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A series of essays of esteemed boardgame veterans
August 24, 2011 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Tabletop: Analog Game Design - A commons licenced book containing a series of essays about digital and non-digital games from some esteemed boardgame veterans: "Much has been written about the videogame revolution, [...] In a scant thirty some-odd years, we’ve grown from nothing to one of the world’s largest entertainment forms, grossing tens of billions annually [...] Works that discuss the evolution of the game industry from an historical perspective generally talk about the connection between the pre-digital arcade and the earliest digital games; I’ve even heard some claim that “without the arcade, videogames would not exist.” This is, of course, bosh..."

http://www.etc.cmu.edu/etcpress/content/tabletop-analog-game-design

A diverse set of essays by game designers, both digital and tabletop, as well as by game studies academics. Some discuss tabletop game design, others analyze games they admire, and others talk about other things that impinge on tabletop games.

Stone Librande talking about the games he designs every year as Christmas presents for his kids; Lew Pulsipher on the difficulties in designing three-player games; John Sharp on Pandemic and why most serious games suck; and Ian Schreiber has a piece on Settlers of Catan to name a few.
posted by Cogentesque (36 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
INSPIRED: Tonight, we're putting the little one to bed early and I am going to play Carcasonne with the wifey.
posted by resurrexit at 7:26 AM on August 24, 2011


For all its effectiveness as a historical simulation, Gupta and Matthews
are clear that the game (Twilight Struggle) reflects a certain perception of history, not history
itself.


Me: You know, the mechanics of this game perpetuate often mistaken cold-war assumptions that probably cost the lives of millions.

Player: It's really fun though isn't it?

Me: Goddamn it, it is.
posted by Winnemac at 7:38 AM on August 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


The full text (at least, it appears to be) in non-PDF form.
posted by scrowdid at 7:41 AM on August 24, 2011


Oh, duh, that full-text link is right in the FPP. Damn these eyes! Sorry bout that.
posted by scrowdid at 7:42 AM on August 24, 2011


As usual, the essay touching on tabletop RPGs was written by a video game guy who last designed anything for tabletop RPGs maybe 25 years ago. This is why the academic study of tabletop RPGs continues to be kind of garbage.
posted by mobunited at 7:42 AM on August 24, 2011


Are you talking about Costikyan himself? He was prime mover in the Paranoia XP re-design (2004).
posted by bonehead at 7:54 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


INSPIRED: Tonight, we're putting the little one to bed early and I am going to play Carcasonne with the wifey.

Worst. Euphemism. EVAR!
posted by eriko at 8:23 AM on August 24, 2011


Thanks for this, looks fantastic. If you're interested in board game art design, Mike Doyle's blog is a must-read. He's also been posting some amazing Lego art lately.
posted by oulipian at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pandemic is friggin' ridiculous. The problem is neatly encapsulated in the chapter on it. As the author of the chapter notes,
The game is won when the players can cure all four viruses. The game ends when eight of these outbreaks have occurred. The game is lost when the entire deck of Player cards is used, when all of one color of virus cube are placed on the board, or when eight Outbreaks have occurred.
Welp, I count three ways to lose and one single solitary way to win. We found that having the game end because the deck of Player cards has been used once to be an incredibly frustrating limiter. I think the next time we play, we'll leave in the other two ways to lose (all blocks of one virus placed on the board, or eight outbreaks have occurred) and take that one out. Maybe gameplay will last longer than fifteen minutes that way. It is a fun game, just a very frustrating one.

Carcassone, on the other hand...so much fun. I always end up drawing the cloisters, which virtually assures I can win. The expansion pack--we currently have the dragon one--makes play even better. And it's the middle of my work day, so I can't even begin to start playing it.
posted by librarylis at 8:26 AM on August 24, 2011


Librarylis, are you sure you are playing correctly? Having the deck of player cards end doesn't end the game anywhere near as often as 8 outbreaks does in my experience. (I have never lost because I've used up all of one colour.) I need to play Pandemic again. I really enjoy that game.

Catan is a great gateway game, but I don't know any regular gamers who continue to play it often because fuck the stupid sheep. (Not literally.) I often think that I would like to try to play it with a hand of dice cards, or where you got to select between the 36 rolls openly, with a reset of all rolls when there is only 1 option left.
posted by jeather at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2011


In his RPG article, Costikyan talks up 21st-century RPG movements like Forge narrativism and Jeepform, so his perspective isn't stale.
posted by Sauce Trough at 8:36 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeather The Traders and Barbarians expansion for Catan comes with a deck of event cards that also serve as dice cards. I don't mind the dice throws, but the random events can be pretty interesting.
posted by bookwo3107 at 8:39 AM on August 24, 2011


I know there are decks of event cards, but I think I'd prefer to play with a hand so I could choose between 3 or so rolls each turn, or with just plain choosing which roll to throw. I find the dice add way too much randomness to make the game fun.

I am also sort of frustrated by games that do not have turn reordering each turn now, because there is always one person you don't want to play right after, or right before. (This is problematic if the game players are unevenly matched.)

I might be -- just maybe -- a tiny bit picky.
posted by jeather at 8:42 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


This looks like a very interesting set of essays. Marked for reading.
posted by meinvt at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2011


Librarylis, are you sure you are playing correctly? Having the deck of player cards end doesn't end the game anywhere near as often as 8 outbreaks does in my experience.

We were reading the directions pretty closely both times (we'd never played before so followed the rules strictly). We made sure to plot out pretty quickly how to avert 8 epidemics and too many blocks out at once (we luckily got the cards to make it work both times). So it was frustrating that we had already cured one disease, and were close to curing two others, when we ran out cards and automatically lost.
posted by librarylis at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2011


So it was frustrating that we had already cured one disease, and were close to curing two others, when we ran out cards and automatically lost.

You know that in order to win, you only have to -have- the cures, not have wiped it off the map, right? I find the way to win is usually just barely managing the outbreaks while focusing on cures. I only find us heading towards the time loss if we waste too much time trying to clean the board instead of aiming for cures.

It's been a while since I last played, but I remember having the Dispatcher, I think, the one that lets you move players around, is a big advantage.
posted by yeloson at 9:29 AM on August 24, 2011


Yeah, something sounds fishy there, because having only cured 1 disease -- cured, not eradicated, right? -- and then running out of cards doesn't really jibe with the game as I have played it. (I have often played games wrong the first few times, more often than I haven't.) There's a thread about common mistakes, which might clue you in somewhere. Also, the first few games tend to end in losses -- you can do much better once you've played a couple/few more games, and then you can re-add more losing conditions. Pandemic is lots of fun and it's really quite well balanced.
posted by jeather at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2011


Are you talking about Costikyan himself? He was prime mover in the Paranoia XP re-design (2004).

I'm thinking of Chris Klug, though citing a 7 year old remake of a game from the 80s is in of itself emblematic of these problems. Greg Costikyan generally gets a pass for having designed Ghostbusters, which is a really important game.
posted by mobunited at 9:33 AM on August 24, 2011


What's been really disappointing to me in RPGs seems to be the trend of backporting of MUD and WoW mechanics to tabletop RPGs. I don't understand what the appeal of that is, because the mechanics of MUDs are terrible for realism and immersion, imo.
posted by empath at 9:38 AM on August 24, 2011


The Forge was the place for current tabletop RPG design talk; those guys have dispersed somewhat at this point and I'm not sure where to go for that now.
posted by curious nu at 9:44 AM on August 24, 2011


In his RPG article, Costikyan talks up 21st-century RPG movements like Forge narrativism and Jeepform, so his perspective isn't stale.

As I said, he designed Ghostbusters. On the other hand, academic discussion of RPGs is generally either entangled with a commercial or marketing mission (the Forge) or led by people who have not regularly designed tabletop RPGs themselves for some time. Nordic gaming avoids these problems, but it's also very specific to its audience -- some of the lectures I've heard from Nordic game academics on the wider practice of roleplaying are . . . dissatisfying. What we're missing is balanced practitioner scholarship about tabletop roleplaying as a whole. That means:

* The person in question has designed TRPG stuff to significant notice, recently
* Their work is not tied to promoting a business model, brand or product
* Their work is not only relevant to the hobby as practiced broadly, but is intercritical -- it's aware of the broad stream of thinking in a non-superficial fashion.
posted by mobunited at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2011


The Forge was the place for current tabletop RPG design talk; those guys have dispersed somewhat at this point and I'm not sure where to go for that now.

They declared victory and closed further discussion.
posted by mobunited at 9:48 AM on August 24, 2011


Historically games were less designed than evolved.

Castling in chess, for example. Pre-20th century games were refined over centuries. That's why they're good.

Sufficiently popular house rules should be considered to be the rules of any game.

Monopoly: $500 should be placed on free parking right before you set the board on fire.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:54 AM on August 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I see what you mean about the Klug essay. That's pretty rambly.

There really aren't a lot of people who fit all three of those criteria. Costikyan certainly does. He's done significant stuff (Toon, Ghostbusters, Paranoia); he's currently not "owned" by anyone; and he's been actively talking about ludology for years (notably via his blog Play This Thing!).

Ron Edwards? (Sourcer)
Jonathan Tweet? (Ars Magica)
Robin Laws maybe?

It would be a pretty short list.
posted by bonehead at 9:56 AM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Costikyan didn't design the Ghostbusters RPG (that was Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis and Greg Stafford), but he did edit it. He did design the Star Wars RPG.

I've had the print edition of the book for a few days and keep running into screaming errors that a good editor should have caught (RPGnow.com is not a POD shop, for example, it sells ebooks). And I have to say the physical design is horrible. It's a difficult book to read.
posted by Hogshead at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2011


Costikyan didn't design the Ghostbusters RPG (that was Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis and Greg Stafford), but he did edit it. He did design the Star Wars RPG.

My mistake. Star Wars is Ghgostsbusters' successor, so I think I mentally moved back one design iteration without reassigning the credits.

Robin Laws should definitely be in this stuff, and he's done some interesting analysis of games lately. I think he argued that a specific criterion for mature academic TRPG discussion was a Marxist RPG critique, which is a provocative thing to say, and probably true.
posted by mobunited at 10:20 AM on August 24, 2011


...the mechanics of MUDs are terrible for realism and immersion, imo.

k empath
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posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's been really disappointing to me in RPGs seems to be the trend of backporting of MUD and WoW mechanics to tabletop RPGs.

Hey empath--

Can you talk about this some more? I know that D&D4E has some WoWiness to it, but where are you seeing this elsewhere?
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:33 PM on August 24, 2011


The win condition of Pandemic is fundamentally unsatisfying. Has anyone invented house rules for clearing the diseases completely?
posted by edbles at 5:41 PM on August 24, 2011


What's been really disappointing to me in RPGs seems to be the trend of backporting of MUD and WoW mechanics to tabletop RPGs. I don't understand what the appeal of that is, because the mechanics of MUDs are terrible for realism and immersion, imo.

It's easier to get people to play a table top that has simplified mechanics. I'm involved in three 4e games now and I know that some of the players would not be there without 4e rules.

On the upside, it will be much easier to introduce the new table top gamers into something like Shadowrun and keep some level of immersion.
posted by ryoshu at 8:16 PM on August 24, 2011


ryoshu: I would be loath to find a system simpler than beer & pretzels games like Toon and Paranoia in any game, electronics or not. System contents is not system rules, and exceptions-based gaming tends to stifle creativity by forcing players into a sort of video-game mindset, never mind the games that institute rules which could never be done in a video game, like stunting in Feng-Shui and Exalted or the character creation of HeroQuest.
posted by curuinor at 3:43 AM on August 25, 2011


Greg Costikyan generally gets a pass for having designed Ghostbusters, which is a really important game.

Costikyan also designed a number of board games, including Barbarian Kings (which I used to own the reprint of but never really got to play). He was the designer of Toon (developed by Warren Spector, yes that Warren Spector), and one of the creators of Paranoia, and gave Paranoia XP & succeeding version his blessing. He's generally awesome.
posted by JHarris at 9:07 AM on August 25, 2011


Costikyan also worked on Mad Maze on Prodigy, which I've been wanting to make a FPP about forever; this version only works in Internet Explorer, however, and my attempts to emulate IE via WINE and play it that way have failed. Maybe someone else can sort that bit out.
posted by curious nu at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2011


Back in 1994 I and a friend were starting a little magazine about games and narrative. We'd both done fanzines before, we'd co-designed the card-game Once Upon a Time and I'd had a couple of game-supplements published, but we were pretty much unknowns. Nevertheless we contacted everyone we could think of in the games industry and asked them if they'd write us an article.

Greg Costikyan wrote an article for us. It was called 'I Have No Words And I Must Design' and it's now considered one of the classic pieces on thinking about game design.

Later on I published his game Violence, but that's another story.
posted by Hogshead at 4:32 AM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


What? No other posts tagged with "Boargame"?
posted by Winnemac at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2011


Boargame now = Boardgame , good to see that you enjoyed the article Winnemac :)
posted by Cogentesque at 1:58 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


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