Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I can complain too: my top ten problems with the game world

The top ten endemic problems in the board gaming world, as I see it. You probably won't, but that's ok. That's because my two main priorities are the promulgation of
board gaming to the masses and the utility of board games and their components.


Length: Many of the best games in the world have short rules, but that is not the case with the majority of the new games. They have long complicated rules. Can the game be explained in a hundred words or less? No? Well it's not going to challenge Sorry and Monopoly for dominance in Toys R Us, Barnes and Noble, and Starbucks. Can't you make it into a basic game, with the more complicated rules included as an "advanced game"? I guess, like fine wine and art, some good games will never be for the masses.

Problems: Did you playtest this thoroughly, including all the possible rule exceptions? Did you consider what will happen if someone bids everything on his first turn, or discards his hand on every turn? Does the game flow without the theme, or does it have to be played only with "the right group of people"? Does it HAVE to include action cards where some of them are twice as good as others and you pay a lot for them and you only get to pick one?

Clarity: Spelling. Grammar. Proper use of pronouns and possessives. If the sentence sounds awkward when it is read out loud, it is too awkward to include in the rules. Try recording yourself actually teaching the game and then transcribe and edit it. Use clear examples of normal play and use pictures whenever possible. Are all the rules about a certain type of action in one place? Is it clear what changes are made for a variable number of players? Are there rules ambiguities?


I would be happy to never see another offensively themed game in the name of humor ("Slap prostitutes! Har har! What? If you don't like it, you don't have to play it.") Frankly, I would be happy to never see another game where you could root for the Nazis or any other forces from history, simulation or not. Or where you shoot cops, kill children, make fun of minorities, etc...


Attraction: Although we would like to attract adults, face the fact that we are going to have to attract kids. Gear our marketing and graphics to interest them, and the grown ups may join in. Or, like Harry Potter books, can we have "two versions", aimed at children and adults? And how about licensing? A large number of games are bought because they have the licensing behind them. We can do the same without sacrificing game play for many games. Naturally, licensing is no substitute for an actual game in there.

Suitability: I want the market standard, please. And all components should fit back into the boxes in a neat way. And be made of recycled and recyclable materials.


Standards: Easy to distinguish standard colors and patterns, non-offensive non-stereotypes, all necessary components to play (but see Modularity), and stable pieces that don't break or fall over. Fancy pieces are suitable for niche markets or
people looking for "high quality of life" items. You have to balance this against price.

Modularity: I would like pieces from one game to be usable in other games. I would like to be able to buy just the parts of the games that I need. I don't need any more 6 suited decks, pawns, checkers, or dice.


Ninety-nine out of a hundred people I ask still don't know what Settlers of Catan is. What are we doing, here? Where's the PR? How come Daryll Hannah and Jamie Lee Curtis are still playing Candy Land?

We need big displays in Toys R Us, in malls, clever television ads, TV shows with characters playing the games, and so on.


We need to BE in Toys R Us, malls, and so on, or noone will be able to buy the games even if they've heard of them.


Price is still keeping consumers away from the best games. Can't we make two versions: the nice component version and the mass-produced version? We can combine this idea with the kids/adults versions.

Also, with better distribution channels, those of us not in America or Germany can buy these games, too.


I would like game companies to be responsive and error on the side of service. How much will you lose by giving away just a tad too much to a handful of people while making all of the rest of your customers sing your praises?


Whenever possible, games should be suitable for all ages and produced in a such a way that low-sight and color-blind players can participate.

That's not so difficult, is it? Just compare this to my top ten problems facing the real world; doesn't this list make the game problem list look easier?

1. Universal access to clean water, food, fuel, medicine, and shelter.
2. Cessation to the destruction, and restoration, of our air, water, and land.
3. Universal access to personal security: to be free from bodily harm
due to acts of violence, disease, or natural disasters.
4. Universal access to personal liberty: to be free from kidnapping, slavery, or unreasonable government control.
5. Freedom from racism, sexism, caste systems, and other organized or personal forms of unjustified restrictions and intolerance.
6. A cessation of terrorism and war as means of solving disputes and political gain.
7. The separation of all non-civil based authorities (e.g. religion) and governmental laws.
8. An active promotion of consideration, ethics, and manners.
9. An end to unreasonable patents, copyrights, and trademarks, and a liberal policy promoting sharing and fair use.
10. A better system of material exchange other than unrestricted capitalism, which causes noise pollution, work pollution (seeping into our non-work lives), excessive garbage, radio and EMF pollution, food pollution, and identity pollution (the eradication of the individual).



Pawnstar said...

I agree with a lot of what you said; I perhaps would not be as strict as you are on theme.

As a matter of interest, where is your line drawn? I played Razzia! the other day, the card-based reissue of Ra with a 1920's gangster theme. Would that be crossing the line?

How about Amun-Re, with its suggestion of sacrifice or even worshipping false gods?

Or how about Dog Eat Dog, where players head companies which pollute the environment and harmfully extract the resources from the earth?

These are all inside of my line; I would never cajole or bully somebody into playing something they feel is unethical. I have a distaste for religious games personally, but Ark of the Covenant and Settlers of Canaan made it into my collection (yet to be played). Settlers of Zarahelma did not, but might. I think this is probably because of the appeal of their base games (Carcassonne and SoC).

Yehuda Berlinger said...

I think something whose selling point is based on being in your face about something offensive is probably the line. I'm sorry to the world, and I can't even get some of my best friends to agree with me on this, but that means that South Park is over it. The strained smiles you see from people who don't want to be labelles as square should be a tip-off.

But who would ever have a problem with Amun-Re? :-)


ekted said...

Everyone has their own line. I am all but unoffendable, and find the most irreverent things funny. However, I know people who refuse to see Harry Potter because it has witchcraft in it. I find that people with lines closer to mine are much easier going in life and easier to get along with.