09 May

Ticket to Ride – How Elegance and Simplicity Means More Sales – A Game Designer Review

Ticket to Ride box cover

Ticket to Ride box coverI love the elegance of Ticket to Ride.

Yes, it’s got a beautiful map and nice components to support its theme of building train routes across the USA (I believe that Ticket to Ride calls it collecting tickets for travel) but beneath it’s a great application of the push-your-luck mechanism. Read More

01 Apr

Submitting Your Game 101: Don’t Waste the Publisher’s Time

Submitting 101: Don't waste the publisher's time

Submitting 101: Don't waste the publisher's timeThis is going to be the greatest blog post you’ve ever read. No, really. I’ve shown it to my mom, best friend and dog and they all agree that it’s the greatest thing since sliced Pedigree Pal!!! Come on, read it already!

Feeling enticed yet?

There are many problems in that first paragraph but there’s a cardinal one: it’s a waste of time. 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

06 Oct

Creating Tension Through Decision-Resolution Cycles

Ticket to Ride is excellent at generating tension

Ticket to Ride is excellent at generating tensionImagine this: you’re in the middle of a game of Ticket to Ride. You’ve got four red cars in your hand; you need six in order to build that link from Miami to New Orleans and complete your ticket. Your opponent takes an orange and a white from the card row and reveals – a red and a red! Exactly what you need! Except it’s not your turn yet…

Ticket to Ride is great at creating tension. You see what you want but you’re blocked from doing it.

There’s a name for this type of tension creation: a Decision-Resolution cycle. Actually it’s a discovery-decision-resolution cycle but Decision-Resolution sounds better. Here’s how it works: Read More

09 Sep

Gaming: Voluntarily Performing Impossible Tasks of Uncertain Value

Dice graphicImagine that someone forced you to complete difficult tasks of uncertain value while others were actively trying to disrupt your work.

Now imagine that you chose to do it of your own free will.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what we’re doing when we’re playing games. And the single word “chose” is the difference between fun and toiling under a sadistic taskmaster.

The rest is the same: the rules, the limitations, the work and the stress. But when we choose to do it it’s not bad stress, it’s good stress. Read More

13 May

The prime characteristic of gateway games

Duco, a great gateway gameThere’s a prime requirement for gateway games. It’s not that it should look cool, although that helps. It’s not that it should have a high production value, or many dedicated players or easy rules or a small footprint. All of these things help but there’s one thing that beats them all:

A great gateway game should feel familiar. Read More

06 May

Knowing when to end

Finish signpostThere’s a big difference between novels and short stories, beyond the obvious ones. It goes beyond word length, beyond character arcs and sub-plots. It resides in those final moments when you know that the story’s ending but you see that the ending will leave you wanting more.

In a novel that’s mostly fine, in fact it is desirable. Wanting more is all right when you’ve gotten a major emotional payoff from the resolution of the main, and possibly sub, plots. It’s the feeling of “I love this restaurant but I’m so stuffed that I don’t want more right now”; it’s what makes readers come back and buy the sequel. But as short stories that give that kind of major payoff are rare (and a lot of them go on to win multiple prestigious awards) the short story ending often end up feeling lacking.

The same is true for games. Most games are short stories. Only the largest, most complex games, can assume the mantle of being the play equivalent of novels. And those games don’t get played a lot, or at least not by many people. Even here on the Geek, where the most rabid gamers come, how many of us sit down to 20+ hour games on a regular basis? Read More