2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #4: 31-40

31. Physical Notes

Physical note-taking lets me scribble out things in relationship to one another. This is especially important when I’m making games that care a lot about numbers, having the ability to scribble sets/values helps me out. Especially when you can do it quickly; noting things down on a computer so they can be interpreted later tends to slow me down and since the process is rarely as important as the result in this kind of design that matters.

32.  Grid Paper

Grid paper is also super useful – just so you can give satisfyingly similar sizes to things as you work on them. Usually, your notes won’t matter to anyone but you. Me, I find my notes really comforting to check over when I can look at a card and tell it’s meant to be a card.

33. Scope Creeeeeep Is The Worst

Just how much of your game’s design is just throwing together a lot of things you like? (lookin’ at you, Scythe). It’s easy to make a game that’s got to have twenty systems in it at once, but making every one of them good will take you time.

When you’re working in print-on-demand, work with things you can finish first. Cat & The Mouse could be a stealth system in a bigger game, no problem. But I can build UP better than I can strip DOWN. Sometimes you’ll pare a game down and find it doesn’t have enough stuff. That’s okay. You can always add to it.

34. Materiality Is Important.

If you’re working with cards and boards, you’re dealing with actual objects people have to handle. Hecatomb is a neat game but it’s really hampered by the way that shuffling five-sided big ole cards work. The currency in Millions of Dollars feels crap and it plays into how it lasts.  If you’re dealing with a thing that tracks information, do you need to use counters or tokens for that? Can you use a single card, being turned?

When do you use a currency vs an invisible value? Magic The Gathering makes mana invisible, even though lands aren’t. Currency is best used if it’s something that gets handed over to people, make it so the object of the currency is something nice to handle. Invisible currency is fine, if it never leaves one player’s control – ‘I give you five points’ versus ‘here, have these five cards.’

A victory point tracker may have the hated term ‘victory points’ in it, but if those values from different players don’t interact, it’s a good way to track that value rather than using a currency.

35. On Sexy

There’s nothing Wrong with Sexy Games, or Sexy Stuff in Games, just know you’re doing it and why. Sexy As Default is creepy weird. You know what I’m at. A game about barbarians dueling and The Girl is in a bikini because, well, what else would we do? Knock that shit off.

36. Cats And Dogs Are Your All-Purpose Excuses For Anything.

Seriously, theming games around them is a huge cheat. You want players to be selfish, aloof dicks to one another? Your game is about cats. Players will get it. You want players to be needlessly friendly and cooperative with everyone? Make it a game about dogs.

37. Feeding Instigators

If you build your game with a PRESS BUTTON TO FUCK EVERYTHING UP mechanic, ~5% of players will slam that button every fucking time. I sometimes shorthand these players as Instigators.

It can be really useful to tap this resource of player behaviour but don’t do it carelessly. Giving the instigator an inviting button to push when things are getting boring is good; giving them something that keeps anyone from being aware or certain of what’s going to happen next is bad. Consider these effects as a bit like pulling the lever on a slot machine.

38. Theme Pulls Play

If you design your game well players will fall into the theme hard. I have seen a massive bearded man stuttering out ‘s-senpai!’ You can tell players ‘be nervous’ or the game can make them nervous.

There are lots of war games that tell you ‘this matters,’ but the reason the 40k armies get people so invested is because players being able to sculpt their own force makes it matter to them.

Put it simply: You can tell people to act as if candy is good or you can make candy taste good.

39. Look At Your Defaults

Look at the things you assume as default in characters in your game and change it to see how it feels. Put in a vegetarian character. You might find in this process, shit makes no difference to you. That’s good, it broadens your realisation of ‘normal. ‘

40. Having Enough Or Having Anything

Scrabbling for resources is okay, but scrabbling for _specific_ resources is better. I’ll use ammunition as an example, and heck, Doom (the PC game) uses this model really well. If you’re scrabbling for any ammo at all, you mostly can’t do anything while you hunt and search. In Doom, that’s… un-fun. But if you’ve got plenty of bullets but what you REALLY NEED to handle your problem is rockets, you can waste bullets while hunting rockets.

Basically you don’t want your mechanics to say ‘well, don’t bother, you can’t do shit right now. ‘

 

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