17: Research

17: Research

Name one game you would recommend playing especially to learn from its design – what does it have to offer you as a designer?

 

 

Oh, that’s simple – Jenga. Wait! Hear me out! No, seriously! Jenga is one of the most perfect products in the history of design. There is so much to learn from it – from the simplicity and accessibility of the rules, to the physical nature of the game, to the packaging, to the advertising, to the emotional tensions, to the fact that (in the old, original version) by cleaning the game up, you’re setting it up for next time… I could teach a whole course on design simply through the analysis of Jenga. Leslie Scott doesn’t get enough credit for her masterpiece!

Sen-Foong Lim

Sit down and play NMBR9 by Peter Wichmann, it’s streamlined and simple to learn. The innovative use of punchboard and its simple rule set really make this game stand out and the fervor with which players want to play again and ‘do better’ is captivating.

Adrienne Ezell

I think Knizia’s Ra is a masterclass in different scoring rules. Set collection, majorities, avoiding negative points – it’s all there in that bag of tiles! Ra was one of the earlier modern German games I played and it taught me a huge lesson. The way a certain resource scores can radically change how it feels to interact with and is a huge part of its identity in the game world.

Phil Walker-Harding

Zhanguo. It is a heavy game, but it is extremely elegant. It combines multiple use cards and tableau building very well. It hides its complexity of decision making behind pretty simple rules and creates great “euro-style” experience and interaction with relatively low barrier to entry.

Pini Shekhter

There is so much to learn from [Jenga] – from the simplicity and accessibility of the rules, to the physical nature of the game, to the packaging, to the advertising, to the emotional tensions… — Sen-Foong Lim

I’d approach this from a negative perspective: instead of finding a ‘proto-game’ to learn best practice from, go to a game you already know well and look for what *doesn’t* work. Monopoly is an excellent one. Play a game and keep note not of the mechanics, but of how you’re feeling. Are you anxious? Is it fun anxiety, or unpleasant? Why is it happening? The game seems unfair? Are you losing? Is that why? But when you’re winning, it feels fair? Wow, that’s an amazing insight – maybe something to play with in your own designs? Pick a game you know and play it critically and consciously.

Andrew Sheerin

I would probably recommend to look at these Kris Burms: GIPF, DVONN, YINSH. Abstract games are the quintessence of game design. The main lesson of these kind of game is how very simple rules can lead to very deep games, with high replay value.

Bruno Cathala

I recommend that everyone play Splendor, especially designers who have struggled in the past with making their games overly complicated. While players are in competition with each other, I’ve found that playing it is very relaxing and I’ve yet to see friendships broken up over it. So many games aim to give players a spike in their blood pressure, and while that can be fun at times, people have busy lives and sometimes pass up on playing a game because they don’t want any more stress. Splendor is engaging without encouraging conflict, and the mechanics are easy to grasp.

Clio Davis

Instead of finding a ‘proto-game’ to learn best practice from, go to a game you already know well and look for what *doesn’t* work. — Andrew Sheerin

I would highly recommend Great Western Trail by Stronghold games. I think in terms of game design, it has become so necessary to be able to combine mechanics from different genres effectively. Great Western Trail does a great job integrating versions of worker placement and deckbuilding mechanics in a way that feels satisfying to me as a player. I think the more fearless you are when mashing together mechanics, the better your games will become.

Omari Akil

One game that I would recommend playing for any designer is Isaac Childres’ Gloomhaven. Aside from the fact that it is rightly feted as one of the best tabletop games of all time, the sheer scope of what Childres manages to achieve is testament to the notion that tabletop games can be extraordinarily complex without ever being needlessly complicated.

Sam Illingworth

I don’t think there is any single game to value above all others, whether in terms of game experience or design lessons offered.

Play all the games you can. If making a word game, try many word games before you finish. No game is paramount.

If I must pick just one, I’ll say that Carcassonne has a lovely mix of options with each tile. Each meeple placement has its own set of ramifications to consider. The game taps into so many aesthetic, tactile, and social pleasures. Growing a big map is cool and has probably never been done better!

Bez Shahriari

We should all play Antoine Bauza’s Tokaido. This game is a great example of how every aspect of a game lead to a specific game experience. Even if you’ll be probably not leading everything (the publisher will handle artwork and other aspects of publishing) being aware of all these different aspects is, for me, essential.

Théo Rivière

The more fearless you are when mashing together mechanics, the better your games will become. — Omari Akil

In recent times, any abstract design that genuinely brings something new. Azul is an obvious choice, or Adios Calavera a more obscure one. Every design should bring something genuinely original to the party, however small; not just rearrange the toolbox. It’s getting harder to do, but these games prove subtle changes to core concepts can breathe new life into the hobby.

Chris Marling

Cosmic Encounter. It has a hundred games in it.

Bruno Faidutti

I choose Princes of Florence:

– the split between player-driven auction and personal actions in the round structure creates tension and immediate feedback when you get/fail to get what you need; also, the split of resources – some are only available via the auction – further heightens the jeopardy to planning;

– only 21 player actions (7 auctions, 14 personal)…and, yet, decisions blossom within this hard framework;

– the increasing minimum threshold for playing professions means you must keep moving forward; and,

– the tetris puzzle on your board throws a cheeky spacial spanner into the mix.

Utter. Genius.

Tony Boydell

Every design should bring something genuinely original to the party, however small; not just rearrange the toolbox. It’s getting harder to do, but these games prove subtle changes to core concepts can breath new life into the hobby. — Chris Marling

Magic: The Gathering. Given its long history and focus on card interactions, it’s a fantastic melting pot of mechanics and concepts. Even though I don’t play regularly anymore, I find myself using MTG terms to describe actions (like Tap, Scry, Mill, etc) often as I design. Aside from its cultural impact, I feel MTG has been a great boon for game designers, and well worth the time to learn a little about.

Sye Robertson

Circle the Wagons makes better use of its components than almost any other game on the market. I recommend it to every new designer, even (slash especially) if you have no interest in designing smaller games – its efficiency of design can inform almost any prototype being worked on today.

Peter Hayward

Twilight Imperium 4. You have combat, negotiation, objectives, politicking, resource management, role selection, asymmetric player powers, set collection, engine building, EVERYTHING you want in multiple games you can experience in one game. Granted it will take a while to learn and get used to, and convincing people to play a marathon game can be a challenge, but as a designer, I’ve learned that a game built upon iteration and iteration, you can make a thematic game elegant (with a few hiccups here and there) and there’s no limit where you can take your game design (cause this has basically everything.)

Christopher Chung

Hey, That’s My Fish! Play it.

No seriously. Just play it.

Trevor Benjamin

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