Lady Luck, Part 2

Last post we discussed how the way luck is incorporated in a game can cause feelings of futility and even infuriate players. We play the game but we don’t feel like our strategies will bear fruit due to randomness.  Your best laid plans are ruined because the expected payout of your higher probability options is losing out to the lower probability options that happen to freakishly occur more often. This is the nature of probability.

There are some ways randomness can be incorporated in a more controlled manner. For example, Kingsburg does this very well. Players roll 4-5 dice each turn, combine the totals on any number of dice rolled, and then take turns allocating their dice combinations on an unclaimed space to gain resources. The board comes with spots from 1 to 18 giving various resources.

Taken from Kingsburg rules.

Taken from Kingsburg rules.

For example, if I rolled 3, 4, and 5. I can combine the 4 and 5 and place it on the 9 slot, leaving the 3 for my second placement assuming 3 has not been taken. This mechanic, while it has randomness, makes it manageable. The player can take what is rolled and try to optimize the payout to the their needs. The astute reader would realize that higher numbers on the board gives better rewards. As a result, the game designers based player turn order on the total of dice rolled and begins with the player with the lowest total. I find small rules like this very considerate because players with low rolls are “slightly” disadvantage. To compensate, they have been allowed to get first claims on resources. Kingsburg is a game with good randomization, yet I don’t get to play it as much as I would like. That’s because in my group of friends there is one particular person who rolls very high numbers EVERY SINGLE TIME. You know those people who roll double sixes in Risk several turns in a row. Yes, one of them. Call it devil’s luck, horseshoes, magical contracts or what have you. When one has above average rolls in a game like this, they will naturally take the lead.

Randomization is fun in games. People like the unexpected stroke of luck. The pleasant surprise when things went better than you thought or when Lady Luck noticed you. At the same time, we also want a certain degree of control over our maneuvers in games. The ability to allocate actions and resources after randomization gets rid of the frustration that comes from your turn being dictated by a single randomization device. We are used to dealing with things in life based by making do with the “hand” we’ve been dealt. It is only when there is nothing you can do about the surprises that we throw our hands in the air and begin cursing. The same applies in games – futility is a terrible feeling.

What are some of the best randomization mechanics you’ve seen in a game?

Lady Luck

The element of chance has long been intertwined with the evolution of games. Many of our modern devices used for randomization had a long history behind them. For example, dice is believed to be invented around 24th century BC by the Mesopotamians. Playing cards originated 9th century China. The first deck of cards that resemble a modern poker deck was first seen in Egypt and was called naib. Even to this day, a deck of cards and a handful of dice are still the most common randomizing devices in board games.

In modern board games, there are two frequently voiced opinions about games:
1) There is too much left up to chance. “OMG! RNG hates me today!”
2) There is a complete lack of an element of chance. “What are we playing? Chess?”
It seems that there really is no pleasing people. If there is too much chance there will be complaints that all your toil throughout the game to execute a strategy has been destroyed by Lady Luck. If it is absent, some people will say the game is too… bland. But is there a middle ground?

Let’s take a look a some games involving dice. We will use Settlers of Catan as an example. I’ll be honest and say that while many of my close friends have very fond memories of this game, Settlers is one of those games where I will definitely complain too much is left to Fortune. Each turn, players roll two 6-sided dice and the sum of the dice total determines which buildings activate and produce resources for the respective players. Expansion happens by building roads to new locations for settlements which produce more resources. Simple enough. Looking at the numbers, one would expect 7 to be rolled most often, with 6 and 8 being second, followed by 5 and 9, and so on and so forth. Such is the nature of dice where there are games where I see people where they have not received a single resource in 10 turns or more and they placed their buildings to produce on 6 and 8. There was a fan made computer version of Settlers before its entry into the console arcade market that kept track of the roll distribution. In one instance, I’ve seen 6 roll less than 11. <insert favourite facepalm meme> Yes, it is true the law of large numbers should eventually take hold and the roll distribution should become more normalized. However, a typical game of Settlers less than 100 turns and freak dice scenarios are bound to happen. To the credit of the designers, they eventually released a deck that simulates a perfect dice roll distribution. This means eventually your 6 and 8 buildings will produce the number of times one would expect of them. Yet, for some reason I have yet to meet people who play Settlers with that deck. People still seem to favour their dice. What’s up with that?

From this example, we can draw some conclusions. Players like some chance elements because it makes for a more interesting game, but they also want to “control the chance” to some degree. People dislike the feeling of futility especially when playing games. We run into enough situations in real life that makes us feel that way, why bring this into our entertainment? Next post, we will explore more on the psychology of luck in games and how certain elements of game design can make chance entertaining instead of being frustrating.

New Member

Introducing our new member – James Ng! When I first started this journey of designing games six years ago, if my memory doesn’t fail me, he was one of my first testers. I still remember the game was so unbalanced it couldn’t even reach the end condition properly. Since then, it has been a long journey forward and he tested many variations of my design. From now on, James will be our community representative. So this is a good opportunity for an introduction and a short interview. Here we go!

1. What kind of board games do you like and why?
I tend to like most worker placement games that I have played. I like the feel and planning that comes into making the most of your workers in order to plan for a future goal. It always feels satisfying to see a plan come to fruition. I guess that is the case with a lot of good strategic board games, and one that those of types of board games should try to promote in their players.

2. You’ve helped a lot with game design, how do you feel about it?
I think game design can be a very interesting job. It’s an open box and there’s so much you can do to accomplish your goal. A game also has many goals to carry out. Fun to play, interesting, engaging, interactive, etc. It can be challenging to make sure your game checks all those boxes.

Personally, I wouldn’t say I am an expert in terms of game design. My experience with it comes from just playing many games (like most people). It can be hard as a game designer to get out of your own perspective to see your game from the outside. That’s what you want though, because you want the game to be fun for a group of people, not just you. Not to mention, working on a game can give you bias towards it and how it plays.

3. What are you currently playing?
I haven’t had the opportunity to play as many board games in recent times. But my girlfriend had recently bought a set of Machi Koro after playing it at a friend’s house and liking it. So I’ve been playing that with her and her younger sister. It’s an easy to play game to relax on. If I get the chance to find people to play with, I’m also always up for a game of Stone Age.

4. Will you consider a career in the games industry, board game or otherwise?
I do love to play video games and board games, not only for the fun they have, but to see how game creators make and improve different aspects of their game genres. I also appreciate them as a creative outlet and interactive medium (unlike movies and books).

In terms of being part of the industry as a career, I’ve never really considered it, as I can’t really imagine myself finding a role in it. Though if given an opportunity that suited me in the industry, I would definitely look into trying it out!

That’s all for now! We will hear from James again soon enough. On Friday, we will begin discussion on Lady Luck in games.

Return from Hiatus!

Wow! Time sure flies.

It has been almost two years since my last post. Nevertheless, I remain committed to the dream of producing my very own board game. Many things are happening in the near future. Over the absence, the board game I have been working on is near completion, which we shall unveil more at another time. We have a new companion joining this journey who will be introduced later this week. I am also looking forward to releasing more content on game design and board games in general, so please look forward to it. On Friday, I want to share some thoughts one of the most touchy issues in games – that is how people feel about Lady Luck.

How Games Bring Out the Worst in Us, Part 2

Last post, we talked about how being picked on in a game has the potential to sour relationships and how kingmakers can turn people off certain games. Today, we will continue on to Part 2 of how games bring out the worst in us.

The next way a game can bring out the worst in us is…

2.  Allow players to be effectively or actually taken out of the game.

I got into “modern” board games through a tame group of friends in university. One of the first things we played was Bang! For those who don’t know, Bang! is a role guessing game. It is because people have no idea who each other are, you might end up with situations where innocents are being scapegoated and killed off just for the sake of information. In Bang! when you are killed off, you stay out of the game until it is over. Having said all that, one time I was playing with this group of friends and I saw a girl RAGE! I mean RAAAGGGEEE for a good while because she was prematurely killed off. After another forty minutes, she sat back down for the next round, out for vengeance and won.

I remember in one of the earlier iterations of my designs, I had rules that allowed players to be taken out. You can just see the expressions sour when testers are on the brink of being knocked out or have it happen out right. Back then, I didn’t have enough sense to cut the session short and testers ended up suffering through the playtest experience more than they should. When that particular session ended and testers were asked how they felt about the game, I was met with silence.

We play games because it is a social activity that many people can participate in. When people get knocked out and have to sit and watch, it defeats the purpose of the game. In addition, people are likely teamed up on and then knocked out. This results in a more extreme reaction than merely being picked on. At least if the game rules didn’t allow for knock outs, the player being picked on still has the satisfaction of being kingmaker. If they are knocked out, they are even denied that last bit of fun from retribution.

There is one thing worse than being knocked out. This is being kept alive because other players thought it would be “merciful” to keep you in game. Noooo! Just knock them out. They already have no chance of winning and not enough power to be kingmaker. Keeping them “in the game” is equivalent to dragging them across cement floor face first. If you have any respect for the opponent, just knock them out and let them grieve over the knock out, and don’t keep them in because you think you are being nice. I absolutely hate playing with such graceless players, and I’m sure many people do as well. Furthermore, you probably know some yourself.

What is the worst experience you have seen when a player gets knocked out of a game?

How Games Bring Out the Worst in Us, Part 1

Games are supposed to be fun and not make people feel angry after playing. Sometimes, our competitive spirit just bring out the absolute worst in us. Time and again, you will see these lists of games that make people angry or ruin friendships. Dice Tower and Kotaku give some excellent examples. In a discussion with one of my primary testers, we talked about what things in games that make us feel uncomfortable. This can be upsetting scenarios that occur frequently or an annoying main mechanic of the game.  This post begins a multi-part discussion on how games  bring out the worst in us.

The first way a game can bring out the worst in us is…

 1. Encourage teaming up on other players.

This happens when players have about the same magnitude of a resource, and that resource is required to win the game.  One player begins pulling ahead. When this happens, it will immediately generate enough attention or hate (in MMO terms) on the leading player. Since no one player alone can overwhelm the winning player, all remaining players will then team up on the leading player in order to prevent him or her from winning. What is the crime of the winning player? Simply for playing the game well. There is nothing that the winning player can do to prevent this, and has to sit there and take it.

Having said all this, scenes from childhood (or recent) games of Risk (or equally cutthroat alternative) should come to mind. For this reason, Risk is one of the most cited games to have ruined friendships. When such teaming up occurs, it isn’t because the winning players have made wrong moves. Quite contrary, they made the right moves. They can do nothing to protect themselves and what small lead they have against the imminent onslaught. They simply get dethroned. This frustration of helplessness can make any player feel upset. Some people even take it personally. Definitely don’t want to play games with those types of people…

It does not end here. The now dethroned player can no longer win the game. He has a choice of choosing the winner. Out of spite, he either chooses to help the player nicest to him to win the game, or maybe take down the player who brought upon their downfall.

All hail, the kingmaker!

In most games, the monarch maker is inherent to the mechanics, especially in games with high levels of confrontation.  This is because all players begin with on a leveled playing field and cannot take down others without help. It becomes necessary to use diplomacy and alliance to get ahead. Thus, people team up on others, and the victim is picked on. No one likes being picked on. At some point this has happened to each of us; even though it is a game, it can still leave a sour taste.

To prove the point, there was once a game of Citadels where I played with very close friends. I usually don’t get mad in games, but this time I lost it. I was winning and to stop my victory, they needed to figure out which role I was in order to have me assassinated. They began hinting at their own roles aloud to help with the process of elimination. “I am a church going man.” “I am a seafaring individual.” I got assassinated and my victory delayed one turn. I didn’t flip the table on them, but I did throw them the cards in my hand! And this is in a game where you cannot even team up easily without cheating the way they did! We still laugh about that incident whenever we played Citadels later and it has become a pleasant inside joke. But being picked on still isn’t pleasant.

Perhaps, there is a strategy in high confrontation games that require alliances to win. Don’t take the lead in the early game and creep around in second place. For some reason, second place draws much less hate from other players. Be a creeper, not a leader. Take the lead only when you can win.

At the end of the day, it’s just a game. It’s meant to be fun, and the way you behave in a game says a lot about your own character.

What are your thoughts on games that lead to monarch makers?

Inauguration and Games That Changed the Way I Design Games

Hi! This is the inaugurating post for Lumesperia. This is a blog for discussions of games, but it also reveals our own product development.  I am Jonathan, the founder and also a game designer. First of all, I would like to offer my thanks to Jamey Stegmaier. Without the advice of his blog (found here), I would be at a loss as to how to make my dream, of publishing a board game that I designed, into a reality.

Today, I would like to talk about games I played that changed the way I designed games. I’m sure each designer out there has their set list of games that inspired them. I would like to share my list here and how they changed the way I designed games.

300px-FloorGoban

Taken from Wikipedia

The most influential game is Go, the ancient game with a possible 5,000 years of history. What is so special about Go? When you sit down to think about it, Go is arguably the first worker placement game. Two players alternate placing stones of their own colour onto the nodes of an empty 19×19 grid. The meaning of each stone being placed is not outlined by a set rule or functions like our modern worker placement games, but is defined by the player placing the stone and the changing circumstances as more stones are being placed. For example, placing a worker on the income box allows the player to collect gold. In Go, the player defines the purpose of each “worker” placed. I have long been trying to replicate the abstract feel of worker placement, that can only be experienced in Go, in one of my own creations.

Paradigm_Deck

Paradigm Deck. Taken from Final Fantasy Wikia

The second most influential game is Final Fantasy XIII. *ducks for incoming objects for having named the game* Yes, yes, I know how some people feel about the character development, linearity of plot, etc. I am here to talk about mechanics. Which mechanic was inspiring to my game design? It would be the Paradigm Shift. In this game, the player takes on a party of three characters that can assume one of six roles. The roles are standard to most RPG games. The player can then set a combination of these roles to each of the three characters, and each such combination of three is called a Paradigm. Final Fantasy XIII allows the player to set six Paradigms for use in battle. This set of six Paradigms is called a Paradigm Deck. Over the course of battle, the player can, with a tap of the L1/LB button, to access the Paradigm Deck and change the Paradigm in use. Is the boss charging up for a big attack? Let’s shift to a defensive Paradigm. Is the party dying? Let’s shift to a healing Paradigm. After spending over a hundred hours into Final Fantasy XIII (and it’s sequel), I started wondering, if such a fluid class changing system can be implemented into a board game with the same elegance. This has been one of the projects I have been working on in the past year. While implementing an instantaneous class change mechanic in a board game brings to the table many tactical options, but it can become unpredictable without a proper framework.

Cardfight-vanguard-ep-12-6

Mandatory reveal of extra drawn cards due to game mechanics. From the anime.

The third most influential game goes to Cardfight Vanguard. I originally watched the anime to look for inspiration in my own work and it did not disappoint. Unlike most trading card games, Vanguard includes additional card draws at certain parts of the turn. These card draws must be revealed to the opponent; thus, making the game a little more predictable and strategic. If you know your opponent just drew a heavy defence card, you would proceed differently in your own attack phase. I found it to be an intuitive game to play that is easy to pick up. It is in the low learning curve that inspired me to do the same in my future creations.

What are some of the games that are influential to your designs?