Tag Archives: board games

Luck and Board Games

I used to fancy myself a pretty good Monopoly player. The reason I was good at that game had nothing to do with the rules. I was good because I was a good dealer. When it came to seeing the long-term value in a property, I was usually best at the table. At the end of the day, though, I could still lose. I would still land on Boardwalk through no fault of my own. I would still only land on two properties my first two trips around and have nothing to trade. Why? Bad luck.

My ability to be good at a game like Monopoly had nothing to do with my skill. It had to do with if the dice were in my favor. Then, it had to do with how well the dice rolled for my friends. I could always best the best decision and still lose. This is why I had to shelve Monopoly for the foreseeable future. In general, the more a game depends on luck, the more I will avoid it.

Does that mean that luck in board games is a bad thing? I don’t think it is as a rule. King of Tokyo is a great game that uses dice. What makes it different from Yahtzee? It’s the fact that there are interesting decisions for the player to make. Sid Meier, the creator of the “Civilization” series, says, “A game is a series of interesting decisions.” If there are no decisions for the player to make, there isn’t much of a game.

When choosing games to play with the family, there is a balance to be had. Random elements in a game create balance. A die roll has nothing to do with strategy. Kids and parents alike can roll a 6 on a die. To that point, some random gives the children in the family an equal footing. If there is too much random though, they may get frustrated. Too much random doesn’t give a feeling of satisfaction when making the correct decision. It’s this risk/reward balance that has to you need to watch in family games. A game like Terra Mystica is punishing to new players because of the lack of random. In contrast, a game like Settlers of Catan is friendly to beginners. The random (and social) elements of the game keep good players in check. That also allows the newer/younger players to keep up.

What games do you think do a good job at balancing random elements? Do random elements in games matter to you? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts

 

Board Games and the Brain

I recently read a post on Jamey Stegmaier’s personal blog about gaming and learning. I have been teaching through how the brain works in my anatomy and physiology class. Our brain is a fascinating organ and is able to do things that still baffle us. One baffling thing is the associations we make between items and how those associations help us to learn. Gaming is a great way for our brains to make those associations and learn from them. Playing board games will not only add enjoyment to your life, but it may also make you a better learner.

Crossword puzzles are a basic version of this idea. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends them as an important way to prevent that horrible disease. Why? Because the brain has to make several associations there: the word, the boxes, and their relationship to the other boxes. There may be several words that fit in the box, but only the right word fits in the context of the other words. A well-designed crossword even makes the clue itself a baffling first hurdle for the brain. Counting boxes, counting letters in words and relating them to other letters in other words – all very good for the brain.

Convert this idea to board games. Take a simpler game like Ticket to Ride. In Ticket to Ride, the brain has to make associations between the game board, the color of tracks, and the color of cards in hand. Also, there are the high-value tickets you are trying to complete. Next, the opponents rails are in the way and players must work around them. There is a lot going on! First-time gamers will come away from that game thinking, “Wow, I did something.” After long weekends of gaming, I will sleep for 10 hours that Sunday evening. The brain will work you out!

What are some other games that seem simple but are great for the brain? What recommendations would you make?

 

Playtesting Your Game

In my last post, I introduced my design project, Heartland. With any new board game design, there is a large amount of playtesting involved. Playtesting gives the designer insights that he or she can’t see on their own. As much as you may think your game works, most of the time it will fall flat during the first few playtests. After many other tests, a polished product begins to emerge. There isn’t a particular method to playtesting. I’ve adopted a sequence that has worked for many other designers in the past.
 
First, there needs to be a short period of testing the game for “fatal flaw.” Many designers call this the “insanity test” for the game. After initial creation, I made errors in the game that made it unplayable or “broken.” “Broken” is a term used by gamers to denote game mechanics that don’t work, or work too well. In my initial tests of Heartland, the fur-trading mechanic was too strong. It was so strong that to compete, you had to play that space every time. We adjusted mechanics and tested again. You continue with this until you have something to show to others.
 
The next phase is a time of playtesting among folks you know well, but aren’t invested in the game. The goal for this phase is to weed out things that may seem confusing or unnecessary. Because I’ve been so invested in the game, everything makes sense to me. Yet, during my first playtest of this nature, a friend asked a good question. He asked, “So, you explained it, but I still have no idea what I’m supposed to be going after.” That’s good info. Something needed to be clearer. I’ll continue to weed these inconsistencies out until the game is ready for a wider audience. I’m currently in the middle of this stage.
 
The next stage is “blind” playtesting. This stage involves giving a prototype of your game to a group of people who have shown interest in your game. They take the game, read the rules, and play it a few times, taking notes. You may even ask them to video the experience. This is the real test of a game. It mimics the experience that future game owners will have when they open their game for the first time. This is the process I look forward to the most.
 
Are you interested in blind testing my game? Please let me know. I’ll be looking for testers by the end of the Spring.