Banner showing three books


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. (more…)

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: (more…)

ClockThere’s one thing that’s always in short supply amongst players, whether they realize it or not: time. Not timed actions time, not AP time but the good, ol’ fashioned, 24-hours-in-a-day time.

Time is the one resources one can never get more of. You can hire an army of maids to clean your house, a horde of accountants to run your business and any number of personal assistants to take care of your needs but you’ll still, never, ever, be able to get more than 25 hours in a day. Sorry, Freudian slip.

Time to play is rare for most people and there’s lots of things clamoring for it: media, friends, that unfinished project in the corner. So when players take the time to play your game they expect that time to be well spent. They expect to get a certain amount of enjoyment out of their invested time, whether social, intellectual or physical, and if we fail to deliver they’re likely to refuse to play the game again.

Thus we need to take care not to waste our players’ time. We need to make sure it’s well spent, that every moment in the game is engaging. (more…)

Saint Petersburg box coverComputers are great at tracking thing. Hundreds of units, percentages of damage, thousands of die rolls – all those are things the computer will love.

All those are things that board gamers complain about as book keeping. Stuff that we don’t like, that slows down game play, makes games tedious and makes us wish for a clean cut computer to handle it all. But do we really want it to?

Here’s the thing. A computer could calculate everything for you. It could give you the damage and success percentages for ever combat before it occurs, it could help you in your decision making in ways an average board gamer can’t even imagine (take a look at AI decision support system research if you want to get your head blown off).

I’ve always been solidly in the “lets get all the book keeping out of the way so we can play”-camp of board gamers. But thinking about it now, with computers so close to board games, makes me doubt if removing all the book keeping is a good idea. (more…)