Month: November 2012

Question of the Month – Where are the new game mechanisms?


The Question of The Month for October was “Where are the new game mechanisms?”.

I asked the question of a bunch of game designers, game publishers, and gamers.  Here’s what they said.

Keith Carter, former game designer and member of The Hypermind Board Gamers:

There are no truly new, innovative games/mechanisms being made.

It is largely true and it is just morning mist. When mechanism is defined at a broad level like worker placement, cooperative, or auction then new mechanisms will be introduced infrequently; they could even run years apart.  That tracks with my experience across  pinball, war games, role playing games, family card games with a standard deck, and two person perfect information games. In each of these areas I have enjoyed gaming for a decade or two without the need for a constant stream of innovations to keep them interesting. Unless  modern board games (or gamers) are critically different the pace of innovations being a problem is just morning mist.

Sen-Foong Lim, co-designer of Belfort and Train of Thought

There are definitely a lot of old games being remade (OGRE, Tammany Hall, Lost Valley, Moongha Invaders) via Kickstarter with more chrome upgrades than anything else.  Some new games are just old games rethemed like Android: Netrunner.

Personally, I think many designers fall into the trap of playing catch up to whatever is hot right now.  I can’t say that I’m not guilty of that either – trying to add deckbuilding or drafting to everything, for example!  Deckbuilding:  so hot  right now!

But here’s the rub:  When you shoehorn mechanics like that, it just feels forced.  The best game designs, I find, develop organically and emerge from something to become what they end up being as opposed to being so constrained with some pre-conceived notion.  Belfort could be accused of being a bunch of mechanics mix together in a way that just happened to work, but I think that’s a kind of reductionist view of it.  A good game is also synergistic in that the sum of its parts – mechanics and components – is less than the sum of the game experience as a whole.  Seasons is another current game that seems to be a mish-mash of several tried and true mechanics tied together with a novel timer, but again, in a way that is synergistic.  The mechanics just work together.

As to your question about the feeling that there are no truly new, innovative games / mechanisms being made, I would suggest that instead of real revolutions, currently we’re seeing evolutions – refinement and mastery of the mechanics that have become staples.  So games like Troyes taking worker placement and adding the random element of dice, or even our game Train of Thought adding a cerebral twist to the classic Password-type guessing game.

But rest assured that there are new and innovative mechanics in recent games.  They just may be small ones such as the splaying mechanic in Innovation or Nightfall’s chaining system – Not world changers, yet, but significant in some ways.

Jay and I are always trying to create that elusive “new mechanic” and who knows?  One day, we just might succeed – and you guys will be the first to hear about it!

Michael Mindes, founder/publisher – Tasty Minstrel Games

New is an interesting question.  New mechanisms and uses occur all of the time, which are mainly new tweaks or methods to utilize current major mechanics.  New major mechanics rarely come about.  The most notable recent example is deck building.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Belle of The Ball

Thing is, new game mechanics aren’t hard to make, making *good* mechanics is hard regardless of originality. New and good? *phew*.

Stephen Avery, co-designer of Nothing Personal

Redundant mechanisms and themes have always occurred in the game market. It is very common to adopt a similar mechanism and refine, tweak or put a new spin on it. Only once in a great while does a new ‘discovery’ occur and even then it is often derivative of something related. For instance the card drafting and deck building mechanism in Dominion was first found in MTG sideboards for tournament play.  I do think there has been less impetus to really push the envelope in game design. I am not calling games art (a completely separate conversation) but much like art, the most innovative designs are ones that have a very narrow focus and have imposed limitations on themselves. Also much like art, games need a critical eye to really reach a new level of design. In the past, publishers put both the limitations and evaluated games critically before green-lighting them for publication.  In general publishers would be reluctant to publish a game that was too similar or did not offer something new and fresh to the market.  Zev Shalsinger of Zman games compared games to movies in that there will always be a constant demand for new movies but you don’t want to see the same film over and over. Each new game needs to bring a new twist to make it unique.

I am not knocking Kickstarter though. There have been many positive benefits as well. The biggest benefit is that there are many more ‘new’ games on the market and that anyone with enough persistence can make publish a game. The majority of these could use another level of refinement to be fully realized.The veil has been dropped on the publishing process and people are more informed than ever before. The lines have been blurred between consumer/ reviewer/ publisher which contributes to greater involvement in the game industry. Established publishers are now using KS for advertising, to estimate print run sizes and to mitigate out of pocket expenses which enable them to advance more project. Because of their involvement and the massive number of projects that are fielded, I expect to see the critical eye of public opinion begin to help weed the chafe from the straw.

Jamey Stegmaier, co-designer of Viticulture and co-founder of Stonemaier Games

Are there no new game mechanics? I think the answer is twofold: No and yes. “No” because I think there are generally a few new minor mechanisms in every game. I could mention a few examples, but there are too many—I really think that almost every game offers a few new minor mechanisms and twists. For example, in Village, there’s a unique minor mechanism of death under the greater umbrella of worker placement.

 But in terms of the major mechanisms—tile laying, worker placement, drafting, deckbuilding—sure, I think it’s been a while since a new paradigm was formed. The last major one I can think of is deckbuilding. I would love to see an entirely new construct taking the gaming world by storm…and, honestly, I just as much look forward to all the variations on that new mechanism that will inevitably follow.

Bellwether Games

As long as there is a market for new mechanics we will see new mechanics appear. I think right now we are seeing the natural result of more games coming to publication (many outside the bounds of brand guidelines or market analyses), which is, games that closely mirror one another or that don’t deviate much from the standard.

Paul Owen of Paul Owen Games

I really don’t think a new game mechanism can be just conjured up because somebody decides to invent one. No designer says, “Let’s see, I could create something new, or I could make a cross between Dominion and Settlers. I guess I’ll be unoriginal today.”

I believe that truly new, innovative, original mechanisms are like supernovae. The conditions that spawn them take a long time to develop, but you don’t see it coming until it happens. You can’t predict it. You can only enjoy it when it explodes onto the scene.

It’s probably true that today’s web technology and Kickstarter culture make it easier for more designers to get more exposure to more people, so we see many more game designs in a year than we did, say, five years ago. And everyone is building on their own game experience, so most game design is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. That’s okay, but it means we see a lot of variations on a few themes, and only the occasional, rare, truly original works.

 

So now for my opinion.  I agree that new game mechanisms are few and far between.  I like how Paul Owen put it.  “I believe that truly new, innovative, original mechanisms are like supernovae. The conditions that spawn them take a long time to develop, but you don’t see it coming until it happens. You can’t predict it. You can only enjoy it when it explodes onto the scene.”  And I’ll add that you can create other things from their remains or their memory. Any new mechanism that makes waves will be copied and evolved (as Sen-Foong said).  We see this all the time.

I also agree with the Bellwether guys and Paul.  We are seeing a LOT more games entering the market and many are very similar or contain similar mechanisms.  Is this good or bad?  I think some of both.  I will not get into whether Kickstarter is good or bad for the industry.  That arguement has been fought and will probably not be solved.  But the increase in the number of games produced increases our chances of something revolutionary appearing.  They will spawn copies and iterations which in turn will inspire.  We see this in everything.  Take movies.  How many movies did Star Wars inspire?  If you were around at that time you can remember that there were dozens for years. 

And this will continue.  It is a good thing.  Creators drawing inspiration from those who went before them.  It’s the nature of things. 

So the idea that there are no new mechanisms being created is morning mist.

What do you think? I’m interested to hear what my readers have to say. Please leave a comment below or send me an email at goforthandgameATgmail.com.

Join me soon for another question of the month. 

I also have a couple of interesting interviews in the que – John Moller of Unpub and Darrell Louder, the designer of Compounded coming soon from Dice Hate Me Game.  So stop back by in a few days.

A Conversation with Michael Coe, the designer of Dungeon Heroes and founder of Crash Games


It is my pleasure to have Michael Coe, the founder of Crash Games and designer of Dungeon Heroes, as my guest this time on Go Forth And Game.

Tom: Welcome Michael. Remind us about yourself and Crash Games.
Michael: Well Tom, let me start by saying I am a proud husband and father to be (a girl!). And, in the words of the late great, Dicky Fox “I love the mornings! I clap my hands every morning and say, ‘This is gonna be a great day!” I work hard, earn an honest living and spend a lot of my time pondering whether I should play a board game or a video game right now. Who am I kidding? I make games, and those who share this privilege know there’s not a lot of time to play them. Patrick and I, along with our wives Jessica and Brittany founded Crash Games in Oct. 2011. Since then, my first published game design Rise! has hit game tables worldwide. We are soon to release our second game, a design by Patrick Nickell, The Lost Dutchman. Now, we prepare ourselves for another epic journey, as each game is, with Dungeon Heroes!
Tom: Man, there’s a lot of that birth stuff going around.  I just interviewed Jason Kotarski, designer of The Great Heartland Hauling Company, and they’re having a baby like now.  Actually by the time this is posted it will have arrived. Congrats Jason!!  It’s cool that your wives are so involved with the company. We all know that outside of a few ‘game rock stars’, everyone else has a day job.  What do you do to fuel your gaming habit?


Michael: Tom, I bartend and manage an Outback Steakhouse. That’s right! Would you like mushrooms with that?
Tom: I don’t care for mushrooms. I’ll have sour cream, butter, and chives on that baked potato though. I like Outback btw.
What was the catalyst game for you?  What game got all this started?
Michael: Life!? No, not the board game, the experience. We are all pawns in a roleplay adventure game. Pawns confused as Kings. Alright, all philosophy aside? Candy Land. The art of that game took my imagination on a grand adventure as a child. Nah, maybe it was the Legend of Zelda on the NES. I don’t know. I later grew into games like Heroes’ Quest and Dungeon and Dragons and fell deeply in love with the medieval fantasy. In my recent adulthood I’ve played a lot of World of Warcraft. But, when I break it all down, it wasn’t any specific game that got this all started. It was my passion for games in general, my love for fantastic escapes, and my desire to share that with others.
Tom: It was Uncle Wiggly game for me.  I love that art and the crazy characters.  D&D was the true gateway into the ‘hobby’ game community  for many of us. Escape. That’s what did it for me. Running off to a world of monsters and heroes. That’s good fun right there.
Now for Dungeon Heroes. Tell us all about it, what is it about, how do you play?
Michael: Dungeon Heroes is an opportunity for people who don’t have a lot of time to leave the mundane world behind and emerge themselves into a rich dungeon experience. It’s a 2 player, turn by turn, competition of strategy and tactics that plays under 30 minutes. The elements explored in Dungeon Heroes vary depending on what side of the board you sit. As the Dungeon Lord you must incorporate memory and the ability to bluff with tile placement and timing. As the Hero Party you get to enjoy deduction and risk vs. reward.

Michael’s brain.

Tom: Where did the idea for Dungeon Heroes come from?
Michael: My brain Tom, my brain…  😉

Tom: Did anything change from initial concept to final product?
Michael: The final product is still pending a successful Kickstarter campaign, but regards to gameplay, changes have definitely been made. Small tweaks here and there have been made to balance the two sides while still maintaining their spirit and diversity. My goal as a game designer and the unanimous goal of Crash Games is to provide quality entertainment. We believe this comes from the refinement of play testing and constructive feedback combined with the willingness to adapt a game based on a breakdown of those results. The Kickstarter campaign started Oct. 16.  You can find it at the link below.

Dungeon Heroes

Tom: This is a dungeon crawl. You are actually promoting it as ‘The Lunch Time Dungeon Crawl’.  There are a ton of dungeon crawling games out there.  Why jump into a crowded pool?  What makes Dungeon Heroes different enough to set it apart?
Michael: The difference with Dungeon Heroes is in that tagline, it’s truly a dungeon adventure that can be brought to work and played on your lunch break. You are right; there are a lot of dungeon crawls on the market. It’s because it’s a theme enjoyed by so many and it’s a shame that for so long people had to a lot large chunks of time to really get a fulfilling dose. Dungeon Heroes is here to change that. It offers deep and riveting dungeon drama in a short span of time. The setup and pack up are an absolute minimal, the rules are simple to learn and teach and with contrasting sides every game is different.
Tom: I really have to agree.  I does play in under 45 minutes AND you get that rpg-ish, dungeon crawly feel from the game.  I have a review/pre-productions copy of the game. Thanks by the way. The art is pretty good. Tell me a little about the artist and how you joined forces.
Michael: Bill Bricker was referred to us by another Publisher. He has a wonderful reputation and work ethic and comes highly recommended. Patrick and I had an opportunity to meet with him and his wife at GenCon this year. We were both very impressed with him, not just his talent but his professionalism. Working with Bill has been a delight and he gets four Rhino Horns up from this Crash! People can contact him through his website http://www.kavoc.com/
Tom: What are the plans for Dungeon Heroes?
Michael: Why, global domination and mass takeover of every lunch hour of every job in existence, of course. Muah hah hah!


Tom: What are the aspects of a good Dungeon Heroes player?
Michael: One of the shining elements of Dungeon Heroes is that the aspects of a good player depend of the side you playing. Playing as the Dungeon Lord offers a very distinct and different experience than that of playing as the Hero Party. A good Dungeon Lord will construct a flexible dungeon that is defensive and protects its denizens and treasures during the passive phase of the game but flips over to be ruthless and cruel during the aggressive phase. A good Hero Party is swift and precise, taking calculated risks with minimal waste.

Tom: What is your favorite game mechanism?
Michael: I must say I love tile placement! I’m a Carcassonne junky and I already know the first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem so “spare me the routine Ventura.”

G. D. Falksen in full steampunk glory.

Tom: We’ve started playing more Carcassonne lately.  I had forgotten what a good game it is. We’ve had zombies, pirates, city building, deck building. What’s the next hot theme in board games?
Michael: Steam-punk Panda! Dammit Tom, you made me release our secret weapon too early!
Tom: Oddly enough, steampunk was mentioned by another of my guests.  So you heard it here first.  Steampunk is the next big game theme.
What is next for you?  What else is in the que?  What’s next for Crash Games?
Michael: My next level in this game of life is fatherhood. I’m told I must equip myself with a pillow that milks the most out of sleep time… that was an unintended pun. As for Crash Games, we have some very exciting things in the queue: Rancheros by Patrick Nickell, Paydirt by Tory Niemann, and another one of my designs, Lords, Ladies & Lizards! Bookmark and visit www.CrashGamesAZ.com often for more information on our upcoming titles.
Tom: I’m very interested in Paydirt in particular.  LLL sounds fun.  But I don’t know anything about Rancheros.  Want to expound on each a bit?  Any chance of getting review copies? Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Michael: Tom, I will take this time to thank you what you do for the board game community. Your blog is offers wonderful insight to the industry trends and professionals. Always a neat and rewarding read.
Tom: That’s very kind of you.  I’m glad Go Forth is providing something back to the gaming community. How can people contact you?  Are there any links you would like folks to visit?
Michael: At this time we would love to direct everyone’s attention to our Kickstarter page for Dungeon Heroes. You can also learn a lot about Dungeon Heroes and see some of Bill’s wonderful art at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/127981/dungeon-heroes and of course our company website www.CrashGamesAZ.com

Thanks for the super fun interview Michael!

Readers, there are 9 days left in the Dungeon Heroes Kickstarter campaign.  Please follow the links above and give some support for a really fun, quick game.  You can learn more about it from my recent review.  And look for Crash Games titles at your favorite game store and buy lots.

Thanks again for reading.

Tom G