What is a perfect board game for me?

  1. It must be playable by 2 persons.
  2. It must be playable by a group, and 4 people is a good number.
  3. Players must interact and compete for resources.
  4. There must be some amount luck involved, to level players.
  5. It must be playable in under 2 hours. Under 1 hour gameplay is a bonus.
  6. It must be explainable in at most 15 minutes.
  7. It must have very few “exception” rules, if any. If possible, they must be written in large letters somewhere in the board or cards.
  8. It must be possible for a beginner to win from someone that already knows the game (not an expert).
  9. It must be possible to play only for fun, with a limited amount of strategic play. However, it must allow for strategical or psychological play.
  10. It should be possible to “count points” at any moment, and even stop a game in the middle and has an idea of the winner.
  11. Story must be integrated with gameplay
  12. Every player can play until the end of the game, no eliminations.
  13. It is fun to play

Games that fall in this definition: Ticket to Ride, Catan, Takenoko. What are your rules?


Discussing a game by looking at the rules

On my last class we discussed a game proposal from two students. Unlike the first discussion, when we actually played a shortened version of the game, this time we only had a presentation of the ideas and rules (some of them) that make the game.

Although we had first decided to do a dynamic based of “The Book of Lenses” cards, at the moment we thought that could be more effective just let the class to ask question or make criticism at will, with no constraints. However, we did it a quasi-organized way.

We used “Post-it” to write every comment on the game. After it, I organized the post-its in topics. At first we should have done it in a collaborative way, but since the room is full, it would be a kind of messy.

I really recommend this kind of dynamics. The set of post-its where glued in an A3 page and given to the 2 students. Other students took notes about what their games should do or not. Everyone profited.



Testing a game in classroom

Last Tuesday me and my class tested a new business game in my Advanced Game Design classroom.

This class is the second course in game design.

While in the first course we work with the basic literature on games and develop some group exercises, in this class we are interested in developing new theoretical models for game design, and everyone is obliged to produce a working game (digital or not).

One of the students wants to develop a game that will show to the students of Business course the importance of Business Intelligence.

She arrived with a simple game for four groups, almost an RPG with fixed options at each round, but the options are not necessarily the same for each group as the game develops. She had to take some time to calculate the interactions among the decisions taken.

Before playing every student selected a card from “The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses” by Jesse Schell. We then played the game and made suggestions and analysis based on our own ideas and also using the card. It was a good dynamics, but we probably need to get it better. But it was very nice to use Jesse Schell’s cards as a help in the process.

Some ideas for Classroom games we discussed:

  • Always have an open leaderboard
  • Not everything you ask to the teams must be used to calculate the result of the play. You can ask for justifications, for example, that will be used in the debrief
  • Always do a debrief
  • Have some luck involved (but don´t make the luck more important than the lesson). Luck, for example, can be applied to all groups at the same time.
  • Make the context clear
  • Let it clear if groups are competing for the same results or if they are “playing alone”

I recommend http://artofgamedesign.com/cards/



Guillotine is a card game for 2 to 5 players. It was launched in 1998, designed by Paul Peterson.  I played it with 3 and 2 persons and enjoyed it.

The mechanism is simple: during the French Revolution you have a queue of nobles (noble cards) going to the guillotine. Each players is a executioner, and they compete for the most important heads.  At your turn you can play an action card and must pick (behead) the first noble in the list. The main mechanic is to alter the order of the queue in some way using the action cards, but other actions are availabe. Many noble cards have special rules, such as get the next noble in the line or +2 points if you have the matching part of a couple.

The result is a fun game, where you try to put the best cards for you and the worst for your adversaries.

Unlike many card games, there is a connection joining mechanics and theme and you don´t feel that could play it with a normal deck. Although the theme is a bit grim, the art is light and funny, and also is the game. There is no blood and gore in the drawings or in the action cards. While playing, my group was a bit technical, looking more for points and actions than noble titles and action names (which are meaningful, such as “escape!), loosing a bit of the fantasy (mimicry).

Tactic is important, but any long time strategy is prone to failure, since not only the behavior of the queue is unpredictable, but also the action cards can change hand or be reshuffled at any time.

It is a fast game, good for families (if you don´t mind talking about beheading with you kids), and also a good filler.

Good: simple rules, nice cards, it gives you the chance of frustrating the adversaries by changing the queue order. 2 players game is still fun.

Bad: although the game is old by 2014, some cards still could get a better explanation. E.g., what to do with “discard two nobles from the queue” if there is only one ? Adding “up to” of “exactly” to the text would solve that.

The Hobbit, The Card Game – Not for 2 players

This week I played The Hobbit, The Card Game for the first time. It is a card game for 2 to 5 persons. I played with 2 persons.

I confess that I bought it because it was at a reasonable price (for Brazil), it was about Tolkien and I wanted to expend some money in a shop that made a game board encounter. It was an impulse acquisition, as I would not buy a game rated 5.41/10 in BGG.

First impression: bad choice. 2 players rules are “special”, found in the end of the rules. Since I really play a lot with my son, just us 2, this was a bad sign.

Reviewing the rules: a trick taking game. That means that it is a card game where you put card on the table and the biggest card is the winner. One fixed color is trump. Hobbits, Dragons and whatever tolkianeske image you have in the card has nothing to do with it.

But there is a twist: some cards are marked in a way that they can be used to take life points from “evil” or “good” characters (each player gets 1 of 5 characters. 3 good, 2 evil). There are more evil cards than good cards, so good characters have to strife for life.

What is bad: It has different winning conditions for each number of participants, and the rules, although few, have minor variations also, and this is a bit confusing.

What is good: winning and loosing tricks become a strategic move. It is not always the right decision to win.

What I miss: being a Tolkien game and not only a game with Tolkien drawings. I kind of resent when a game has nothing to do with its franchise, it seems that it was not good enough to sell by itself.  You could play it without buying: you could use a normal card deck and mark the cards with one of the 3 symbols.

Where Tolkien appears: each player plays 1 of 5 possible from The Hobbit, that have one special power related as how he uses the life taking cards. However, Gandalf has the same rule than Smaug.

Martin Wallace, its designer, has some prizes, but this is not one game that make me want to buy more of this games. I read about game designers that have the game and then put the history on it (usually as a demand) and this seems to be the case.

I believe BGG overall rating of 5.41/10 is really fair, for 2 players. It is not a baaaad game, but it is not really good, at least for 2 players.

As a final observation, the Brazilian Rules, publish by Devir, are not as good as the provided in the Web site.

On Games, CS and Art students

I will soon start a class on game development that is shared by graduate computer science and undergraduate art students.
This is the first time I will try that, repeating an experience made last year with undergraduate students from both courses.

Last year was a great experience. I am used to work with CS students in game design for more than 6 years. Art brought another view to our classes.

While CS students are all about procedures (even inside the game), Art students are all about concept. Even the hair of the game characters make difference for them.

I hope things will work (again) and I will try to blog a bit about my experience HERE.

Meanwhile, I intend to return to review some games.

Can games be useful?

Part of my research in game development is dedicated to the subject of  “Games with a purpose”, or GWAP.

ACM Communication´s has already two articles on the subject, “Designing Games with a Purpose” (DOI: 10.1145/1378704.1378719) by Luis Von Ahn and Laura Dabbish in the Aug 2008 issue, and more recently a column by Neil Savage “Gaining Wisdom from Crowds” (DOI 10.1145/2093548.2093553).

Imagine how many hours are spent annually in games? This number is astronomical. For example, people expend 200 millions minutes playing Angry Birds in a single day.  Jane McGonigal, GAWP evangelizer,  says we expend 3 billions hours a week playing video games.

Although one can argue that playing has a positive effect on the player, as a way to have a few hours of distraction and entertainment, it is also throwing away billions of possible productive hours a week.

Couldn´t we devise a way to imbed some productive result in a game? Can we use this hours to solve real life problems without interfering with game fun and enjoyability?

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Everything is a keyboard: MaKey MaKey

This is another project at KickStart that is at the same time ingenious and inspiring.

Two graduate students, Jay Silver and Eric  Rosenbaum, at MIT Media Lab (I love Media Lab, I must say) made a small eletronic board that can transform anything into a key (from a keyboard). All you need is their board,  alligator clips, and a USB cable.

Prototyping new game interfaces?  Making practical jokes with your computer? Special interfaces for multimedia spaces, expositions? Counting how many people touched the “don´t touch” exhibit?  Makey Makey is the solution.

Do you want more confirmation that this is a good idea? They asked for US$25K and have already achieved US$125K. Tell me about a success story! (Media Lab “Demo or Die” motto seems to be perfect for creating fundraised projects.)

See the Video and you be amazed and fund the project. I pledged US$ 45.

via Aldo Santillo

Storybricks: the kind of project I admire

Just a short post to point you to StoryBricks, “Storybricks is a toolset that allows users to tell stories in a computer RPG and share them with friends.” and  also “a visual editing tool that allows players to tell stories that uses a sophisticated simulation that defines character emotions and behaviors.” They have a demo“.

They are also trying to fund it at KickStarter

This is the kind of project I admire and would like to see finished, however it is not easy to to raise US$ 250K in the next 15 days. They need almost 17K backers at the minimum US$15  and their concept seems to appeal more to designers and game masters than to gamers.

I wish them good look. Would you help?

via Emily Short

Nurturing your game programming skills revamping Atari VCS games

Every profession starts with basic lessons. If you want to do something very hard, it is better to become expert in simple things. A writer must know how to write a one page story before creating a novel, an engineer must know how to design a house before planning a skyscraper.

How about game development? What can you do to learn how to program a simple yet enjoyable game?

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