2016’s Lessons Of Gaming #9: 81-90

81. Find Where You Have To Limit Players

In RPGs, players are using your system to create and express. The more tightly you limit that, the more you cut off their options. A DM of ours, @ExManus is fond of the phrase ‘your thematics are your own. ‘ and it’s proven absolutely invaluable. Do you have the right mechanical interactions that make sense? Then fuckin’ wonderful. I don’t care if you call it Nature Magic or Fae Soul.

In RPG design, consider what restrictions are necessary to make the game work. Some games have very strict, regimented settings, such as military ones. But more creative, expressive settings benefit from letting players come up with their own explanations for things. Look at where you’re using a theme when you should be using a rule, and when you’re trying to treat theme as if it is rule.

82. Knockouts Aren’t Always Bad

Knockouts – where you remove a player from the game somehow – are seen poorly, especially amongst the Euro-gaming, victory-point counting gamer crowd, but they serve the valuable purpose of freeing people from a game they can’t win any more. If you think being knocked out of a game early sucks, try being stuck playing a game you’re completely unable to win for the full duration

83. TERM: Victory Point Salad.

Some games let you do a bunch of things to accumulate ‘victory points’ and the game just checks the count of them. These games are honestly kind of best for representing big complex economic systems where things are all of dubious total value, and goals are sort of there for players to pursue individually? But a better way to follow this is using a Victory Point Salad design is best for games where you have a lot of different systems and want to give players things they can avoid.

84. TERM: Victory Point

Call them something other than Victory Points, I mean come the fuck on, VP is the most thematically dead term by now.

85. Examine your Base Assumptions

When we code symbols in games we bring a raftload of assumptions. Maybe reconsider them and open other spaces. Bats, wolves and rats are typically ‘bad’, but bears often have a nobility to them as if they’re not all just eating the same idiots.

86. Content Vs System

Games can be broken into Content and System. Some games need a lot of System and comparatively little Content (D&D, frex). Some games are system light and compensate with an enormous volume of content (Billionaire Banshee, Elevator Pitch). If you make a lot of one, you can make less of the other. Note can; that’s not to say it’s a simple 1:1 divvy.

87. Don’t Follow Fads For Fads’ Sake

I’ll use real-time play as an example but the principle holds. Real Time is the latest thing to try doing with card games, and it’s not a bad place to go but it’s also got a big problem: Many people drawn to card games are doing so because they don’t want real-time decision making. They want a turn-based pace. So there’s a quantity of board gamers who react to games like Captain Sonar as if you’re asking them to ride a rollercoaster that’s on fire

Remember, there are some people who want games to give them reliable components. Some folk wanna shuffle up some cards and maybe make a ninja dude fight someone.

88. The Easy Seat

In team games it is 100% okay to design team roles whose job is Be Boring But Useful. Some players don’t want the stressful decisions. Don’t make it essential – don’t make it so some player has to have the dull role? But let someone who wants to take an easy job get it.

89. Players Have Material Needs

Respect your players, but do so wholly. Recognise they need breaks, have other interests, have limited space and money. If I could give up on half the content of Kalash-Tar in exchange for fitting it in the Resistance box I’d take that fucking deal

90. Build Skeletons To Know How Things Run

Try and make a deck builder, a bidding game, and a hidden role game, at least just in concept space versions. If you can explain the basic rules of how those three types of games work, well and coherently, even if you never make one for real, good.

This isn’t even vaguely hard, as it is; there are tons of examples you can look at, and it’s not like boiling Resistance down to its bones is hard.

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