Monday, October 15

A Matter of Taste

Some people like a fine red wine (we'll call them 'wrong uns'), some prefer a warm, ruby ale ('ladies and gentlemen of taste and distinction'). Like everything in life, games are a matter of taste.

Some people like wargames with a rulebook as thick as a grown man's waist, some people like miniature games where the painting is as much part of the game as the combat. Some people like 'Ameritrash' games where the fun comes from beating your opponents to pulp through the medium of your own bodyweight in dice and some people (we'll call them LaGoTaD) like euro-games, where pushing an array of coloured cubes around more efficiently than your opponents is considered a good time.

As a designer, I tend to design games that are the sorts of games I like to play: fairly short euro-games with an occasional dice-fest thrown in for good measure. I thought it might be interesting to discuss my favourite games, what about them I like and how that affects my design.

My Favourite Games

  • Carcassonne:
    Carcassonne was one of my first euro-games and is still one of my favourites. It's fairly quick (~30 mins), the card draw brings randomness so each game is slightly different and there is direct player interaction through trapping meeples and stealing cities and farms from your opponents. A good euro-game sells tens of thousands of copies. Carcassonne has sold millions. It's easy to see why. Weaknesses? Not much, though I suppose there aren't many strategies available.
  • Race for the Galaxy:
    With a cool space theme and quick play time, Race has been a staple of my gaming for years. It's fairly complex to learn (thanks to the pictography) and there's not a huge amount of interaction between players, but there are many strategies available and the simultaneous player actions mean you can play pretty quickly if you know what you're doing.
  • 7 Wonders:
    Another quick game with simultaneous player actions. There's a little trading between players, and the end of age scraps but it's mostly do you own thing again. Several strategies available, but you have to play the cards you're dealt so there's some randomness there and some interaction as you choose which cards to pass on.
  • Thunderstone:
    I was really not excited by Dominion, I found it bland and featureless, but Thunderstone really grabbed me because of the theme and the tighter theme integration. And that's despite a significantly longer play-time. Thunderstone is the only deck-building game in my top five, and doesn't have any simultaneity, which probably contributes to the longer play time. As with many deck-building games, the selection of types of cards has a big effect on the game - it can make it great or painful.
  • Puerto Rico:
    A classic euro-game. Very little downtime between turns (as everybody gets to act on everyone's turn) and an interesting role-selection mechanism. The longer play time means this doesn't get to the table as often as the others.

My Most Played Games (excluding ones I published!)

The games I've played the most is a similar list, but with a couple of notable differences:

  1. Magic: The Gathering is an incredibly addictive card game. Again it has fairly quick game play (~20 mins) and a wealth of strategies (mainly because the manufacturer bring out new cards continuously with new rules). It's got a fun theme and the game is all about direct player interaction - to win you have to crush all your opponents into a fine dust.
  2. Carcassonne
  3. Race for the Galaxy
  4. 7 Wonders
  5. Hive: A very simple (in terms of rules) but engaging 2-player strategy game that feels a little like very quick chess. Terry and I could play this in around 10 minutes, so it was a common filler while waiting for others to arrive at games night when I lived down south.

As you can see there's a few things that tie my lists together: fast play time, multiple paths to victory and some player interaction. How does the current early incarnation of Codename: Vacuum measure up?

Codename: Vacuum

Codename: Vacuum is a deck building card game (similar to Thunderstone) with a tableau element (similar to Race for the Galaxy) and a space theme (again, RftG. I'm aiming to get the play time down to around 30-45 mins for players who know the rules, which has similarities with most of the games on my lists but without simultaneous player actions that might be tricky. So far no-one but me has played it more than once, so every game is a learning game and it's hard to tell how well I'm getting on towards that target. Vacuum has 11 scoring conditions available per game, of which only 1 per player plus 1 are scored in any game. The players choose which conditions will score - so this can vary from game to game (and in fact there are fifteen in total of which only ten are available in any game). So once I've balanced the scoring conditions, multiple paths to victory should be assured. Finally, there is direct player interaction (if you so choose), you can waltz over to your opponent's territories with an armada and capture them. Player interaction often slows things down though as one player stops to think how to respond to an unexpected assault from an opponent. I need to balance my desire for player interaction with my desire for short play time. On that note, I'm trying to think of ways to make the trade actions more interactive between players, but all my ideas so far would slow things down a lot :(.

It's getting to the table a lot now, at least two or three times a week, so hopefully it'll really start to take shape over the next couple of months.

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