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Author Topic: Designing Against Type  (Read 630 times)

Offline Easy E

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Designing Against Type
« on: September 13, 2021, 03:25:19 PM »


Long time readers of the blog know that I have a few "maxims" that I espouse as a game designer.  Basic ideas like:

Choice is good
Firepower vs. maneuver
Innovation is over-rate
Choose the best tool for the job
Game designers must create games


There are others, but those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head. 

Now that I have a few games under my belt, I am starting to run across a bit of a unique issue.  How do you design against your own "Type" of game?  What do I mean? 

Joseph A. McCullough had a great deal of success with Frostgrave.  This was a well-received game that has received a lot of attention.  It has a few core design elements that make the game, the game that it is.  However, it was so successful that it spawned a variety of alternate games using the same basic ideas and structures to it.  In a sense, Mr. McCullough now had a game "Type"

I am sure we can all think of other designers and games that have a certain 'Type" to their games.  A Type is certain core game play elements that they focus on or re-use.  In a way, you can think about it as a "brand" or audience expectation that is designer X is involved then the buyer's have a certain expectation of what is "in" the game. 

Therefore, I suppose we can refer to a Designer's Type as the following:
Core game mechanics that are applied across various game genres by a single designer

I myself have a "type" of game as well.  I have found I can make a variety of "Ancient" games using the bones of the Men of Bronze system.  I can make fun, flavorful, and interesting games using the core rules with some flavor tweaks around the edges.  The logic of using a Type is inescapable.

So, how do I work to Design Against Type?   

https://bloodandspectacles.blogspot.com/2021/09/wargame-design-designing-against-type.html
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Offline has.been

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2021, 06:41:53 PM »
I agree with a lot of what you say.
Several points:-
1) If you have a 'Type' & you are happy (now) then, so what?
    Keep doing 'it' until it begins to wane in YOUR opinion.
2) As you say, every so often start with a blank bit of paper.
     Just jot down some ideas/ wants/ different ways of 'doing it'
3) Do talk with others. I (once) got a group of wargaming friends
     round to just brainstorm ideas. Stocked up with card (cereal
     packets), scissors, coloured pens, Sellotape, dice, markers etc.
    I thought it was great, & used several of the mechanisms/ideas,
    none of the others ever wanted to do it again. :'(
    There is/used to be (I have been out of touch for decades) a
    'Think Tank' for wargaming ideas. C.O.W. (Conference On
    Wargaming) Some fantastic ideas have come out of getting
    a lot of us together over a week-end & releasing inhibitions.
4) I said DIFFERENT ways of 'doing it' as it doesn't have to be new.
    I saw a lovely WW2 game where each building had some free
    space for troops. Turned out the had seen our club's 7YW game,
    where we placed troops in the 'gardens' of village tiles rather
    than the (horrible) balanced on roof tops etc.
    Look at old games.  Mancala/Wari is just crying out to be used
    in a technology chase game (Cold War anybody?)  First question
    to ask yourself is, 'Do I like the Mechanism ?'  Then, 'How can I
    use it?  Drawing up a VERY simple set of Ancient rules for a
    club campaign I came up with (what I nicknamed) 'Spanner in
     the Works'  Simple options list (Skirmishers will NOT charge, but
     might Skirmish/go to cover/retire/try to get around a flank etc.)
     It then became an  opposed dice roll (attacker/defender) with a
     few modifiers. Whoever won would choose what the unit would
     do from the list of options for that troop type.
     One page, simple for even the newest of members to understand.
     
   
     

Offline Elbows

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2021, 05:32:37 AM »
I think everyone who designs games favours certain things.  I admit every time I run Shoot n' Skedaddle...inevitably someone says "Boy this would be awesome in a _______ setting".  I often agree...but I chose not to do a copy-pasta for my second game.  It was a conscious choice because I wanted to see if I was capable of doing something unique and completely 100% different.  Fortunately I was.  I definitely enjoy the challenge of completely unique rules sets.

My friends, however, know that if they're playing a game of mine...there will be pretty cards...a lot of randomness...and generally it'll be difficult.  So I have definitely design facets that I enjoy.  Fortunately they also know my games are almost always fun.  If you're not smiling, laughing, having a good time, or if the table isn't clenching their teeth watching for a card draw....what's the point? 

I do admit, I admire certain types of games and think "One day maybe I'll try that...".

I also like when some designers have a type, because it lets me know pretty quick if I'll enjoy the game or not.  There are, as you say, loads of reskins of games.  It's nice to know if X designed the game, it's probably not something I'm going to enjoy, etc.



2021 Painted Miniatures: 119
(2020: 207, 2019: 123, 2018: 98, 2017: 226, 2016: 233, 2015: 32, 2014: 116)

https://myminiaturemischief.blogspot.com/

Offline fred

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2021, 06:51:02 AM »
I feel this is a similar dilemma across a number of fields (games, music, films, books, etc), you have the author / artist who wants to branch out and do something different, vs the commercial pressure that tends to favour variations on the theme.

I wonder if part of this is that getting a product to be noticed and successful is hard (no matter the medium) and therefore if you have that initial success using that to produce variants help. And if a customer has liked the first version they are likely to be interested in a second variant, and tell their friends about it.

As noted this can lead to a lot of repetition, which can be seen in films as well as games. But if you look at games like Bolt Action where there are huge numbers of army books that add little to the core game, but are still hugely popular. With games it can lead to some confusion in the subtleties between rules, eg Hail Caesar, Pike and Shotte and Black Powder.

Offline Emir of Askaristan

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2021, 11:28:27 AM »
Start from the end and work backwards perhaps? That how I get my project managers to think about a job. Helps them understand the milestones, deliverables, sequence, etc.

What is about period/conflict/army X that speaks to you. Lets say for arguments sake its the heroic aspect of Bronze Age warfare - as opposed to mass chariots - that you want to model...

    What does that say to you as a gamer - godly intervention, impervious heroes, sulky allies?

    How do you model that - cards, random events, picked characteristics for points?

    How does that fit into a playable game which gives you the look and feel you're after?
    Again, taking your Men of Bronze as an example, you don't use cards so how would that fit...could you modify or will you need a new engine

You may well use some of your mechanisms - but you've now got a different angle to cover which may well lead you down a potentially different path from taking your existing model and bolting on extra elements.

Offline has.been

  • Galactic Brain
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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2021, 12:39:01 PM »
Quote
Start from the end and work backwards perhaps? That how I get my project managers to think about a job. Helps them understand the milestones, deliverables, sequence, etc.

A friend (JC) introduced me to what he calls, 'The William Shakespeare'
method of rule writing. i.e. Play-Write. The two sets of WW2 rules that
were available to us at the time, both WRG, were:-
1) Infantry Action. Armour could be knocked out easily.
2)Amour/Infantry Action. Almost impossible for the inf. to do much.

Neither suited what we wanted to play. He did what you suggest Emir.
Start at the end (What do you want to use in WW2 Games?) & work
back from there. Most of our games involved 1 or 2 AFVs & 20 or so Inf.

The first try out of our rules (Achtung Panzer) pitted (my) Pz III, a
section of Infantry in a slit trench & a LMG in a Sandbagged fox-hole,
against 8 (yes eight) Bren gun carriers each with half a section of
infantry. Hidden in the mix were some Boyes A-Tank rifles.
The game was great fun, but a bit like trying to swat flies with a
sledge hammer. Every time I started firing at one Bren the others
would speed from cover to cover, ever closer. The Boyes started to
nibble away at the PzIII. With the Brits closing my Tank decided to
withdraw, that led to a mini collapse of German morale.
Both (Authors) liked the result & we have played many games since.

Morale = Start with the result... well you know. :D 

Offline Easy E

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2021, 02:14:21 PM »
I believe Stephen Covey says to "Start with the end in mind". 

I know I typically start by designing what units and armies look like on the table AND what elements I want to emphasize, and work backwards from there. 

However, that might be a different thread.  How to take your concept to reality.   

Offline Elbows

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2021, 02:42:04 PM »
I definitely start with the goal and then decide how to reach it, but the goal is often an atmosphere or a "feel" to the game.  What experience do I want to have while playing it?  And then how do I use mechanics to achieve that.

My biggest issue with games, both ones I try, and ones I write, etc. is "Is it fun?".  I have purchased, read, and written many games that, at the end of the day, are simply not fun.  Not once do you crack a smile, get excited about a dice roll, or pace around the room trying to figure your way out of a bind, etc.  It's incredibly easy to write functional, competent rules to simulate something.  Making that an enjoyable, exciting experience...is another question entirely. :D

So my goal for the "feel" of many games is always based around "How can we have the most fun doing this?".  That is subjective of course, but definitely the biggest struggle.

Offline Easy E

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2021, 07:37:38 PM »
My biggest issue with games, both ones I try, and ones I write, etc. is "Is it fun?". 

No argument, but that is the highest level of the question. 

You start with "is it fun?" but then you have to peel back WHY it was fun.  Frequently, I find what I found fun about a game is not what others find fun about it.  In fact, I can find a game "Not fun" while others love it.

Therefore, trying to get an understanding of "What is fun?" is the hard part. 

Offline Elbows

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2021, 09:52:56 PM »
Oh, I fully agree.  It's why I design games that I enjoy - if other people happen to enjoy them as well...all the better.  lol

But people who are designing solely for commercial success can't always be that lucky.  Sometimes it's just easier to regurgitate a common style/theme/mechanic, etc.

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2021, 07:00:47 AM »
My relationship with rulesets is complicated. I want to have fun, of course, but to have fun I also need that the game has the right amount of historical flavour; otherwise, I cannot enjoy it. I have tried several skirmish games -I won't mention names as I want not to hijack the discussion- but all of them were in the generic side. As games were fun, and relatively well balanced, but I left the table with the feeling that I could have replaced the models with anything else and would have not notice the difference. There was nothing in the game that made me achieve the "suspension of disbelief" necessary to immerse myself in the story.

Perhaps my problem is that I am looking for a Holy Grail of wargaming, that hits the sweet spot between historicity and gaming. A playable (this is essential!) game that at the same time has mechanics solidly grounded on the actual tactics used by the armies represented, as described in their field manuals, and therefore they do not look like the same army with different toys? Is that even possible? Paradoxically, it is Games Workshop who has tried it with their myriad of codexes specific to each army, but in my opinion the results are just a mess, although some ideas are worthy of being further explored (tactical options specific to each army, for instance)

Offline Elbows

  • Galactic Brain
  • Posts: 8686
Re: Designing Against Type
« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2021, 04:00:22 PM »
I think that's definitely possible, just very rare.

I will say that 90% of wargames are just "roll to hit, roll to kill" with some fluff around the edges.  And that's fine, most of the time.  You run into the same issue with every type of product - if you deviate too far off the most common approaches, you lose a lot of lowest-common-denominator customers.  Also, anyone who has a vague grasp of wargames design can design a functional game very rapidly.  You see it all the time on Wargames Vault, etc.  Some publishers have dozens of games, all of which are...decidedly mediocre.

I see the issue crop up with stuff like role-playing games.  My favourite fantasy role-playing game is called Dungeon World.  However my group, while they enjoy it, are almost visibly uncomfortable with how different it is to the run of the mill D&D clones.  It's such a wildly different play style, that sometimes they struggle to adapt to it.

Making a functioning game is quite easy. Making a fun game is a challenge.  Adding historical context/flavor would be another step of difficulty.  I think you would need to stumble upon a game that someone took a lot of time to do, and was immensely passionate about the era/theatre you're gaming.  Sadly there are a lot of people who view added complexity realism as "crunch" that ruins a game, etc.  I don't see why your goal is not realistic, though.

 

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