141. Review Mechanistic Language
Look at the spell fireball from 2ed D&D, 3e, 3. 5 and 4ed. There’s a clear evolution of relationship to language at work. The earliest versions of the games are even a little bit culty, a little bit aware that they know how the things are meant to work (‘you throw a ball of fire that explodes’) but then have a hard time rendering that rule mechanically so players can both get it and not have to spend a lot of time getting weird about it. This is sort of a weird cousin to rules lawyering; you’re giving people tools and they, as characters in a universe, are going to want to use those tools.
You can see the way these things are shaped by the kind of players that got involved. Look at how long it took before there was a standard format – and early versions of 3.0 D&D even strangled themselves down trying to ensure that ‘fireball’ had a sort of specific limit of effects until 3.5 came in and said ‘no, look, it’s just following these standard, templateable pieces.’
This is something that revisions can get you, along with a willingness to approach mechanics as mechanics rather than trying to make each of them special exceptions.
142. Attend to the Interplay of Mechanics and Thematics
Sometimes you’ll find a mechanical shift invites a thematic shift. Introducing knockouts may introduce a more violent tone, for example. Today I had to consider a good punny name and set it aside because it was too nice and pastoral for a game that includes the ability to buy huge gun turrets. Check that your theme and mechanics interlock – and if you find your new mechanics, meant to make a system work suddenly shift the tone of a game, go with it.
Look into the example of wither in Magic: The Gathering. Wither was originally made to be a ‘softer’ form of combat for the Lorwyn magic block, with the idea that it made combat kind of pillowy, instead of people dying. The problem is, wither wound up being super brutal and when examined, felt a lot more like scarring and burning, resulting in it being part of the tone of the sequel set, Shadowmoor, which was more creepy storybook.
143. It’s Okay For Your Game To Be Easy
People play games for a lot of reasons and one of them is therapeutic – being able to feel in control and happy. This ties back to earlier: Empathy for players is crucial to making your game better. You may find that your game doesn’t do what you want it to do, but you might find that that lesson is best implemented in the next game, and you can finish this one first.
144. The Small Audience
There are a lot of games you wouldn’t bother playing that have people who love them. Solitaire has endured, for example. Try not to think in terms of ‘nobody wants that’ and more in terms of ‘I don’t want that’. You’ll accommodate new ideas more honestly. Also, it’ll make you more likely to think in terms of who will want this rather than I don’t think anyone will want this.
145. Extremely Niche And Extremely Close
It’s fine to design games for your needs and wants, by the way. Print-on-Demand is a space that forgives extremely niche ideas. There’s a wealth of nice number-games with procedural structures, or knockoff and variant versions of games that already exist. Heck, you know Werewolf and its many copies and clones? Every one of those clones can be seen as a different take on the access for that original game, or an exploratory effort. You can do that! Even if you’re just trying to get an idea for how you’d word cards, structure them, put art down on cards etcetera.
Niches can run narrow in Print-on-Demand. I mean, The Beast is one of the weirdest game ideas I’ve ever seen.
146. Duplicating Demonstrates Dullness
Thing is, though, once you’ve got your eye in, once you’re trying out a lot of ideas and new expressions, if the main thing I know about you after playing your games is the Other Games you’ve played, your game design is probably boring.
147. Trope Frameworks
This is what we in media studies sometimes call schema. War games have different frameworks to hunting games, to zombie survival games, despite the fact all three are ultimately about getting in position to shoot a thing.
Consider the war game probably doesn’t care about tracking ammo at all. In the Hunting game, ammo can be replenished, but it’s more of a timer there to keep you from unloading too much too fast. Zombie game, though, there the ammunition is precious, and it may even be possible that the gun breaks.
Use mechanics to reinforce theme. The War game isn’t about micromanaging soldiers, who take care of that themselves; The zombie game on the other hand is all about falling the fuck apart and being desperate. Every shot used is precious. So, when you have your theme, consider if your mechanics are reinforcing it or opposing it.
148. Getting Smart
Technologically advanced isn’t the same thing as interesting
, T. I. M. E Stories,
149. No Swearing!
I swear a lot, but broadly speaking your rules shouldn’t swear if you can avoid it. Even if your theme is kinda cussy, like The Botch, or stuff like The Walking Dead. This may sound silly, right? Thing is, there’s a strong board game culture across youth groups and church groups. If you make your language ‘too hard’ for those groups, you can push them away, and they may otherwise love your game.
150. Doing Your Math Homework Is Useful
Do you need help with the rudimentary mathematics that drive the tension in hidden information games? It’s time for some game theory. More specifically, the simplest hidden information game, basically, is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Tic-tac-toe is procedural. Games like Euchre work on making thoughtful choices based on mathematically available information.
If you don’t like math, that’s fine, but if you’re looking for structures to build in, math will build that for you.