Sunday, September 21, 2008

Game buyers want the advantage of your game design skills

As an exercise ("challenge") in my beginning game design class I gave each group a large vinyl chess board and some "Clout Fantasy" pieces. And I said "Make a game". I also had a great array of other kinds of pieces, in case a group just didn't get along with the Clout pieces. The vinyl boards can be written on with wet-erasable markers, so some variety can be imposed on the square array.

I was watching one group play their game, which involved troops retrieving pieces to bring back to their home spot. It was a little like capture the flag, but with multiple flags, and each side had their own set of flags to capture.

At some point I remarked that I couldn't figure out the pattern of "flag" placement, but it seemed to be working pretty well. The group admitted to me that their method of placement was to drop the pieces on the board at game start and let them scatter! My jaw dropped.

If all players started in the same place then random would be OK, as it wouldn't give an advantage to one player. But in this game, with set starting positions, a random setup could be so one-sided that there'd hardly be any reason to play the game, the winner would be fore-ordained.

Think about this. If you're the professional designer, you should work out a set of excellent and interesting positions for the flags, rather than depend on chance placement. Why trust enjoyment of your game to chance? Furthermore, why would a player, if he or she had purchased your game, want to trust their enjoyment to chance rather than to the skills of a professional designer?

Yes, it's more work for the designer, making up and recording the patterns of placement, playtesting each one multiple times. But the result will be a better game.

In other words, you're the designer, use your brain, let the buyer take advantage of your skills and smarts, don't rely on chance to make for a good game.

(If you prefer a small element of chance, you can subdivide a board into areas and randomly place (by die roll, not by dropping) the flag within the area. I have designed a game where I've done something like that. The additional variety increases replayability without giving too much advantage to one player over another.)

1 comment:

Tj'ièn Twijnstra said...

Hi There,

Just discovered your blog (via, seems like a great source of theory, experience and inspiration. I'm going to come back more that's for sure.

Keep up the good work :-D