Thursday, December 20, 2012

Six words about a Christmas present for the game industry?

According to tweetdeck, one of the trending:worldwide topics on twitter not so long ago was 6 word stories.  In the past few months I've asked people to say 6 words about game design, programming, wargames, stories in games, casual games, zombie games, chance/randomness in games, innovation and plagiarism in games, game sequels, and role-playing games.

This time the challenge is to say something about: "If I could give any present to the game industry this Christmas".

By the way, if you think of yourself as a game designer and have five minutes to spare, and have not done it yet, please respond to this short game design survey:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Game Designer Survey 2012

Pulsipher's Game Designer Survey 2012

This is a short (five minutes, 10 questions) survey for people who call themselves game designers, video or tabletop (which is as good a way to define who game designers are as any other).

Keep in mind we are talking about game design, not about programming, art, sound, or other parts of game production.

I am using the free SurveyMonkey application, which is limited in the number of respondents, but I'll monitor it and refresh if I near the limit of 100.  If you happen to try just as I am refreshing it, it will be temporarily closed.

This announcement will be rolled out gradually, over the course of several days, so you may end up seeing it in more than one place.  The survey will remain open well into January.

I will post results next year, likely in February.

Survey link:


Sunday, December 09, 2012

December 2012 Miscellany

Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.


I said in my book Game Design that I thought video and tabletop games are converging, but sometimes I'm not so sure when I look at games like Farmville on one hand, and worse, the all-rewards-all-the-time games like Diablo III and many others, where anything that interferes with getting direct pleasure is regarded as a "fail".

It's important to most western gamers that games are "fair".  But I think the definition of fair has changed for many video gamers.  Where it used to imply that you got what you deserved, that you had to earn something, now it means "fair" in the way my young niece used to use it.  She'd say "that's not fair", but she meant, "that's not what I want, I'm not getting what I want".  Now video game players expect a game to give them what they want, when they want it, period.

While that's not necessarily bad, it's not what I'd call a game.

The deadline for submission of nominations for the 2012 Origins Awards was a month and a half before the end of 2012 . . . Say What?

Book Review – Game Design Posted on December 3, 2012 by Joe Huber on Opinionated Gamer

In the video game industry I see "freemium" used two ways.  One is as a synonym for "free to play".   The other is to indicate a game with versions, one that is free to play, and a bigger/better version that requires retail sale of some kind, whether through an app store or direct.  I like the more specific use, as we then have two separate things, "free to play" and "freemium", instead of one with two exactly-equivalent designators that can have two different forms.  But given the speed with which word meaning is degrading these days, I think the latter will win out.

Even people who read books, often don't want to read LONG books.

Which brings to mind that people who like movies, often don't like LONG movies.  I do.  Depends on what you're used to, I remember 4 hour movies with intermissions, "never happens" now.


In games, the more important the destination is compared to the journey, the more likely people are to cheat.

Have we had the era of the book, then the era of radio and TV, then the continuing era of the Internet, and now the era of videos (and podcasts) rather than the written word?

I recall my wife's experience years ago at Methodist College library (she was the Director).  Students didn't want to look in the reference books when she pointed out where they could find what they needed; they wanted it on computer - if it wasn't on computer, it didn't count.

In video games, makers have learned that most players don't read text of significant length even though that text might help them play better (and might be a good story as well).  Increasingly in video games, players want to hear, not read.


Lesson about writing things down:  Someone suggested a much better alternative title for something I called the  "Pathetic" rule (if you have no Victory Points cards at all, which is fairly rare, then when someone plays a scoring card you get one point, because you're so pathetic. . .).  But I can't remember what it was, and I can't find where I wrote it down - if I did.  Curses!

Classic "waste of air" phrase that I see far too often:  "maybe we can get it to the table tonight".  Why not say "maybe we can play" the game tonight?  Fewer words, more straightforward, cleaner.  And no hint of jargon.

If the name of the game tells you absolutely nothing about what it might be about - think all those games named after cities, for example - then it's probably not a game with a theme, nor even an atmosphere to speak of.  (Themes influence how the game is designed and how it plays; atmospheres don't.)


People have become more focused on consumption rather than production as the center of their lives.  (Some would call this another triumph of capitalism.)

And they expect perfection in their consumption, even though they are far from perfect and especially nowhere near perfect when they try to produce something.  More "not taking responsibility".

I've just read a "debate" in the January 2013 issue of PC Gamer magazine titled "Should gaming technology stop advancing".  "If we pause the advance of technology, we get to spend that effort advancing the actual games.  Everyone wins!"

I remember years ago when "Robert X Cringely" in InfoWorld advocated the same thing for all of computerdom, that of technology no longer advanced people could focus on making better software and making better use of the existing computer possibilities.  But this was before the broadband use of the World Wide Web, so we now have a possibility of "online" activity that did not exist at that time, along with the connectivity of smartphones.

Of course this suspension is impossible.  But we've already seen something like this in the console world.  When a new generation of consoles comes out, in effect technology stops until the next generation comes out.  What's the result?  Right now, at the end of a very long console cycle, a great many people lament that we haven't reached the new generation, and some blame poor console software sales on the lack of a new generation.

On the other hand we have great advances in PCs and in mobile gaming, so technology has not stopped entirely but only in the console world (and even there we have Kinect and Move).  Consequently I don't think we can draw conclusions even though there's an indication that stopping technology is not the best idea.  One of the things I like about PC technology is that it is always advancing.

"Art" originates in entertainment.  Da Vinci painted "Mona Lisa" to entertain someone.  Bach and Mozart wrote music to make a living by entertaining people (or by satisfying religious worship needs, in Bach's case, and we may argue indefinitely whether that is also entertainment).  Both, toward the end of their lives, wrote a few things without money in mind, perhaps as "art", or perhaps simply because they felt they had to.

Some of the entertainment people create can have a profound effect on some people.  At which point it has become art, if it wasn't already.  Some art may have a profound effect on the world as a whole (Ian Bogost: "Art is about changing the world; entertainment is about leisure.").  At which point it becomes Art with the capital "A".

Games originated as entertainment, sometimes the entertainment affects someone profoundly.  Has any game had a profound effect on the world, changed it significantly?  You decide - the players don't care.

"In general, in all publishing businesses, it's the middle man who's under pressure, it's not the talent."  Bing Gordon
Recent blogs (not all are posted on other blogs (e.g., ones heavily video-game-related aren't posted on BGDF and F:AT)).  Here's a list with links:

How Novice Game Designers can Be Taken Seriously by Publishers and Funders (cautionary advice)
The virtues (and sins) of using dice in game designs
Modifying chess conflict rules
Looking at game design as ways of introducing asymmetry
How many dice (to include with a game)?
Two Problems for Historical Game Designers: Barbarian "Push" and Tribute
Six words about role-playing games
The economic production cycle in games
November 2012 Miscellany

Monday, December 03, 2012

The virtues (and sins) of using dice in game designs

In the very oldest traditional board and card games, dice are rarely used.  (Backgammon and Parcheesi are the most notable exceptions.)  Most of those boardgames have perfect information and the only uncertainty comes from the intentions of the other player, except where dice are used.  There are always just two players.  Think of checkers, go, chess, tic-tac-toe, Nine Men's Morris, mancala, and so forth. 

Dice were used primarily for dice games.  Cards were not really invented for game purposes ion the West until post-Medieval times, and cards provide so much uncertainty on their own by hiding information that there evidently wasn't much impetus to add dice to card games.  Race and chase games combine dice with boards, but most of these don't have the ancient pedigree of the games I mentioned above.

With the advent of what I call traditional commercial games such as Monopoly, Sorry, the execrable Game of Life, Risk, and others much older, dice became a typical component of boardgames, to the extent that video game design students who are not familiar with today's hobby boardgames simply assume that a non-abstract boardgame must include dice.

When I first give game design students some materials to make games with I do not give them dice, but they often request it and then I give them whatever kinds of dice they need, whether d6s or something more offbeat.

Yet there was a time some years ago when many people playing Eurostyle games declared a great unhappiness with dice.  They simply did not want to deal with them, perhaps because dice reminded them of non-intellectual American family games.  And as someone who in early adulthood said "I hate dice games" I can sympathize with that.  Yet there's a place for dice in games, depending on the target market and many other factors, and that's what I want to talk about, more the virtues of dice than the sins though I'll also mention the sins.

Obviously, dice are a randomizer.  Spinners are an alternative, as is a deck of cards numbered from 1 to 6.  (Note that an unshuffled deck of cards is not entirely random if players can memorize what numbers have already come out of the deck.)  Unlike dice, spinners can have a great variety of weights to different choices, whereas with dice each number ought to come up with the same frequency.  We can use dice with more or less than six sides, and combinations of results (such as, if you roll a 5 or a 6 something happens).  It's also easy to roll several dice at once whether you add the results or not. Using the sum of two dice is common, giving probabilities from 1 to 6 out of 36.  It's also possible to use pictures on the dice instead of numerals, and of course you can do the same thing with cards and spinners.

Randomization serves many purposes, and many things in life are random.  If you're one of those people who says "everything happens for a reason" you might disagree.

An extreme example of randomization is the people who roll dice to decide what choice they're going to make within a game; this is especially popular amongst RPGers.

Replayability and Variety
I have a few multisided game prototypes where I have tried both deterministic combat methods and methods involving dice.  In some games the deterministic method seems to be acceptable and in others a dice method seems to work better.  This may be related to the "natural variety" of the game: a game with more natural variety can have a deterministic combat method, while a game with less natural variety needs the variety from the dice.

Now what do I mean by "natural variety", which is a term I made up just this minute?  Imagine chess played on a board 16 squares wide instead of eight and with twice as many pieces on the side.  This has more natural variety than standard chess because there are more places for pieces to be and more pieces to move.  Then imagine chess with a 5 by 5 square board, or even 4 by 4, and proportional reduction in pieces.  That has less natural variety.

To compare my two prototypes, in a game with only 30 locations and one type of unit (armies) there is much less natural variety than in a game with 45 locations, technological advances, and event cards, even though it too has only one type of unit.  The latter game uses deterministic combat while the former game works better with a form of dice combat that is fairly predictable and has a small standard deviation.

Excitement and Surprise
"Decks are fair, dice are exciting."  (Sean Givan)

Dice provide moments of excitement that rarely come from cards, even more rarely from any other kind of activity.  If you are at a convention or other well-attended game meeting, and hear a big cheer from a table, it probably involves a dice roll.  Many kinds of games are meant to be intellectual (chess again) rather than exciting, but the exciting ones frequently involve dice.  (Is there a connection to a fascination with gambling?  I don't know.  As I said, I used to say "I hate dice", and I have absolutely no fascination with gambling, which to me is a sort of tax on people who cannot do math.)

Dice also inject surprise into games, especially those that are otherwise perfect information.  And if you think about it, surprise is one of the main reasons why people play games.  It's really difficult to create new ways to surprise, but dice help do so, at least until people get used to the possibilities and probabilities in the game.

"Chance is skill when you win. (Skill is chance when you lose)."  (Jonathon Walsh)

Dice contribute to replayability not only because randomization creates a greater variety of situations.  Rolling dice means you're not putting your evaluation of your self into the game as much, not risking your ego.  How many times have you heard people blame the dice for their loss in a game?  Some people even profess to be convinced that they have consistently bad dice luck, which is of course ridiculous.  Though it's certainly possible to have bad luck in a single game, as I remember one 2-player Risk game where I rolled one "6" during the entire game.  Simply put, diceless games make you take more responsibility for the result than games with dice do.  And people who feel they're responsible for a loss may be less likely to try again.  Put it another way, if a player can convince himself that dice were his downfall, he's more likely to say "let's try that again."

One reason why people dislike dice is that randomization dilutes the "purity of the puzzle." Many modern games, both board and video, are essentially puzzles because they can be solved - played in a way that is always successful.  When you introduce random factors then no solution will always work because luck won't always go your way.  The "speed runs" that are popular in video games, where someone shows how fast he or she can go all the way through a video game that they've played before, often with astonishingly quick times, are much less possible if there is much randomization in the game.  The speed running player cannot depend entirely on everything working exactly the way he's familiar with.

Having said that, hobby boardgame players are often much happier with cards as a randomizer than with dice.  That may be because they feel they can manage a hand of cards whereas they can't manage dice rolls, or don't feel they can.

Using knowledge of probability to manage dice rolls is something I would expect hobby game players to be able to do, but I suspect relatively few can.  For example, in Settlers of Catan two dice are rolled to determine which hexes produce raw materials.  Experienced game players generally know the chances of rolling particular numbers and know that a "7" is six times as likely to be rolled as a "2".  Yet the American edition of Settlers of Catan includes a table that shows those chances, so my suspicion is that a lot of people playing Catan don't know those dice odds. 

In other words it's easier for some people to manage the cards they can see clearly in their hand than it is to manage probabilities that they can only see in your head - if they can work them out.

Then a "sin" of dice is that you need to understand probability to fully manage dice.

Another "sin" of dice is that they have the smell or odor of gambling, and gambling is very unattractive to a lot of people, though very attractive to many others.  So much so that some religions ban dice games.

A minor sin of dice is that rambunctious (or merely clumsy) players sometimes disarray the game board while rolling dice all over the place!

But the biggest sin of dice, in the minds of many, is that they're random.  Those who dislike randomness in games, dislike dice.

Randomness has a place in games, and strongly I recommend Greg Costikyan's brilliant and detailed exposition available at, "Randomness blight or bane".

I'll close with some "six word stories".  I occasionally ask blog readers to say six words about various topics, and here are some of the responses about "chance/randomness in games".  The quotes above are also responses to this question.

First are some of mine:
Chance provides a form of surprise.
Cards are more manageable than dice.
Egos are not involved, with dice.
No chance/randomness, two players: mostly puzzle.

And contributions from others:
Need some randomness, JUST NOT DICE!  ( BMinNY)
Randomness, for interesting situations; not outcomes (Matthew Rodgers)
Cards 'feel' less random than dice (davidestall)
A spoonful of chaos is fun (davidestall)
Randomness keeps you on your toes (davidestall) 
One. One. One. One. One. Impossible! (John Mitchell) [No, just improbable]
Used well, best game ingredient ever (Guido Gloor)
Life has randomness; why not games? (Wendell)
A good servant, a bad master (Anthony Simons)
Mastering chance is the true mastery  (Ien Cheng)
Do we reflect, or master, life? (Brian Leet)
Say a prayer, pass the ammunition  (Patrick Carroll)
Controlled chance: good; complete chaos: not  (David Brain)
Randomness is merely just another tool   (Russ Williams)
Randomness does not magically improve games  (Russ Williams)
The skilled make their own luck  (Steven Stadnicki)
Intelligently used, balances risk with reward  (Eversor)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Modifying chess conflict rules

I set myself the task of modifying chess in just one of the nine fundamental sub-systems of games: interaction of assets/conflict.  Chess has a very simple conflict system: the attacker always wins via “displacement capture”.  What happens if we change that?

The obvious change, to me, is to use a randomizer such as dice so that the attacker doesn’t always win.  When one piece attacks another, dice are rolled and a comparison determines which piece survives.

In the first method a different multi-sided die is assigned to each kind of piece.  A pawn is a D4, a bishop or knight is a D6, a rook is a D8, and the Queen is a D12.  Or if you really want a game where the Queen runs amok (I don’t) make it a D20.  The attacker adds one to his die roll.  So if a pawn attacks a bishop we have an even fight, D4 +1 versus D6.  If a rook attacks a pawn it’s D8 +1 versus D4.  What happens if it’s a tie?  If we give too much advantage to the defense, such as ties are won by the defense, the game could become very static.  So I’m going to choose the more exciting alternative which is to reroll ties.  (Another possibility: both are eliminated.)  I’ll get to the King in a moment.

The drawback of this method is that you need a collection of special polyhedral dice. So in the second method we just use regular D6s.  A pawn rolls one D6, a Knight or Bishop rolls two D6s, a Rook rolls three and a Queen rolls four (or again if you want the Queen to run amok have her roll five).  The attacker gets an extra die.  Reroll ties.

Now in either case, what about the King?  The first alternative is that the King is an exception to the rules, with infinite attacking strength and no defending strength.  So the king always wins when he attacks, and the usual chess check and checkmate rules apply.  In other words we haven’t changed the standard chess rules for the King.

The second alternative is to treat the King as another part of the combat.  In this case the King has a dice strength and participates in combat like any other piece, and a player is not obliged to call check when he threatens the King.  The question is what dice to give the King.  My first thought is the same as the bishop and the knight, enough so that the King can take chances and might actually survive an attack but not so much that he becomes impregnable.

Now we can go further by introducing “support” from nearby units into the conflict.  For example, one way to do this would be to add one point to the die result for each piece of the rolling player that is in one of the eight squares adjacent to the conflict square.  Another way would be to add one point for each piece of the rolling player that can move to the conflict square (although they don’t actually move).  One point is going to mean less in the dice method that uses several D6s, and some players might want to add an entire die for each supporting piece, but then the support becomes more important than the identity of pieces in actual conflict.  Nonetheless this support rule should help prevent a raid by one strong piece that just wades into the massed ranks of the other player and hopes for decent luck.  Imagine a rook or Queen just attacking one piece after another and accepting counterattacks while hoping that its superior dice carry the day.  The support rule is going to discourage that.

Now as I write this I have not tried to play any version of this game with an actual board and pieces.  I am trying to anticipate what might happen, that is, I am playing the game “in my mind’s eye”.  I think this is much more efficient than not anticipating what might happen and simply playing the game.  But that depends on your situation and on how you do things.

Alternative randomization
Another way to use a randomizer is to give each player some cards from a standard deck of cards.  When there’s a conflict, each player chooses a card from his hand and places it face down on the table, both then reveal their cards, and the strength of the cards is added to the strength of the pieces.  A card once used cannot be reused.  Each player gets an identical selection of cards, say four aces (1s), four 2s, and two 3s for a total of 10.  When these 10 cards are used up they become the player’s new hand.

What is the strength of the pieces?  A pawn would be a 1, Bishop and Knight 2, Rook 3, and Queen 4 or 5.  If the King were used as no ordinary piece rather than an exception that it might have a strength of 2.

The problem I see in my mind’s eye is that players might simply play the largest cards first in order when the initial battles and hope that the consequent material superiority would carry them through even though the other player might have better cards later.

This card method could result in “card counting”, that is, memorizing what cards have been used in order to know what’s left in your opponent’s hand.  To avoid that memorization problem - memorization has nothing to do with chess and is generally not desirable in modern games - I’d say that all cards that have been used can be viewed by the opponent so he’ll know what you have left.

This can be further varied by increasing the size of the deck but allowing the player only three or four cards in hand at a time.  This introduces uncertainty and further requirement for hand management.  If you happen to get really good cards to start with you had better use them well because you’re going to get worse cards later on. 

If you use the point values normally assigned to chess pieces and varied the cards much more, with higher numbered cards, that might work better.

Some people will prefer this method strongly to dice because they feel they can manage their cards, and there’s an element of bluff and Yomi (reading the other player’s intentions) that doesn’t exist when you simply roll dice.

I would be unsurprised to find that other people have devised fairly similar chess variants over the years.  These methods are original to *me*, but that doesn’t mean they’re original to the world.  That’s often the case with game mechanics.

Alternatives to displacement capture
Chess is a game of perfect information, with the only uncertainty coming from the other player’s intentions, but a minimax player can maximize his minimum gain regardless of the intentions of the other player.  What we’re doing with the methods above is adding uncertainty to chess conflict.

Can we alter the chess combat system without changing its perfect information nature?  In other words, can we avoid uncertainty in combat but change how combat takes place, change from displacement capture to something else.  This has been done, more or less, in many variations of chess collectively called “fantasy chess”.  New kinds of pieces are devised with new movement and capture methods.  For example some may capture by moving away from an opposing piece.  Others may capture by forming a pattern around an opposing piece, for example the piece moves so that it and another piece of the same player are on opposite sides of the piece to be captured.  There are all kinds of jumps and hops and oddball captures from a distance.  I haven’t looked into this for many years but there are chess variant web sites and there are certainly sites about fantasy chess that you can look at.

But how else can we alter the conflict system for all the pieces without changing the movement of the pieces and the perfect information nature of chess?  A simple change would be, when a piece moves it attacks a piece in an adjacent square, perhaps only orthogonally (up down and sideways but not diagonally).  So a piece cannot move into a square occupied by another piece, opposing or otherwise.  An attacker could often have more than one potential target, but he would only be able to attack/take one of them.

Some variation on the support I mentioned above might work, but I’m afraid it would result in two great defensive masses of pieces and regular stalemates.

Another method would be, you move your piece to a square, then it attacks a piece that it could move to if it could move again.  That might make the attack quite strong, and would certainly make for a chaotic game.  Somehow I feel it might be better if combined with one of the dice methods.

Helping balance the game?
Could we find a conflict system that gives an advantage to the black player, who has much less chance to win than the white player in standard chess?  That would need to be a very small advantage or we might find that black wins more than white. 

Perhaps we could introduce an input randomizer as opposed to the output randomizers suggested in the methods above.  (These are Geoff Englestein’s terms: an input randomizer occurs and is known before players act and (frequently) all players are affected by it as they play; an output randomizer occurs after players have acted and then they get a result as modified by the randomizer.  Most conflict methods in wargames are output randomizers.)  Because the black player moves second perhaps we could find a way to use the input randomizer to give him the last choice.

Unfortunately, nothing has come to mind that would be sufficiently small to balance rather than overbalance the game.  Perhaps someone else will think of something.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Looking at game design in terms of ways of introducing asymmetry

In many “natural” games, such as sports, and in many traditional board and card games, every participant begins with an equal position and prospects to every other.  This is symmetry.  We can look at game design as devising interesting ways to break up symmetry, to introduce asymmetry.  Some of these are achieved through player choice, some through randomness, some through uncertainty, and some through choice or caveat of the designer.

Asymmetric assets
The most obvious way to break up symmetry is to be asymmetric from the start.  Give each player different assets, or a different position if it’s a spatial/geographical game, or both.  This is a characteristic of most two player wargames but much rarer in wargames for more than two.  It’s rare in Eurostyle games as well.  In fact it’s pretty rare generally because it’s much more work for the game designer.  The designer has to balance at least two different groups in order to make the game fair.  In my experience Britannia-like games are a big pain in the rear because there are four sides that are asymmetric in both assets and locations.  It is much easier to balance a game that’s symmetric.  Diplomacy and Diplomacy variants can be difficult to balance geographically but all sides usually have the same number of units to begin with (in the parent game, Russia is the exception, with four units rather than three).

Asymmetry through game setup

This occurs when players either choose their assets, often according to a point system, or they choose their locations.   In Risk players either choose their locations during the setup or the territory cards are used to randomly distribute them about the board.

Sometimes the board/playing field itself changes from game to game as in Settlers of Catan or computer Civilization.  Or a game may have an exploration component which means that as locations are explored you get a new and non-symmetric board every time.

Asymmetry through roles
Many Eurostyle tabletop games use the idea of roles, such as King’s adviser or merchant, each belonging exclusively to one player in each round.

Vinci/Smallworld uses a kind of role in the Empire characteristics that a player can choose.  The difference is that available roles in typical Eurostyle games are the same every round.  InVinci/Smallworld the pairs of Empire characteristics are rarely repeated within a game, so once selected by one player, they aren’t available to another.

Asymmetry through the roundel
Some tabletop games use a roundel or other means to limit the action choices a player has in his next turn.  As the player “moves” around the roundel, each turn he has a different set of choices in front of him.

Asymmetry through turn order
In some turn-based games there is an advantage to playing first, or last, or some other place in the turn order, and there’s a mechanism to enable players to compete for the most desirable place in the turn order, such as an auction.

Chess is asymmetric with respect to turn order, with white having a much better chance to win than black.  This is accounted for in tournaments by having players play both black and white equally in the course of the tournament.  Another way might be to let black move twice after white’s first move.

(The above three amount to asymmetry through what a player can or cannot do in the sequence of his particular turn.  There are other ways to do this as well.)

Asymmetry through different decks of cards

Collectible card games enable players to make up decks of cards that are different from other players’ decks.  Other games that supply defined decks of cards, such as Fantasy Flight Games’ “Living Card Games”, strictly limit the number of possible decks yet each deck is different from each other deck.

Asymmetry through event cards
Many boardgames include a deck of event cards.  Each player is dealt a hand of cards, so each player has different capabilities.  There are many computer equivalents of this with many names such as beginning skills, perks, etc.

Asymmetry through character classes, feats, skills, perks
In games where the player acts through an avatar, the game often provides alternatives in character class (profession), character ability numbers, skills and feats, and other ways, both functional and cosmetic, to customize the character and make it different from all other characters.

Asymmetry through uncertainty
There are many forms of uncertainty, some of them resulting from randomness, some from the uncertain intentions of other players, and some from hidden information.  Typical games using normal playing cards rely on hidden information, usually combined with the randomization of hands dealt from a shuffled deck to introduce a great deal of asymmetry immediately.

Asymmetry through randomness
I’m sure you knew I would get here sooner or later, because randomness is a straightforward and easily designed way to introduce asymmetry to a game.  That randomness can derive from dice or spinners, shuffled cards, chit draws, and other more esoteric methods.

This can be quite straightforward.  In Britannia, the setup never varies.   But as soon as the game begins, different players attack differently with the Romans; and dice rolls for combat result in even greater variety.  So practically speaking the positions of the Romans, Belgae, and Welsh differ from game to game even though the setup is unvarying.

What may be most important about randomness is whether it occurs as what Geoff Engelstein calls input randomness or output randomness.  Input randomness occurs before a player acts, and may affect all players equally.  An example of this would be drawing a artwork token from a bag that all players will then bid for.  Which painting comes out is random but all players are affected equally even though some may prefer a different painting than the one that came out.  Output randomness occurs after the player acts, and usually affects only that player, as in the combat dice roll in so many wargames.

Output randomness can be accounted for up to a point, but modern hobby gamers tend to feel better about input randomness than output randomness.

Greg Costikyan has written a brilliantly explained discussion of how randomness can be used in games:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How many dice (to include with a game)?

Those who like dice games are going to answer this question with “lots”!  But game designers can’t think that way.  Every item added to a game increases the retail price of the game very roughly six times the actual cost.  So if you put in some extra dice that cost $.15 altogether the price of the game rises by at least a dollar.  If you add a dollars’ worth of dice the price of the game increases by roughly six dollars.

Not surprisingly, then, it’s the publisher who has the ultimate call about how many dice are included in a game.  The designer can suggest, can try to justify, but in the end the publisher will decide.

The publisher will try to include the minimum number of dice that is not obviously inconvenient for the players.  The designer is going to want “more dice than the players need”.  That’s partly because the designer recognizes that anytime players must delay to find enough dice to roll then the game lasts longer than it should.  And in these days when people want, or at least say they want, very short games, anything that unnecessarily makes the game longer is a Bad Thing.

Let’s take some examples.  Fantasy Flight Games included five dice in their edition of Britannia.  But when the game is played at a tournament the players typically open up their sets and have at least five dice per player, sometimes color-coordinated. :) The tournament games would definitely take longer if there were only five dice in play.  Yet you can justify inclusion of only five dice, because a typical battle in Britannia is unlikely to involve more than three attackers and two defenders.  There’s a stacking limit of three in clear terrain and two in difficult terrain, except that each nation is able to have one overstack, of unlimited size in clear and four in difficult.  So a typical defending force in Britannia is one or two armies and a typical attacking force is two or three.  Voila!, five dice.  (By the way, roughly 800 dice are rolled in the course of a Britannia game, so dice are important and delays can add up.)

I have a “screwage” style pirate game prototype that includes dice rolling to resolve recruiting, pursuit, cannon fire, and boarding.  Over the course of the game there can be quite a few dice rolls but no more than one die is needed by a player at any time.  Yet most of these rolls are opposed, that is there’s a roll for both pirate and non-pirate, so you need two dice at the time to avoid delay.  The question is, how many dice should be included in the game?  Because the game is otherwise relatively inexpensive - it has no board, consisting of cards, some markers, and some dice - my opinion is that six dice should be included.  That will be enough for one per player in all but exceptional cases (the game can be played by 2 to 8).

A game that requires two dice to resolve an attack is going to be slightly more expensive than a game that requires one die.  If only one player rolls the dice in a battle then you need fewer dice than when both players roll.  But as long as you keep the number down to around four dice I don’t think you should customize your design just to keep the number of dice to a minimum.

When you’re playtesting a game you should be aware of how many dice are available because this may impact the length of the game and the attitudes of the players.  If you always playtest the game with six dice and the published version has three dice then it’s not quite the same game, probably for the worse.  So a wise designer would include no more dice in playing of the prototype than he expects to be included with the published version.

I think most readers will understand that dice other than six sided are significantly more expensive and should be included in a game only when the additional expense is justified by gameplay that could not be achieved with six sided dice.

How did this esoteric question come to mind?  I am testing the less-than-two-hour version of Britannia, which uses picture dice.  Picture dice are more expensive than normal dice, and though normal dice could be used picture dice are regarded as much “cooler” by players.  We started testing with six dice, but as you roll two dice per army that’s only sufficient for a 2 to 1 battle.  Too often, I thought, one player had to wait for the other to roll before he could get enough dice to roll.  Following the rationale for five dice in the standard version of Britannia I should include 10 dice in this version.  But we tried playing for a while with 11 dice as it happens, and that seemed to be one too few, so now we’re playing with 12 dice.  That’s a lot of dice but the game can go a little faster, and a major objective of this version is to have a game that takes 90 to 120 minutes.  So I will argue in favor of at least 10 and probably 12 dice, but once again the publisher has a lot to say about it, and I may change my mind when I find out how much more picture dice cost than ordinary six sided dice.

“How many dice” is a minor thing in the great scheme of tabletop game design, but lots of little things add up so you need to think about these constraints while you design commercial games.

Another time I’ll talk about the virtues and “sins” of dice in games.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Two Problems for Historical Game Designers

Two military/political aspects of the ancient world hold a fascination for me, because I've not found or seen a really satisfactory way to represent them in games.  These are the problems of "the bump" and of tribute.

The Bump

The first of these is what I call "the bump" or the push.  This is the way that horse barbarians migrating out of Central Asia pushed other barbarians before them.  Sometimes the pushing continued until ultimately some of them crossed over the borders of the civilized world.  For example, the Huns pushed the Goths into the Roman Empire in the late fourth century A.D., and helped push the Vandals/Alans/Sueves/Allamanni/Franks as well.

In historical games that have the benefit (or curse) of hindsight/foresight often the player representing the Goths, knowing the Huns are coming, moves into the Roman Empire on his own.  But in terms of causality that is backwards, a flaw that's a consequence of putting history into repeatable gameplay.  Also there can be cases where the player is not certain that the Huns (or whoever) are coming, or are coming immediately (this turn).  But there's rarely a mechanism in games to enable the Goths to react immediately according to what the Huns do.

If the nation is not allowed to vacate an area until actually attacked then some of the hindsight/foresight problem goes away.  But if they're not allowed to flee and attack somebody farther up the line that we don't have a true bump.

I have tried various rules that allow horse units to withdraw from combat without fighting and move to another adjacent area to cause a fight there, more or less replicating the pushing action, the bump, on the steppe.  But this can be complex and time-consuming whken there are multiple simultaneous bumps, and I've never found it satisfactory; and it doesn't reflect more subtle pushes that affect foot barbarians farther on (the other Germans).

Confederations and Submissions
Associated with this problem is the problem of shifting tribal confederations.  Historians believe that the typical large tribal groups that attacked civilized areas were confederations made up of many tribes, including tribes of varying ethnicities.  So the Huns were not all Mongols - or is it Turks, nobody's really sure - but some were Iranians (Sarmatians, Alans) and some were other peoples that they'd picked up in their travels.  The Franks were a confederation of many tribes, although probably all German tribes.  The Vandals famous for sacking Rome in 455 A.D. were actually much more complex, with two kinds of Vandals plus hangers-on from other tribes including even the Iranian Alans.  Along with them into Iberia came the Suevi who were themselves a confederation of Marccomani and Quadi (IIRC), but again mostly Germans.

This also extends to the long-term submission of one barbarian tribe to another, as of the Germanic Gepids to the Huns.  (A confederation including Gepids finally took down the Hun empire after the death of Attila.  The Lombards and Avars later did away with the Gepids.)  Yes, there are submission rules in Britannia, but those don't reflect the reality that tribes submitted to the Huns made up a considerable part of Attila's force that invaded Gaul in 451.

How do we represent the coming together (and sometimes coming apart) of these tribal confederations?  How do we keep track of who is who?  How do we decide when a tribe submits and when it unsubmits?

The second fascinating aspect of the ancient world is the interaction between tribute and control, especially in the ancient Near East.  It seems that most warfare was not actually intended to conquer new land but only to raid adjacent nations into submission, both to gather loot and so that the victims would peaceably pay tribute in the future.  The Assyrian empire especially was known for this, and only gradually did they take full control of areas they raided as their tributaries again and again reneged on their promises, especially when a new king came to power.  Typically an Assyrian king went on campaign almost every year in order to chastise some opponent by raiding their lands.  Sometimes the Assyrian kings raised stele that described in detail the loot they received in the tribute they extracted.  And when the king died it was often necessary for his successor to go back and raid areas that had been tributary but stopped as soon as the strong King passed away.  In most ancient Near Eastern empires the borders we see on maps represent tributary areas rather than a year-round control, though a few maps differentiate the two as best we can with limited knowledge. 

In the Middle Ages, Charlemagne's Empire had some aspects of that tributary nature, but this often took the shape of feudal military obligations rather than actual payment of money and goods. And once the empire was no longer expanding, no longer collecting loot for the army, those obligations were more often not fulfilled.  In contrast, in "modern" (post-Medieval) times in European warfare nations nibbled at the borders of their opponents, taking control of fortresses and small areas, or colonies overseas, and rarely resorted to tribute.  Only occasionally as in the partitions of Poland did the attackers conquer large areas.

The Assyrians resorted to mass exportations of population to help gain control of new lands.  In the end perhaps there just weren't enough Assyrians to control all that they had, and when there was a long fight over the succession after the death of a strong ruler such as Ashurbanipal, this could drag the Empire down, to the point that it was destroyed by its many enemies in the late seventh century BC.  Thereafter there were still people around who called themselves Assyrians, and to this day there are people in Iraq and elsewhere in the region who call themselves Assyrians and proudly hearken back to the Assyrian Empire, but there's never been an Assyrian state of any note since 605 BC.

In an ancient Near Eastern game I'm working on I have a simple tribute mechanism, that armies can temporarily vacate an area (which is not normally allowed) in order to attack an adjacent area and extract tribute, afterward returning to the areas they came from.  The owner of the raided area can decide to fight or can simply give up the tribute, which is one victory point to the attacker but no loss to the defender.  It's the no loss to the defender that doesn't quite fit the historical situation, but in this game the economy is very simple and it's not worth trying to represent economically that the area was raided.  The very long time scale - the game covers about 2,200 years in less than three hours for 3-5 players - makes it difficult to represent something that changed year-by-year in actual history.

For whatever reasons the ancients were not inclined to completely destroy enemy cities the way the Romans destroyed Carthage in 146 BC and Corinth in Greece in the same year (when he entered Corinth "Mummius put all the men to the sword and sold the women and children into slavery before he torched the city").  A common culture may have contributed to ancient reluctance; I think the Assyrians were more willing to destroy cities of enemies who were not part of the ancient Near Eastern culture dating back to old Babylonia and Sumeria.  The Greeks may have had similar reasons not to destroy cities.  The Spartans refused to destroy Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War, but Alexander the Great - a Macedonian, which is somewhat different from a Greek though the Macedonians liked to think they were Greeks - razed Thebes to the ground after the Greeks rebelled at his accession.  On the other hand, centuries earlier the Spartans had destroyed Messenia and enslaved the entire population, who nonetheless retained their identity as Messenians.

All of this can come into play in the great mystery of history, the extraordinary effect that good or bad leadership can have in ancient (and medieval) times.  Assyria fell when a three-way succession struggle following the death of a strong leader went on too long, but it wasn't the first time Assyria had suffered because of doubtful succession.  The Roman Empire's great problem was the succession, and I wonder if more Romans were killed by one another in succession struggles than were killed fighting barbarians.  Again and again and again you see the vast difference between outstandingly good and outstandingly poor leadership.  I have leaders in Britannia, but their effect is not massive on its own; the Major Invasions have a much greater effect, and those are sometimes a result of leadership.  In the much-shorter version of Britannia that I intend to be one of the new editions, you can only move half your armies when you don't have a great leader, a stronger effect added to the leader's bonus in battle.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Six words about role-playing games

According to tweetdeck, one of the trending:worldwide topics on twitter not so long ago was 6 word stories.  In the past few months I've asked people to say 6 words about game design, programming, wargames, stories in games, casual games, zombie games, chance/randomness in games, innovation and plagiarism in games, and game sequels.

This time the challenge is this: say six words about role-playing games.

If you need some inspiration, look at the contributions at:

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The economic production cycle in games

This is a discussion of how some games include a cycle of converting resources through some means of production such as factories or agricultural facilities into assets that are usable to help succeed in the game.  These assets are often physical things but can be capabilities or even victory points themselves.

In a recent blog post I talked about to kinds of economies in wargames that have economies, “maintenance” economies and “accumulation” economies.  This led to a more general discussion about economic production in games, and I was pointed to a BoardGameGeek post about “means of production” ( ).  The author of that post ("linoleum blownaparte") generalized too far when he or she said that the colored cards in Candyland were a means of production.  I am going to use the term "means of production" to refer to the equipment that is used to convert raw materials into something useful within the game - in other words, factories, agricultural facilities, or the like.  I'll use "the production cycle" to refer to the process that begins with resources and ends with some result of production.  Not all games have a production cycle, of course, or only a rump of one (as in chess and checkers).

The accompanying table lists not only games that use the cycle I'm talking about but some games that do not to provide a comparison and contrast.  Table for this article is at:

The economic production cycle works like this.

1) The source of the resources.  There must be some resource(s) that can be converted into something else, and these must come from somewhere.  The source is listed in the second column of the table, after the name of the game.

2) Resource Collection.  Some resources must be gathered, harvested, mined - collected in some way.  This may be explicit or it may be as simple as possession/ownership of territory, which is really all you need for the agriculture based economies that have dominated most of history - "land = wealth".  Sometimes labor is explicitly involved, as in the workers/peons/peasants in Warcraft II and III and colonists in Puerto Rico.

I have included a separate column to indicate the actual resources that are used up when an asset is produced.  Sometimes resources are not used up.

3) Means of Production.  Some kind of equipment is used to convert the resources into usable items are capabilities.  In the modern age this would be factories.  There is usually labor involved, though that is rarely represented explicitly.  In an agricultural age the means of production was as simple as plows, kilns, scythes, pottery, storage cellars, and grain silos or the equivalent.  (Pottery is one of the great inventions of agriculture because it provides rat-proof storage.)  The means of production often governs where new physical assets may appear, such as Industrial Centers in Axis & Allies, buildings in many real-time-strategy games, cities in computer Civilization.

4) Limits on Production.  There are sometimes limits on production.  The obvious and typical limit on production is the availability of resources; if you don't have enough gold and wood in WarCraft 2 or 3 you can't produce more units even though you have the buildings (factories) with available capacity.  You are also limited by labor: if you don't have enough people to collect lots of gold and wood in Warcraft, then you won't have enough of the resources to "fuel" your factories (buildings).  Another limit is the availability of the means of production such as factories, so you may have lots of resources but nowhere to convert them into assets.

The limit may also be the capacity of the land (overpopulation), pollution, limits of political organization, or other factors that prevent infinite production even when resources and means of production are available.  (In a pure "accumulation" economy there are no such factors; in a "maintenance" economy there will be at least one such factor.) 

A few games have a minimum production, e.g. in Risk you get three armies even if you hold as little as one territory (normally it's one army per three territories).  Monopoly's "Pass Go get $200" is a kind of minimum production, as well.

5) Assets.  I'm going to call the result of production "assets".  This is usually a physical item but may be a capability or even victory points themselves in a game, or it may simply be money.  In agricultural terms production results in edible goods that enable populations to expand without suffering severe famine.  Populations support military units, which in pure agricultural economies amount to little more than armed farmers.  In more modern terms production results in weapons and training for people to use those weapons, that is, it results in military units.  Military units can be used both to destroy or take away an opponent's capabilities and to defend one's own economy and population.

But the cycle may result in some capability, for example greater mobility for one's assets or more Action Points to use each turn.  Sometimes production is devoted to improving technology.  Production can even result directly in victory points, or something that amounts to the equivalent of victory points (money is the victory points in Monopoly for example).

In some games there is only one asset (usually "armies"), in others there may be many assets with very different characteristics, e.g. units or technology research.

In the accompanying table I've listed these production cycle steps and include a column that shows victory conditions for the game in question.  Normally the production cycle is a means to an end, the end being expressed in the victory condition.

Most of the time the assets are a means to an end (I’ve listed victory conditions), sometimes they are an end in itself closely related to the victory condition, such as victory points.

I welcome suggestions to improve the table.

Producing assets that increase resource collection or means of production, or both.

The key question in the economic production cycle is whether and how much you can produce something that increases your economic production capability, whether resource collection or means of production or both.  In many video games you can produce buildings (factories) that enable you to produce more units, or whatever it is that you mostly produce.  It's less often possible to produce something that increases your access to resources, such as additional mining equipment or the means to discover and colonization new planets, or better collection/extraction technology. 

This is a key question because the more it is possible to increase your production through the assets you have produced, then the more likely the game will result in an "economic snowballing" effect.  That is, the more likely it is that the player who best figures out the most efficient ways to improve their economic production - or who is luckiest in exploration and exploitation - will gradually pull far ahead of other players because of geometric expansion of his economic capability.  In a wargame, sooner or later he turns assets into units that then overwhelm the opposition.  In a 4X space wargame he also produces superior technology that makes both his economy and his military more formidable.  In a purely economic game he simply produces more of whatever it is that causes you to win the game: money, victory points, or something else.

An "economic game" or "engine game" is typically dominated by this economic snowball effect.  Most of the time in these games it is not possible to take production capability from another player, nor to destroy it.  The players who have been less efficient in figuring out the production cycle have no means to arrest their doom.  Yet at the end of the game they can see that they have improved their economic production and their own general situation quite a bit so they can feel positive about what has happened even though they lost the game.  This is the central equation of many (certainly not all) Eurostyle games.

In a wargame on the other hand there is frequently little option to increase your economic production other than by taking it from another player.  This is especially true in board and card wargames.  On the other hand, in video wargames such as real-time strategy games it's possible to significantly outproduce the opponent by building up your resource collection and means of production.  Furthermore, in most RTS you cannot take an opponent's production and use it for yourself, your only option is to destroy it.  In other words some real-time strategy games are both economic snowballing games and wargames.  At the very top class of real-time strategy, the professional sports leagues, all the players understand the economic efficiencies and we are back to wargame, with the caveat that players must be able to perform at 200 actions per minute in order to keep up with other opposition.

An appearance of a production cycle. 
Some games involve acquisition of some asset, but the players have no way to alter the sequence.  For me this isn’t a production cycle.  For example, in Go, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Scrabble players acquire pieces, play them onto the board, and then get more.  But they have no way to alter the rules about how many they receive, no way to increase resource collection or production of assets, no way to gain advantage over opponents.

Chess and checkers have a minor production cycle in pawn promotion and kinging.  The player has one way to control what happens, by reaching the far rank of the board.   In both games the acquisition of a new asset can be important.  In chess promotion rarely occurs, in checkers it’s normal for kinging to occur.

"Maintenance" versus "accumulation". 
In the many wargames where you're not able to use the assets you produce to increase your economic production, the limits on production make a big difference to how the game works.  I've discussed this in a previous blog post in some detail.    Briefly, in a maintenance economy you must pay upkeep on ("supply") your existing assets before you can produce new assets.  This limits the total number of assets you can have.  In an accumulation economy there are no limits, or very broad limits such as the large number of pieces available, so you can continue to produce units no matter how many you already have.

The maintenance economy is a great discouragement to "turtling".  Turtling is much more common with an accumulation economy.  (In case you're not familiar with the term, a turtle is a player who “sits on the sidelines” and does not participate in conflict, using the production cycle to build up his assets while other players are losing theirs in fighting.) 

In some sense a zero-sum game - a game where the only way to gain something is to cause someone else to lose it - is the extreme of a maintenance economy, as epitomized by the boardgame Diplomacy.  But it is also possible to have a zero-sum game where there is no economic production at all.

Types of in-game economies. 
Every game has "an economy", but many don't have a production cycle.  "An economy" refers to assets coming into or going out of the game. The question is, over time is there an increase in assets in the game, a decrease, or stability?  For example, in chess and checkers the number of pieces decreases as the game goes on, that is, it's a "negative economy".  Even though you can gain capability by kinging or by promoting a pawn, the overall outlook is negative.  Monopoly is close to a stable economy except for passing Go and collecting $200, and for the cards which can add or subtract money from the game.  So it is a slightly positive economy.  A great many Eurostyle games have positive economies because the purpose of the game is building up assets.  In many wargames depicting battles that take a few days and consequently don't have economic production, we have negative economies because both sides lose units as time passes.  In more strategic wargames with economic production you could have positive, stable, or negative economies.  Traditional Risk tends to fluctuate, exacerbated by the card turn-ins as they result in more and more armies.  Axis & Allies tends to be more or less stable, or a little positive, but that depends partly on how the players play.  Britannia-like games fluctuate, and a lot depends on how the players play, but there's usually an overpopulation limit on production so that the games cannot have strongly positive economies. 

Not all wargames for more than two sides involve economic production.  The ancestor of Britannia, 4-player Ancient Conquest, is actually a "battle game" with no economic production, just an order of battle.  History of the World is also a battle game, despite its world-wide scope.  The order of battle comes from the empires you end up with.

Games with a maintenance economy tend to be stable unless there are lots of ways to acquire new resources, such as colonizing new planets in 4X games or building new cities in computer Civilization.  Games with an accumulation economy tend to be positive.

Where does the production cycle end and something else begins?
That's hard to say.  Games with negative economies are unlikely to have a production cycle, a major reason why they're negative.  Moreover, the production cycle is generally associated with political states/nations/empires, or with corporations.  Games where the player has an avatar that performs most of the action aren't likely to have typical production cycles.   When deconstructing a game I look for the resource collection and means of production, as well as the resulting assets.

Race games and word games rarely have a production cycle.  The same is true for puzzle-like video games such as Tetris and Bejeweled.  Abstract games (such as Blokus) in general are unlikely to have production cycles, but I'm sure there are many exceptions.

Shooters, adventure games, action games, and RPGs have ways to pick up and store new items, but there are no resources or means of production, just assets.  The closest we have to a production cycle in a shooter is the items "dropped" by defeated foes (defeated foe becomes both resource and means of production).  The more you defeat, the more stuff drops.  Some of the drops are money, which can be turned into other usable assets (you purchase weapons).  In RPGs you may have merchants who buy your loot (those "drops") and sell you new stuff, and even help you convert or sacrifice items in order to make better ones.  In some games the player characters can create or convert items, e.g. making potions.  Your loot could be seen as resources you've collected, and the merchants as means of production, with the assets being magic items, weapons, and other personally-usable capabilities (improvements in training, skills, feats), and money if you sell the loot.

Tactical games of all kinds are unlikely to have production cycles, especially those that depict battles.  For example, Gratuitous Space Battles involves designing and “building” a fleet to face a foe, but there are no resources or means of production, rather there's a ship value limit, and a pilot limit, on the size of your fleet, which otherwise magically comes into existence for each battle.  Chess and checkers are quite tactical games, as well, and have only rump production.


Notes about the table:
This is a large spreadsheet table that does not mix well with most blog hosts.  Consequently, it can be accessed through my Web site at .

I am not a Eurostyle game player.  While I once knew how to play the games listed, I’ve forgotten more than I know, so I’ve had to depend on regular players, and on BGG/Wikipedia, for some details of production cycles that can be quite complex.  Such complexity will not be surprising in “economic engine”/economic snowball games, though I don’t want to imply that all the games I’ve listed involve such.  I welcome corrections/additions.

Some of the video games I also have not played or investigated extensively, and others I have not played in many years.


My book “Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish" is available from or Amazon. (Books-a-Million has an eBook version at
I am @lewpuls on Twitter.  (I average much less than one post a day, almost always about games, not about other topics.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

November 2012 Miscellany

Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

If you like Robo-Rally, you might like Twin Tin Bots (by the designer of Vinci, Smallworld, Evo, and other games), being kickstarted right now to help pay for the plastic pieces.

Books-a-million are offering ebook format copies of my book at $28.65 (25% off). or just go to and search for my name in electronic books.  (It isn't listed when you search the main book area!)  Useful to have an unusual name.

 I was told "Your book is also being published simultaneously in an electronic edition.  Ebook sellers are working to release the book for their particular platform."   I'll report when other electronic formats become available.

The first 27 pages, and page 268, of my book are readable on Google Books.  Or just go to and search for my name.  My publisher has given permission for this to occur, otherwise it would be a clear copyright violation.

If I can get my publisher to approve I'd like to see the same amount of text available at Amazon for those who want to read some of a book before buying it.


A real BS word: "intuitive", in conjunction with computer and game interfaces.  When it doesn't mean "familiar" it means "easy to use".  So why not say what you mean?

I have discovered common ground between Real-Time Strategy games and . . . Monopoly.  In both cases, the economy amounts to: collect a resource(s) that enables you to construct buildings that produce other resources.  The difference is, in RTS the production is deterministic, you put in Y resources and after X time you get Z unit.  In Monopoly the randomization of movement intervenes, so sometimes your buildings produce (charge rent to someone landing at the location), other times that doesn't happen.

Review of my game design book:


One of the comments to my "Seven years and a million dollars" said someone had spent two and a half million dollars developing a tabletop game.  I don't know if they were serious, I hope not.

Because when I started to calculate how you'd spend a million dollars, it got silly.

There are about 2,000 hours in the typical work year.  40/week times 52 weeks, but there are enough holidays and vacation days (for most people) that you're under 2000 actual working hours.

Now if you paid yourself $50 an hour for this - and $50 an hour is a lot for time developing a game, whether designers, artists, or programmers - you're at $100,000.  So to "spend" a million by calculating what you would pay yourself, even at $50 an hour, we're talking the equivalent of TEN YEARS of ordinary work weeks.

I'm supposing most people with ordinary jobs might also spend 40 hour work weeks developing a game, though when we count sleep, that really only leaves them two weekend days to do anything else.

Another way to look at this, even at the very high rate of $50 an hour, a million dollars is 20,000 hours!  I doubt that any tabletop game in the history of the world has had so much time lavished on it BEFORE publication.

And two and a half million dollars is truly out of this world.

Novels are 50,000 to over 300,000 words.  (The Wheel of Time books average over 300,000.)  The average novel is 90,000-100,000.  I was trying to keep my game design book to the average: it ended up at about 101,000.

Seems that most game podcasts have two hosts rather than one. I'd think that would make it much easier for the hosts.

I have said a number of times that you shouldn't design games for yourself.  Yet the people who created Doom made a game they liked, and fortunately for them, a whole lot of other people liked it, rest is history.

But they were fortunate.

It depends on the maturity of the designer.  I always keep in mind young video game design students  when I write.  They tend to think it's an easy job to take a game they like and make it better, just through enthusiasm, or some kind of magic.  For them, designing a game "just like they like" is self-indulgent.   And self-indulgence is a bad, bad characteristic for a designer, even though it may work in some situations.

Yes, they should like what they're working on, but it should not be exactly what they want, because then it's much less likely to be what the market wants.

Questions asked by novice designers:

Are there rules for how to design ?
Are there formulas for calculating .

No, game design is not mechanical, it's an art and craft.  There are best practices, but there are not design rules.
And I'm afraid anyone who thinks there are, isn't likely to be a successful designer.

Typical "gamers" (that go to conventions!) may want more control over what happens than the people who attend my "semi-local" university game club.

 Can we say a game of high uncertainty approaches random, and a game of very low uncertainty approaches a puzzle?

MANY of the games being sold (or at least, demoed) at Origins or GenCon don't NEED to be very good.  They only need to be good enough to be interesting for several plays, because the fate of most games is to be played only a few times before the owner goes on to the next game.  There are lots of reasons for this, e.g. the short attention span of the "Internet generation", and the vast number of games out there calling for play.  Moreover, in a "demo" environment such as a game convention players are strongly affected by "cool", which is often in graphics or theme, because they don't have time to learn whether the game actually has much to it, whether it can last more than a few plays.

As a result, a lot of these games simply aren't very good.  In a way it's like video games: most of the published ones aren't really very good, time killers more than anything else, though they may sound good or look good.  And that doesn't count the 90% that are funded but never see the light of day.  Board and card games are much less time-consuming to produce, so more of the "90%" are likely to actually be published.

Not very good: as far as I'm concerned, a game that's only good for killing time isn't very good.  Whether it's played a lot by people or not.  (Card Solitaire is an example, 'course that's really a puzzle, not a game.)

Result: a lot of weak games.  Yet they all compete with the good games.  Unfortunately much of the sales process does not depend on how good the game is, so the result is that the good games sometimes suffer, getting less sales and attention than they deserve.


People use their phones for pictures and video, even to modify them, and to send them, because it's easier for them than to learn to use their computers (most still have a laptop or desktop).  This is the same reason why we have people putting their memory cards from cameras directly into printers, they can't or won't figure out how to do it with their computers, even though you can do more with the computer (for example, that near-magical improvement to digital pictures, cropping).

These are the "challenged" (technology-challenged?) people game designers have to deal with in the 21st century, if they want to reach a large market..

Another review of Dragon Rage (scroll down past Rumble in the Dungeon).

"I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time."  Herbert Bayard Swope

I've posted several articles at my "home" blog recently.  Not all are posted at other locations (e.g., ones heavily video-game-related aren't posted on BGDF and F:AT, "Six Words" isn't posted on F:AT owing to antipathy to that kind of post, etc.).  Here's a list with links of recent ones:

Can we characterize tabletop game publishers? Hard to say.

Intentions versus Actions (in Game Design). A warning for new game designers

Maintenance based economies vs. “accumulation” economies OR Economic “Limits”

"Is this game like Britannia?"

Review: Atlas of World Military History

Six words about game sequels

Abstractions and plans for new edition(s) of Britannia

September 12 Miscellany

Observations about changes in game distribution (and publishing)

Getting a foot into professional (tabletop) game design  How to be taken seriously by publishers (more cautionary advice)

Zynga and Fundamental Problems with their Social Network Games 

Comparing this year’s game conventions

Interface (and other) game design lessons from a rental car

"Seven years and a million dollars"

Review: Gratuitous Space Battles

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can we characterize tabletop game publishers? Hard to say.

This post was precipitated by a question from a reader regarding how often or how persistent he should be in trying to get an email response from a publisher, after initial contact.

What it has become is an attempt to describe, up to the point of my limited knowledge, what tabletop hobby game publishers are like and how they work.  I don’t know all the publishers, of course, and in particular I’ve never had any contact with German publishers.  Yet I think I can tell new game designers some things that might help them understand how the industry works.

I’m going to divide publishers into two groups in several ways, recognizing that whenever we try to do this for any collection of items, people, or groups, there are going to be exceptions and in-betweener’s.  Nonetheless it helps understand the broad outlines.

In a sense, hobby game publishing is almost inevitably a hobby.  The most important thing to say is that many tabletop game publishers in the United States started out as or are still self-publishers.  Not many people get into tabletop game publishing to make money because that’s difficult to do, although it does happen.  As with game shops, the joke runs, “how you make a small fortune in the tabletop game publishing industry?”  “Start with a large fortune”.  Even one of the largest publishers, Fantasy Flight Games, began in the game industry as a self publisher; they actually started out in the comic distribution business but when that business imploded nationally they published the owner’s game Twilight Imperium as a way to stay afloat.  Virtually all the little game publishing companies we see began as self publishers.  In some cases, as with Fantasy Flight, they later get into the business of publishing games designed by people outside their company.

Martin Wallace was a teacher for many years, but is now a full-time designer and publisher.  He makes more money when he publishes a successful game himself, rather than license to another publisher, through his company Treefrog (formerly Warfrog if I recall correctly).  The publisher takes the risks, so the publisher reaps the bulk of the benefit of a successful game.

Another way to look at this is that most of the owners of tabletop hobby publishing companies have full-time non-game jobs, that is, they are not depending on the publishing company to provide their living.  I don’t go around asking these folks if they have full-time jobs, but one learns gradually.  Frequently when a publishing company provides a living there is only one full-time employee, the owner.  For example, Zev Schlasinger before he sold nonetheless-prolific Z-man Games, and (I’m told, I don’t know first-hand) Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games.  Yes they have part-time employees but that’s a lot different from having a group of full-time employees.  The other cases of full-time employment come when it’s a really big company like Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast or Fantasy Flight, or a middling company like Mayfair.

In a few cases the principle people in a publishing company are also game shop owners, as with Valley Games and GameSalute.  So they have (or had) a full-time job but it’s a full-time job in games.

The men who run GMT have full-time jobs (there may be an exception now at GMT).  For example Andy Lewis, who is their acquisitions person and the “face” of the company, is an engineer and makes a lot more money as an engineer than from his game company.  Steve Rawlings, owner of “Against the Odds” Magazine, has a full-time project management job.

This is not exceptional in creative fields.  Few classical composers can make their living from their composition, most of them are teachers and sometimes performers.  Philip Glass, who is arguably the greatest living classical composer, once worked as a plumber to support himself.  Most novelists have full-time jobs.  Even one as prolific as fantasy and science fiction writer Glenn Cook, who at one time was writing three novels a year, worked full time at General Motors until he retired.  Few painters or sculptors support themselves through their work.

Most of the game designers who make a living at game design are employed by the very largest companies such as Hasbro/WotC and Fantasy Flight.

The larger companies tend to specialize in certain kinds of games.  Hasbro has mass market games, their subsidiary Wizards of the Coast has Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and some fantasy-related boardgames.  Paizo has RPGs especially Pathfinder.  Mayfair publishes many games but what makes them really go is that they have the American license for Settlers of Catan.  Fantasy Flight publishes fantasy and science fiction games that positively drip with atmosphere, but many of their most well-known games are licensed from movies or video games, such as Doom and Starcraft, and developed internally.  Britannia did not fit their M.O. in 2006, and even less now; but the owner likes the game, and he wanted to reissue it.

Many hobby game publishers with several employees are “virtual companies”, that is they don’t have a single location, their full-time and part-time employees are scattered throughout the country.  GMT and Mayfair are examples.  On the other hand the really large companies like Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight have main locations where most of their people are, as do many other kinds of businesses.  In any case, there is nothing like “Silicon Valley”, Austin, TX, or Raleigh, NC as locations where many video game studios congregate.

The Original Question
Now what does this mean for someone who is trying to interest a publishing company in one of their game designs?

If someone has a full-time job and is trying to run a game company in his “spare time”, or when someone is the only full-time employee for a company of any magnitude, they are going to be really busy.  When I see him at conventions I always try to tell Zev (Z-Man) how amazed I am at the large number of quality games he published despite being the only full-time employee.  And not surprisingly it has always been difficult, at least for me, to get Zev to respond to email.  If you know really busy people in any field you know that talking with them directly, or on the phone, is a lot more effective than email because when someone doesn’t have much time it’s often email that gets ignored or forgotten.

It probably helps a lot sometimes to live near the publisher.

Hobby Trends
In recent years several trends have made it much more difficult to get the attention of most hobby game publishers.  One is that there are so many games published that even the established publishers can have problems getting attention from “consumers”.  In the book publishing world this translates to selling fewer copies of each book, so the book publishers have to publish more books (and more are published every year).  Another trend is that there are a lot more people designing decent games, just as the standard for what a decent game is has gone down.  Decades ago the idea was that any game you bought should be good enough to be played many, many times.  Now the standard is a game you buy is at least okay if you play it a few times, that is, the buyers themselves don’t expect to play a game more than 3 to 5 times.  It’s (a lot) easier to design a game that meets that criterion.

You may not agree with me there, but what’s indisputable is that there are so many game designs being submitted to the publishers that they are inundated.  This can lead to very long lead times before publication and it can lead to publishers saying effectively “we don’t take submissions”.  For Hasbro itself this means that Mike Gray has a list of about 300 designers who he is willing to deal with directly, and the rest have to find a Hasbor-approved agent.  An agent is going to take part of your remuneration (if you’re published) in return for his work.  But Hasbro requires them because the agent can weed out the many, many obviously unsuitable submissions before Hasbro has to deal with them.  One or two of the German publishers have done the same thing.

A publisher may also refuse to take outside designs because they have an in-house staff to design games.  Many of the Fantasy Flight games are designed in-house (and remember they started out as a self publisher).  So are most of Wizard of the Coast’s.

Kickstarter influence?

Remember the inquiry that started me along this path?  My correspondent wondered if the advent of Kickstarter would cause publishers to be more attentive to game designers.  I suppose he thought of this in terms that Kickstarter ultimately provides more competition for publishers, though he didn’t say.  My response is that many of the successful Kickstarters are run by established publishers themselves, and that unknown people are quite unlikely to succeed in raising funds through Kickstarter.  It’s the known people, the people with track records, who are more likely to succeed.  When you see stories about huge Kickstarter results it usually involves a known quantity and often involves an individual who is well known in the game community.

In any case, with hundreds of games being published each year the addition of a few dozen more from Kickstarter is insignificant.  Existing well-known publishers are inundated with submissions, so I don’t see Kickstarter making a difference in how they treat wannabe designers.  It may mean that even the existing publishers publish a few more games because there is less risk in a Kickstarter published game than in a normal game.  Kickstarter enables the publisher to gauge the demand as well as to raise money.  In fact I suspect gauging the demand is sometimes more important than raising the money.

Whether Kickstarter will ultimately fail as a funding source, perhaps when some high-profile projects fail to deliver, is an open question.

Self-publishing has always been an alternative to established publishers for game designers, but it is much easier now than in the past.  That’s especially true if you go the POD (Publish On Demand) route that requires little or no money up front. is the granddaddy, but there are others such as . Desktop publishing is becoming popular as well.  Remember, though, that when you become a self-publisher, you may end up spending much more time on publishing and marketing than on game design.


I hope I’ve been accurate in my descriptions above (which are entirely from memory).  And I hope this gives you a better idea of what the landscape is like.  It is not easy for any designer, let alone one without a track record of success.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Intentions versus Actions (in Game Design). A warning for new game designers

[The road to] hell is paved with good intentions.”    Traditional proverb

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."  Henry Ford

One reason why so many aspiring game designers “never get anywhere” is the confusion between intention and action.  Different generations view this quite differently.  Older people recognize that it’s what you do that is most important, not what you intend or what you say you’ll do or what you wanted to do.  They're in tune with Henry Ford.  Young people tend to believe that intention is so important that it can excuse a lack of action. 

The classic, to my mind, is the student who loses his schoolwork because he lost his USB drive or otherwise lost the electronic copy and had not backed it up.  He seems to think this excuses not having the work, though the teacher isn’t likely to agree.  Another is the student who objects to the typical college policy that you cannot have drinks near computers for fear that they’ll be spilled onto the computer.  The student says “I’m not going to spill it”.  The teacher says “of course you don’t intend to spill it but we’re talking about accidents”.  If there’s sticky pop spilled all over a keyboard it hardly matters that you didn’t intend to spill it.

In the business world - remember that if you intend to make money, game design is a business - actions count, not intentions.  If your deadline arrives and you say “my computer died and I have no backup”, you’ve Epic Failed, and your contract could be revoked, you could even be fired.  Isn’t it your responsibility to have several backups?

I can picture some young people saying “that’s not fair”.  That’s debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that Life is Not Fair.  Live with it.  Though I have to say that I think it’s perfectly fair that if you failed to backup your stuff, you’re at fault.

I attended some panel discussions with published novelists at GenCon 2012 in Indianapolis.  Several times they all agreed that one of the most important things in successful writing is meeting deadlines.  "What does that have to do with creativity?", you might ask.  Not a lot, but it has a great deal to do with business, as businesses must work on schedules and deadlines.  Sucessful writers, just like successful game designers, are in a business.  One panelist (it may have been Matt Forbeck, who writes novels at a furious rate, often as an assigned tie-in with a game or other intellectual property) described how when he was a game designer no one would give him a novel assignment until he'd actually completed a novel.  Once he could show that (unpublished) novel to people, he got an assignment to write one.

One of the major differences between “real” game designers and wannabes is that real game designers complete games while wannabes never seem to.  They intend to of course, but it just doesn’t happen, the later stages of development are too boring (and yes they are boring), life intervenes, they get distracted by another game.  Publishers don’t want incomplete games, even if they normally change the games that are submitted to them.  Nor can you sell an incomplete video game, or if you do people will probably find it’s a piece of junk and you’ll ruin your reputation.

And if you find yourself playing games so much that you have no time to design, your intention to design games doesn’t do you any good, nor will anybody in the industry care what you intended.  They care about what you actually did.

Ask any professional in creative industries such as fiction writing, art, or game design, and they’ll tell you that one of the most important things is to meet deadlines.  What your intentions may have been does not matter when you miss a deadline.  What your (in)action does is give you a bad reputation that means people will be much less likely to entrust you with projects in the future.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Maintenance based economies vs. “accumulation” economies OR Economic “Limits”

“War” games are fundamentally different from “battle” games, although most people would call both wargames.  In the former there’s an economy and the war is essentially about controlling a better economy that ultimately gives you the preponderance of force.  The focus tends to be strategic rather than tactical with maneuver contributing to gaining or keeping control of economic locations.

In a battle game you have an order of appearance that rarely changes, and no economy.  Then the focus tends to become tactical, finding better ways to butcher the enemy before they butcher you.  There may be objectives that are locations on a map, but if you slaughter enough of the enemy you’re likely to take those objectives.  Maneuver then contributes to killing the enemy (or scaring them off) not to capturing/controlling economic resource/production locations.

Wargames for more than two players are almost always of the first type, and wargames for two players are usually of the second type.  The scale of wargames of the first type tends to be much greater both geographically and chronologically than the scale of the “battle” type, as well, which befits the importance of economy.  In a few days, the time-scale of most battles, economy is not going to matter.

Wars are about economies (and technology in recent times).  Battles are about troops and terrain.

I’ve discussed this at much greater length in an article that will appear in Against the Odds magazine.  Here I’m only interested in the fundamental types of economies and how they affect games with an economy.

The first and more true-to-life economy is the “maintenance model.”  You must have the resources to support the units you already possess before you can recruit/build new ones.  Consequently there’s an upper limit on how many units you can have because of the cost of maintaining them. 

The simpler “accumulation model” lets you use your economic power to build new units regardless of how many you already have.

In some sense the maintenance model is zero-sum insofar as when you reach the limit of units, the only way to get more is to take economic capability away from another player, which will also reduce the number of units he can have.  Sometimes this is explicit as in the classic game Diplomacy, where there are 34 “supply centers” on the map of Europe and each one can support exactly one army or fleet.  A player wins with 18, because he then has a majority of the board and (presumably) will gradually overwhelm all further opposition.

Sometimes this zero-sum affect is much less obvious because players rarely hit their maximum maintenance level.  They keep losing units at such a rate that they can’t build enough to “max out”.

Frequently when the maintenance model is used explicitly it costs much more to build the unit than to maintain a unit.  For example in my prototype “Seas of Gold” about the Italian maritime cities in the age of the Crusades, maintenance costs one economic unit for an army or fleet, but an army costs three economic units to build and a fleet four to build.

In my highly simplified version of Britannia that will be part of the new editions of the game, the number of units a player has on the board is subtracted from the economic value of his holdings, and that results in him losing an army, standing pat, gaining one army, or in rare cases gaining two armies.  This does away with the Increase Point Track of Britannia and also means that overpopulation rules are not required, because if the comparison is bad enough the player actually loses an army.

There are hybrid economies that let a player build units as though in an accumulation economy but provide a limit on the number of units.  This limit can be “overpopulation”, as in Britannia, or it can be a maximum army, fleet, or air force size as in Britannia and many other games, usually reflected in the piece mix.  For example, if you have no more battleship pieces for your nation you can’t build more battleships.  In Britannia the maximum force size is supposed to represent the limits on communication and control for primitive Dark Age nations; for more modern games it may not represent anything specific but still has the maintenance limit affect.   Britannia’s economic model is consistent with the idea that the armies represent both populations and military forces, as was generally the case in the dark ages where there were no professional armies and few trained/experienced warriors.  Most of an army was essentially farmers armed with whatever they had to hand.  The more farmers you had, the bigger your army could be.

But piece mix limits can represent real-world limits.  In World War II most of the major participants reached a maximum size military because some 10% of their population was under arms - most of the men of military age – and the rest were required to run the economy or were not of an appropriate age or gender to fight.  In earlier times the percentage of participation in the military was usually much less at any given time, although if we go back to Greece and Republican Rome we’ re again at high levels of participation.  While population is not strictly an economic variable it becomes a limit for the size of militaries unless mercenaries are available.  There’ve certainly been times when mercenaries were commonly available as in Greece after the Peloponnesian War and in Hellenistic times, in Italy at the time of Machiavelli, and during the 30 Years War.

So there’s a variety of ways to introduce limits on the size of military forces in a game that are not directly related to the economy but have many of the same effects as an economic limit.

In contrast to the maintenance model we have the accumulation model as seen in games like Axis and Allies, traditional (pre-2008) Risk, and Vinci.  You could play Axis and Allies for quite a long time without fighting much, and still have more pieces to use to create new units.  A&A is not much like the real world but you don’t really notice because of the constant slaughter of units that means the real economic limits, if any, will never be reached. 

We get the massive armies of traditional Risk because it’s an accumulation economy.  Imagine how different the game would be if you could only have, say, three armies per area you own, or maybe only two.  The latter is my initial step in turning Risk into something that might resemble a real “war” game.  Vinci and Smallworld go one step further in providing no economy for most empires most of the time.  An Empire begins with its maximum military and can only go downward unless the Empire characteristic includes a special rules to gain more armies

In general, "games about war" with no pretense to being models of reality (Risk, Vinci, Smallworld, Conflict and Broadsides from back when, and many many others), as opposed to war games, tend to have accumulation or no economy at all.

In games that depict a single battle there is rarely an economy, but there can be order-of-battle based objectives that introduce something like an economy.  For example, a side may get a few reinforcing units if they can take a particular road junction.  This pseudo-economy can occur in games that have a regular economy, as well.  For example, in Britannia there are two cases where the Angles won’t get a leader if they don’t control a particular area.  In effect, that area becomes a temporary economy that “produces” the leader.

In games with more than two sides - what tabletoppers call “multi-player”, though that means something else to video gamers - the nature of the economy can be critical to successful design.  An accumulation economy encourages turtling, that is, sitting on the sidelines while the turtle watches the other players fight and lose resources or units, as he accumulates resources and units (also known as “camping” in video game shooters).  If Risk didn’t have the territory cards then turtling would be very common because you can accumulate armies quickly while other players lose armies quickly when they fight.  In fact I strongly suspect the cards were added to Risk to discourage turtling, you can only get a card by capturing an opponent’s territory, that is by attacking and risking losses.  And you have to get cards so that you can turn them in for large numbers of armies.  In a long Risk game more armies will be acquired through the cards than through the economy.

This is in contrast to Diplomacy where you cannot sit on the sidelines if you want to win. Some other players will be gaining supply centers and consequently units while you will be static.  If no one gains or loses supply centers for a while then you have a stalemate and the game ends in a draw.

If there is no economy in a more-than-two-sided game, no player will want to fight because while he and his opponent lose resources or units the other players do not.  A multi-sided conflict game with no economy is likely to be a “turtle-fest.”

These are not problems with two player wargames because each player only has the other to fight, so fighting rather than turtling is going to happen.

Economies of one kind or another are common in big video games.  They are obvious in games like Civilization and real-time strategy (RTS) games, games that are (or can be, in Civ’s case) wargames involving more than two sides.  Civilization tends to have some limits on how big your economy can grow because of population unhappiness and pollution, but when you produce a unit there’s no reference to how many units you already have, there’s no limitations.  In the end you have an accumulation economy.  In most RTS games your buildings produce units as long as they have resources without regard for how many units you already have, a classic accumulation economy.  Turtling can work, but if there are limited resources in the “world” and you’re sitting in one corner rather than gaining those resources you will probably lose in the end.  I think particularly of WarCraft III where the amount of gold in the world is limited because there are only so many gold mines and so much gold in each mine, and gold is needed to create new units.  If other players gain control of this gold while you turtle then you will probably lose, unless they managed to slaughter themselves down to a level that lets you take over.

Even a shooter has an economy of sorts as the players pick up various weapons and medical supplies that miraculously lay about.  This is an accumulation economy except that you don’t need to own any particular economic resources to produce more, you just find it - so the affect of economics on maneuver is much smaller.  And there is a limit sometimes on how much you can accumulate because your inventory allows you to carry only so much, though some of these games allow you to store the rest of your “stuff” somewhere else.

In platformers and Nintendo-style games like Mario there are still things to pick up but there’s not really an economy because you don’t accumulate a lot of “stuff”.

What I said about shooters brings to mind an important aspect of economy.  In the shooter you don’t have to hold any particular place in order to gain more stuff, you just pick it up where it’s lying about.  Although some players would say you have to kill things in order to take what they “drop,” who plays a shooter without killing things, since that’s the major focus of most such games?  The point is, if there are no locations that can be gained or lost in order to improve or lose economic capability, then you’ve lost the major point of strategy and maneuvering in the game, and it can once again become a matter of slaughtering more of the enemy than you lose.  But that doesn’t work well in a multi-sided game because it encourages turtling.

Some non-wargames have ways to gain new forces or assets.  These can resemble an economy or they can resemble an order of battle.  Within those economic models you can also have maintenance or accumulation.  Monopoly (the accumulation) has a minor economy from passing Go and collecting $200.  Money is victory points in Monopoly, and there would be no sense in limiting what you can accumulate.  Chess and checkers are mainly tactical games with a strategic component, mainly battle games, but they do have economic appendages.  Chess has a minor economy from promoting pawns, just as checkers enables you to make Kings.  In both cases they contribute to the importance of maneuver in the game as you want prevent your opponent from reaching the last rank with a pawn or checker.

The unlimited supply of X’s and O’s in Tic-Tac-Toe or the unlimited supply of letters in Scrabble are more or less an order of battle rather than economy.

The economy/ order of battle question, and the maintenance/accumulation economy question, tend to be much more important in conflict games where you are hindering the other player(s) by destroying their assets.  This isn’t common in Eurostyle games, though common in screwage games like Bang! and Munchkin.

There are board and video games that are essentially economic engines, resource management games.  The economy here may be of either type, though there’s often a technology element that lets you remove the hybrid economy’s limitations on maximums.  The contrast with wargames is that in many wargames the economy is an aspect of the game rather than the major focus, while in many non-wargames the economy is the major focus.