Tagged: Terminology

Procedurality

I don’t know if anyone else is using this term to talk about this, so here we go, my best effort to try and coin this term so I can talk about it easily.

The Procedurality of a game is the degree to which game pieces imply the existence of one another. That is, when you’re confronted with a game pieces, you can probably extrapolate what the other pieces mean. As a player this determines how you learn and study the strategy, while as a designer, procedurality shows you the extent of a design space.

Here are some examples:In this pretty ordinary poker hand, you can look at the cards and glean some information. First, there are cards that number up to ten, and cards that number down to four. There are numbers on most cards, and there are some different symbols – a heart, a diamond, a club and so on.

Based on just this information, if you’d never seen the deck before, you could probably extrapolate what forty of the cards are, maybe forty-four based on the Jack probably not being totally unique. The design of a deck of cards works with this – there are two jokers, but aside from that, the whole design is contained pretty tightly within the two variables of each card: Value and Suit.

These are cards from a packet of Dark Signs. One of them is very much unlike the others, the area pieces that you’ll play to win. But two of the cards kind of imply the values of other cards, while the third shows that there’s at least some cards in the deck that don’t fit that pattern. The basic runes in Dark Signs represent the lowest sort of procedurality – they show some value that the players will have to deal with, but they aren’t the whole of the game. The procedural cards in Dark Signs show a sort of design space, but they aren’t super obvious. Also, and it’s a small thing, in Dark Signs, the basic runes all have prime number values, which makes them just a little bit trickier to make score ties.

Finally we have the most procedural game I’ve ever made:

There are 26 cards in You Can’t Win and 24 of them are immediately obvious the second you look at any given card. The other two are Wild cards. Each card shows a value, and a rule that relates to cards with that value.

Procedural games are a good place to get started. It helps you get your mind in the space of working out how many cards you need, and if you do it right it can help you explore spaces, defining boundaries by how many different permutations you need of an effect.

Term: Dice Pool

A dice pool refers to a resolution mechanic where rather than rolling a dice or a number of dice and summing the results, the number of dice themselves is some part of the mechanics. The simplest version of a dicepool is one where you roll a large group of dice, and then select which results apply to which part of the resolution.

A single dice (or number of dice plus a modifier) is a resolution mechanic that follows a very simple experience: You roll the dice, you do the math, and then you have your result. This makes a dice roll, singular, as a very simple ‘switch’ experience, comparable to pushing a button in a videogame. You press a button, the system responds to the math, you get a result. That’s a really good, robust mechanic I like using for any game where you want some variance in a reliable, regular action – like in D&D, for example.

A dicepool, by comparison, is more of a system for making resolution itself a game. This isn’t all it’s used for! But it’s a simple way to use dice that isn’t just adding or subtracting on top of them.

Utility

So one of the most basic things you can do with dicepool systems is you can make players make decisions. Let’s say you have a system where players are setting up a car for a race. You roll a fistful of dice at the start of the game, and select, of those dice, some to be the engine, some to be the tires, and some to be the seating. Then, as you play the game, you prioritise how you drive your car based on those earlier decisions.

One way that Exalted uses a dice pool is that you roll your d10s, and all dice that are 7s or higher are ‘successes,’ and you need a certain number of successes to win. This is a weird bit of terminology that maybe a designer who cared about language might fix but whatever, like in Blades in the Dark the point is that you can use a dicepool to handle a resolution in a system where you want players to succeed, on average, but don’t want the degrees of success to be as varied as the numbers on each dice face.

A dice pool doesn’t even need to be rolled: You can use a dicepool system to have a number of counters that are kept at a particular number, or incremented as appropriate, based on the players’ choices. And even then you can use that these counters are dice as part of the play: Make it so it’s calibrating a computer, and sometimes a virus rolls some of the dice randomly!

Limitations

Dice pool systems can get pretty weird when you make them success-or-fail. It’s also got a mechanical limit – rolling 1d20+30 is not the same physical question as asking someone to roll 30d6 and count the successes.

Another thing with dicepool systems is that when you add components per player, they get out of hand fast – so if you want a game where each player needs to roll 5 dice, then one player needs 5, and 2 needs 10 but if you wanted 4 players you need 20, and you need to store those dice.

One final thing with dice pool systems is that while rolling big fistfuls of dice is exciting, doing fiddly book-keeping or rules changing or changes to each dice in the pool multiplies irritation. So it doesn’t always work with every type of dice mechanic.

Examples

Exalted, Scion, and the other of White Wolf’s other various roleplaying games.

Blades in the Dark.

Term: Hidden Role

A hidden role game is one in which a player or players, selected out from the group, have some element of their play goals altered in a way that sets them apart from the group. Hidden role games are not always asymmetrical team games, but they often are.

Utility

Hidden role games are most obviously useful for making deducing who is on what team part of the game. This is the basic core question of games like Secret Hitler and The Resistance: Avalon – the gameplay is almost completely about working that out.

Nonetheless, Hidden Role is not a mechanic limited to this. You can use it as part of a larger game, where for example, players are largely competing to put together a set of resources, while one player is trying to prevent that without being noticed. You can even make hidden role games where the hidden role is itself a power – look to games like Maskerade and Coup.

Finally, Hidden Role games can be made co-operative as a way to ensure quarterbacking can’t or won’t happen. Players can’t actually determine an optimal path of what players should or shouldn’t do without literally knowing what they actually can do.

Limitations

Hidden role games can kinda bottle anxiety. It can be exciting and thrilling to play a hidden role game with your needs and wants a secret, trying to keep from being caught, but it’s stressful.

Hidden role games also tend to be comparable to one another.

Examples

Maskerade, The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica.


btw, I have no idea where that header graphic is from but it looks like it’d make a great hidden identity game

Rhyparography

There’s this term in art, typically used describing still life, of rhyparography. It’s a discipline that mostly is seen in some medium-poor light, as the term derives from a literal insult, meaning literally, a painter of mean things, or more cruelly, painter of dirt. More commonly it’s used to refer to representative art of fundamentally conventional, unremarkable objects. Some elements of hyper-realism in painting relate to this. Hyper-realism is a real as heck thing, by the way, and you can get a place to start looking by checking out the work of Pedro Campos.

Artwork of three Coke cans, by Pedro Campos.

The typical conversation about hyper-realism in painting is that it’s not rhyparography, because the point of hyper-realism is an effort to elevate the mundane object into a transcendant state. Rather, rhyparography is connected to the mundanity, the unexceptionality of the object. There’s also often some griminess to it – replicating dirt and smudges is a tricky thing.

What interests me about rhyparography is its special presentation in games. Many games are about constructing worlds through visual media, which means that there are people who, in the making of games, construct incredibly mundane unimportant things, sometimes in huge variety. Anyone who’s done texture work or asset packs knows that you’re sometimes asked to represent a huge variety of just stuff. Much of it never gets noticed. Some of it never gets used. There are asset store packs full of unimportant crap.

And they are all crafted.

It is a thing to think about: How much of what we create in games is the normal, unimportant and unexciting. There’s a quiet beauty in that, knowing someone spent time and effort rendering a discarded coke bottle on a counter top, so you could walk into that space and feel like this is a real space.

Story Pile: Minna No Boku No Hero Academia

Curious what you think of the permeability of shonen anime into the general consciousness, as seen in Everyone Making BNHA OCs. – Casey

First things first shonen anime is and has been part of the general consciousness for about thirty years now. My dad knows who Tobor the 8 Man was even if he didn’t, at the time know it was Anime, and Astro Boy is an institution world-wide. What’s more Goku, from Dragonball Z has the cultural cachet of Superman, which puts their general awareness in public attention around about the same level of, literally, Jesus Christ.

That said, there is something interesting about Boku No Hero Academia, a name that I feel it’d be a bit tired to make fun of at this point, and how it relates to Everyone Making BNHA OCs. Specifically, the thing that’s interesting isn’t that Everyone Is Making BNHA OCs…

… its that people feel okay talking abouti making BNHA OCs.

OCs are a really interestingly contentious part of culture. For a start, all creative characters both have them and don’t – the nature of all creative culture as a gigantic remix machine where things we experience become part of the things we create and how it’s all part of this greater framework generation and what we see as originality is really a shift in perspectives or a paradigmatic repositioning and oh god you’re falling asleep – but the other thing is, OCs are seen almost inextricably as embarassing. We use the joke ‘OC, do not steal’ as an inherent joke to describe something people shouldn’t care about, where the speaker is meant to care very much. The Sonic OC is a whole psychosexual bazaar at this point, something most people observe from the outside and awkwardly step around.

Fanart is an interesting mill of media where people often have very one-sided relationships with the work; they do not care about the artist and their opinions or input as much as they care about the other media work the artist invokes. Artists can use fanart as a stepping stone but there is a lot more fanart that goes nowhere than anything else, and the nature of the decontextualising internet means it’s often appreciated by people who have basically no connection to the artist, because they have connection to the media it flows from. Typically speaking, fanart is not a space to get creative – if there’s a character in a lineup from a show that didn’t come from the show, people will almost always see them as not appropriate.

Yet, BNHA has this strange phenomenon where people aren’t just making OCs for it, they’re also comfortable labelling them as such, sharing them, and then, within the framework of the series, using those characters to make fanart of the series. Here, check out this character, who I’m using to show off the way that powers in this really weird and interesting and cool universe could work out!

I don’t think BNHA is uniquely suited for this; you could have seen the same thing back in Ranma 1/2’s heyday, where characters all had ridiculous martial arts and possibly their own ridiculous magical spring. Heck, there was a ten year long roleplay thread on a newsgroup called GRIT that was just about people’s Ranma 1/2 OCs (at first – it spiralled off, as anything would).

What I find more interesting – what I find exciting – is that we’re at a point now where showing off your BNHA OC isn’t seen as inherently ridiculous. We’re reaching a place where when people say I care about this thing, and here is my inclusion in it, nobody says get that out of here. There is a welcoming in this concept space, and…

well, I find that exciting. I wonder how much stuff I’d love better, how much better I’d be at some things if I didn’t feel I was constantly being told I wasn’t good enough.

Term: Deck Builder

A deck builder game is one where building a deck of cards is the core mechanic of how one plays the game in play. This isn’t the same as a game where you build your own deck, like Magic: The Gathering, because in that case, building the deck is an experience you (usually) do on your own. In a deck builder game, you are typically doing something that builds the deck as part of the process of playing the game.

Utility

Deck builder games are great, because the mechanical structure of a deck builder lends itself to a lot of very satisfying things, while still being thematically really varied. Some deck builder games use the deck to represent short-term limited decisions and combat, some use them to represent the slow process of economic movement of kingdoms.

Deck builder games have a lot of room for variance. You can have games with a very rigid structure, like Dominion or games that do a lot with keeping things freewheeling like Star Realms. You can play with rarity or commonality, you can involve other elements like dice and boards. Deck building is really one of the easiest game types to approach as a designer who wants to make something really large without necessarily having the resources to make a big project.

Also deck builders, if balanced well, provide a lot of variance. If there’s no single best way to play, you can use a lot of things to make your play experience more varied and fun.

Limitations

It is one of the most glutted formats of games right now.

What makes this glut worse is that most players don’t need a lot of deck builders in their collection. One good one will usually do the trick, and some players will be dedicated Dominion collectors or Legendary collector, or maybe they just want a single big-box experience like Arctic Scavengers. The point is, everyone’s deck builder of choice tends to have a thing that sets it apart.

The other thing is it’s very, very hard to make a small deck builder. You need a certain quantity of cards, even cards that are very similar, to get the mechanism of deck building to work.

Examples

So many! Here are just a few.

  • Dominion helped to establish this archetype recently and it has a really large number of expansions. It’s also not the best-edited game in the world.
  • A Few Acres of Snow uses its deckbuilding to represent military communication
  • Legendary is a hugely expanded franchise game with a lot of high quality art and whole storage boxes and whatnot
  • Star Realms is a head-to-head deckbuilder that uses its cards to represent space ships and space stations.
  • Arctic Scavengers uses the deckbuilding to represent scarcity and garbage, and has elements of player interaction

 

Term: Roll-And-Move

Roll-and-move refers to a mechanic where players are given a field to move in, and roll dice to determine how and where they can move. They might be moving freely in a grid, or the dice values might determine where they can or can’t go. The basic mechanic is simple, though: Roll any number of dice, and use that information to determine your movement in some way.

Utility

Roll and move is effective as a starting point mostly because it’s really, really well known: Most people know a roll-and-move game and they get it quickly. It also has a lot of underexplored space: most roll-and-move games these days tend towards moving in one direction, like Monopoly or Trouble, but there’s a lot you can do with it – roll and move could be useful for representing things like the pull of variable things, or weather patterns, it could be useful for acceleration or deceleration effects.

Limitations

Roll and Move is a bit of a pariah mechanic in games because there’s been a lot of really bad roll-and-move games made that were distributed. What’s more there are some games that would be pretty good if they didn’t use Roll-And-Move and instead came up with some better, more thematically appropriate scheme to handle movement. Basically, Roll And Move is something of a Default and it shouldn’t have to be, nor should people feel obligated to consider it as such.

Examples

Some roll-and-move games include Hero Quest, Monopoly, and Snakes and Ladders. It’s obviously not a well-regarded mechanic but that doesn’t mean you should consider it unusable – it’s also the basis of the game Camel Up, and is explored in Formula D.

Term: Builder

A BUILDER game is simple to explain: It’s a game where you build something. That makes it sound silly to describe, but it’s a place to start. Most games can qualify as builder games. Dungeons and Dragons has you build a character, Betrayal at House on the Hill has you build a house, and Fiasco has you build tension. But those aren’t really games that fit the term ‘builder,’ because ‘builder’ is really a term about how the game feels.

Builder games are games where your primary focus is on building things, and those games tend to be games with a sense of material to them. You’re building a thing that you can look at and watch grow, and the feeling of that thing growing is meant to feel rewarding. In Betrayal At House On The Hank Hill, there’s no personal connection to the growth of the house, and in Dungeons and Dragons the building of a character is of a slightly immaterial thing. Magic: The Gathering requires you to build a deck to play, but unless you’re drafting, you’re not building the deck on the spot.

Utility

Builder games are games with a lot of inherently obvious value to them. Making things is very satisfying. You can use building to be part of the challenge of a game, as with Junk Art or you can use it to be the reward for playing, like in Dominion.

There are a lot of things you can use Building for, representing a whole host of different themes. It’s almost too broad a term, but I want to put it in this little dictionary of terms because when I refer to a builder, or refer to builder mechanics, I want it eaisly conveyed I mean a game where making something tangible is core to the experience.

Limitations

The biggest limitation of builders is that the bigger the thing you build, the more difficult it is to easily mentally parse it. Builder games often inherently increase in complexity! If the building components don’t increase in complexity it can be unsatisfying to watch the builded thing grow!

Examples

Games with good ‘building’ feels to them are often deck builders, like Thunderstone, Star Realms or Dominion, or they’re about building up a thing in an empty space. Some games like Dream Home have an element of builder to them, but that’s filling out slots on your board, and may feel less rewarding. Some games like Barenpark have that same effect, but the process of building is more difficult and may feel more rewarding. Same to with Galaxy Trucker, where you’re building within a box. A game that has more of an open builder feel might be something like 51st State or Imperial Settlers or Seven Wonders.

 

Term: Drafting

A draft refers to when players make exclusionary choices from a common pool; you’ll see this sort of thing in professional sports to determine where players wind up. In card games, however, a draft usually refers to a mechanism where players each are given a handful of cards, choose one card, and remove it from the hand, then pass their hand on to the next player.

Utility

Draft based on cards can put complexity on the cards themselves, rather than in the fundamental structure of the game; the game has a really simple rule of Take A Card, Pass Everything Else Along. That means players can focus on just the cards in their hand, that they can select from, and not need to worry about what else is going on at the table (though they might).

Draft is also simultaneous: Players will all be taking their turn at the same time, meaning that even if one player is markedly slower than the others, players won’t be waiting the entirety of their decision making process, since they have to do some of their own decision making process.

Limitations

Draft is a super duper complicated way to design your game. In the case of a bigger game where draft is used as a component, like Magic: the Gathering there are thousands of words written every month or so about ways to do it well, strategies for repeating the same game, things you can do to handle the variance and things you can do to capitalise on it.

Players get to see a bunch of the cards in front of them; they get to know what they’re passing, and that can mean that players seeking an edge may feel obligated to remember everything going around the table. You can find this a bit paralysing.

You can make drafts open, where everyone makes it clear what they’re taking each turn, which gives players even more information, and may be even more paralysing. If you do this it’s often best to have a common pool that everyone takes one thing from at a time. I’m less fan of this but it can be a good way to make players hold grudges against one another.

Examples

Some drafting games include Magic: The Gathering’s limited format (known as draft, helpfully), 7 Wonders, and Inis.