Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Why I’m less interested in video games than in the past

When I was teaching videogame development and working on my game design book (Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish, Mcfarland 2012), I read a great deal about video games both online and in magazines, and played my usual “stupid video game” that I spend so much time with. Now in 2020 as I work on adding material to the book (but changing virtually nothing that’s already in it) I realize that I’m spending a lot less time keeping up with video games, though actually spend a lot of time watching people play video games on YouTube. I asked myself, why the change?

Of course, I retired from teaching before my book was published, and so I lost some of the incentive to keep up with video games and videogame development. But that’s not the major reason.

I’m afraid I have to say the main reason is, I have a lot less respect for video games than I did a decade ago. Video games have gone a long way into reward rather than consequences, that is, people are rewarded for participation rather than earning their rewards. ANY negative consequence is avoided. This of course cannot possibly apply to all video games, it’s a generalization about what is typical.

Further, too many video games are puzzles, not games, with always-correct solutions. That’s why you can “speed run” a game, why you can “beat the game”, because it’s a puzzle. And I don’t like puzzles.

I also dislike the venality of games with micro-transactions, games that in most cases find ways to reward gamers until they spend some money, or provide those old “pain points” or slow activity points that persuade people to spend money to get ahead, and ultimately to “pay to win.” Such techniques as loot boxes, which as far as I’m concerned are clearly a form of gambling, have caused me to disrespect where the industry has gone. Players are being too-obviously manipulated.

At the same time, some of the woefully entitled players - certainly many of the most vocal ones - are  not worthy of respect, as they behave like badly-brought-up children. I’m not eager to be identified with such widespread behavior.

Why watch video games rather than play them? I do play one old video game many hours a week (sigh). But viewing others play is a lot less work. And I’m exposed to and learn about games (such as Elite:Dangerous) that I would not bother to play, but that I will watch. (Thank you, Mighty Jingles.) And on rare occasions, I actually try playing one of the games.

You probably know that even venerable Dungeons & Dragons is a commonly-watched game on Twitch and YouTube. Lots of people watch other people playing games, these days.

The other reason for less interest in video games is that I prefer to spend my time on game design, making videos about game design, writing about game design, playing my video game, and so forth, rather than having anything to do with toxic video game “fans.”


Speaking of my games: my game package combining Classic Britannia (with plastic figure armies) and the new Duel Britannia (two players, new board, up to 90 minutes), has been released (late August). Last time I checked, it had not reached US online stores except for one that offered pre-orders (gamenerdz.com), and who knows about game shops. 

Likely next year there will be an electronic version (being made in France). Design notes for both games in the package are on my “Game Design” channel on YouTube (http://youtube.com/LewGameDesign).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Triptych 14 Three Subjects in One Blog Post

Triptych 14
Three Subjects in One Blog Post

Consequence and Reward in Games
Chinese Britannia
Ignoring History OR Can you function if you try not to offend anyone?

Games can be quite consequence-based, where players try to earn something, or they can be all about avoiding negative consequences, where players are rewarded for participation (most notably, in F2P video games). The more the game is of the latter type, the fewer setbacks you can incorporate.

Similarly, some players embrace constraints (which can lead to setbacks), others really dislike constraints. (This applies to a lot more than games, of course.) The more players dislike constraints, the more they dislike the setbacks that grow out of constraints.

Party games tend not to have setbacks, and many of the folks who have come into the tabletop board and card game hobby have come from party games.

The trend is toward fewer constraints and toward reward-based "games".  Question is, what does your target market think?


Chinese Britannia?

Someone thought he'd heard of a Chinese Britannia I'd made.

No, I haven't made a Chinese Britannia. I've dabbled at it, but haven't got to playing a prototype.

There is an old one called The Dragon and the Pearl, published by a UK game shop in a small number of copies, long out of print as far as I know. It looks quite good. (Although it's out of print, my correspondent managed to get a copy from that game shop.)

There is also China: the Middle Kingdom, published by Decisions Games. I wrote about it on the BGG site for the game. Egregious error here: the designer for some reason decided to limit all action to the modern China borders! It also goes to and through WW II. I wouldn't use the Britannia game system for gunpowder era at all.

Someone was testing a China Brit game (called Mandate of Heaven) online years ago, but it hasn't seen the light of day.

I have designed a 2-3 player strategic game also called The Mandate of Heaven (if you know Chinese history, it's THE obvious title), about a time between dynasties, but it's a block game, no resemblance to Britannia. Not published, though it may be one of my best games.

My correspondent said, "I wonder why there are so few games about China."

My guess: the Chinese have been "the enemy" for a long time now, that may translate into less interest in games related to the Chinese.

Also, I think far eastern history will always be less attractive to westerners than western history.

And historical games are very much out of fashion, just as history itself is out of fashion in the USA. Too many people prefer wishful thinking to fact, so history is ignored in favor of fancy. Which leads to the next topic.


Ignoring What’s Ugly in History
Can you function if you try not to offend anyone?

Here’s a description from an event at the Meta-topia convention in 2017:

Writing More Inclusive Alternate Histories" presented by Eric Simon, Darren Watts, Shoshana Kessock, Elsa Henry. From the implicit imperialism of steampunk to the complicated controversy of HBO's Confederate, it seems like alternate history is often fraught with problems. We provide you with techniques and ideas for writing, designing, and playing with historical and alternate historical themes in ways that are positive, inclusive, respectful, and productive

But history isn't necessarily or even primarily any of those things (positive, inclusive, respectful, and productive). Nor is Life. History is Not Nice.

You might say, "in a game we can be different," but then you're in fantasy, not history or even alternate history.

Being constantly "positive" is not a virtue; it's a way to escape reality, especially when you consider history as a whole. There's a LOT of ugliness in history, why pretend there isn't? It's often messy, violent, greedy, self-centered, self-serving, and most of the "seven deadly sins".

No one designs history to satisfy lots of people. It is what it is. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality. And as we all know, those who ignore reality too much end up in asylums for the insane. Although in America in 2020, there are a vast number of people ignoring reality.

“But what if I offend someone with this ugliness?” Can you do anything of substance without offending someone, somewhere? I don't think so. Because there are too many people who feel a need for validation of their views and aare offended if you don't validate those views, if nothing else. And too many who are "offended" by anything they disagree with. In other words, offense is frequently taken, not given, and consquently it's really hard to avoid offending some people.

As a writer of anything, but especially of history, can you use "don't offend" as a major goal of writing? What happens when it clashes with "is it true"? You’re screwed. I always think truth matters more than someone's feelings.

There's a saying, "the truth hurts." But lies, or wishful thinking if you will, hurts a lot more in the long run.


Monday, July 20, 2020

Monday, May 11, 2020

Triptych 13

Triptych 13
Three Subjects in One Blog Post

Games are not inherently nice
The Supernatural as an explanation of history - Bad Idea
Heavy dependence of Ancient and Medieval armies on their specific leader

I am "old school" in the sense that I think of games as involving conflict and opposition, as challenge and mastery, not as story-telling or being nice to everyone. Games are not inherently nice.

But the latter sentence is why I stopped playing games against other people more than 40 years ago, and prefer to play co-operative games: fantasy role-playing is the epitome of co-operative game.

Add to that I dislike puzzles. so I'm not at all attracted by parallel competitions (Euro "games" commonly) even though, for the most part, they are "nice" games - if you can call them games at all.


One of the worst examples of historical "scholarship" is to attribute causation to the supernatural. The supernatural, whether gods or spirits or something else, can always be adduced as a cause of something, but explains nothing. The historian's job is to explain not only what happened but Why, and using the supernatural as a why is a waste of everyone's time.

I don't think "supernatural" exists. The trend of human history begins with suggestions that the supernatural is involved in many phenomena, then finding naturalistic explanations that don't require the supernatural.  "The supernatural" keeps shrinking. Is there any reason to think this won't continue? No.

Yet even if I did believe the supernatural exists, I'd object to its use in historical scholarship. It's not an explanation.


One of the most marked, and interesting, characteristics of ancient and medieval armies was their psychological dependence on a single leader.

If their leader was killed, or even wounded, they lost heart and retreated or even broke. There's a story that William the Conqueror's horse was killed under him twice, and that nearly did in the Normans even though he was unhurt. There wasn't a clear chain of command so that a second leader could take over. Very different from modern armies, of course.

This is perhaps understandable when the leader was the king (or wannabe king), and there was no adult heir present. But it happened with non-royal generals with great frequency. Yet the leaders were expected to be in the thick of the fighting. Alexander the Great was crazy brave for a monarch, once leading an escalade on a city (Tyre?). At least once he was barely saved from battle death by a companion.

Even Napoleon took some big chances when he was younger. I should think the French army might have lost it if the later *Emperor* Napoleon had been killed in battle (there was no adult heir anywhere), but in general armies survived the loss of their leader without breaking.  Many, many generals were killed during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, though rarely the commander of an army - but artillery nearly hit Wellington at Waterloo.

This heavy dependence on one leader is why the death of William or Harold, in my game Hastings 1066, makes so much difference (though less than it would have historically). Whereas in Stalingrad Besieged (1942) using a variation of the same system, there are no leaders, it's all faceless struggle.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Triptych 12

Triptych 12
Three subjects in one blog post

Yomi vs minimaxing
Changes in habits from Corona/Covid-19
Solo and Co-op Games

Yomi vs minimaxing

I realized recently that what I’m trying to do in my block games is to emphasize the uncertainty of warfare by offering opportunities to use Yomi rather than the typical wargame minimaxing. Yomi is a Japanese word referring to reading the opponent’s intentions that has been adapted to games. When you rely on Yomi you’re attempting to read or guess or divine your enemy’s intentions and take advantage of that. It is a riskier, more romantic way to do things. But it’s absolutely necessary in real warfare because there is insufficient information.

In a wargame, where typically a great deal of information is known, it’s possible to use a minimax strategy, that is to play the game as a game rather than as warfare. You can calculate what to do to maximize your minimum gain, assuming that your opponent is a perfect player; if they prove to be a less than perfect player you will do better than you expected. (This all flows from the mathematical theory of games.)

By using the hidden identity and hidden strength possible with blocks I try to move the game towards Yomi and away from minimax.

Which is all a bit strange considering that I’m a minimaxer rather than a Yomi player. But I design games for other people, not for myself.

Changes in habits from Corona/Covid-19

The coronavirus affects games because most game shops are closed. I’m told by one of my publishers that money from the typical hobby distribution through distributors to the game shops has dried up, though webstore sales are okay. But it all makes for precarious cash flows.

I hear that in the comic industry, where everything is distributed by one company (Diamond), things are precarious. Diamond has already suspended shipping to comic shops because they’re not getting paid by comic shops (most of which are closed). This lack of payment has also led them to suspend payments to comics publishers. Comics publishers aren’t nearly as strong as they used to be, in fact superhero style comics have been in decline for a decade despite the success of superhero movies. I don’t think Marvel any longer make any money from the movies, as the Marvel movies are owned by Disney. Whether publishers will be able to survive the lack of payments is unknown.

Diamond is a distributor for some RPGs as well as comics. Alliance, the main distributor for hobby tabletop games (and the same ownership as Diamond), has closed down temporarily.

I wonder if our local game store is likely to survive the hiatus. It was struggling as it was, as the local area has a smallish population for a game store (250,000 for the entire county), mitigated by the presence of 70,000+ college students. But in my experience, few college students actually buy games.

(Minor calculation: if there are 330,000,000 people in the US, and 3000 games stores (I believe that’s much higher than reality), each store serves on average 110,000 people (about the population of Gainesville without students). If there are 1500 games stores then each would serve on average of 220,000 people. Someone started a second game store in Gainesville, but it lasted only a year.)

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to recognize that habits will change for some people after the pandemic. The pandemic has forced people to do things remotely, and to do digital rather than physical (for example in comic books and RPG books). How many of those people will continue to do things digitally rather than physically after the pandemic? This puts even more pressure on local game shops, even if they’ve survived the pandemic itself.

As I discussed this with my wife she said that if game shops fail then after while there will be other entrepreneurs who try their luck at running a game shop. But if the comics collapse, it will be that much harder to run a game shop, as many game shops rely on comics sales as well. And many people are aware of the old joke, “how do you make a small fortune in game retail?” Answer: “Start with a large fortune.”

Solo and Co-op Games

How much demand is there for tabletop games that only offer solo play? One of the major strengths of tabletop games is their socialization aspects, yet it’s well-known that many people play military games solitaire for lack of opponents.

Solo and cooperative versions are increasingly popular even for games that are designed to be competitive. I have designed three or four co-op games lately, and I’ve been putting solo versions into my games (as in my latest, Stalingrad Besieged, as best I could (that is, without increasing the cost).

But the typical co-op game is rather Euro-like, whereas mine are wargame-like.

Latest (free) videos on my YouTube “Game Design” Channel:

What causes exceptions to the rules?

Exceptions to the rules make a game more complicated, Even in a video game, where the rules are enforced by the software, the players have to learn what the exceptions are. So what causes a game design to have rules exceptions?

Pros and Cons of RPG character ability generation methods

What are the pros and cons of the two fundamental methods of RPG character generation, the stochastic (dice rolling) and the deterministic (point buy)?

"Yomi" versus Minimax

Some people play opposed games (such as historical representations of warfare) according to game theory notions (minimax), others act as many generals have and try to read the intentions of their opponents, then act accordingly. Yomi is closely related to intuition, minimax to logic. I've discussed intuition and logic in another video, https://youtu.be/M63j6_8D6iI 

Getting started: World-Building

Some questions to ask yourself, and an admonition that it's the game (or novel) you should spend most of your time on, not the world.

21st century gamers are usually deficient in military strategy

In my experience (mostly with tabletoppers), 21st century gamers are poor at military-style strategy. They don't think in long-term, don't see in long-term. It is, after all, the Age of Instant Gratification. It's not different in video games, because video game "wargames" are usually resource management games, not wargames. And video games encourage the "instant gratification" point of view.

10 "need to knows" about level and adventure design

Level and adventure design is related to game design, but not the same thing.

Monday, January 13, 2020

A New Thing

As many of you know I had a triple bypass operation with an aortic rebuild in early October. In December I had 5+ liters of fluid on the left lung which necessitated another (six-day) hospital stay. I still have a little fluid on the lung and I’m not 100% in general. But I’ve been able to keep up with my YouTube channel and my Enworld column. The effort I used to put into this blog, often now goes into my weekly Game Design channel on YouTube. http://youtube.com/LewGameDesign

So this is a new thing, kind of like the Triptych but with much more than three topics per.

Gameplay depth (there are other kinds of depth, such as puzzle depth) is a rarity nowadays because the audience has grown broader. Hobby games are much closer to party games than to hobby games of the past, on average, these days.

Hobby games are now often designed to reveal all there is to them in the first play. That's because many players expect this (it's especially common in video games); because many players play a game only 1-3 times before moving on; and because it's a lot easier to design that kind of game! The result: Shallowness rules!


Games are fundamentally about constraints. Every rule/mechanic is a constraint in one way or another. E.g. Manna (lands) is a constraint in MtG. The most skilled game players tend to be those who work well within constraints, just as, in general, creativity is encouraged by constraints, not by absolute freedom. Contemporary gamers, for various reasons, such as the influence of you-cannot-lose single-player video games and reward-based (rather than consequence-based) F2P games, especially dislike constraints in games. They really want playgrounds, not games. Though they'll accept puzzles, because there's no human involved to change things and "get in the way."

Games are not about mechanics.  Mechanics are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. I'm not interested in games that are mere collections of mechanics.

When I post on a blog or YouTube I'm not trying to encourage anyone in particular, I'm trying to explain what IS, as I see it, in game design. Some people don't like having their dreams challenged, but that's not relevant to what I'm trying to do.

If having strong opinions (that I can back up) and a willingness to tell people they're blowing smoke/don't have a clue, is arrogant, then yes, I'm arrogant.

The notion that everyone's "opinion" is equally good, and equally deserving of respect, drives a stake through the heart of the idea that truth matters.

One reason why people don't want to play long games any more is that variety has replaced gameplay depth as the major attraction of games.  And variety can only maintain interest so long, before the player wants to go on to "the next thing".  Gameplay depth can maintain interest, in those who are willing to think (a rarity in any Age).

It's the Age of Comfort, now much more than ever.  Many game players are passive, don't want to be challenged by their entertainment.

I think RPG fandom is one of those gaming segments where there is a lot more playing than buying. Compare with board/card where games seem to be made to last 1-3 plays before players (and buyers) move on to something else.

The game segments of "geek cons" are dominated by tabletop RPGs, not other kinds of tabletop. Even video gives way to it.

One of many reasons why there are SO many games published nowadays: abstract games (often with a so-called "theme" tacked on) are easier to design to the 80% stage (and to 100%, but many games never get there) than games that are models (of history or fiction).

Tile-laying, worker placement, deck-building, you're not constrained by having to model something. Moreover, you don't have to build player interaction into the game, because so many Euro-games are parallel competitions, puzzles, with little to no player interaction. Interaction makes for harder design.

January 13, 2020

Thursday, July 25, 2019

No, I Didn’t Change How Britannia Plays

No, I Didn’t Change How Britannia Plays

 (Though I had the urge to . . .)

FantasyFlightGames edition of Britannia (the second printing of the second edition) went out of print in 2012, and rights reverted to me. The latest issue of Britannia, not a third edition, is now on Kickstarter through August 1 along with a separate 60-90 minute two player Duel Britannia game that uses a different map.

After some thought, because there are aspects of the second edition that I don’t like, I decided to change no rules in Britannia, though I did change the interface. First, plastic pieces are used for armies, leaders, and perhaps more (depending on stretch goals). Second, there are no nation cards: instead, each player has a sheet that lists how all the nations score points. This means no one has to ask to see someone else’s nation card (which might give away strategy as well as being time-consuming). There’s a separate appearance sheet for everyone, as well (it’s not on the board, you’ll notice). No craning your neck to look at the board.

So Classic Britannia (as I hope everyone will call it in the long run) is a hybrid, same rules, different interface. This will suit people whose old copy of Brit is worn out, as well as people who have discovered the game since 2012 and want a copy for themselves.

I chose a continuation of second edition Brit, rather than change things. Duel Britannia provides enough change for the package.

Another reason not to change anything was lack of time. The entire project was proposed in later September 2018, and I’ve had to concentrate on creating Duel Britannia from scratch since then.

I decided not to change just a few things, because I have a lot of changes in mind. They are in a 3rd edition of Britannia that is in the works (though I’ve done little with it for some years). It will be a better teaching tool (more realistic, if you will), but may increase playing time, and will certainly impose more constraints on the players - and players don’t like constraints, even though a game is by definition a set of constraints. I’d rather make changes in that 3rd edition than in the reissue. But it’ll be several years before that is released, if I’m fortunate enough to live that long.

Kickstarter Britannia: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1992455033/lew-pulsiphers-britannia-classic-and-new-duel-edition

Sunday, July 21, 2019

No Five Player Version of Classic Britannia - For Now

After many experiments, I’ve decided that there’s no good five player version of Classic Britannia. There just aren’t enough nations, and with the points carefully designed for four players, it just doesn’t work with five.

In Classic Britannia there are rules for drafting (choosing up sides) that can be used for five players, but I don’t see that providing near-balanced sides!

Of course, there aren’t five colors of pieces, and that’s another problem for five players.

I did develop a freeform (less historical) version that appears to work with five (as well as three or four), but needs lots of playtesting. So it will not see the light of day for quite some time.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Three development paths for Britannia -like games

On the occasion of the kickstarter (closes Aug 1) for a reissue of my game Britannia but with plastic figures and other improvements in the interface but no changes in the rules, along with a two player newly-designed Duel Britannia that takes me 65 to 75 minutes to play, I had some thoughts about the different ways the development has gone for Britannia -like games

Britannia was originally published in 1986 by HP Gibsons in the United Kingdom. It was picked up by Avalon Hill and published in 1987. (I had submitted it to Avalon Hill a few years before, but they told me that games of that era didn’t sell. Evidently Gibsons proved to them that it could sell.)

To make a long story short, I was not participating in the game hobby at this time, I was playing Dungeons & Dragons and making additions for Dungeons & Dragons to use with my friends, period. When I received a couple copies of Britannia from Gibsons I opened the box, looked at the contents, said “that’s nice” and did not actually see a published version of the game played until 2004.

In all that time some people liked the Britannia game system and adapted it to other situations. I think the first was the Avalon Hill Maharajah, which came close to being a slavish copy except that it was set in India. So it continued the simplicity but considerable length of the parent game. This is the first branch of Britannia development. Other semi-commercial games such as the Dragon and the Pearl and Rus followed the same path. I’ve designed Normannia originally in this development path. I designed my prototype Caledonia as a somewhat cutdown version of Britannia, but I think I’m going to reduce it to the small development path.

But with Hispania we saw another branch of development, the bigger and more complex game. Where Britannia has about 200 pieces, games in this branch have over 500; where Britannia has armies and cavalry and leaders, this kind of game adds elite units and sometimes fleets. More recently, Italia, by the same designer, continued this branch, and in the past year we have Invasions (of Europe) by French designer Philippe Thibault. He has ready a successor chronologically to that game as well. These games violate my philosophy of design, which relies on simpler games where the players can play the other players. Or as Albert Einstein put it, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Or at least so I thought at the time, though I’ve since found that I can make games much simpler than Britannia.

My own prototypes “MegaBrit” and Dark Ages and Helennia, use a larger form though not with as many pieces. More recently a Spanish designer designed Corsica, with more than 500 pieces, which is scheduled to be published probably next year.

Of course, I was designing Britannia in the early 1980s, when long games were much more acceptable than today. (I made an all-of-Europe prototype during that period but the one time we played it we took 12 hours, so I set it aside and forgot it until I found the prototype 30 years later.) When I heard from the Mayfair guys at a convention that they were working on a “broad market” version of Catan (later published as Catan Junior) I said to myself, I ought to try doing that for Britannia. After quite a few years I ended up with Conquer Britannia which has just 12 nations and six turns and has been played in as little as 84 minutes. This is the third path, to make the game much simpler and smaller. (This requires a new board; in the late 2000s I designed a version of Britannia to play on the original board in a couple hours, as an expansion, but Fantasyflightgames who had published the Second Edition were not interested in the expansions.) There are something like 18 to 20 land areas on the Conquer board compared with 37 on the original board.

Having more or less perfected this method I have gone on to make prototypes for Frankia (but diceless), Barbaria (Europe from 410 to 1250 in six turns, has been played in 1:40), Rule Britannia (diceless), and have others in mind. And of course, when I got the assignment to design a two player 60 to 90 minute version of Britannia itself, which became Duel Britannia.

Why would anyone make these massive games like Hispania and Invasions? I suppose because they can; but I also suspect that the smaller the game is, the harder it is to balance. By including lots of units and lots of everything you have a game that’s easier to balance. I think that’s probably a general rule for asymmetric games.

From a marketing point of view the smaller game path makes much more sense for modern gamers, many of whom say they can’t handle even a three-hour game (although you can see many of those same people play a three-hour game if they’re enjoying it and if it has sufficient substance). Yet Philippe Thibault’s kickstarter for Invasions got 992 backers. (I suspect the French are more willing to play those old 80 style games than Americans are.)


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Britannia Unbound!

I had nothing to do with creating the KS, so I suppose I can say that with three good videos and lots of information it's well done.

Btw, 90 minutes would be a *long* game of Duel.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Proto atl, the tabletop market, and my games on Kickstarter

Proto atl - 

a relatively new and specialized game convention

(and also about tabletop game publishing in general)
(and also about two Kickstarters for my games)

What is it?
Proto Atl is something like a Protospiel, but isn’t. Hence the odd name (Atl being Atlanta, or more specifically Suwanee Ga).

At a typical protospiel, designers playtest each others’ games. That happens a lot at Proto Atl, but also there are publisher representatives, seminars, this year a tour of the facilities of a fulfillment company (PSI), giveaways, and perhaps other non-playtesting activities I’ve forgotten. And there were a few people who registered as playtesters rather than designers.

This year was my first attendance, deciding at nearly the last minute, and I have to say there wasn’t much to help me understand what I was getting into before the fact. It didn’t help that if I searched for proto atl I got a previous year’s website that the hosts don’t control owing to previous deals, so they can’t get rid of it! You have to type in the URL (see below).

Andrew Smith is the host, with Steve Avery as sidekick and Eugene Bryant as a friend dragged in to help. Andrew’s friend Christy (or Chrissy?) took care of photography and other tasks. This is the third rendition of the convention, which has grown every year. The first was strictly protospiel for 50 people, now it has the other features I mentioned.

About a hundred people were there on Friday, the room was quite loud at peak. Attendance was capped at 150, likely more next year according to Andrew as he continues to expand.

Aside from two publishers I already knew, I didn’t see much of the 20-25 committed to be there. Unlike some conventions with publisher reps, there was no formal arrangement, and it turned out the expectation was that designers would arrange appointments with specific publishers. So if I go next year, I’ll be able to make better use of this part of the convention.

This was about board and card games, not RPGs, not full miniatures, not CCGs such as Magic: the Gathering.

I don’t go to conventions to playtest, by and large, other than with people I already know well. I’m very much not good at arm-twisting people into playing my games, perhaps because I am very large (6'4" despite shrinking 3 inches) and used to be quite intimidating (age tends to kill that) but don’t want to intimidate, partly because I dislike the typical parallel competitions that are the mainstay of the market (and so I won’t play them, I’m not in the target market).  In the end I had a good session with three others where my Do It Now (Naval Arms Race) was one of the games played, while on Sunday I decided to get out a finished game, Warp, and got in three 3-4 player “tests.”  (Of course, no game is ever truly finished.)

Neil Gaiman's advice about fiction readers applies to game testers: "when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." (Gaiman is a well-known author of novels and comics whose books have been turned into movies, American Gods, Good Omens, Stardust, etc.)

The game designer has to fix things, not the testers. He/she has experience of many plays/playtests of the game, not just one or a few. And the designer is thinking in terms of what’s best for the target market (I hope), not what he or she would like best.

So in some ways, game designer are much less than ideal playtesters!

As an example, people were playing my prototype Warp, It’s a spaceship race to move your ships to the other side of the cluster (board). Opposing ships block progress, but can be "teleported" (sent back to their start) in three ways. Black holes help slingshot ships farther than their own (variable) movement allows, such that with the ideal arrangement you can go all the way across in one move.

These were actually the 65th, 66th, and 67th plays in my records. The game is finished, in my mind. But some of the testers had recommendations.

For example, one player felt that something more needed to be added to Warp - adding to a game is always something to beware of - such as cards with special powers. I quoted my motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

And in this case I could also say, "that's for an expansion".  In another case, the player doesn't like blocking, so he suggested taking it out, and increasing the possibilities for capture. Same answer. In this case, clearly, the suggestion was a personal preference. What I want as designer is what will be best for the most players in the target market, not a personal preference. On the other hand, for 5 and 6 players I don't allow blocking (you can move through opposing pieces) simply because the board gets too congested if I allow blocking. So I can include this as an optional rule. (Optional rules are often rules considered and rejected by the designer, but which were nearly as good as what the designer selected.)

In either case, my job as designer was to decide whether the fault they noticed was something that needs fixing; their suggestions for change were very secondary, it was the fault (if any) that mattered.

I'd have liked to know beforehand how many designer attendees have actually self-published a game or had a game published by someone else. I suspect, not many.

The Market
Consistently, the games I saw being played were much more often card games than board games. This is consistent with what I see at college game clubs (not counting Magic: the Gathering). Many of the games using a board, used it as a status tracker rather than a field for geospatial relationships. (Like the board in Deluxe Munchkins versions that merely tracks level, which is easily done in other ways in the non-deluxe versions.) I didn’t see a single wargame (I wasn’t showing any either). Though I did hear someone say “wargames suck,” he was thinking of “wargame ghetto” hex-and-counter wargames, not representation wargames (which are quite different).

Groupthink in game design these days isn’t necessarily Euro, but groupthink IS “no war” and not much “death” in a game. (How would such people react to a co-op where you defend a galaxy from killing machines? LOTS of death - but surely a “Just War”.) Party games have become the “standard game” in the lower end of the market (for $30 and less), $60 and up games are the upper end. But there’s relentless pressure for simple, short, pretty much no-brainer games in the lower end. I was impressed with how many party games (at least, apparently, sometimes specifically said) I saw in PSI’s warehouse. Games of maneuver and geospatial relationships are rare. (Though paradoxically, many of the top Eurogames involve geospatial relationships.)

Remember, if you want people to try your game that could be called a wargame, use a different name (“historical representation”). People are much more likely to try (and perhaps enjoy) the game in those circumstances.

I suspect most of the designers were looking toward self-publishing. I haven’t tried to count (which would be a massive task) but I think the self-published games nowadays far outnumber the traditionally-published games, given there were something like 2,000 successful tabletop Kickstarters in 2018. And it’s really hard for an unpublished designer to get attention from traditional publishers. (Many of the traditional publishers started as self-publishers - Fantasy Flight Games for example.)  Moreover, some aspiring designers self-publish to maintain “full artistic control” (still subject to manufacturing limitations).

In any case, one publisher tells me the life of virtually any game is “45 days”. Shops have so many new games to choose from, even if their initial allocation of a title sells well, they’re more likely to get the “new hotness” than reorder the now-“old” game.

Zev Schlasinger (the Z in Z-Man, though he sold the company years ago), when I asked what kinds of games he's looking for (for WizKids), said because the market is so saturated, good is no longer good enough, he has to feel that he MUST publish the game. Though that doesn’t tell us what kinds of games he’s interested in; I guess it’s kind of a fishing expedition!

Other Notes
By look I'd say lots of millennials were in attendance, much more than a majority; some Xgen, few Baby Boomers. I was likely oldest at 68, I know a publisher who is 61 who said he was glad I was there so he wouldn't be the oldest, but others were likely in their 60s from appearance. It’s a much different demographic than, say, PrezCon or WBC, where older folks are numerous if not dominant. Proto Atl was more like GenCon (which many old-time wargamers stay away from, and most purely wargame publishers don’t attend).

The convention was at the enormous warehouse and premises of PSI, a game “fulfillment” company. For example, they will take care of all the tasks of sending the rewards of a successful Kickstarter to customers, but they work with large companies (including Target) as well as small. A fascinating tour was arranged.

There were four or five seminars, modestly attended (maybe average 15?). The quality was consistently better than what I’ve seen at GenCon over the years.

Proto Atl - early May. https://www.facebook.com/ProtoATL/   $40-55 for designers (depending on when you sign up, places limited to 150 this year) There is a website, but some info only appeared on the Facebook.


Since I’ve been talking about design and marketing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this:

The Kickstarter for Stalingrad Besieged ends July 8.  The game uses the Hastings 1066 system (modified) but has a mounted board and a choice of three sets of units: cards, blocks, or large chipboard (all included).  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/stalingrad-besieged?ref=9naz9f&token=ee588ce8

The Kickstarter for the Classic/Duel Britannia package starts 11 July. Classic Brit plays same as FFG Brit except for use of plastic figures, and replacing Nation Cards with better methods. I deliberately have changed no rules in Classic (FFG).

Duel is two players, new board, 65-75 minutes. I skip most of the Roman era, and end the game with Cnut and Edmund Ironside (2 players, not enough for 1066).

Duel is newly developed, not a reissue.

So we have grand strategic games on the one hand, and a grand tactical game on the other.

Duel development went fine until final balancing, which has been an enormous headache.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Deconstruction of the game Shogun/Samurai Swords/Ikusa

A common occurrence in video gaming is the “deconstruction” of a game, an attempt to describe how the design works, perhaps what it derives from. While I spent several hours watching five people play this game it proved to be pretty easy to deconstruct.

This game of Japanese warlords was originally published by Milton Bradley and now Hasbro and dates back to about 1987. If designed today it would definitely be much smaller, perhaps accommodating not more than four players, to reduce the length from its current 4 to 6 hours for five players. One reason why it’s so long is that it derives from Axis & Allies and Risk, both often quite long games.

The Risk influence is clear in the board of many territories (a lot more than Risk’s 42) with lines connecting some territories to enable movement across the seas. There are some really long connecting lines “above” and “below” the three main Japanese islands to provide some circularity and width, because even with many territories the main routes through the islands are quite narrow, only a few territories wide.

The game includes a card for each territory as in Risk, and starts with a random distribution of cards so that each player’s holdings are randomly distributed throughout the three major islands (Hokkaido is not included, at the time of the samurai it was occupied by the white-skinned Ainu people). This is identical to the original French way of starting Risk, rather than players choosing their territories. There is no turn-in of cards as we see in Risk. The card turn-in is a kludge designed to bring Risk to a finish, whereas Shogun has a different method.

Allocation of new armies follows the Risk method of one per three territories. In Shogun the result is money rather than armies, which can be spent for a variety of activities (mostly new troops), and can buy as many as three of the weakest troops for one unit of money.

Where is the influence of Axis & Allies? I think the game would work as well with just one or two unit types (the two would be missile troops and melee troops). But in this case we have two kinds of missile troops and several kinds of melee troops, each with a different number required to hit with a 12 sided die (hit on six and lower is the best unit). In an initial combat the defender’s missile troops fire and anyone killed by that fire (victim’s choice) cannot retaliate. But in the end it’s rolling for all your troops against all the opposing troops simultaneously. (Amphibious attacks are at a greater disadvantage.) This is much as it is in Axis & Allies. Attackers can retreat, but defenders cannot, just as in A&A. (This is one of the stranger rules I’ve ever seen, from an historical point of view; I think it’s intended to speed up the game.)

The Army organization of the game is the part that comes from neither Risk nor A&A. Each player has a large cardboard layout allowing for the placement of many units in each of three armies, along with three flag markers (generals) each on a track that can increase their experience. The corresponding flags are placed on the board to show the location of the armies.

In addition there is a ninja which can be hired to try to assassinate a general (67 % chance); if the ninja fails the intended victim can hire it to try to kill one of the attacker’s generals!

Here’s the mechanism that enables the game to end sooner than otherwise. If you kill a player’s last general by defeating his army, you get all his remaining pieces and territories. Winning the game depends on controlling a certain number of territories, for example 30 in the five player game, more in games with fewer players. It’s a more elegant solution to ending the game than the turn-in cards in Risk.

There is even less history built into this game than into Axis & Allies itself. It’s a long game with a lot of miniature figures and a lot of dice rolling.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Brief Notes from the designer about Hastings 1066

The Battle of Hastings was the culmination of an unusual three-sided competition to be elected Edward the Confessor’s successor as King of England, with no chance of alliances, and each side the enemy of the other two. As is typical of most medieval and ancient conflicts, we have few close-to-contemporary sources, and little solid information. (Some historians like to sound much more certain than the evidence justifies.)

Weather prevented William of Normandy from sailing to England where Harold II was waiting, while Harald Hardrada of Norway was able to land in the north and defeat the local English earls at the Battle of Fulford. Harold of England, more or less in possession of the kingship, marched north and surprised the Norwegians, resulting in a great slaughter (and the death of Hardrada) at great cost to the English. Harold’s force at Hastings may have been smaller than his force at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile William had landed. A mystery is why Harold didn’t wait to gather additional forces (having left his archers behind). Instead he rushed down as rapidly as he could to fight William. William wasn’t doing anything, really, for example not attacking the heart of the country (London). Harold could have waited, but he was a brave man and experienced soldier. In the end, it cost him and his brothers their lives.

I actually got the idea to make a small game about the battle when visiting the (supposed) site as a tourist.

Hastings 1066 is the closest thing I know of to the microgames (such as Ogre (1977) and my Dragon Rage (1982)) that were so popular in the earlier years of the hobby. They were the least expensive type of wargame, simple, usually quick to play. Those were board games, but it’s impossible to persuade many people to buy a thin cardboard board and tiny pieces nowadays, so the clear alternative is to use cards.

Cards inherently do not show the maneuver and geospatial relationships that are at the heart of any battle, but I devised a simple method to provide a board equivalent using the cards themselves.
Ancient and medieval battles are inherently poor subjects for games if you stick with the reality, that the commander had little control over what happened once the battle began (still seen in many miniatures rules sets today). The initial version of Hastings reflected this. So to make a better game I ignored some reality, allowing the players to control all the units, making the battle more fluid so that the players had more influence.

The system can be used to depict many battles, even post-gunpowder battles. I’ve tried Fulford and Stamford Bridge, but they don’t fit the standard line-up battle that’s ideal for the game system. I have prototypes of Stalingrad (the city itself, reflecting the “meat-grinder”), Waterloo (focusing on artillery, line, column, and square), and the naval battle of Lepanto (cannons and ramming). The Worthington folks have devised others. Every game using the system can concentrate on what was really important, hence the possibilities that your leader will die during Hastings 1066, and the action of the Norman archers.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Reducing chance in games that use single die rolls

My recently-published design Hastings 1066, which well-known game reviewer Marco Arnaudo calls a “lunchtime wargame”, and which I call a successor to old-time microgames, reflects the amount of chance that occurs in a real battle: a lot. As with any historical battle game, simulating the chaos and chances of war is more or less the opposite of what gamers want as they explore generalship. (Commercial wargames are not representative of war, more of generalship). Gamers want to control the game, they want to feel that they succeed or fail by their own efforts; but war isn’t like that at all.

Some people won’t mind this, while others might hope there was less chance. Here I present a method of making sure that each player gets about the same number of good, bad, and middling die rolls during the play of the game. And it also might be faster than rolling dice.

To do this you need at least two decks of ordinary playing cards. Extract all the Ace through Six cards in a deck (24), shuffle them thoroughly, and draw from that deck when you need a D6 roll. Each player has his own draw deck, and each deck has an identical selection of cards. When you’ve exhausted your deck shuffle it and start over.

I think it’s more practical in some ways if you have two decks of cards per player, because it will be harder for players to memorize how many times a particular number has been drawn, and in the course of a seven turn game you’ll need more than 48 die rolls.

There’s still the chance that one player’s sixes will all be up front or all at the end of his deck, and one player might reshuffle well before the other; but in the long run this may be more satisfying than a lot of dice rolls. It’s up to you.

I make this suggestion because in one of my playtests I played someone who was not a wargamer and who was not a deep thinker, playing for the first time, but I couldn’t roll for shit and after a valiant fight I lost. It’s like the famous poker champion Doyle Brunson saying that if you consistently don’t get decent cards there’s not much you can do (when he went out of the World Series of Poker on the first day). Imagine how happy he might be if you could somehow be sure that the cards he was getting were about the same average value and frequency as the cards other players were getting, in the long run.

(Of course, dice rolling “evens out” in the long run; there is no such thing as a “bad roller”. What we’re doing here is trying to even it out in the shorter run.)

By the way, this method has flaws for rolling 2d6 or more. I wouldn’t use it for that.

(The game is available on Worthington Publishing’s website at $35. I haven’t looked for it on the usual online sellers.)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Unbalanced tabletop games

This is from a quora question: "James Simonse wants an answer to:
What are some examples of badly balanced board games?"

Rather than list some unbalanced games, I want to talk about unbalance itself.

It isn’t always clear whether a game is unbalanced. Perhaps a group of players haven’t fgured it out, and as a result one side or another enjoys a big advantage or disadvantage. Or “the jury may still be out”.

Take Scythe as an example. It’s a popular game, though released only recently. I haven’t played or read the rules; I have watched the game for an hour or two. In the game I watched, one player ran rampant all over the map, while the other players passively allowed this to happen. When I asked a very experienced player who had played the game, his strong opinion was that Russia had a big advantage. Later I talked to another player, who knew a very experienced player with the same opinion. Later I talked with a local player, who said his group didn’t allow anyone to play Russia! Yet sometime later I talked to a player who thought one of the other sides (cannot recall which) was the one with most advantage. And a great many people play the game.

So is it unbalanced, or is it not?

Keep in mind what I call the “Invisible Hand”. This is the tendency of good players to know that one side or another is very strong or weak, and to compensate for that during play. Yes, the game is unbalanced, but the reaction of the players themselves rebalances it. Is the Invisible Hand strongly at work in Scythe? I don’t know.

Diplomacy benefits from the Invisible Hand. The inner Great Powers (Italy, Germany, Austria) are at a considerable disadvantage compared with the four outer powers (France, England, Russia, Turkey), who can put their backs easily against the “wall” of the board edge. I’ve won playing those inner countries, but I still think the game is unbalanced, and relies some on the Invisible Hand to even things out.

If I had a dime for every time someone had played my four player game Britannia (1986 and later) once, and then declared that had no chance to win, or wins way too often, I’d be able to buy a used car. Results at tournaments show that the four colors are very close to equal, even though one color or another may win disproportionately in a given year. 

So why the gripes? It’s not a game you can play well until you’ve played several times, that is, it’s a deep game, not the typically shallow stuff we get today. After one play, you can’t possibly know the balance; but many gamers now blame the game if they lose, and expect to understand how to play well after one play. Not this game. Yet there are lots of complaints about balance from novices.

Gareth Higgs commented on my answer "Rather than list some unbalanced games, I want to talk about unbalance itself....":

As a very experienced Scythe player, I actually think that Crimea is the best faction with their ability to use combat cards as resources. It’s an especially good faction with the Agricultural or Patriotic boards. However, I think the game is itself fairly well balanced - It just seems like it’s unbalanced when people of various skill levels play together.

That's another possibility, of course, that a game is unbalanced unless the players are of similar experience. Or even that the game is unbalanced with novice players, and balanced with experts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Recent Videos on my YouTube Channel ("Game Design")

Recent Videos on my YouTube channel (“Game Design”)

Jan 10
Excessively misleading game box covers: http://youtu.be/xkwbXlahmVI?a

 Jan 8
One of my most-viewed videos of the last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOBM3JD-sno&lc=z22meflabzrxyld3qacdp4350c4titjswgqqvwojfgtw03c010c&feature=em-comments …
Six reasons why wargames popularity has plummeted

 Jan 3
"A game I can bullshit my way through": http://youtu.be/uMTnh8pbdIM?a 

 27 Dec 2018
It's Impossible to forecast the success of a game: http://youtu.be/QnLA8oN5sBg?a

 20 Dec 2018
Ideal (for manufacturing) number of cards in a deck: http://youtu.be/3lNJWmJOeKE?a

 13 Dec 2018
Confusions of Game Design: Obscure can be bad or good: http://youtu.be/3ku63Wev8kw?a

 6 Dec 2018
What do I think about players changing my games: http://youtu.be/-2jTLThe54w?a

 29 Nov 2018
Scaling games for different number of players: http://youtu.be/ynUPdidl2WY?a

 22 Nov 2018
Why I don't write monsters and character classes to be published any more: http://youtu.be/5uC9HO4JT88?a

 15 Nov 2018
New game? Don't worry about "innovation": http://youtu.be/oxJti1METvI?a

 8 Nov 2018
War is not fun, not sport, so commercial games are not much like war.: http://youtu.be/fP46epnP_ro?a 

Lew Pulsipher @lewpuls

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Idle (?) Thoughts on Two Player Diplomacy

(This originally appeared in Diplomacy World #144)

People involved in creation of something out of nothing really do get their ideas in odd places, sometimes. I get a significant “input” to my game design when I’m in the shower and while I’m lying awake in bed. This idea popped into my head at “Oh Dark Hundred” recently.

A little introduction might help. My most well-known game is Britannia (1986 and later), and there’s going to be a reprint with plastic figures in the next year or so. To go along with that, the publishers wanted me to make a two player version of the game that lasted 60 to 90 minutes (Britannia itself is 4 to 5 hours.) I’m surprised and pleased at how well it has come out. It uses a new board, lasts 65 to 75 minutes, and is recognizably Britannia-like.

So it’s not surprising that now my thoughts occasionally turn to creating two player versions of games for more than two (Britannia has four players). Usually this is my own games, but this morning it was Diplomacy.

Insofar as the essence of Diplomacy is playing against the other players, a two player game cannot be Diplomacy. In other words, Diplomacy is about the psychological part of the game and much less about the game system. Yet the “Gunboat Diplomacy” variant has been popular, and that’s a game where any negotiation is prohibited. With two players, much of the psychology is gone.

So, I said to myself, if we’re going to abandon the essence of the game anyway, what can we do to change the game to make it more interesting for two players? Because with two players it would be a sort of a chess match that depended on who guessed best in the strategic/tactical part of the game, and would be devilishly difficult to balance fairly.

By removing the multiplayer aspect we remove much of the uncertainty of the game: with two players you can minimax it, you can assume the other player is perfect and play accordingly to maximize your minimum gain as in the premise behind the mathematical theory of games. Chess, Go, Checkers survive the situation because they are too complex to be solved by humans, though all three are played better by computers now than by the best humans. That’s not desirable, so I would replace the uncertainty of more than two players with two things: dice in combat and event cards.

Now I can hear many Diplomacy people sucking in a deep (dismayed?) breath at the idea of overt chance elements in the game, but I’ve explained why I think it’s necessary, and I have a dice combat system that would only mildly affect things but would provide an element of unpredictability. That method is that you roll one die per Army or fleet in the combat, including supports. The side with a higher sum wins the combat, with ties going to the defender most likely (or rerolled if both sides are attacking), but that’s something that would be determined in testing.

For example, a supported army (two) attacks an unsupported army (one). Rolls are 4,5 for the attackers, so the defender cannot win (can’t get more than a 6).

Occasionally a two on one would not dislodge the defender because the defender wins (or ties) the dice rolls. And in rare instances even a 3 to 1 attack might fail. On the other hand, a two versus three attack would occasionally succeed. The biggest change here would be that one-to-one attacks would sometimes succeed. (One vs one, 15 wins for each side plus 6 ties. If ties go to defender (assuming there is a defender rather than both moving), that’s 21 vs 15 (7 to 5).  Two vs one results: 15 ties, 21 wins for the weaker, 180 wins for the stronger. If ties go to weaker, it’s 180 to 36.)

I use this method in Eurasia (name likely to change to something like Surge of Empires), which is scheduled to be published sometime.

Another way to provide variance in combat would be to use combat cards rather than dice. Each player would have the same set of cards, but different ones in hand at different times, and it would be a guessing element involved in whether you play a strong card or weak card to add to the combat (there are also some special cards). I use such a method in several games but I’m not going to go into it here.

I don’t know if event cards would be necessary, and I haven’t tried to come up with any kind of scheme. But event cards are a way to add interest and variation to a game that the players can control in a way that they cannot control the dice, though with dice they can play to take account of probability.

The other point of uncertainty/variance would be in selection of the sides. While lying in bed I tried to think of an entirely fair three versus three and didn’t get very far. I’d probably use a combination of selection and chance to assign countries. The first player would choose a country, the second player would choose two countries, the third player would choose a second country. The third country that each received would be determined randomly from the three remaining. And for the one that was not controlled by either player, we could use a method known in some Diplomacy variants, where the players write orders (say, five of them?) for the units of the uncontrolled country. They can allocate all five (identical) orders to one unit or spread them amongst the units. If a unit received a majority of the same order then it would execute that order. Of course, you could go further and do that for all three countries that the players had not themselves selected.

How long would this game take the play? I should think it would hit that magic 60 to 90 minute length that is commonly desired nowadays in wargames, if not to the victory criterion then certainly to a point where one player resigns. It would be quicker, of course, if you had some electronic method of giving orders/moving the pieces. Handwriting orders for two or three countries takes a while.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Barbarian and the Baby

(This was written for my Worlds of Design column at ENWorld.org, but was rejected by both outgoing and incoming editors, because they avoid any discussion that might compare genders.)

I read a long discussion recently that started with a GM asking others how to cope with a player who wanted to be a female barbarian fighter who carried her newborn baby along with her at all times, including adventures.


A major point of RPGs is that they DO relate to the real world - they are not abstract. How does anyone think that a warrior could do this without the baby dying soon? Even if the fighter somehow managed to protect the baby in melee (yeah, right), the first area effect spell that caused damage would kill the baby with its one hit point. (If you’ve ever had the old D&D familiar with its two hit dice, you know that sooner or later as you rise in levels the familiar is going to be turned into a popsicle or a burnt marshmallow. At least you didn’t lose hit points permanently when that happened. My original MU character lost three by ninth level and chose not to have any more.)

Your response depends on whether your campaign is a game or a playground. If it’s the latter, you might want to accommodate extremely unusual requests of players, because there’s no danger of actually losing a game. And “all about me” is part of the package. If it’s a game, then the barbarian’s desire is a nonstarter.

Some players wisely pointed out that the player who wanted to do this was going to be a big problem in general, and would probably be very unhappy when the baby inevitably was killed.

As any student of history knows, female fighters in the world of melee (pre-gunpowder) were vanishingly rare. Even with the “great equalizer” of the gun, they have been extremely rare until quite recently. (Effective bows through most of history required a lot of strength and size for use, no substitute for guns.) This has nothing to do with females lacking courage or killer instinct, as anyone knows who watches some women’s professional boxing or MMA matches. It’s a matter of two things: women are much smaller than men on average, and their hormones don’t produce dense muscle the way men’s do. There’s a reason why there are weight classes in combat sports, because the bigger and inevitably stronger person almost always beats the smaller person if of roughly equal skill. In other words, size matters a lot and brawn wins out in a melee world.

Aside from the problem of physical capability, there’s second reason. Until recently it was difficult for a woman to have sex and consistently avoid pregnancy. A pregnant woman is an easy target for physical violence. Furthermore, after pregnancy someone has to take care of the children, who will depend on women’s milk for a year or even two after birth. The legendary Amazons solved the problem by having no men around and no children. But the Amazons never existed. Moderns solve the problem with contraceptives and baby formula, both fairly recent inventions.

I don’t run “all about me” campaigns, I run games that are semi-military and mission-based. So it would be easy for me to cope with someone like this. I’d tell them first that the baby would certainly die. Second, the barbarian fighter would realize this and refuse to carry a baby along even if the player wanted to (no, players can’t make their characters do “anything”). Third, the other characters (not necessarily players) would realize that the baby would jeopardize the party in many ways (especially if they needed to be stealthy) and refuse to have anything to do with it or its mother. And if those didn’t persuade, I would Just Say No. Every GM has to Just Say No at one point or another or the campaign will become a brain-fever playground as players do whatever they want, however little sense it may make. I draw the line sooner than some people do.

Remarkably enough, some of the respondents actually tried to think of ways to avoid the death of the baby: for example, having the baby and the mother somehow share hit points and armor. You must be kidding! Why make up bogus rules just to accommodate this peculiar (and wholly unrealistic) desire? But if you like “All about Me” campaigns, if you like playgrounds, or if you have some other reason to disagree with me, as always I’m describing what I do, not prescribing what you should do.

For a lengthy discussion of the biological differences between men and women that affect athletic performance, see some of the answers (by both male and female) to this Quora question:
Equality is legal and social, not physical.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Recent screencasts/videos

Recent screencasts/videos mid-July ‘18:

Nuts and Bolts: Analysis Paralysis, What it is and How to Avoid it: http://youtu.be/oMQUO_o3YGk?a  via @YouTube

Top Eight Reasons for a Game to "Shine": http://youtu.be/vpR_ybGCWDQ?a  via @YouTube

About the Channel: What's a "Shorty"? Something like this.: http://youtu.be/s4yQEMI8ScY?a  via @YouTube

Confusions of Game Design: Intuitive versus Familiar: http://youtu.be/sE_yC5OQa-I?a  via @YouTube

Game design: art, engineering, science, all three?: http://youtu.be/CQHV9SAeTYk?a  via @YouTube

What to watch out for in a game design contest: http://youtu.be/HxR6R-NdXM0?a  via @YouTube

How much unit differentiation is needed?: http://youtu.be/ZV7BqGsEgsw?a  via @YouTube

Short, deep gameplay, simple: you can have two out of three.: http://youtu.be/gXKVQQpnRwc?a  via @YouTube

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Recent Screencasts videos) May 2018

Recent screencasts May 2018 (previous list is at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2017/11/recent-screencasts-video.html, Nov ’17)
I rarely get around to posting individual links to my "Game Design" YouTube channel here, so I decided to list the most recent screencasts instead. Because there are so many (25) I’m not including the descriptions.
‏Confusions of Game Design: Context is not Modeling: http://youtu.be/cpowGrSc5Q0?a 
Dice: when to use them in a design, when not to: http://youtu.be/_bfflXCO9cw?a 
Part 2: 10 "Need to Knows" about RPG design: http://youtu.be/rStyeHv0BqQ?a 
 Pt 1, 10 "Need to Knows" about Role-Playing Game design: http://youtu.be/WFkB93QobgA?a 
How important are formal game reviews, part 2: http://youtu.be/ldHbTIwuHXE?a 
‏How important are formal game reviews, part 1: http://youtu.be/IyocARXjxq0?a 
Must games be fair?: http://youtu.be/sDVdl1eSXbQ?a 
‏The Need for Imagination in Game Play - and Other Entertainment: http://youtu.be/--utMVPI3k0?a 
‏CCG, TCG, LCG, Expandable Card Game - what are differences?: http://youtu.be/OnP5WUXBOgE?a 
10 "Need to Knows" about History: http://youtu.be/Gvp7oRau8T8?a 
Sunk Cost Fallacy can "Sink" Game Developers: http://youtu.be/Z4zQod2PuHc?a 
‏Is there an ideal level of chance randomness in games? Of course not: http://youtu.be/ORcDdhnyWlg?a 
‏Nine "Need to Knows" about (Strategic) Wargame Design: http://youtu.be/6gMG6OCbX0E?a 
RPGs: Meaningless Quests vs Missions that Matter: http://youtu.be/zG26_M5FPIk?a 
Six reasons why wargames have plummeted in popularity: http://youtu.be/EOBM3JD-sno?a 
Conspiracy theories are nonsense, part 2: http://youtu.be/2eXSv-JyHzs?a 
Conspiracy Theories are Nonsense, part 1: http://youtu.be/WK3VCL1LVFo?a 
Nuts & Bolts: The Worker Placement Mechanism: http://youtu.be/APQro4yXoss?a 
Gaming and the gambling instinct: http://youtu.be/wAPlz4yLHCI?a 
Violence in Games, part 2: http://youtu.be/X_FGDhKGsmI?a 
Violence in Games, Part 1: http://youtu.be/pstA6z2pNoE?a 
Crashing Suns Design Notes: http://youtu.be/48xXOY4Hnpk?a 
Nut & Bolts: Dead Cards and Losing a Turn: http://youtu.be/FoloOCKdeOc?a 
"Hasting 1066" Game Design Notes: http://youtu.be/5MfP7cb3GeM?a 
What part of play, is games?: http://youtu.be/b2CB2siLhbA?a 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Formal Game Reviewing

(This was written for ENWorld, and appeared there recently.)

Formal Game Reviewing

(I read a review at ENWorld that reminded me that many reviewers of games dont quite know what theyre doing! I reviewed games and related materials for Dragon and White Dwarf a long time ago, but almost never have the time to do so these days. Ive modified a handout I created over the years for various students (college and grad, computer or game development disciplines) to whom I assigned a game or book review.  Maybe this will help.  LP)

You have to play a game before you can review it. I have a great deal of experience with some kinds of games, but I will not review a game I have not played. Some years ago I gave my impressions of a Britannia-like game that I owned, but as I had not played it, I was careful to say it was not a review, it was more about design, because I wasnt familiar with the details of the gameplay itself. In the end, its the gameplay that counts.

(Ive encountered video game development teachers who graded student-made games on the basis of how good they were (or worse, fun) without (of course) having the time to play them. I just laughed. I graded primarily on the process of making the game, and sometimes seeing them tested, because I didnt have time to play dozens of games.)

Always keep your audience in mind when you write anything. Your audience for a review is not yourself: usually its someone who enjoys playing games but is not a hard-core gamer. (Does that describe you? Probably not.) This is, of course, the bulk of the gaming market.

The objective of any review is simple.  It should let the reader know whether he or she would like to read the book, see the movie, listen to the music, buy (or only rent) the game, and so forth. The review doesnt exist to make the reviewer look good, or to advance the reviewers agenda.

A formal review is not just opinion. Unless youre a well-known reviewer, readers dont care about your opinions because they dont know you. (I read enough Roger Ebert reviews to know what he preferred, so his opinion meant something to me. But that was Roger Ebert.) No, you have to explain WHY you think this or that about the game. Without that, youre just blathering like a typical yahoo on some comment site. Remember, comments on the Internet are subject to Sturgeons Law (90% [or even 99%] of everything is shit). (Varies by site and topic, of course.)

Any review, whether of movies, games, books, or magazines, ought to answer three questions:

          What is the author/creator trying to accomplish?  (Usually includes, who is the audience)
          How well did he or she or they do it?
          Was it worth doing? (which must include, Why it was or wasnt)

You've read or heard movie reviews that concentrate on the first point (the reviewer may recapitulate the entire plot), on the second point (ooh-ing and ah-ing about how good the direction or technical effects were--or how bad), or on the third point ("what a dumb idea" or "socially relevant!"). 

Which point(s) require the most detailed treatment is a decision the reviewer must make according to the nature of the work being reviewed. 

The most common mistake a reviewer makes is to try to recapitulate the entire contents/characteristics of the game in a short time.  Don't.  Listings of this kind are rarely interesting. It's not only hard to do, it's often boring, and it might annoy the person reading the review if you give things away.

The second most common mistake (amongst students), is to be very explicit and compartmental about these three questions.  Dont list a question, then answer it, then list the next question, then answer it.  The idea is to answer the questions in the course of a discussion without drawing attention to the fact that you are answering these questions.  When you read or hear a good movie review, the questions are usually answered, but youre not explicitly aware of it as you read or listen, are you? Reviews are essays, writing with a purpose, and as essays they need to be enjoyable reading.

  • Who is your audience?
  • Facts and reasons, not just opinions
  • Answer the Three Questions
  • Write a good essay that people can enjoy reading

                   Items often included in a review:

Title, author/developer, publisher, date of publication.

Background of the developer (and publisher).

Quotations from the backstory/setting.

What are the Best & Worst points of the game?

After I revised the above I discovered that I’d written a piece about reviewing specifically for gamers, published in The Space Gamer #45 in the early 80s (“Notes for Reviewers”). It’s longer and more specific than this. It will be in my books of reprints of my articles of yesteryear, sooner or later; or you can dig up that issue somewhere.

Lew Pulsipher