23 Mar

Too Random = Not Enough Meaningful Decisions

Advanced Squad Leader counter pile

Advanced Squad Leader counter pileWhat does too random mean?

I hear it all the time, I even say it. This game is too random, that action is too random. There’s too much random going on. But hold on, what does too random really mean?

I remember a session of Advanced Squad Leader Amazon where there was a Heavy Machine Gun firing down a street and whole platoon ran across the street and nothing. Not a single hit. They were probably jumping and waving and throwing their berets in the air while they were doing it too. Then a commissar walks by and shouts “boo” and the HMG picks up and runs. My opponent was laughing his ears off.

So ASL is very random, right? There’s loads and loads of dice and markers and stuff. But I’ve never heard anyone call ASL random (OK, I have but I’m not going to admit it).

So there’s something more to randomness than die rolls. And that something is decisions. Read More

13 Oct

In medias res – designing beginnings

The Russian writer Anton Chekhov once advised writers to tear their stories in half and begin in the middle. There is merit in such an approach – a game should begin as close to the end as possible without losing player volition.

Take a look at Ticket to Ride. The game starts with each player getting 4 cards (resources) and a choice from 3 tickets (goals). During the game you can draw new cards or new tickets. The game could easily have started with the players having nothing – except that they’d probably have begun the game by A) drawing cards and then B) drawing tickets.

If Ticket to Ride begun from scratch players would have more choice and influence over their strategy. But they’d also have no hooks, nothing to give their action any meaning. If you don’t have any goals (tickets) and you don’t have any sets started (cards) then a white is equal to a red is equal to a black – it doesn’t matter what you draw. By giving players a starting set of resources and goals they are nudged in a certain direction and can start acting meaningfully from the start. The random setup enables player volition right from the start. Read More