Archive for July, 2006

Dungeons and Dragons – Into the Sewers

July 31, 2006

For a bit of a change of pace, why not have a look at Into the Sewers, a Dungeons and Dragons adventure for a starting character party. It’s designed as a standalone adventure, that should be simple to slot into an existing campaign if you so desire. Expect to see a few more of these Dungeons and Dragons adventures over the next few months, but also look out for updates to Merchant Venturers, and the promised Aztec themed game.

It’s a different challenge to write something for an existing gaming system, rather than a totally new game, you don’t need to worry about all of the play balance and component issues, and the rules for most of the interaction are already in existence. It allows a focus on the core of the game you are creating, you are allowed to assume that your readers will already know much of what you are creating, not having to worry about explaining how dice should be rolled or cards dealt is a nice feeling.

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Cheating

July 27, 2006

I believe that there are two main types of cheating, deliberate and unintentional.

When you have a player who is cheating deliberately, there is little you can do to combat it, save not playing with them again if you catch them doing it. Games rely mostly on trust to function, and anyone who abuses the trust doesn’t deserve to play.

Unintentional cheating is a harder problem to deal with, but there are strategies we can use as games designers to mitigate are reduce its effects. Unintentional cheating occurs when a player accidentally breaks the rules of the game, either because they have forgotten them, are employing them incorrectly, or have never learnt them in the first place.

You can reduce the occurrence of this type of cheating by writing good and appropriate rules for your game, and laying them out sensibly and well. Examples aid learning, as do diagrams, use them liberally. Excessively complex or wordy rules will tend to be misinterpreted on even totally unread. Always work to cut out the unnecessary words, and consider adding summaries at the top of complex sections of the rules.

If there are optional or advanced rules for a game, add them to a separate part of the rule book, and include an obvious mechanism to declare the use of any such rules, ensure that all of your players have maximum opportunity to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Keep all related rules together, don’t scatter rules about a single section of the game throughout the rules text. If you have to do this, provide summaries, examples and an index.

Include a FAQ section to explain the complex parts of rules that people have issue with. Make sure this is an actual list of Frequently Asked Questions, as opposed question you think people may ask frequently. Maintain this list on your website, and consider distributing new sets of rules including errata to reduce the length of the FAQ.

If you make your rules as simple and easy to understand as possible, and allow them to evolve with feedback, you should reduce the unintentional cheating to a minimum, and also make it easier for people to catch the deliberate cheats, a good result all round.

Seven, plus or minus two

July 17, 2006

I’m going to take advantage of the writings of George A Miller, the author of a 1956 paper regarding the number of digits people can recall from short-term memory. The conclusion of this is, basically, that people can recall strings of between five and nine digits, it’s quite famous, and it’s the reason that telephone numbers are only ever 6-7 digits long.

I’m going to use this to say that the number of discrete ‘things’ that need to be remembered whilst playing should be in this 5-9 region, we just don’t have the mental dexterity to manage more streams of information than this. If you want a simple game, it should tend to the lower end of the spectrum, and more complex games tend to the higher.

If you design games which require the players to recall the values of 8-9 constantly changing ‘things’, you should be prepared for slowdowns in play as the numbers are recorded on sheets of paper, and as the dread analysis paralysis rears its ugly head, as the optimal result is vainly sought. You will probably also reduce your potential source of players, the pool or people who can handle 9 ‘things’ is much smaller than those comfortable with 5-6 ‘things’.

More on Puerto Rico

July 6, 2006

The player with the most victory points will win at the end of the game. There are two ways to generate these in Puerto Rico, by building, or by shipping goods.

There is no option to only follow one of these strategies. To ship enough goods, you need to build some buildings that help with production. To build enough buildings, you must create some goods to provide income to build.

A shipping strategy is a long term game plan. To get the best out of it, you seek to extend the game, to allow more time to generate and ship more goods. Builders seek to build quickly, and end the game before a shipping strategy has had time to find its feet.

The successful player will be able to gauge which type of strategy his opponents favour, and seek  to find the profitable gaps  that are left. If three players are favouring a shipping strategy, then a  cash-crop producing builder will  have little  competition for the  resources he needs to perform successfully.

It is often possible to switch emphasis during the game, assuming you do not commit too fully to one extreme of the strategy spectrum. Trying to hold off making a building versus  shipping choice can be effective, as it gives you longer to survey the playing field, and seek the least favoured (so easiest to do well in) option.