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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Original Post: Neal
So I've been feeling a bit introspective recently, trying to figure out why I don't like certain games.  Especially after playing Descent Monday night and realizing that I felt like I didn't enjoy the experience that much.

It's one thing to say, "I don't like playing this.  It isn't fun."  But it was bothering me to not be able to pin down why I didn't like certain games.  What was it about them I didn't like?  What are things I like about the games I do like?

Things I like:
1. Impact.  If I'm playing a game, I want to feel like that my presence at the table is making a difference, right up until the end of the game.

2. Socialization.  I game to socialize.  I want to sit around, bullshit and kabitz.

3.  Interesting mechanics.  I want the game to engage and excite me in some fashion.  I want to go... "Wow, that's cool."

Things I don't like:
1. Length.  I'm sorry, but I don't want to be here for 4 hours.  Longer games are fatigue inducing.

2. Tedious mechanics.  I don't want to just sit here, rolling dice at each other. (Mad Science and Chaos Isle do this.  It's boring as fuck.)

3. No Impact.  If it's clear I'm going to lose from turn 2, why the hell am I still sitting here?  Why didn't we just end the game on turn 2?

Anyway, just some things that have been sticking in my head lately.  These apply more to board games than RPGs, but they could be applied to both.
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For the "No Impact" point, we had a pair of monsters in Descent that initially spawned in front of an entry.  Upon being killed, they would come back in THROUGH THE SAME ENTRY.  It made killing them feel incredibly useless, and yet, they were in the dang way.

Response: Steve
I agree with these for the most part, but I do enjoy the occasional lengthy slog through a four hour campaign; as long as the other points you made are met.

Response: Neal
Agreed, Steve.  I will make exception for length, so long as the game is enjoyable for other reasons.

Response: Mark
I love this post. With all my heart I love this post. If I could +1 this sumbitch 1600 times I would.
I also agree with you.
I agree with  your post on so many levels.

Though it does make me question some of my own design decisions say with the block game.
Which is one a long ass game, and two has a few things in it that will take a players effectiveness (impact) and throw it out the window.

Down a few notches. We all bust Chris's balls because he jams his huge rifle all the time, but it is really not fair to (or fun for) him that he has to run around trying to unjam his gun.. (I know he could just get a bow.) And could the block game be made into shorter bite sized scenarios, that we could knock out goals faster...And even though I think each player does have impact on the black game if they are all using characters built to perform a roll. (like Neals guy is built to fire magic missile and take out  mobs at a good clip to ensure the party as a whole does not get swamped) Now if I added tougher monsters would that effect Neal's enjoyment , because his impact would be lessened turn by turn, and the game will get longer? Is there any way I can build even more impact into the game with out adding sloppy mechanics?

I would love to take Jays game of decent, which I admit I enjoyed when we played it.. and “Neal” it just hack the system a bit to see if we can speed it up and avoid that whole “monster shows up at the door every round” problem.

I guess what I am getting at is every time anyone works on a game they should have , Impact, Involvement, time and tedium on the backs of their hands.

Great post Neal, thank you.

Response: Neal
I would say the Block game is a VERY solid design.  It offers a lot of build choices.  Are there some builds that work better than others?  Yes.  Is it unwise to make a build without certain abilities? Maybe.

Take my guy for example.  I could have taken him without the enhanced mana regen.  Would it cripple him?  No.  Would it make him less effective?  Hell yes.  Same point for not taking the enlarged mana pool.  But those were my choices to make.  I didn't feel the game shoved them down my throat.

The types of mechanics you need to worry about are the ones that everyone avoids because they "suck".  Or on the flipside where everyone feels compelled to take them.  You already addressed that by making basic mana regen a core mechanic, freeing up a slot on everyone who had taken it.

Actually, Mark, the Blocks game is an example of a game done right.  Plus you continue to playtest, refine and improve it as you see things that need work.  If anything, I would argue that Blocks, while taking longer, is MUCH more enjoyable and satisfying than Descent.

Response: Neal
Length is a tricky thing to call out as a "problem."  I feel the need to expound on it a little more.

The length of a game could be loosely defined as the time it takes to bring it to some sort of a conclusion.  For a board or card game, this is usually the time it takes to find a winner.  Given the difficulty in setup and break down, this usually needs to be done in one sitting. (Unless you're playing online, or can leave the board setup.)

RPGs are a bit different.  You can stop whenever you want.  Usually you don't want to do it mid-scene or mid-battle. But you can bring things to a conclusion at any point you like, and pick them up later. 

Blocks actually allows us to do this, making it more like an RPG than a board game.  We can stop a scenario at the end of a floor, and pick it back up at the next floor, if length is a concern.

Response: Mark
Well thanks, I appreciate the kind words, but every part of a game is worth looking at every time we play it.

I guess taking the block game out of the equation, I think that's what every game should try to do .. put each player  for their turn in the driver seat in a way that makes them feel like they are an important cog in the game.
What I am reading and how I am interpreting it I think what you are getting at is that a game has to engage you and make you feel part of the game, for the duration, your decisions need to be important and have some effect in the game for the duration for the game. Kind of like if you get down by 3 in blood bowl and its turn 11.. your kinda done. But if you get down by 7 in dread ball the game stops it's self saving you the time and stress of getting kicked in the teeth for another hour. Please correct me If I am misunderstanding.

From my own experience I remember  playing in a D&D game where my  player character was most certainly a second fiddle, or even a third fiddle behind several other characters, and feeling that no matter how hard I played a Role-playing my character, or how far I tried to push the character. (IN fact in hindsight I was pretty obnoxious at the table a few times, )
The story was never really concerning me and I was just along for the ride. Now I don't think it was a DM thing I think it was inherent in the form and function of Dungeons and Dragons.
Because I know in the past having the thought.. Russ's character is a druid, how can I relate this game to a druid and a thief and a warrior so they all feel connected to the story. Or that monk needs to go fighter a hierophant of is order to advance , when the fuck is that going to happen? Or  Paladins need to  be the center of something or why would they take yup arms.. DnD is full of things like that that make it awful tough to involve everyone, every game.
I think that's why when we were building Phase , For my part (because it was all of us really) I always pushed for when a player is successful the spot light hits them in the face and it is there time. In fact it is the ONLY reward in the game, and the only thing I ever insisted on , because honestly I want my impact when I roleplay and I don't want the game in the way …

I love these kind of discussions I might archive this to my blogg..

Response: Fred
So,  I sort of missed out yesterday, by the time I got home, I just wanted to go to sleep. But, now, I gotta post - because I agree with a lot of what has been said, but still think there are tweaks that can resolve a lot of the "impact" issues.  Not going to speak to the game mechanics and length issues - because frankly, I agree, a game either has the sweet spot for those or doesn't.  But as far as impact -

I agree with Mark that it is sort of inherent in the game (of D&D) .  The problem is that you either have one wildly over the top player (In my case... it was a friend of Mark and mine in highschool, Steve (no relation to Mr. Marin ), who was... let us say... excited(able?)  And he would tend to take the spot light to the detriment of a lot of the other players.  You really had to be able to, and learn to, riff off him to get your play.  In other cases, it is just one player and the DM end up "clicking" in terms of a character concept.  I remember a game of Marvel Super heroes - in which I ended up creating a character with an unrequited love interest, and the DM clicked with the concept and sort of ended up making the adventure all about that - as opposed to what the other players might be doing.  In retrospect, I see how a minor side bar sort of stole the entire adventure (btw... GM was not Mark).

Mark was always very good at trying to keep the adventure relevant for all of the players.  I remember coming home from College on break and playing with my girlfriend, at the time, and Mark... and Mark making an effort to make sure her character was included in the over all plot - even though Mark and I had been playing for years and introducing her was definitely very new and she wasn't super familiar with the game.  One thing that made it easier - she was very outspoken and so she really pushed herself into the game - even when Mark and I might sidebar accidentally.

That brings me to my next point (and yes... this is likely to be a novelle and I don't expect anyone to have actually read this far.), which is that the second thing that derails games and makes one person "outstanding" is if you have a few more "reserved" players.  I was in a game at a con, and had a couple of those types of players.  I am relatively good at inserting myself (and I come up with off the wall characters... this time it was a magic user pretending he was a cleric... and yes... half the players actually thought he was a cleric until the end when I cast magic missile), but a lot of the players were much more reserved... and me and another player ended up sort of taking over.  Another example of this was a good friend of Mark and mine that actually introduced me to D&D and RPGs in the first place.  He was sort of "on his way out" of the genre... and if I am not mistaken (Mark - talking about Mike here) - actually let his character get killed, because frankly his head and heart weren't in the game any longer.  When you have more reserved players - it is easy to get lost in the shuffle or get "shouted" over by more, let's call them... loud, players.

Phase totally fixes this - because each player crafts the adventure.  There is no "over bearing" player or "under bearing" player - because a simple mechanic ensures that everyone gets included... and everyone gets "their story" into the game.  It is almost the epitome of "impact."  You never have to worry about the "guards who are in the way... but have no other value" issue either - because when the players are crafting the story - everything has value to at least one player at the table, so everything has impact.

But, I think the Phase mechanics can be applied to other games - actually to any other game (RPG at least... board games are way out of my knowledge zone, so frankly can't speak to board/war games).  Take D&D - if you implement a Phase mechanic, lets say chips that can be earned for successful encounters and players can "spend" those chips to influence the game and "take over" individual encounters... all of sudden you can involve everyone.  You can "over power" an over bearing player, "break up" a DM/player hegemony, and provide a non-confrontational way for more reserved players to "break into" the game. 

I actually think creating (and then selling) this mechanic (call it the "Inclusion Principle" grin) could be quite lucrative - or at least make you famous.  Basically take some of the phase mechanics and generic-ize them for use in any RPG.  I think it would solve a lot of problems. 

Now, as far as impact in Board games... yeah, probably not going to work.  But, you never know - if you tweak it such that someone can "invent" a reason for the guards being there for example... like maybe it opens up another path "off board" (yes, granted... means a great deal of improvisation and having extra tile sets)... it might be able to work as well.

Okay, the End... until next drink.

P.S. Oh... btw... I love rolling dice.  I really really do.  oh and I like charts... oh, and I like games with no "reset."  Just read B2 module from TSR (Keep on the Borderlands) and one of the classic lines is "Dead characters cannot be brought back to life here!"  ahhh...  they just don't make 'em like Gygax any more.  But, with Phase mechanics... and healthy distancing of one's self from their character... you can have your friends invent really creative deaths for you.

Response: Fred
Agree with Neal about "length" of game.  I guess I'm RPG centric... so never see length as a problem, because you're right - we can stop mid-way through (as long as it isn't in combat) and pick up next play.  I could see length being more of an issue in a board/card game.

Response: Mark
a good example is  Brad and I only played 1 half of blood bowl today when I was showing him the game. There was no point to going on, he was up by two , and had the rules pretty well in hand .. IE could figure out his own blocks and was moving figures on his own ect.. so why  keep going? I don't think games should comfortably resolve like that. But then again I am heavily  RPG centric for 90% of my gaming life so I still have trouble really grasping most board games completely.

Response: Fred
I think that is the #1 reason I can't truly get into blood bowl. I love the concept, I just want an rpg version... sort of like the wrestling rpg you created. I am going to read through phase bowl this week, because I'm thinking that might be what I've been looking for. 

Response: Mark
it might be close , that document I posted is incomplete, but I think with some play-testing we could have something cool to screw around with .

Response: Mark
Back on topic in a way and addressing Fred's longer post that I just saw.

I think one of the things Neal brought up that I have kind of  skipped in this thread is the socialization aspect.
I play the games 40% because I like the games 60% because I like the company, and it is probably more lopsided than that.
I think that might be why we have drifted into board games, they provide more room to socialize than real RPG does. For me the fun is the company and the older I get the more important it is to me.
This brings us to the discussion of “Fun.” Socialization is fun for me but that is a metta game concept. If we get back to games just for the sake of looking at games we get into an area of discussion others have ptu a lot of energy into.  What makes FUN.

Neal in his post was very succinct in his post by stating what he finds fun and what he finds un-fun. TI is very helpful for the  gamer and the people running or writing a game to know that kind of information about their audience.

An Rpg Author Ron Edwards “Sorcerer”, “Troll babe” etc .. made a name for himself by writing a series of very introspective  (and in my opinion a bit pretentious)  essays he refers to as the “Big model”  http://adept-press.com/ideas-and-discourse/big-model/
Like his presentation or not, I have read and reread them /was somewhat active at the Forge forum when it was open, ect (to be honest I rarely posted because a lot of the conversation was more to esoteric for me to bring to the table.. more wine than meat as they say. )
One of the core ideas is that in a game the system DOES matter and a person can write a fantastic game, but if the wrong person plays it they are simply not going to have fun. No single game can satisfy everyone's idea of fun , because fun is subjective to the individual.

To use myself as an example, I liked Blood Bowl a lot more before I bought Dread ball, not knocking Blood-bowl, but The other game seems to hit more of my personal sweet spots. The same way I don't enjoy chess because no one wants me to role pay the  Rook that's about the bite it. If we were to fall back to Mr. Edwards's work, I am a Narativist at heart, I like some Gamist games, but for me it's the story and the interactions amongst the group to make the story which is fun gold.

On the other side of things Chris's love for 40K puts him in the Gamist Camp of things..points, winners , losers, you're not making a story necessarily , you are beating the tar out of the other guy.

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah...
Neal's original post shows me two things.

He is a guy who knows what he likes annnnnnd what he does not.
 I see euro board games, co-op games,  party style games and RPG's where there is plenty of  time for socialization and a good laugh. (Pyramids, Ninja Panda Taco, Flux, paranoia,castle panic, zombiecide, blocks)

I for one apologize for hefting Blood bowl on you [Neal], as it is the exact opposite game style form what you defined as your “likes” or what fun is for you.
My only goal is to see everyone around the table having a good time.

To that point after blood bowl, you missed a hella funny game of Cards against Humanity. (for which Steve and I have made an FBI/NSA watch list.)