Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interesting quotes?

I read the following quote and then tried to find an analog for video games: “In a G-rated film, the hero gets the girl, in an R-rated film, the villain gets the girl, and in an X-rated film, everybody gets the girl.” - Michael Douglas

Here's the best I've been able to come up with: "In an E rated game, no one bleeds, in a T rated game the bad guys and bystanders bleed a little, in an M rated game, everyone bleeds a lot."

Monday, September 27, 2010


I am struck by the difference between the video game industry and tabletop game industry with respect to game "post-mortems". A postmortem examining what went right and what went wrong in the production of a video game is very common. I don't recall ever seeing something called a post-mortem for tabletop game, and rarely see anything like one.

Why the difference? Is it because for tabletop games you keep testing it until you've got it right? Whereas in video games usually constrained by a deadline and almost never have enough time to "get it right". But that doesn't prevent us from producing a lot of weak and sometimes just plain awful tabletop games. Maybe the difference in production budgets has a lot more to do with it. Publishing a small or even medium-sized tabletop game is a matter of five or low six figures of dollars. Only Hasbro or a collectible card game publisher is likely to spend as much as $1 million to produce a tabletop game. Well-known video games now cost in the tens of millions. When that much money is being spent, a postmortem can save a lot of money on the next game. Further, video games are usually the work of a group of people, whereas the design of a tabletop game is usually the work of one person with the assistance of playtesters, and the entire production only involves a few artists and perhaps an editor as well.

It is likely that the major topic for a postmortem of a tabletop game would be production errors or ways that the publisher change the game for better or worse. Designers would say, usually worse.

In fact, I suppose this reflects the difference that the video game industry manufactures complicated software, while the tabletop industry manufactures (mostly) simple games.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I have much-belatedly begun to read George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series.

You know the novelist has succeeded in his craft when the characters take on a life of their own in the mind of the reader, as though they were real people, the reader thinking about how a character might react in a particular situation (not in the book(s), perhaps imagining conversations with the character, certainly imagining what might happen next in the book(s), and so forth.

Is there any equivalent to that, in games, other than in (perhaps) a heavily story-driven game? I can't think of one.

(A few days later)
I thought of an answer at least where strategy games are concerned. If the player, when he isn't playing the game, spends time thinking about strategies, what he can do, what his opponents can do, playing the game in his mind, then that's more or less the equivalent of what I was talking about above.

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

4th Edition D&D

Recently I went to a local game shop to recruit playtesters and play in a Pathfinder game. But that game wasn’t coming together, and I had a chance to play a form of 4th edition D&D with ready-made characters. So I decided to try it. This was part of Red Box Day, and we were playing an adventure that was only available to be run that day through official channels, Sun Peak Temple or something like that.

I bought the 4th edition rules not long after they came out, and as I read them I saw that it was a game that encourages cooperation, quite the opposite of any of the 3.x editions of D&D. It’s just about impossible to have a super soldier character the way you can in three.x. There are no one-man armies. In that respect it’s a return to 1st edition. Mechanically it has very little in common with previous versions of D&D, to the point that I have said it may be a good game, but it’s not D&D. My experience of playing confirmed that. While our party of six did not have a warlord, which is one of the types that most encourages cooperation, five of the six players were relatively cooperative.

The sixth was a 16-year-old (“nearly 17" he said, birthday three months hence) who played the game as though it was 3rd edition, that is, looking for every advantage he could get, trying for head shots (which don’t exist in 4th edition), trying to do ridiculous actions, constantly talking to the referee over the other players (my only criticism of the referee as if he didn’t stop that), and not caring a bit whether he was screwing up the enjoyment for the rest of us. Very “Me” generation. Not long into the adventure he pushed one of our prisoners into a burning tree when no one else was looking except another prisoner, and then tried to pretend he hadn’t done it, evidently believing that Good equals stupid. (At this point the referee confirmed that he had become evil.) We probably should have killed him then but we were softhearted. At another juncture, just after we spied through a big set of doors and had seen much opposition, and were trying to decide what to do about it, he charged down the corridor and opened another set of double doors thus releasing a large quantity of undead.

Which only proves that the mechanics of a role-playing game cannot really force somebody to behave in a certain manner.

In other respects the game is somewhat like World of Warcraft, lots of levels that people can go up quickly, lots and lots of options–three Players Handbooks so far, each with lots of character classes–but the fundamental essence of the game is cooperation which is exactly what I want in a role-playing game.

But only time will tell whether I try it anymore. I have gone back to reading the first Players Handbook at least.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Visual artists are rarely game designers--why?

A couple years ago I ran across an English university that advertised a video game design degree, but I quickly discovered that only one or two of the classes were in game design, and the rest in art and 3-D modeling. The school claimed that this was a program that would lead to game design opportunities. My reaction was, first, I can't think of anybody who comes from the art side to be a game designer although I'm sure there must be some, and second, that "game design" is a "sexy" term that some schools use even though they're not intending to teach game design. I have often seen that. And a later reaction was (in a Rodney Dangerfield voice), "game design don't get no respect" as a separate set of skills.

Recently, I was thinking about why so few game designers seem to come from the art side. I suppose there must be some, but most come from either programming or from writing or producing or working in other miscellaneous functions such as QA, in other words neither from art nor programming.

And I realized that game design is largely left brained rather than right brained, more akin to programming than to art. Game design is about critical thinking and about problem solving. In a very large sense game design is a game in itself, a strategic game, not a "haha" game or a beer and pretzels game or an interactive puzzle. Yes there is creativity involved, but it is mostly a creativity related to problem solving where people are a big component of the "problem", not a creativity related to art. Now I'm not saying that games are not art, don't get me wrong, because I think it's clear that they are art, even though the players don't care.

Having said that, one might suppose that some of the games that are the sole design of the designer(s), that become very successful, for example Pictionary or Blokus, may derive more from an art mentality than the successful games that are designed by people who design lots of games. Maybe.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Brief review: Paid to Play

Paid to Play by Keith A. Meyers. Self-published through iUniverse, Inc. 2008. 89 pages 9" by 6" (yes, a very small book). About $20 as I recall,click the article title for the link. Also, there is another book of the same name, except different subtitle, about video games. Don't get confused.

As the subtitle indicates, this book is not about how to design a game but about the process that game design is a part of what you start with ideas and end up with a published game, whether license to a publisher or self published.

The author has worked in the game industry for more than 20 years sometimes for publishers, sometimes for retailers, now for himself as a designer. I first encountered him through a newsletter he used to publish for game inventors.

That word “inventors” is important because he talks primarily about the toy and game industry (where designers are often called inventors) than about the hobby game industry. In particular the games that he talks about are very simple, and that may be why he feels he can wait until the game is essentially set before he writes the rules. My experience with hobby games is that I’m writing the rules earlier and earlier in the process as I go along.

The books I am writing are almost entirely about the process of game design itself and don’t say much about marketing, and this little book would be a good complement. Another important observation is that it’s about tabletop games and toys, not about electronic/video games and toys. There are very few books written typically about tabletop industry.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Observations about puzzles and games

A friend is designing a post-apocalyptic game. After a game club session (there are references to games played during that session) I sent him this advice:

Something to recognize as a big difference between some games and other games, is the fundamental nature of the game, is it a game or is it a puzzle? A puzzle is something that you can solve, and once you’ve solved it then there is not much point in continuing to play. That’s obvious with formal puzzles, but it’s also the case with many Eurostyle games, especially the ones that are more or less multiplayer solitaire. Theoretically, chess is solvable but it’s just too complicated for humans or even at this point computers to figure out. Computers often play well because they use brute force to check all the possibilities and pick the one that’s most likely to come out well in the long run. Brute force is not really solving the puzzle, it’s just trying all the possibilities, it’s trial and error. But if, once you have solved the problem through trial and error, you can reproduce that solution again and again without further trial, then you have effectively solved the puzzle.

Ascension appears to be a game that may be solvable. [Ascension is a new Dominion-style game that claims to have all the fun of a CCG in one box. But it looked pretty dull to me, because there was almost no player interaction.]

In a game as opposed to a puzzle, there is no set solution and much of that is because you have human opposition. Even the best video games, which rely on the computer to provide an equivalent of human opposition, more or less fail to achieve that goal. People play against the computer, and then they go online and play against other people and find out that the people are much tougher opponents. But the traditional video game is actually a solvable puzzle rather than an attempt to provide a computer opponent. There are exceptions like WarCraft III and Civilization, which are essentially designed to be multiplayer games, and that’s multiplayer in the sense of multiple sides, not just lots of people on two different sides.

Defenders of the Realm is a kind of puzzle but in this case you have players collectively trying to solve the puzzle, which “collectivity” is something that’s very attractive to the Millennial generation. Instead of a computer providing the opposition, the draw of the cards provides the opposition. In effect the cards take the place of the computer program.

Many Eurostyle games are actually puzzles. And that is probably one reason why people don’t play them very many times (with exceptions, of course) before they move on to something else, they’ve figured out the puzzle and they are done. A game that cannot be solved by people, such as chess, or Britannia, is one that people can play 500 times and still enjoy, because the major interest in the game is figuring out the other players and how to outdo the other players. In a Euro game the purpose is rarely to figure out the other players and outdo the other players.

Another way to put this is, in puzzle-style Euro and video games players “play the system”; in “real” games the players “play the other players,” though they have to be good at the system as well.

So for your post-apocalyptic game, do you want it to be a puzzle or do you want it to be a game? What you described to me was a form of puzzle, not a game, because there was so little interaction with the other players. And I’d say that’s the key to the differentiation between a puzzle and a game, how much interaction is there with other human beings? Or with something that’s attempting to mimic a human being (a computer).


Friday, September 03, 2010

"Industry Hopefuls: Prepare Intelligently"

This originally appeared on GameCareerGuide on 7 July 09. You can click on the article title for the GCG version. I'm posting my original text. While it was written with video games in mind, much of it applies to tabletop games as well.

Hundreds of thousands of young people want to be part of the game industry. Yet relatively few succeed. There are many reasons for that, but the most common one is, those people don’t prepare themselves properly or adequately.

I’m not here to tell you what to do, I’m here to make you aware of possible consequences of your choice of actions, based on my experience with aspiring game creation students. Some of what I have to say is indisputable fact, some is my take on “how the world works” and cannot be proved with available statistics or references. You decide what it’s worth.

While this is written primarily for people who want to “break into” the video game industry, especially as level/game designers, video game teachers ought to read it as well.

When you’re trying to attain a goal, you need to determine your intermediate goals: the things you need to know, the attitudes you need, what people expect of you. Here are three sets of three intermediate goals that ought to be important to you:

Three things you should want for yourself, for the good of your long-term future:
• Prepare yourself so that you can obtain non-game industry jobs as well
• If you’re going to a college or university—a good idea in most cases--get a real, and useful, degree
• When you learn game design, learn game design, not game production

Let's add the three things the video game industry wants from “new blood”:
• Ability to work in teams
• Ability to think critically (“critical thinking”)
• Understanding of the pipeline process

Finally there are three things every employer wants from you:
• Good written communication skills
• Good oral communication skills
• Ability to work in a team (yes, that again)

Finally, the tenth item, which may be the most important: develop a productive orientation.

I’m going to concentrate on the first three items and the last, as they’re the most specific to what you decide to do with your life in connection with video games. Let’s be as organized here as I hope you’ll be in your quest, and take these ten needs in order.

Three things you should want for yourself, for the good of your life:

1. Prepare yourself so that you can find non-game industry jobs as well

Ask yourself, are you certain this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, to work in the video game industry? Even if you say “yes”, I say, you can’t know that. On average, people stay in the game industry five or six years and then move on: why are you so different? Individuals tend to move through several careers, not just one. Heck, a great many people change their minds in college about what they want to do, before they get into the industry they thought they wanted.

So you need to plan for the possibility that you’ll move on to something else. This means you’ve got to learn skills that apply to other fields, and just as important, you have to have a degree that will help you get jobs in all those fields where degrees count for a great deal.

As many people have observed, you don’t need a degree to work in the game industry, yet degrees tend to open doors even there. Unlike most industries now, where a degree is virtually a necessity, game studios care what you can do, now what degree you have. If you teach yourself programming (as Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic, did), and can do the work, you can be hired. Yet a degree is quite desirable if you choose to move outside the game industry.

Widely-applicable skills
If you want to be a programmer, concentrate on learning programming, not just game programming. C++ is most commonly used in games and in general use, along with some C# and Java. Some university programming curricula now concentrate on Java, but Java is rarely used for games except on cell phones.

The ideal would be to find a “computer science” program (which is close to, but not the same as, computer programming) that offers a minor or concentration in game programming, as at NC State University in Raleigh, NC.

This means a four-year college is more likely for you than a two-year school, but remember that in most states you can start at a community/junior college and do better when you transfer to a university than if you started there. The important thing is to make sure you know which of your classes will transfer to the university, and which may not. My state (North Carolina) has this formally organized between the community college system and the state university system, others may be different.

A two-year programming degree is good if you attend the right school. Yet outside the game industry, people with four-year degrees are much more likely to get programming jobs.

A BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) is a recognized route for artists. Sometimes this is associated with, or primarily, a “design” curriculum (artistic design, not game design). Once again, a program that has a game-related concentration may be the most marketable approach. (An example is at NC State—no, I am not associated with that school!)

Yet art is primarily a matter of good practice. Artists draw, draw, and draw some more—and draw a variety, not the same thing (such as anime characters) over and over. If you don’t love to draw, if you don’t do it regularly, are you really interested in a job where you do art all day? If you love to draw, you may choose a two-year school and then, if you’re good enough, try to market yourself to the game industry.

Game Designer
If you want to be a game designer, there’s no direct “real-world” analog for it. History, psychology, physics, math, there are all kinds of degrees held by well-known designers.

School Reputation and Quality
As Jill Duffy pointed out in “Does my School Suck” (, the reputation of your school is unlikely to matter to potential employers in the game industry. Game companies want to know what you can DO, not what school you went to.

However, in the long run the reputation of your school may matter to you. That long run comes if you decide to leave the game industry and go into older, more established fields. A college-accredited degree from a well-known school is going to get much more respect than, say, an online degree from one of the new schools that specialize in such things. And a game-specialized trade school degree may not count for anything at all (see below).

Remember also that school “ranking”, the kind of thing you see in magazines and journals, is probably based on either the opinion of the writer (which may be quite accurate, of course) or on the quantity of research done by the school’s faculty. That’s research, not teaching results or success of graduates. Research is easy to measure.

School quality is very important, but even harder to determine. Two schools can offer classes with identical descriptions, but provide two very different experiences. This depends on intent, on the skill of the instructors, on the administration, on the students, and so forth. This is such a large subject that it will have to be covered in a separate article.

Many people like to say, “college is what you make of it”. To some extent that’s true, but if you choose an unsuitable college, it will be as though you have one arm (and maybe one leg) tied behind your back.

2. If you’re going to a college or university—a good idea in most cases--get a real, and useful, degree

Accreditation. You can buy “degrees” from European schools with prestigious-sounding names, but what are they worth? Accreditation is what determines whether a degree is taken seriously by others.

A degree is useful only insofar as it is properly accredited. This is an obscure subject to the average student, but very important in the long run. I recall talking about accreditation with a game design and art student at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design), which is accredited as a college, unlike many art schools. Had she been concerned about it? No, but fortunately her mother was, and so she’ll earn a “college” degree rather than a “trade school” degree.

So what is college accreditation? Regional accreditation looks at the educational institution (college or K12) as a whole, not at the game-related curriculum specifically. A school must meet standards in finance, health, faculty credentials, facilities, administrative processes, and more to achieve accreditation. There are six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting institutions of higher education within their regional boundaries—look for one of these when you visit a college’s Web site:
• Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools - MSA
• New England Association of Schools and Colleges
• Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges - NASC
• North Central Association of Colleges and Schools - NCA
• Southern Association of Colleges and Schools -SACS
• Western Association of Schools and Colleges

These are private groups in this country that “accredit” schools, both K12 schools and colleges. Accreditation is voluntary, but the accrediting bodies wield a great deal of influence. See for the US government’s financial-aid-related take on accreditation. Chea ( provides a private umbrella view of accreditation.

It’s important to understand that there are different kinds of accreditation. Not every school that offers a degree is accredited, and a trade school accreditation is very different from a college accreditation. Accreditation matters when you see a job that “requires bachelor’s degree”, because this usually means “bachelor’s degree from a college accredited school”, not from a school like “Coastal California University”. The latter is “approved” by the state of California, but has no accreditation worth speaking of. Consequently, you can get a Ph.D. there, but to knowledgeable people it isn’t worth a thing (see and ) The name of the school means nothing. Any school can call itself a “university” with state approval, if that. Coastal California “University” is, once again, an example.

Specialized trade schools such as DigiPen and Full Sail are trade-school accredited. A degree from a trade school only counts in the trade it covers: it is not a “real” degree for many other purposes. (This depends on the potential employer’s standards, of course.)

A trade school degree definitely limits you in pursuing further education. Examples: SCAD offers a master’s degree in game design, and NC State has a masters in fine arts. In the world of colleges and universities, you cannot work on a master’s degree until you have a recognized (college accredited) bachelor’s degree, just as you cannot work on a bachelor’s degree until you have a recognized high school diploma or GED. Not surprisingly, then, I’m told by Professors Brenda Brathwaite and Tim Buie from the respective schools that students with degrees from trade schools cannot be accepted to those masters degree programs because they do not have properly accredited bachelors degrees. Period.

Is this “fair”? I’m not going to address the question, because reality is what counts, and those with a trade school degree cannot attain a college-accredited master’s degree—unless they go back to college first. You can’t say “but, but”. That’s the way it is. (Some trade schools now offer master’s degrees—but they’re not college-accredited, of course.)

Notice, I don’t say you’ll get a better education from a college-accredited school than from a trade school. Insofar as trade schools specialize, and prefer practitioners, they may offer more than most broad-based institutions. If you’re sure you’re going to work in the game field all your life, why not a trade school? But are you sure?

Make sure you get the facts. Predatory, fraudulent practices in education are not unusual, especially from private for-profit schools. The ridiculous ads suggesting that you can get a job in the game industry and play games all day are examples. See for one.

See for a news report about a for-profit college being sued for fraud. (This school does have a game related department, though it was not mentioned in this newscast.) Every experienced educator has encountered at least one student who thinks everything will be handed to him on a platter, and that student will be a failure regardless of what school he or she attends. You never know, in lawsuits such as this, how much is student self-delusion and how much deception by the school. The point is not about this particular school, it is about the predatory and deceptive practices that most definitely occur in 21st century education, and your duty to yourself to be wary.

Costs of school
We might also note that trade schools are rarely state-supported; hence, as with all private schools, they are much more expensive than state schools. For-profit schools are yet more expensive. Further, community/junior colleges are vastly less expensive than four-year schools. Roughly speaking, one year at a state school for a resident of the state, including room and board, runs around $11,000-$15,000 not counting books and incidental fees. (State-supported schools are usually much more expensive to students from out-of-state, than to state residents.)

My advice is to never consider attending a for-profit college.

Online “education”
Schools that claim that an online education is the equivalent of a seated-class education are blowing smoke (part of the proverbial “smoke and mirrors”). Given current technological limitations, online classes are generally the equivalent of teaching yourself from books. The interaction that gamers crave is very limited in an online class. An MIT spokesperson put it this way several years ago:

An MIT education happens in the classroom, by interacting with
other students and with faculty, not by reading some Web pages or
downloading some materials, or even watching a . . . lecture.

The major result of an online degree program is a piece of paper, not an education. For game industry purposes, the piece of paper is relatively unimportant. What you need is an education, however you get it. If you’re going to mostly teach yourself, why bother with the obstacles and expense of going to school? In other words, why bother with an online degree? If you just need a stimulus to study, by all means try online classes. But save a lot of money and take continuing education (non-degree) online classes, such as those offered through many colleges by Ed2Go (Ed2Go doesn’t offer directly—check your local community/junior college).

When I was an employer, I strongly discounted online degrees insofar as I had no idea who actually did the work. Most online schools and teachers simply ignore the possibility of cheating, though there are exceptions.

Finally, there are many "degree mills" in the online world, including some that are college accredited--the accreditation people know how much money online education is worth, and money governs education in 21st century America, so many of the standards applied to seated classes are ignored as soon as a class is called “distance”. At a degree mill you pay your money and you do a bit and you get a degree, but it's not good education.

See for an example of the ridiculous advertising sometimes associated with online programs.

3. When you learn game design, learn game design, not game production

Many game creation schools perpetuate the confusion between game design and game production. They call their curriculum “game design”, but no one on staff has a clue about game design, and what they actually teach is programming and (perhaps) art. In large part this is because the instructors don’t understand what game design actually is (never having successfully created a good, complete game). In this context, game design suffers from a lack of respect. "Oh, that's just kids' stuff, anyone can do/teach that." But would you choose someone who does not play an instrument to teach musical composition? Wouldn't you want the teacher to be a composer? Would you let someone who doesn't sculpt teach sculpture, or someone who doesn't paint teach painting? Then why would you have someone who not only doesn't design games, but has not been a lifelong gamer, teach game design? Yet it happens all over the country.

Fundamentally, there’s a misunderstanding that you can learn to be a game designer by memorizing facts and discussing theories and analyzing games. Game design is a hands-on occupation, and learning it should be hands-on, from start to finish, not just halfway through (until you have an electronic prototype).

As an example, at one college the second-in-sequence “Game Design” class, taught by non-designers, requires student groups to produce five video games (using Gamemaker, a fine simple tool) in a 16 week semester. Students struggle in that short time to produce an electronic prototype, usually getting it to work a day before it’s due. Students learn only the outer layer of the onion of game design, and that poorly. Hardly any “game design” is involved, and because students must go on to the next game, they miss out on the most vital part of game design, iteratively and incrementally testing and modifying the game prototype to make it worthwhile. Further, whoever is doing the programming ends up doing most of the work, and the general impression of the students is that working in groups “sucks.” It is a low-quality game production class, not a game design class.

Similarly, if you’re learning game design on your own, don’t get bogged down learning game production. It’s widely known among designers that you much more efficiently learn game design if you start with non-electronic games (see "Pulling the Plug: In Defense of Non-Digital Teaching and Learning" If you try to make electronic games, you’ll spend your time struggling to produce a working prototype instead of learning how to design games.

(Having said this, remember that hardly anyone is hired as a game designer, or even a level designer, right out of school. You probably need to have other skills that can get you a job in the industry. Time spent learning game production isn’t wasted, it just isn’t learning game design.)

[[This might be a good place to divide the article into two parts.]]

Now let's add the three things the video game industry wants from “new blood” such as school graduates:

4. Ability to work in teams

Before 1990, video games tended to be created by one person. Now, with very few exceptions, such games are created by teams, from half a dozen people for a casual game to more than a hundred for a AAA list game. The really big games are “designed” by committee, with contributions from everyone; the designer tends to be a person who gets everyone to work together and keep the original “vision” of the game in mind, rather than someone who comes up with all the ideas and solutions for changes and improvements.

If it’s a relatively small video game, and the designer has a strong personality, he will have a stronger influence on the game result than otherwise.

See Jill Duffy’s discussion of teamwork at, including the comments.

Students tend to dread working in groups in a classroom setting, and it’s certainly true that if everyone in the group isn’t on the same page, the result is unlikely to be good.

Student groups DO tend to make awful teams, because of lack of commitment: students aren’t always serious about their “work”, and they cannot get fired (at least, not until it’s too late for the team to succeed).

Voluntary groups are more likely to be successful, but if everyone isn’t being paid, and isn’t ultimately in jeopardy of being fired, there still can be a lack of long-term commitment.

Yet even in a game studio, some of the people you work with will be less than “stellar”. Yes, you will work with some outstanding people, but you can’t rely on that to get you through. You have to learn to work with “average” people. Yet this is no different than what anyone experiences in other industries, or in team sports. We all have heard that the team with the best teamwork, not the most talented players, usually wins. And we’ve all heard of star players who score a lot, but whose teams suffer for it.

On the other hand, one of the most bogus phrases heard in a typical businessplace is “he’s not a team player”, because it often means, “he won’t do what I want him to”, or “he won’t do some of my work”, or “I don’t like him”. Often the person making the accusation is the one who isn’t the team player. You have to learn to navigate through sometimes-choppy waters.

The key to any team is a “collegial” point of view, that the members care primarily about the success of the team, not about individual accolades or rewards.

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done. --Peter Drucker

5. Ability to think critically (“critical thinking”)

Critical thinking is a slippery idea, and Wikipedia will do as well as any other definition:

“Critical thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation. It includes possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense.”

“Critical thinking has its basis in intellectual criteria that go beyond subject-matter divisions and which include: clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness.”

So “critical” here is in the sense of inquisitive and evaluative, not in a negative sense of criticizing someone. Much of game creation, and especially of the iterative process of incrementally improving a game to make it worth publishing, requires strong critical thinking. The process of testing and modifying a game is much akin to the scientific method, controlled experimentation, hypothetical solutions, incremental results.

The game designer needs to have his brain in gear all the time. When playing games, he should be thinking about what works, what doesn’t, and why. He must keep his mind open to ideas at all times. He must think about how to improve his game even when (if) he enjoys playing it. The game can always be improved, we just come to a time when the improvement we can get isn’t worth the time it will take (the law of diminishing marginal returns).

“Fanboys” (or girls) will never make good game designers, as they typically praise a game or genre uncritically. Self-criticism is especially important. If you can’t recognize that your favorite mechanic just doesn’t fit, or just isn’t needed, then you won’t design good games. Self-indulgence is “verboten”.

6. Understanding of the pipeline process

The “pipeline process” is the stages a video game passes through on the way to completion. Books have been written about this (e.g.,

This does vary some from company to company, but is fundamentally the same. It’s hard to truly understand these stages unless you make games and complete them. That means, make small games, because you won’t have the manpower or variety of skills needed to make and complete big ones. (Will your little group produce more than 100 man-years and millions of dollars of professional effort? Certainly not.) Any game that takes a small fraction of a semester may not teach you enough about the process, because there cannot be much detail to it, while any that you think will take more than a year is far too big.

There are three things every employer wants from you:

7. Good written communication skills

Everyone in industry needs these skills for making pitches and proposals, understanding contracts, dealing with email and everyday announcements, and the like.

Most video games must be made by a team, not an individual. The game designer must communicate in writing and orally everything about his game, in a manner that enables the artists and programmers to reproduce it. This is much harder to do than you might at first think.

Non-electronic game designers can make the prototypes and write the rules themselves, but still must communicate well with playtesters to improve the game. Moreover, since the rules are not enforced by computer, it’s especially important to write rules that are clear, concise, understandable.

8. Good oral communication skills

You need to be able to speak clearly, whether informally or in presentations. You’ll have to help your supervisor understand why something will or will not work, help the game designer understand how the game might be improved, help the potential funding people understand why your game concept is worth the expense. Everyone, but especially game designers, make oral “pitches” in the video game industry.

A class that makes you speak formally in front of a group of people is a Good Thing, not something to be avoided.

(Pedantry for the day: “verbal” means “with words”, so applies to both writing and oral communication. It is not a substitute for “oral”.)

9. Ability to work in a team

Yes, that again. It’s true for all industries, though especially in the video game industry where big teams create the big games.

10. Develop a productive orientation

I recall one student, 27 years old, who said after a three-day break from classes that he’d played games for forty hours during that break. That may be fun, but it won’t help you get where you want to go—in a practical sense, it’s a waste of time! I encounter far too many people who think that playing games is a path into the game industry.

Making games is quite different from playing games. Yes, you need to know games, you need to be enthusiastic about games, but playing games that others have devised is productive only in limited ways, especially if you play four hours a day. I’ve known way too many students who define their self-worth through game playing; unfortunately, in the real world game playing, unless you’re good enough to make a living at tournaments, counts for nothing. Make no mistake, the game industry is part of the real world, however extraordinary it may appear to be.

To be an adult, someone who can be a good employee, you must be responsible and productive. When you’re learning your skills, your responsibility is to yourself, to do what needs to be done. And that is to be productive. If you want to design, you need to make games, not play games (unless you made it), not talk about games, not analyze games, but to make games.

Whether it’s a non-electronic game (the best way to learn), or a level, or a mod, or a game you make with a simple engine like Gamemaker, you must make games. Don’t be disappointed that you can’t make a AAA list kind of game that requires 150 man-years of effort; make a small game that is nonetheless a good game.

If you’re interested in art, then draw by hand, draw on the computer, learn 3D modeling programs, and so forth—and use your art to help make games. If you want to be a programmer, then write programs, study programming, experiment with game engines, join with others to make games.

Build a portfolio so that, when a chance comes to get a job, you’re ready with proof of your best work.

Make something, don’t just talk about making something. If you do that, and you have some talent, everything else will fall into place, sooner or later.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Student illusions about being a game designer

This originally appeared on GameCareerGuide 7 May 09. You can click on the article title to reach the published version.

Here is a list of illusions and delusions of beginning game development (especially game design) students, with a brief description of WHY it isn’t so.

Briefly, what this list amounts to is, “grow up and recognize what life is like, kid”. Wildly unrealistic expectations are usually a characteristic of immature people. Yes, you can dream, but dreams require a lot of work to fulfill.

* They'll design a game and someone else will do all the work.
* It's all creativity instead of work.
Game design can be fun, it can be creative, but it’s also work. Thinking is work, writing clear descriptions of what you’ve thought is work, figuring out the results of testing and how to improve the game is work. The great inventor Thomas Edison is supposed to have said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, which certainly applies here.

* Ideas will just come to them, floating in out of the ether--and that one idea is all they need
Quality of ideas–of the best ones--tends to be proportional to QUANTITY. You need lots of ideas to get some decent ones. And in the end, it’s the execution of an idea that is most important.

* AAA list games can be produced easily
These games are the results of many man-years of work, and of budgets running to $20 million and beyond. A student group of any size, even if they have as much talent as successful professional game developers, would take thousands of semesters to produce a AAA list game.

* They'll play games all day in the job.
* It matters that they're expert game players
Even game magazine editors cannot play all day. Playing games is important, but that’s not something you’ll do much on the job. Game playing expertise is virtually irrelevant.

*They’ll be able to design what they want
This is not the way it works in the industry, where design is very collaborative, even on smaller “casual” games. Even the most successful designers, such as Sid Meier, sometimes must satisfy publishers who are funding their efforts. Typically, you’ll be told to work on a particular design problem, and won’t be able to do your own thing.

* They're going to have a big effect on a AAA game soon after getting a job
One industry veteran who works on small games said he isn’t excited at the thought of working on a huge game, such as Madden football, and then being able to say he had something to do with how the football flies! The bigger the game, the smaller your part in it. When the game involves more than a hundred man-years of effort, your work for even a year amounts to less than one percent of the whole.

* Getting a degree is going to get them a job.
* They can do just what's in the curriculum, and without any additional effort, they will have 100% of what it takes to succeed.
A degree differentiates you from the thousands who want to work in the industry but haven’t taken the time to do much about it. Still, students have to show what they can do, the degree alone doesn't count for much yet. That means students need to be as fanatical about preparing themselves for a game industry job as they’re fanatical about playing video games. There are dozens of times as many industry wannabes as there are jobs available. Only those who prepare themselves fully will get the jobs.

* If they just make a game that includes all the currently-popular elements (a market-driven game), theirs will be instantly popular.
No, this usually leads to a soul-less, unsuccessful game.

* They're going to be able to assemble a development team without salaries and get things done on schedule with the promise of royalties once the game goes commercial. (Though at least this happens every once in a while.)
Even where developers are well-paid full-time employees, games usually fall behind schedule. Start-up companies with good funding often fail. These folks are as dedicated and fanatical as you. What makes you different? You may succeed if you do the right things, but this is rarely an avenue into the game industry.

* They'll start their career working in the position they want to achieve in the long run.
As with most industries, you have to “pay your dues” to get where you want to go. There’s also a “pyramid effect” here, the most desirable jobs are near the top of the pyramid where there are fewer jobs, the less desirable ones are near the bottom where there are many more jobs.

* Think the college curriculum is an extension of high school and act as such.
A good college is nothing like a typical high school. Most high schools are now training institutions, and not even good at that. You memorize what you need to regurgitate on the End of Class test, and that’s about it. College is (or should be) an educational institution, you need to understand why things work as they do so that you can cope with something you haven’t encountered or solved before.

Moreover, you are responsible for your education in college–you are an adult. No one will hold your hand constantly. You have an opportunity to learn a lot, but YOU must do it.

* They will only work on hard core games,
The hard core is a relatively small part of the market, and the most demanding part. It’s easy to underestimate the number of casual game players. Any very successful game must appeal to the casual players. Most video games are not designed for the hard core.

* Work will always be fun and they will always enjoy playing the game they create at the end.
Work will often be fun. If they play the game enough, they’ll get sick of it. In fact, by the end of the production process, they’re quite likely to be sick and tired of “screwing around with that game”. But they’ll enjoy seeing it for sale.

* They will never make a game that gets canceled.
The preponderance of games that are started are canceled before they’re finished. An important quality of success in the industry is recognizing when a game “isn’t clicking”. But games are often canceled for reasons other than quality, such as funding, loss of employees, corporate takeovers or other business failures, and changes in the market.

* Testing is only about playing games.
Testing is serious work; you have to write up results, contribute to bug databases, etc. If you test one game long enough, you’ll come to dislike the game no matter how good it is.

* They can sneer at and ignore non-AAA titles as though there was something wrong with them and they'd never need to work on such a thing
Given the increasing budgets for AAA titles, the majority of people working on games are not working on AAA games. The studios working on AAA games have few entry-level positions–why risk a lot of money on inexperienced people? Do the math.

* It will be Easy. There’s always an Easy Button, isn’t there?
No. If you want an easy job, look for something else. If you want a fun job, look here.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fog of War in Game Design

This originally appeared in Against the Odds magazine #18, late 2006. This is my version rather than the text published in the magazine.

Ways to reflect the "fog of war"--
designing in uncertainty in conflict boardgames

Lewis Pulsipher

(All game titles in the following are trademarks of their respective designers or publishers.)

I want to discuss how uncertainty can be introduced into wargames, uncertainty about an opponent's location, his strength, or his goals, uncertainty about timing and the actions of non-player forces, and uncertainty about the outcome of combat. This uncertainty is often called the "fog of war", and is one of the major influences on warfare, and sometimes in classic games. (In card games such as Bridge and Poker, for example, you don't know the opposition's strength--though you learn their strength when you win the bidding round in Bridge.)

The original Avalon Hill commercial wargames such as Tactics II, Afrika Corps, and Stalingrad provided complete information about the opponent's strength, goals, and location--the major uncertainty arose from combat. Risk and Diplomacy, dating from the same period, similarly provide complete information, except that in Diplomacy the movement is simultaneous, introducing a considerable element of uncertainty.

Nowadays in most video games we have a variety of "fog of war" levels, as in general the nature of a computer game makes uncertainty the norm. Even if the manual tells you how combat is conducted, it may not be entirely clear what makes for success and failure. You rarely see the opponent's moves, unless the units are near your own. And you may not even know what the opponent's objective is. Unfortunately, this level of uncertainty is not easy to reproduce in boardgames, and some would argue that it isn't necessarily desirable.

The major source of uncertainty in ANY multi-player game, of course, is the intentions of the players themselves. What I'm discussing here is uncertainty that's built into the game by the designer.

Uncertainty about strength (and location)
"Block games", in which a player can see the strengths of his units on the back sides of the small blocks, but an opponent can only see the blank side indicating that a unit is present, but cannot know the type or strength of the unit until a battle occurs, are very popular in the hobby nowadays. They are, practically speaking, a development of Stratego (my original Stratego set actually used wooden blocks). While in this country we knew only Stratego until recently, in Britain there were several games using this principle. These games are quite old in origin, before World War One for the first (I strongly suspect this is the game from which Stratego is derived). The titles included L'Attaque, Dover Patrol, and Tri-tactics, and the publisher was H. P. Gibsons, as I recall. My own game Swords & Wizardry, also published by Gibsons, used the same method, but was more complex than Stratego and introduced a die roll into combat to increase uncertainty.

R. Knizia, the famous "Euro" game designer, produced a Lord of the Rings game that resembles Stratego in some respects. The German title is "Der Herr
der Ringe - Die Entscheidung" (Lord of the Rings--the Confrontation, I think).

In block games we usually have uncertain strength, but not uncertain location. However, it is always possible to have a piece represent no units at all, should the designer prefer it. You can be faced with a long line of pieces, not knowing which might represent powerful forces, while others are decoys representing nothing.

Unfortunately, the nature of any block game is that you can have only two opposing sides. It's very difficult to employ three sets of blocks such that the backsides of two sets are hidden from each opponent, and the problem is progressively worse when there are more players.

About 40 years ago I owned a naval game, ordered through a comic book, from Helen of Toy Company that featured hidden strength in modified form. The hundred or so plastic ships had different forms, so that you could tell a cruiser from a destroyer from a submarine from a cargo ship; a cruiser could always defeat a destroyer, a battleship would always defeat a cruiser, and so on, but a strength number on the bottom of the ship determined which destroyer was strongest within the destroyers group and which cruiser was strongest amongst the cruisers. We could do the same in a Stratego-like block game if the blocks indicated which type of unit they represented.

I designed a multi-player space wargame many years ago that used upside down pieces to conceal strength (and sometimes existence) of units from the other players. Block games use the four sides of the block (other than the front and back) to enable an individual unit to have varying strength. This is not possible in games that use upside down units; on the other hand, a piece in an upside down game can represent no force at all, or can represent a VERY powerful force. It is particularly good for representing ships (naval or space). While an individual ship is either at full strength or destroyed, a group can vary in strength, from one "scout" to four (or more) "dreadnoughts" in one piece.

A drawback of upside down units is that the owning player cannot easily see what he's got. Some players strongly dislike the need to manipulate a pile of pieces to see what's there. Another drawback is the cost of coloring the backside of each piece.

Hidden units, of course, had been used in other wargames long before I tried it. Sometimes it is implemented simply as "you can't look inside a stack of opposing pieces", sometimes as actually placing the pieces upside down. Another method is to use numbered counters or distinct figures, by some means hiding the units represented by each counter. Nowadays, you may have pieces that represent the location of units, and those units are represented by cards laid out in some manner. You don't actually have military unit pieces, just the cards themselves. And if those cards can represent several units, different types of units, or no units at all, you have a strong "fog of war" element.

The hidden strength aspect can be taken further. Nathan Kilgore pointed me toward his game Iron Tide: Panzers in the Ardennes. It "has a built in semi-fog of war system using random chits for the combat strength. The fog of war aspect is strengthened by the inability of your opponent to inspect stacks and the hidden chits. Also, because of the complete random chits, the owning players don't even know the exact strengths of their own units until the first time they engage in combat."

Entirely hidden location dates back to Kriegspiel chess (neither players sees the other player's pieces, referee required) and traditional Battleship (originally a graph-paper and pencil game, no referee required because there is no movement). Many computer conflict games (most real-time-strategy games, for example) use hidden location of all but nearby opponents.

Uncertainty about capability
What can the enemy do? In some games this involves more than just unit locations and strengths. I suspect one of the attractions of the "card-driven" wargames is uncertainty about the opponent's capabilities, because you don't know what cards he has drawn. Hammer of the Scots, a popular block game, uses cards as well as blocks. Many of the "card-driven" games provide much of their detail and "chrome" (historical feel) via the various cards and what they allow the player to do, and what the player cannot do without the appropriate card.

Jonathan Hager says "In Memoir '44, each player has a set of cards. Each player may even have a different number of cards indicating how prepared the forces were when engaged. During play, there is some uncertainty to where the player will attack next. A player must have the correct card in order to move units in a given area."

The recently-published War of the Ring game uses special dice instead of cards to generate uncertainty about capability. Each dice face enables a different action by a player; players can see the dice rolls of the opponent, then play their actions one by one, but before the dice roll they cannot be sure what their opponent will be able to do, let alone when.

Event cards are a popular way to represent uncertainty of capability. Does my opponent have a card that will increase his movement rate? Can he cause a plague in my homeland? Will he be able to counter my Famine card with his Good Weather card? Can he force a dynastic marriage alliance on me at an awkward juncture? And so on.

In some sense simultaneous movement can be seen as representing uncertainty about enemy capability. Unfortunately, simultaneous movement either requires computer assistance, or a small number of pieces (as in Diplomacy, where a player starts with three or four pieces and wins at around eighteen). In a game I'm playtesting now I use a mechanically more practical approach to this. Each player has a standard set of Action Cards representing various sets of activities. He places five of the cards face down on a layout; then each player in turn plays the first card, and acts accordingly, until all #1 cards are played, then the second card is played, and so on. Each card offers the player a restricted set of choices--for example, you can't move fleets or armies when you play the "Trade" card. Brian Leet calls this "committed intent", and says Wallenstein and Roborally use similar methods. I have not played these games, but understand that choosing the cards in Roborally is a little like procedural computer programming.

A problem with the block game Pacific Victory is that too much uncertainty is introduced, as all units look the same whether land, sea, or air. It's pretty unlikely in the real world that these unit types could be confused.

Uncertainty in combat
Dice are the traditional method of introducing uncertainty into combat. Avalon Hill used the old D6 combat table. Other games such as Risk, Axis & Allies, and Britannia use a dice roll for some or all units involved in combat.

In some games the cards govern what a player can do, but in others they affect combat. Germania uses "Battle Cards" instead of dice to introduce uncertainty in combat. Players have more control over what card they play than they would over dice rolls, sometimes knowing that a particular attack would be unwise because their hand of cards is poor, or knowing that they can try an even-strength attack because their cards are so good.

Some games such as Stratego or Diplomacy have no overt chance mechanism in combat, but guessing still comes into play at times owing to hidden strengths or simultaneous movement.

Combat methods involving no uncertainty at all are common. Vinci and History of the World use them, for example. It is also possible to devise a "combat table" that extracts losses exactly in proportion to forces (so, for example, in a 2-1 fight, the smaller side always loses twice as much as the stronger side).

Simpler and more "classical" games often completely avoid uncertainty in combat. Chess, checkers, Go, all do this (and in fact avoid all elements of uncertainty other than intentions of the opponent). This absolute certainty in combat is not usually what historical gamers are looking for, though it is popular in Euro-style games. In fact, you could make a case that one impetus toward Euro-style games has been dislike of dice-rolling in conflicts.

Uncertainty of Timing
One of the biggest problems of historical wargames is that most players know when some major event occurred that made a big difference in the outcome of a battle or campaign. For example, when playing a game about the ancient Near East, you know when the Hittites or Persians appeared. In Britannia, everyone knows that, in Turn 6, the Saxons are going to swarm into Britain in a major invasion; and players prepare for it.

This is a tough nut to crack, and forces a designer away from simulation toward representation if he wants to reintroduce uncertainty. For example, in a Near Eastern game I'm working on players roll a die to determine whether an historical group appears or not. In the turn before it actually appeared in history, a roll of a 1 or a 2 causes the group to appear early. In the turn of actual appearance, a 1 through 4 will do it (if it didn't appear in the previous turn). In the turn after historical appearance, the group will certainly show up. Then we have something that can make for a better game, but is less true to the details of history (though arguably it is truer to the spirit of history . . .).

Event cards can introduce uncertainty of timing. Cards may require certain conditions to be met before they're played, but until someone plays the card, the "Big Event" does not occur. In War of the Ring, it's likely that some events of great advantage to one side or the other will occur during the game, but not until the appropriate card is played.

Brian Leet points out that "in many war games there are tracks that represent certain inevitabilities that are impacted by the player's actions. Elements such as discontent, moral or political will all may have a certain outcome, but uncertain timing (or be potentially avoidable altogether with careful play, perhaps allowing the Roman Consulship to survive is
a good historical possibility)."

In some "sweep of history" games uncertainty can be introduced at the end of the game without detriment to historical fact. Multiplayer games that don't include uncertainty about the timing of the end of the game can suffer from "ganging up on the leader" and bizarre moves, simply because players know the game is about to end (History of the World and Vinci can have this problem). I counter this by introducing a chance element (die roll) in the game ending. The roll needed varies with other conditions in the game, but in any case players can never be sure the game will end in a particular turn, and the roll comes after the turn is over. This tends to eliminate the end-of-game shenanigans that are often so unlike historical reality.

Uncertainty about Non-player Forces
Often in wargames, if there are any forces not directly controlled by players ("neutrals"), they are usually completely passive. In other words, players face no uncertainty about the actions of neutrals. In Germania, some invasions come at set junctures, while others occur when appropriate Event cards are played. Players temporarily control the invaders, who are anything but passive; in some games there may be more invaders on the board than player pieces.

Frequently there's a political dimension to non-player forces. Will they join the war or will they stay out? Often there are ways to introduce uncertainty to these questions. A draw from a deck of cards can be used to "control" non-players (this can even be seen as a form of programming), and if nothing else, a dice table can remove any certainty about what the non-player forces will do.

Uncertainty of Objective
Finally we come to uncertainty of objective. In war, you generally know the overall objective of your enemies, so the uncertainty is in how they're going to achieve it. But at times, especially in tactical as opposed to strategic situations, you may not even be sure of the objective.

I don't recall seeing uncertainty of objective much in wargames. The obvious method to produce it is an "objective card" selected by each player (perhaps at random) at the start of the game. Another method is to offer several ways to win. Players can disguise which method they're actually pursuing, possibly introducing an element of surprise into the game.

I once wrote a D&Dish tavern scenario in which each character, played by a player, chose a random objective. This was published in White Dwarf over 25 years ago and folks at conventions are still playing it, evidently enjoying the additional uncertainty. I suspect uncertainly of objective appears more often in Euro-style games than in wargames, frequently reflected through several ways to win the game. Opponents know what those ways are, but cannot know which way an individual player may be pursuing.

Peter Riedlberger points out that versions of standard Risk for the past 20-some years have included "order" (objective) cards, something I've not seen as my Risk-playing days go back to the late 60s. These cards are included in the latest American edition. Unfortunately, he says, the objectives are not equally difficult to achieve. Torben Mogensen says that this imbalance relates to the number of players, as some objectives may be easier or harder to achieve depending on the number of participants Too bad the developers didn't have multiple objectives on the cards, one for each possible number of players, so that they could be properly balanced.

Torben also points out that the family game Careers let players secretly choose to allocate his goals amongst three objectives (fame, happiness, and riches). I had forgotten all about this game (which originally appeared in the 1950s), one of the better family games I can recall, perhaps in part because of the hidden objectives. I am experimenting with a variation of this in Seas of Gold, in which players secretly allocate victory point weights to each of three objectives (territory, culture, and gold), or in which each player draws a card that secretly allocates weights for him.

There certainly have been wargames that used uncertainty of objective. Peter Coles says this "was used brilliantly by WRG in a 1970s Naval wargame called 'Sea Strike'. Each side drew an envelope containing a card detailing force size (in points) and objective." I'm sure there are others.

I'm told that GMT's Ardennes '44 has four different ways for the German player to win, all in effect. The German player practically can attempt only one, and must try to mislead the Allied player about which he is pursuing.

Jonathan Hager says that in Memoir '44, "the overall objective is clear - obtain X medals. But how those medals are obtained could be by killing units, exiting the board (for some scenarios) or taking a critical location."

Brian Leet suggests that Illuminati should be in the list, with one participant having a secret objective. And "'Shooting the Moon' in hearts is a classic example from traditional card play."

Who is Uncertain?
It's worth pointing out that in most of the cases I've described, only the opponent is uncertain about something. But in a few cases (as in Iron Tide: Panzers in the Ardennes), neither player is certain.

Is Uncertainty Good?
Is uncertainty a good thing? "Classical" game players prefer as little uncertainty as possible in their games (chess is an example), while "Romantic" players like a considerable level of uncertainty as it helps them pursue the "Great Play". Peter Riedlberger comments that "you can have an undesirably dense 'fog', to keep the metaphor. All Stratego-likes I know are mostly about bluffing. This can be fun, but is quite different to other, more tactical games." I wonder how much of good generalship in the real world is about bluffing; look what the Allies did in 1944, convincing the German high command that the Atlantic invasion would be at a location other than Normandy, even after the landings began . . .

Students of history know that real warfare can be a very uncertain activity. Amongst wargames, uncertainty is seen more in "simulations", less in "representations", and yet less in "semblance/theme" wargames. Looked at from another point of view, if you want a good game, the level of uncertainty must be kept in check, or in the end you have nothing more than a game of chance (as in traditional Battleship).