Vandaag hebben Lex en Roy het over de reboot van X-wing. X-Wing gaat ons, en vooral Lex, aan het hart. Dus wat betekent de reboot voor ons?

Er staat veel te veranderen in de toekomst van X-Wing. Met een volledige reboot gooit Fantasy Flight alles overboord. In deze aflevering van Behind the Tabletop hebben Lex en Roy het over de reboot en de irrationele angst voor verandering. Eerder had Lex het al in zijn blog post over “haat”, maar hoe staat het daar nu mee?

 

In de vierde aflevering van Behind the Tabletop duiken Roy en Lex in de wereld van Scythe. We kijken naar het asymmetrische design van de player mat en hoe dat in je eigen games kan toepassen.

Scythe heeft vele vette mechanic maar de player mat en zijn asymmetrische design springen er wat ons betreft uit. Dus kijken we naar hoe de player mat in elkaar zit, welke voordelen en nadelen deze heeft en waar je op moet letten als je een dergelijk asymmetrisch design in jouw eigen games wil toepassen.

 

Deze week hebben we het in Behind the Tabletop over het design van Roy zijn RPG en pixel-meesterwerk Cavemen Stories!

Behind the Tabletop maakt een kleine uitstap naar de wereld van de indie video games, en wel naar Roy zijn eigen game Cavemen Stories. Cavemen Stories is een “Prehistoric role playing game with a tactical twist”. Roy vertelt ons alles over de game, het design process en de mechanics. Roy is nog hard bezig dus als je op de hoogte wil blijven volg dan @CavemenStories op twitter!

Cavemen Stories

Cavemen Stories

Cavemen Stories

The very first episode of the Behind the Tabletop podcast is a fact! Behind the Tabletop is a dutch podcast about tabletop game design and more. In this episode Roy and I discuss Star Wars Legion and it’s mechanics.

Our very first podcast is a fact! A very weird and awkward experience recording a conversation like this. Something that will definitely get better over time as we slowly find our voice and focus! In this episode we talk about the mechanics of Star Wars Legion and how/why they work. We make comparisons with other games, and discuss how Legion breaks open the genre of miniature wargames. A side note for our international fans, for now the podcast will be in dutch. Over time, it is our intention to start podcasting in English. Be sure to leave a comment or like and let us know what you think!

We tried to stay away from explaining the rules as much as we could so for those not familiar with Star Wars Legion check out Fantasy Flight Game’s video serie on Legion!

The Tabletop

Buried in rule-books

A good rule book can make the heart of any game designer beat faster. Keeping rules clear and to the point however is a difficult task. Nevertheless, the greats of the industry such as Fantasy Flight Games have upped their level of teaching their games. But what makes a good rule-book great?

You won’t always personally be around to teach and explain your game, so your rules or rule-book will serve as the gateway to your game. You want your reader to easily understand and grasp the concepts of your game so they can have the experience you designed for them. This arguably makes your rule-book one of the most important elements of your game. If your player doesn’t make it through your rules because they are poorly written they can’t play your game!

A rule-book is a strange thing. It doesn’t only teach your game but also serves as a reference. So it needs to be clear, engaging, and structured. Taking all I have learned from writing design documents and rules, and the greats of the industry, I tried to look at what makes a good rule-book great. To write good rules you need to follow the rules.

Picture from Pub Meeple – http://www.pubmeeple.com/review-star-wars-rebellion/
A moment for Clarity

Because clarity is at the heart of getting any point across, it is the most important rule of all. Keeping your rules clear and to the point might seem like an obvious thing to bring up, but I have seen many instances where this goes wrong.  Now, keeping it “clear and to the point” is a broad concept so let me break it down.

You should always assume your reader is unfamiliar with your game and has never read your rules before. Therefore, every concept, rule, and exception is a new one. To prevent confusion and the need for your reader to backtrack or skip ahead, try not to explain more then one concept in one section. Keep in mind a “concept” does not necessarily mean one rule. Think of a concept as “movement” or “actions” etc.

Consistency is key. Before you start writing your rules, write down a full list with your terminology. This ensures you keep referring to the different elements of your game with consistency throughout your rule book. In the end this also ensures each player has the same vocabulary, making it easier to talk about your game and reference the rules.

Your rules are not your story. I love adding flavor to a game, but your rules are not the place to do so. Especially when your rule-book also serves as a reference you don’t want players to read through pages of fluff and descriptive story to get to the essence of a rule. Try and write your rules, using normal language and in plain english (or any other language). This by any means doesn’t mean your rule-book has to be boring. You could (and should!) incorporate story elements, like comics or short stories in between you rules. When you do try and make them distinctive and easily (visually) separable from your actual rules.

Frame that game

To help your reader better interpret and understand what they are about to read you should provide your readers with a frame of reference or context. Before you start spewing rules briefly explaining the setting, genre and story of your game. Simply put, tell them about your game and what they can expect when playing it. This wil help your reader form a mental picture of what your game is, and what its about. Is it a game about an epic war between two huge armies or a game about buying and selling vegetables. Drawing on a readers own understanding of your subjects can help them grasp more complex concepts with more ease. Reading about hyper jumps and lasers should make much more sense when you know you are reading about a science fiction game.

However, be cautious to make any assumptions based on the information you provide. You should always assume your reader is unfamiliar with your game, your games genre and has never read your rules before. Don’t get to hung up on comments from gamers complaining they already know half of the things you explain. You are not just making your rule-book for the avid gamer, but also for new players!

Structured Mess

To help a reader understand your rules it’s a good idea to start zoomed out, looking at your game on a macro level, providing topics and concepts one by one. Where possible try to capture what would be needed to teach it in it’s most basic form. Right away you can omit thing like rare exceptions, and complex alternative situations. After the birds eye view you can zoom in and explain the details and exceptions. Doing so, just like framing your game, will help your reader grasp more complex detailed rules with more ease because they have a basic understanding of the broader concepts.

But what do you explain first? What can help is looking at your game in terms of player actions. What is the first thing they do? Usually, setting up the game. Start there. What are the next steps a player has to take? What is the action they will most likely do first? Move a figure? Roll a dice? Draw cards? List all these steps and try to group them logically by type. For instance keeping different “actions” a player can take together. You are then likely to have a pretty good flow of how to structure your rules.

Teaching your Game

A rule-book is a list of all your rules, but how they combine and interact with each other to form your game can be hard for some people to imagine. Often I catch myself saying, “We’ll just play it and you’ll get it”, or “I’ll go first and show you what to do” when explaining a game. And for a good reason. We humans are designed to learn from mimicking, coping and imitating behavior and actions. This is off-course why we love watching video’s of games being played and teaching us how they are played. So how can we make our rule-book a teacher and not just a list of rules?

The first step is, like in the rule-book from Cephalofair Games’ Gloomhaven, to use “Examples of Play”. An example of play is an step-by-step description, often augmented with images, of how a certain element, phases or mechanic plays out in your game. In a way examples of play work the same as someone showing you how a games work. They often omit why something is done and focus more on how something is done. Off course the why should be clearly explained in the rules.

Example turn from the Warhammer 40K rules PDF
Learn to Play

But you can take an example of play one step further. A good trend are the separate “learn to play” and “rule reference” books. Something Fantasy Flight Games executes very well. A learn to play book takes a player by the hand guiding them through their very first play through. Sometimes even listing what actions to take and how to perform them. Again Fantasy Flight Games included a Learn to Play book with their most recent release of the new miniature wargame Star Wars Legion. In the book they really focused on conveying the true basics of the game, before adding more complicated rules. Leaving out rules (such as line of sight) many other wargames would consider most basic. The book provided an easy and accessible way of playing the game which was just as enjoyable as the full game, but much easier to get into!

If this bold move teaches us anything it is to not be afraid to omit what seem important concepts or elements if it helps to teach your game. Rather then drown readers in complicated rules and systems taking them ages to get going, start simple and add rules later. Remember, guiding a players first steps (for instance by using a learn to play) will ensure players have a good first experience with your game. Always get them playing as soon as possible!

Show don’t tell

Some elements of your game can be hard to explain, but are easy to visualise. Try using images whenever you can. Images can greatly improve the clarity of your rules and honestly make a rule-book look a whole lot more interesting. As a rule of thumb, if you catch yourself visually describing an element of your game, consider showing an image of it instead. Use annotations and explanations where appropriate to elaborate on any images. Keep in mind images also make for easy references. Referencing an image is much easier then reading a whole section trying to figure out where a specific thing is located on a component.

And don’t forget the visual component list… A basic but whenever you can, show a list of your components and their names. Whenever a player is looking for the “flumple” token, he or she will know what it looks like.

Test it out!

Don’t just test your game, also test your rules. The only way to test if your rules are clear is to let someone with no experience of your game read them! Get some test readers by posting your rules on forums like Board Game Geek. Setup a test session where you let people read your rules and explain them back to you or play your game. Then observe what concepts or actions are unclear. Don’t be afraid to re-write!

Let your game teach your game?

This whole article has been focused on writing rules and thus teaching your game with a rule-book. Another interesting approach is letting your game teach your game. In the videogame industry this is off course already widely implemented leading to the death of the instruction booklet. Nowadays each videogame features some sort of tutorial, tutorial world, or learn by doing feature. In my next article I’ll give my views on how this can be achieved for tabletop games!

 

For now thank you for reading and let me know in the comments what your tips would have for designers struggling with their rules!

 

Picture a mess of thoughts
 How do you get from an idea to a practical game design? I wanted to write a very basic article to give new designers a feel for how to start “game designing”. As a game designer I come across a lot of people pitching game ideas to me. A good thing, because I love hearing someone talk about their ideas and inspirations. But an “idea” is not yet a game so… what’s the game?

Some people tend to think a game designer is the one who comes up with the entire game concept. Some sort of all knowing concept guru who can solve any problem. This is in my personal experience, and for those in the games industry, far from the truth. I love brainstorming and coming up with ideas. However, when it comes to generating ideas or concepts I always advocate everyone can have great ideas. And as such, especially in an creative team, everyone should be stimulated to pitch in their ideas.

A concept or idea could be as broad as “an space MMO”, or as specific as “Players gain political power with which they recruit soldiers. Then they fight other players over control of the most territories”. And yet if you would ask a developer to start developing your game based on that alone, they probably wouldn’t know where to begin. Even if you are just a solo indie gamedev, its good to have clear what your “game” is, before you just start developing. Don’t get me wrong on many occasions have I just started making a game, but I can’t remember an instance where I didn’t end up redoing code or altering designs.

And that’s where a game designer can truly shine. I often explain what I do as “Turning an idea into an develop-able game”. As a game designer, next to shaping the experience of your player, you are responsible for working out the nitty-gritty details of how a game works. But where do you begin, how do you turn your/an idea into a proper game design?

Research…bla bla bla

Forget the research, let’s jump right in and do this! Who needs research anyway? Sadly you do, and more so probably lot’s of it. My experience has thought me most creatives don’t really thrive on research. But believe me, before you start always do your research!

As Roy always says “Everything is already invented, just not now and not by me.”. There are literally millions of games made, and before you can make one that is unique, you’ll have to know what is out there. As a game designer you should always strive to come up with interesting new ways to tackle problems, excite and engage players, but it’s not a bad thing to get inspired or informed. Know what players are looking for in the type of game you are making. If you trying to make a space MMO, look at other space games. Read articles and reviews about these games, learn from their mistakes and their success. If you feel lost and don’t know where to start, try to create several keywords for your idea (rpg, space, mmo, character building etc…) and research games matching 1 or more keywords.

 Think Mechanics…

When we look at what a game truly is it, if we strip away story, art and flavor texts we are left with mechanics. Mechanics describe everything that influences the way your game is played and the way a player interacts with it. Because of this, mechanics have the power to invoke specific feelings, and convey certain ideas -Game designer Ian Bogost called this “procedural rhetoric”, an entire topic off it’s own- to players.

Coming up with mechanics should be easy enough, after all you have done tons of research, right? But throwing a bunch of mechanics on a pille and calling it a game is not how things work. Take a step back and look at the mechanics you came up with for your game. Examine their interactions with your game and players. Make sure they don’t contradict each other, the goal of your game and how you want players to interact with your game. Think about the behavior your mechanics envoke in the players. Is this something you want for your game?

…and what they do for your game.

Think about mechanics as mechanics. Look at every little rules, feature or system in your game as a cog. Ask yourself if they all fit together and make your game turn. How hard it may be, if the answer is no, you must “kill your darlings”. Scratch out the mechanics that don’t work or invoke unwanted behavior in players. You can and (believe me) will find a new project or idea to make that mechanic work.

A trick I picked up is to just visualize yourself playing your game in your head. It’s a thing I constantly try to do when designing. Really try and visualize for instance opening up the box and setting everything up, playing a few rounds or  running a tutorial. It sounds silly but I found it helps me keep focused on how the game actually works. If you ever get stuck you know where to work on next. Its therefore a great “tool” to figure out what the areas are you haven’t thought about enough.

Writing a Game Design? Do I need to?

Yes. Now that you came up with an idea, did your research and played around with mechanics you should (if you haven’t already) start writing a game design document. Writing a game design document is not only good practice it also will help you get your thoughts in line. Many times you will come across things you haven’t thought through or forgot completely (like with the visualization exercise). It will also help you communicate your idea to others. If you managed to structure your thoughts and write them down it should be easier to clearly share your ideas with other devs and players.

I personally like to differentiate between a game design document and content document whenever I can. A game design document would only hold how the game works and interacts with the players. Story, level designs, card designs, script and everything else would be written down in the content document.

Fine… but how do you write a game design document?

Writing a big game design document can seem daunting, especially when you don’t know where to start. So where do you start? Frankly, just start. I too struggle sometimes with what to put down on paper first. So I just start writing. Sometimes I start writing a summary, or I start to list and explain the main mechanics, or I describe the main player interaction. At times I simply start with the table of contents, organizing and thinking of every subject I want to write about. Slowly you will start to notice everything will come out.

Then after I think I put every thought on paper I start restructuring and rewriting the document. I know this probably isn’t the best, most organized way to write a document, but hey it works for me! After I restructured and rewrote everything I like to read the document as if I don’t know my own concept. This takes some getting used to but can help you spot the first mistakes. If you are a single gamedev, and feel you have covered everything you could leave it here. If you are working on a creative team however this is the time to let everyone involved read your document. Be open to their feedback and be prepared to rewrite some sections again. If everyone (read: most of the people) think it captures the concept and answers development question for them you are good to go!

Just start…

If experience thought me anything it’s you can’t think about everything. At some point in the design process you should have figured out what it is you want to make. That is the best time to start playtesting and just try stuff out. Make a (paper) prototype and “play” with it. Test your theories, and mechanics you are unsure about or just go play with how your game feels. Usually only after I make a prototype I get a really good feel of what I need to or want to change.

It’s also very useful to have others play your prototype. Ask what they think, what they would improve or change. And be prepared to take their brutally honest opinions. This is what will make your game, your game design and your game design skills grow. However hard it may be. Remember when you show other people your prototypes or demo’s to always make clear what they can expect. What it is they should focus on. Also tell them what you want to get out of them playing it. Be specific what kind of feedback you’re looking for, and where they should comment on.

Go back to your Game Design document…

Again? Yes! Your game design document should be a “living” document. There is nothing worse than reading through a year old game design document that isn’t updated to the latest rendition of the game. I know creatives want to create and get their hands dirty, and don’t usually want to do the “paperwork”. But when you don’t keep your game design updated idea’s and work will get lost.

Keeping a well updated game design document also helps your team stay on the same page. Nothing worse then people working and checking different documents, causing problems down the road. Again, even if you are just an solo indie gamedev, this is so important. I learned this the hard way. I have “lost” many games by not updating or writing an game design at all. All that was left is just some scribbles an vague memories of what a great game it could have been.

 

There you have it, an idea of how to get from an idea to a game design. I would love to hear your workflow and game design tips for new game designers. Post them in the comments and give us a follow on twitter or instagram!