Saturday, February 03, 2018

Should Games Cope with Resignations and other forms of Quitting?

This is a very good question sent to me by someone I didn’t know. He’d designed a “Civ Lite” game for 5 or 6, where he’d written rules for resignations. But he was told that was “outdated” by an experienced designer.

I don’t believe in “outdated” rules or concepts in game design, that’s pointless snobbishness rather than clear thinking. What’s good is good whether it’s old or new, and it always depends on the situation. If it’s bad, it doesn’t matter if it’s new or not.

If a game can be designed so that a player can leave the game, whether it’s an official resignation or for “life reasons” (emergencies, rides, etc.), that should make it a more flexible, and consequently better, game.

Similarly, if a game can be designed to allow people to join in after it starts then that should make it a better game. I have some simple games using cards that allow the latter, in fact someone recently came into one soon after the start and won.

But I don’t think I have any game with rules for what happens when someone quits. I do have games (other than Britannia) with submission rules so that a player who would otherwise be wiped out can continue to participate in the game, and perhaps if things fall his or her way, can do fairly well in the end. I’ve seen it happen.

Go back far enough, and resignation was an option in a two player game only, but most games were two player games. If a player thought he or she wasn’t going to succeed it made sense to resign, end the game, and play something else rather than continue futilely. But in a game for more than two, players are usually expected to do the best they can for the entire game. In that sense of expectation, a resignation rule is irrelevant for a game with more than two players.

I confess I see it my duty as a gamer to fight to the bitter end rather than give up, and from that point of view you could say a resignation rule should not be written into a game because it encourages players to give up. But that doesn’t cover the life reasons, which I think are more common than a simple desire to quit.

I encourage rules that cope with the player leaving the game for whatever reason, when there are many players in the game - but I wouldn’t in those rules encourage the mentality that if you are not doing well it’s okay to quit, quite the opposite. Unfortunately, many players who feel
“trapped in a bad situation” and want to quit are simply weak players and don’t realize how many options are available to them that might bring them back into contention. Another way to say this would be that many players are lazy, but that’s the nature of contemporary hobby game players.

For me, a serious game is not “an engine designed to convert effort into fun” (my correspondent paraphrasing someone else). This is an attitude common to the Age of Comfort, when no one ever wants to be “uncomfortable”. There is more to it than that. You might be able to say that about a casual game, and very likely about a party game. But in serious games there’s more than mere fun involved. And expectations are different.

(Keep in mind, I don’t myself use the word fun, because it means such different things to different people. Some games are intended to be funny-fun, but others certainly are not.)

“Resignation” rules are relatively easy in incorporate into a game with low player-to-player interaction such as most Eurostyle games, where people are really solving their own puzzles with little or no reference to other players. It’s likely to be much more difficult when the game is a high player-to-player interaction game where what players do depends heavily on what other players do, as in wargames especially.

Unfortunately, quitting when things aren’t going well is a feature of modern life. I’d say my correspondent did well to include rules to cope with someone leaving the game, but I ask everyone to encourage the players to stick with the game all the way to the end rather than quit. Don’t encourage quitters, as players aren’t likely to become better players if they quit when things don’t go their way. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Triptych 11

Three subjects in one blog post

•    Where did we start out with in games?
•    "Why should designers avoid these two extremely popular mechanisms?
•    Catch-up Mechanisms - Why?

Where did we start out with in games? I suspect games started with players using their physical bodies, for example, in wrestling or running. Wrestling is the ultimate direct conflict between two sides. Running is the ultimate parallel competition, if you're running in separate lanes, because you can't do anything to hinder or help the opposition.

The first games, then, were likely "athleticware", depending primarily on athletic prowess and skill.

Games of chance probably preceded board games. Even where dice are unknown you can have a game of chance, as long as you can find objects that are two-sided that can be flipped or thrown. For example, you can throw a bunch of sea shells or throw a bunch of stones, you can even split a stick lengthwise and then throw a group of sticks to see whether they come up flat side or round side. We know from some games that use these methods that the ancients were poor at probability in relation to these two-sided questions. At some point someone invented a boardgame, if only to put holes in the ground for some form of mancala. Card games (and tile games beginning with dominoes) came vastly later.

So the ancient Greek Olympics involved everything ranging from direct competition to entirely parallel competition, but it was all using one's body. In that respect. These are athleticware, as opposed to thoughtware/brainware which occurs when you play a board game where good thinking is your path to success.

With video games, we’ve veered back toward athleticware (especially in AAA, not so much in casual).


Comment on a forum "Why should designers avoid these two extremely popular mechanisms? (Worker placement and deck-building)"

Why would I use a mechanism simply because it's popular? Especially a mechanism I dislike personally? I adapt mechanisms to the situation the game represents, or I devise my own mechanisms. That is, I might design several games using the same base system that I've devised, but I don't go out of my way to use a mechanism devised by someone else (though I have nothing against that, I just don't intend to do it). Long ago I did adopt other systems (Stratego, though quite modified). Not these days.

Now, there are SO many worker placement games, and SO many deck-building games, why would I want to make yet another one?

Many years ago (when it was still new) I did consider adapting deck-building to a Zombie apocalypse-style game, but it didn't work for me.

Comment on a forum: "But a board game should not be too punishing either. I despise board games where you just can't catch up when someone has an early lead, and where you already know far before the end that you will lose."

"Should" is a slippery word, different people have different opinions. Nor does every game need to be the same. So "punishing" mistakes is more appropriate in some games, less in others.

It's more often puzzles/parallel competitions where you can't catch up, than opposed games. Because in the former you have no strong way to affect the other players.

Nonetheless, there will be times when one player will play much better than others (or be much luckier): should that player be punished by having to put up with (from their point of view) bogus catch-up mechanisms?

Lew Pulsipher