Thursday, September 16, 2010

What are we looking for when playing a (tabletop) game we have designed?

The past several days, despite a bout of flu when it’s still 90+ degrees highs outside, I have been playing for the first time a World War II naval development of my science fiction game Doomstar, which in turn descends ultimately from Stratego/l’Attaque. It uses a hexagonal board rather than squares, pieces can ordinarily move two hexes (or more) in a straight line, fighters and bombers can take advantage of aircraft carriers and islands to change direction and move further, pieces have variable strength, and in other ways it’s really not a lot like traditional Stratego.

I’ve asked myself what I’m looking for as I play the game solo. The answer is I’m looking for interesting decisions, lots of them. If the game has interesting decisions to make, then maybe it will be an interesting and enjoyable game for others. In this respect I’m kind of old-fashioned, as most of the games I design are strategy games.

But this led me to ask myself, what other kinds of things might one be looking for in early plays of the game?

How about “telling an interesting story”? Keeping in mind that history is a story, this may be what the simulation wargame designers are looking for, and part of what I look for in historical games like Britannia. But I was thinking more of the people who play games to enjoy the stories. This is particularly true of role-playing games, and of a great many video games. I personally don’t play games to be told a story any more than I play games to learn history, yet I know there are people who play games to learn history or to be told stories.

How about “lots of laughs” as another thing that the designer might look for? This would be particularly true for party games, and for many family games.

“Opportunities to mess with/screw your friends” is another objective. There’s a whole category of “screwage” games where this is very important.

How about “opportunities to manipulate or convince the other players of something”, which might be close to the hearts of Diplomacy players and negotiators in general. But even poker involves subtle forms of manipulation.

“Opportunities to learn” would be important for “serious” games.

“Personal involvement in the story” is a hallmark of many role-playing games. This is quite different from being told a story, which is what I was referring to earlier, this is being involved in the story that you as the players write. RPG’s can go either way. The referee can use the RPG as a way to tell a story, or the referee can set up situations in the RPG so that players can write their own stories, in effect.

“A sense of mystery” might be something else one could look for in a game. This could be an exploration game, it could be a deduction game, or it could be a detective/investigative game. Many puzzle-like games will include mystery.

Some video game designers make games to engender particular emotions, or to fulfill certain kinds of dreams. They would then be looking for something quite specific. This is much more difficult to do in tabletop games, other than RPGs. (RPGs are the bridge between the tabletop and modern video games.)

I’m sure there’s much more to be said about this.

No comments: