NYU Game Center Charity Stream

Just as a reminder, block off 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow! The NYU Game Center will be streaming games from the End of Year Show. Missy Senteio, whose work was recently featured at the American Museum of Natural History, and Zach Barash, a designer for Kingdom Death whose Magic: the Gathering writing has been featured on the official Magic site numerous times, are slated to co-host.

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Theory: Randomness and Responsibility

In the past, I’ve argued against employing control difficulty as a gate for player power. Sam Von Ehren offered an alternative perspective today, one that deserves more thought and time than I’m able to give it as the NYU Game Center End-of-Year Show approaches. For the future, then, a summary:

Randomness built into a game system can be frustrating. If players have to do something difficult, on the other hand, one gets much of the benefit of randomness–even experienced players will trip up sometimes, and will be concerned about it still more–while putting the burden on the players instead of on the game. When their errors introduce uncertainty into a match, they will see themselves as the cause, and want to improve. That’s much more palatable than feeling as though the game is out to get them.

Theory: the Dark Side of Computer Assists

Computers can help during the ideation phase of design, and can also point out new strategies to players of what might otherwise be considered a game past the point of innovation.

On the other hand, they can also enable a rate of play that forces a major design firm, with testing resources most can only dream of, to ban a card 48 hours after release.

I suppose we have to take the bad with the good.

Theory: Q’s without A’s

Fantasy Flight Games’ reboot of the classic CCG Legend of the Five Rings raises a number of intriguing issues. In fact, I’d say there’s almost nothing about it that isn’t interesting:

The license itself. The received wisdom is that licensing a fictional world is only worthwhile when the world is a major draw; otherwise, one might as well start from scratch, and forego the expense. Was Legend of the Five Rings worth the cost?

On the positive side of the ledger, it’s a long-standing name in the tabletop market, albeit not perhaps as strong a brand as it was in the past. FFG also received at least some existing art assets–we can see them in the cards displayed on the new website–which avoids the cost of recreating card art.

On the other hand, a game two decades old comes with a lot of baggage. There’s an existing base to be placated, if you’re not simply going to accept their ire. Old data floating around the internet might confuse customers. Your product has expectations out of the gate that otherwise wouldn’t burden it.

I’m not certain whether it will be possible to determine from the outside how the license works out, but it will be interesting to consider.

The gameplay. For all its mechanical warts, old Legend of the Five Rings did one thing right: it was a game about acquisition. Over the course of a winning game you got more honor, more cards, more stats, more abilities, more of just about everything. That acquisition felt good.

New Legend of the Five Rings is, in some sense, a game about losing your resources. Honor and cards are both naturally given away during a game. I can see how those negative feedback loops resolve a runaway-leader problem that bedeviled old Legend of the Five Rings, and can also imagine that they lead to interesting decisions. Yet, the fun of a game isn’t solely in whether it’s mechanically balanced. Will players see the game as punishing them for engaging with it, and move on to something else?

The theme. In the 1990s Legend of the Five Rings’s mashup of dynastic China and Shogunate Japan was seen as forward-thinking and progressive. Today, it might be seen in a different light. Will the theme and fictional history be a help, or a lightning rod for criticism? How will Fantasy Flight handle issues of portrayal going forward?

. . . and so on. Legend of the Five Rings is a venerable brand, and that throws the changes it’s undergoing into especially sharp relief. I’ll be extremely interested to see how the new release plays out.

Link: SJG Report to Stakeholders

Business information is not easy to come by in the tabletop games industry. Hence, any data that appears is highly to be prized by anyone who wants to make a living–or even a reasonable amount of pocket money–in board games. There’s a lot one needs to know, and much of it can only be learned by experience.

Fortunately for all of us, SJG releases an annual Report to Stakeholders. It represents a wealth of knowledge on topics ranging from marketing to management to production, and even on what a major player in the business sees as key industry trends. While obviously it’s not enough to be the foundation of a business plan, it’s still a great window into one company’s process.

As time has gone on I’ve had to become more interested in the business aspects of game design, for better or for worse. SJG’s reports are a valuable resource for the entire community of design professionals. They’re worthy of study.