Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Big games and little ones

Last night I took a trip to Snakes and Lattes for their game designers night to get some testing done on my newest Dot iteration.  I added in three and four player rules to the existing two player game and it did really well in the test.  The higher player versions played in the same timeframe but had very different feels which was pretty much exactly what I wanted.  The thing I noticed was that the people bringing games to the event seemed to have an awful lot of big, complex games.  The prime example was a game called Camelot which had a playing board that combined about five regular chessboards with four towers about 20cm high, four complete sets of chess pieces, two stacks of cards, and a ton of special extra pieces.  I played the game for most of an hour and there was still no winner; in fact the game creator admitted that you could easily play for dozens of hours without victory.

I wonder about making really complex, huge games.  In my life there are lots of complex, great games out there but I have absolutely no ability to play them.  Le Havre is great, Agricola is great, Diplomacy is great, the list goes on.  Hand me a huge block of time and a bunch of gamers and I have an enormous list of games I want to attack.  However, in real life I never actually get to play those games because they require huge amounts of space and time.  The games I actually get to play are ones that are small, quick to learn, and fast to play.

It seems to me that if you are making an enormous, long game you are pretty much giving up on the mass market and are aiming for the student crowd.  I certainly recall in university playing Barbu for three hours and then playing it twice more.  Good luck with that now!  I have to get up and get Elli to school these days so just getting in one game of Barbu is rough.  The way I see it if you really want to make a game a success it needs to be fast and simple with as much emergent complexity and potential depth as possible.  Gigantic boxes filled with pieces and dense rulebooks strike me as a good way to never play the game in question.

Of course there are other advantages to fast games.  If a player gets stuck in an unwinnable position or is knocked out of the game they don't feel like their entire evening is shot.  Also you can have a bunch of different people win a game in a given night and that generally leaves people feeling much better about things.  Perhaps we shouldn't put so much weight on winning, but most of us do.  All of this is why I am focusing so much on Dot and less on FMB.  FMB is my baby but it is a hard sell to anyone but a serious gamer.

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