2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #3: 21-30

21. Play Simple Games.

Every game mechanic you play with is a possible game mechanic you can repurpose and reuse. Build a library. There are a lot of traditional games, like Briscola and Klondike and Freecell and Pyramid that all teach you ways cards and components can interact with one another. Look at Uno. Look at Cribbage. Can you redo Chess? Can you make Checkers interesting?

22. Themes Are Usually Pretty Shallow.

You can usually take any game and strip off its theme and still have an interesting mechanical heart. If you do that you can see different ways to use those same ideas. Bang! and Werewolf and The Resistance have similar cores, not themes. When you shift theme, you often can shift a lone mechanic to explore that.

23. Try To Design At Least One Game Which Uses Just A Standard Deck Of Cards

Do this so you can appreciate games with rules mostly in your head. These are games where the theme is explicitly resisted by the cards – whatever abstraction you choose, you’re not quite dealing with it.

24. Your Complexity Has To Live Somewhere.

Magic: The Gathering’s rules are a massive sprawl but they hide it by putting the complexity in keywords. Sentinels of the Multiverse, which doesn’t exist, tries to put all the explanation for things on rules with very little keywording or rules chunking. Magic: The Gathering is a 25-year old game that’s never stopped growing. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a pretty decent phone game.

When your game gets complicated, you have to put that complicated stuff somewhere. It can be in the manual and people reference, or it can be on the game pieces where people can check it. Recognise when you’re wasting space.

Oh and if other people are using game terms from another game to refer to your mechanics that don’t have that kind of keyword term? You probably need a term for it.

25. Recognise Ragequits

If your game is too frustrating, players will just say ‘fuck it, whatever’ and ditch it. That’s on you. not them.

26. If Players Don’t Want To Play Your Game A Second Time, You’ve Probably Made It Too Predictable/Boring.

That is, of course, not counting artwork reasons – people have an attachment to objects and if your game looks like ass, it’ll put people off. Not every game is for everyone, naturally, so that’s a factor, but if players who are Into This Thing don’t want to play again, that’s bad.

27. Print And Play Players Are So Much More Dedicated Than I Thought.

Fuckers will sleeve stuff, they will cut out 90+ cards, they will use chips and cups to make printables work. There’s a real ethic to them. There are numerous print-and-play aficionados who want the majority of their money to go to the game makers rather than publishers.

28. NEVER NEVER NEVER Use JUST COLOUR To Convey Crucial Game Information.

Your entire game will just SHAKE TO A HALT for ~10% of players. Like, access is its OWN huge umbrella, but colour is the BIGGEST one I see we make mistakes on in a big way. Blue meeples and cyan meeples? Not a good look. Red meeples and green meeples and they need to stand next to each other? Also not a good look.

Look into tokens. Flat, visible tokens with a symbolic design, then make those designs distinct.

29. Gender Stuff!

It’s invisible ink for a lot of guys who make games. Be mindful of it, you can encourage more people to play. Don’t use all guys for your examples. Don’t use Just Male pronouns for players in the rules. If the cast of your game is all dudes diegetically, why? Istanbul is a lovely game which avoids being racist and exploitative and yet it has literally no women in its art or coverage – which is one of those problems that comes up when you assume and assign a default.

30. There Is Literally No Idea Too Silly To Make Into A Game.

In 2016, I saw games about:

  • Being a Jane Austen novel protagonist
  • Dating monsters
  • Bamboo farming
  • Hacking The Man
  • Quashing Uprisings in the Colonies
  • Trading salt
  • Having the best harem of maids
  • Giant Robot Maintenance & Repair

Teaching just one semester I saw games about:

  • Betting on horse racing
  • Being the most beloved chicken
  • Growing illicit turnips
  • Being a Mary-Poppins style supernatural Nanny for toddlers including a young Lovecraft
  • Fighting the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts
  • Dismantling an enormous cybersquid
  • Pitching movies while drunk

Tabletop is the wild goddamn west. YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE ZOMBIE SHIT HERE

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