Review)

Economic simulation games set in 19th century Scotland are few and far between, but Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games is one of those rare games. Your role is to expand your influence in the Highlands, cut wood or mine ore for income, plant the land with wheat, as well as herd cows and sheep. You build factories that turn your milk and grain harvest into delicious cheese, bread and, of course, whiskey, all of which you will export and trade for imported sugar cane, cotton and tabacco. It is very much what you would expect from any other economic simulation game of the same ilk, yet Clans of Caledonia is exceptional because the theme and mechanisms fit like glove and hand, making for a really smooth gameplay

He ain’t heavy

Inspired by a recent #ThrowbackThursday tweet from Board Game Inquistion I thought it would be nice to write about one of my own game related memories from my childhood. Like probably most kids of my generation, I grew up with all the usual classic tabletop games, or boardgames as they were known then: Monopoly (of course), Game of Life (a friend had that one), Chess (I always lost, until one day), Checkers (when there was really nothing else), Ludo (the dice chucker), Stratego (chess on steroids) and probably a few more.

Coming in 2019

Let me start by wishing you a Happy New Year. I hope you enjoyed the holidays and had a chance to relax and recharge. Now that 2019, it’s time to look ahead at my most anticipated games of the coming year. The list happens to consist purely of Kickstarter projects, because that is how I buy most of my games these days, but as the year goes on I will of course keep an eye other releases as well. The list is sorted in expected delivery order, rather than alphabetically or anything else. So here goes.

Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining (Saturday Review)

Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining, to give it its full title, is a kind of action selection game by Quined Games set in the Ruhr region of Germany. The game is set at a time when the area was still covered by forests and coal was first discovered close to the surface. During the game your task is to dig up that coal until its depleted and you have to start digging deep pits to get to this precious resource. The great mechanism in this game is the action selection element, where you draw all tokens of one colour from one of a number of common pools at the start of each round. These tokens are then used to activate your workforce and develop new technologies. It sounds simple, but it creates a really complex, interesting game with lots of options and very few player interaction.

Chai (Saturday Review)

I had the pleasure of trying the prototype PnP version of Chai by Deep Aqua Games, which is due to launch on Kickstarter on 4 December, so keep an eye out for it. The aim of the game is to collect resources, in this case flavours and additives, to fulfil the outstanding tea orders for customers, which give you points. It’s the classic mechanism of completing contracts or quests, like in so many other games. However, the twist is how you collect your resources from the market, which creates a really interesting puzzle which forces you to think ahead and work out what you need versus what other players may need.

Guess who

Imperfect information games have been around for a long time. Games like Cluedo or Guess Who? are examples that most people will know and have probably played. In these games you all have the same goal, but everyone has a different set of information, and nobody has the full picture. These type of games create an interesting puzzle for players who try to win without revealing too much information to their opponents. It is often impossible to know which of the possible actions is the best one, and whether it will give others an advantage. A whole branch of game theory is dedicated to solving imperfect information games, but in this blog post I want to describe a couple of games that have built on the basic premise of these type of games and developed it further.

Cutting cakes

There is a great mechanism in tabletop games called “I cut, you choose”, also known as “I split, you choose”, which creates a very interesting dynamic. The mechanism is based on the method used by two people to fairly divide something – let’s say a cake. One person cuts the cake into two slices. That person can decide to make one slice bigger than the other, but it’s the other person who chooses which slice they want. So if the cutter makes one slice bigger than the other, the chooser can decide to just take the bigger slice, which of course encourages the cutter to make both slices equal.

Out with the old?

There has been a boom in tabletop games recently. A huge number of games were published through Kickstarter campaigns on top of the slew of games that publishers released to the market. It has become a matter of “too many games, too little time” – or maybe even “too many games, too little money”. New, hot games are all the talk and many games groups flit from game to game, hunting for the latest and greatest.

Digital to analog converter

Some of us will have been avid computer gamers before coming round to playing tabletop games – and of course there will have found digital versions of tabletop games and then started playing more computer games. In this article I want to focus on tabletop games that were inspired by computer games. These games have been coming out sporadically over the last few years and some are of course better than others. However, I will not be reviewing any of them, but instead highlight the different types of tabletop games that are available or soon to be released.

Testing times

As an avid tabletop gamer you will know that new games come out all the time, but what is not always clear is how much testing time has gone into creating a new game. There are many things that get tested when a new game is developed, but in this article I want to focus on play testing. In fact, this is my second article on the topic, but I think it is worth writing about it again, because play testing is such a critical and time consuming part of bringing new games to the market. A lot of smaller game designers rely on play tester volunteers to achieve an adequate amount of play testing time. So if you want to play a game that hasn’t been released yet and provide some constructive feedback, then play testing is for you.

Teaching games

If you love tabletop games, you probably end up buying new games all the time. That’s great, but it also means you have to learn how to play it and then teach it to your games group or your partner. Mind you, if you play solo, the teaching part isn’t an issue of course – but in this article I want to focus on the teaching, rather than the learning.

Light, camera… action selection!

Tabletop games come in a huge variety with many different mechanics – and in this article I want to focus on a number of action selection mechanism which I think are interesting. I am not talking about things like worker placement or dice rolling specifically, but how these general mechanics allow you to choose an action and sometimes affect what other players can do or how effective the action is.

Dice mechanics

We all know classic dice rolling games, like Yahtzee, or games using dice to decide the outcome of battles or events. You may also have heard of, and probably even played, roll and write games, such as Roll to the Top, Avenue, The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game and many more. However, more recent games use dice in quite different ways, creating interesting game mechanics that I want to talk about.

Going solo

A lot of games are aimed at three or more players, even though most state a player count of two and up. That makes sense, because there is a large market for games aimed at games groups. Many of us enjoy playing tabletop games with friends, so it is easy to get three or more of you together. However, there is an ever growing number of games at single players – because there is an increasing demand for solo play.

Legacy games

A relatively recent trend in tabletop games is the idea of creating your own, custom version of a game. You use stickers to add new rules, tear up cards to remove them from the game and write names into boxes to personalize locations or characters, creating your unique game. These so-called legacy games are all about permanence, and it is this permanence that divides players.

Too many choices

Complex games can be great fun. You have to really stretch yourself and think several steps ahead, while having alternative strategies ready to respond to the other player’s actions. You wrack your brain to come up with the best solution on each turn. It takes a lot of thinking and therefore is enjoyable by people who like this sort of puzzle.

Dicey workers

There are so many different games mechanics out there across the various tabletop games available these days. Gone are the days of rolling dice to move your meeple along a track. Even when you look at modern worker placement games, the traditional method of using a pool of meeples and a limited amount of worker slots has been superseded by new methods. Dice worker placement is more common now and introduces an element of chance which can help level the playing field in a game.