Monday, September 27, 2010


So after rambling on and on about finding narratives and such, I quickly put together a prototype of a game that is very much as far away as possible from a narrative game. And, for an experiment, I've put it up on boardgamegeek and asked for playtesters, just to see how that goes.

The central play of the game revolves around a very large dice pool that everyone shares. Pulling out sets of dice (straights, pairs, trips,"additions" and so on) let's players collect resources. Combining certain resources scores points. It's inspired by the "Fiasco dwindling dice pool mechanic", as previous mentioned.

Additionally, a player may roll additional dice into the pool if there is nothing there that the player wants. however, the price of this is that any new dice that are introduced to the pool that aren't pulled for resources simply become available fodder for the next player.

Which, from my solo playtesting, seems makes for a game that's pretty interesting. And, since I'm always on the lookout for new and different ways of things, an added plus to the game is that it is a dice game, but plays much different with the dice, since almost all dice games seem to use the "re-roll your dice three times and score" Yahtzee method. But then again, the core of it is stolen from Fiasco....

Anyway, I'll have to see what is made of it from the 'geek.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Measuring the experience

I've been poking around at "story-games" recently. This is a relatively new, relatively indie sub-category of role playing games that have popped up. In a nut shell, the crux of these games is about leveling up or churning stats, but instead focus on the creation of a good story, often without a game master running things. In a way, these are more like improv tools or things to break writer's block than games.

And that's what I'm finding appealing about them.

For the most part, board and card games are about following rules to "win the game." The thematic experience is usually there more to explain why you are doing things, but usually have very little "feel" of doing those things. It's about some combination of luck and the skill in finding efficiencies with in the rules. While those can be great experiences, or awful, to me there seems to be very little to walk away from the table aside from, "here's that great move that I pulled off to win the game."

I'm at the point now where I feel like I want something more than just following the path to the greatest amount of points. I'd like there to be some other attachment to the "narrative" of the game; I want the experience to more of an experience than just a race. These games are more about cerebral machinations, while I'm looking for more emotional and narrative connections.


One of the more talked about games from the last year or so is Train. It's a game with a trick ending, a game that the designer claims to have an emotional appeal to those who played it, and even deciding not to play it is playing it. A lot of her discussions on the game seem like far-reaching "artistic vision" kind of stuff to me, but hey, everyone has to have a world view of their own stuff, I guess. There is nothing about the actual game system itself that stirs the emotions...just the tacked on theme of one of the most painful events of human history. Then again, it's kind of nebulous what the game actually is, given that she apparently she refuses to release the rules and the card data for review. In other words, the theme needs to be experienced for the emotional impact. Her other projects are also about emotionally heart breaking themes of human doing other humans wrong in grand ways. I'd be interested in seeing if she could capture the same type of emotional responses by not themeing a game around some terrible historical tragedy.

On the other hand...

I do think that they are good art pieces; and probably better than most mass produced games, from what little one can discern about them from afar. They get people talking about things in constructive ways.

Why I bring this up is the one unique thing I've found about Train from a rules standpoint is this: apparently the games doesn't describe a win condition. There is no mention of an ultimate goal with which you are striving for. Which is pretty powerful stuff. Here's why:

Without a known win condition, the player is left to determine his own experience with the game. It's not about optimizing moves better than the other players, it's about optimizing your turns in such a way to gain the best experience that you, yourself have created as a goal. And I can change that goal on a whim. It's about the experience.

Story games seem offer this kind of open-ended structure from a different angle; it's about the story that's created, the travel on the road, the experience of getting the end. The winning is in the creation of a story that is uniquely yours.


Of course, with all that said, the one game that has really struck a chord in me is Fiasco. It's a game where the initial setup of the game is creating the relationship between the other player...then you fill in the blanks about your character. After that, you take turns creating a twisted little story of desperate people doing things that they shouldn't be doing, and things spiral out of control.

From a design standpoint, it's a simple game, but there's some really interesting mechanics in play. The create-the-relationships, not the character thing, as mentioned above is pretty brilliant. It allows for easy "change your locations" scenarios by simply using a few different charts. If you poke around on their website, you can see that they come out with a new "playset" every month, around a different location, era, or theme.

There's also mechanic of pulling dice from a central pool which is more fun that it should be that determines the relationship details, and if a character in a story is having good or bad outcomes.

It's worth a read of the rules to understand what is going on, and how easy it is for players to create their own messed up worlds. And to use as inspiration for other things.

Labels: , , , ,