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.

Mark Your Calendars

It doesn’t seem that the website is up yet, but the NYU Game Center’s End-of-Year Show is the evening of May 18th in Brooklyn, NY. The End-of-Year Show is a chance to play and discuss games with a who’s-who of the New York game creation scene. Tickets are free, and NYU pays for the food; it’s well worth your time!

Link: AlphaGo’s Impact on Go Strategy

I’ve always thought of top-flight AI players as a sort of death knell for strategy games. That way lies solved systems, where memorization is king. A blog post about AlphaGo, however, suggests a different use for them: exploring new tactical avenues .

In sum, the article points out that AlphaGo (a very skilled AI player of the classic game Go) sometimes does things human players have long written off as ill-advised. Never embarrassed by the risk of making a rookie mistake, and able to think about the entire board with each move, AlphaGo explores strategies that the Go world has dismissed or even actively rejected. That allows it to find not just new sequences of plays, but to reveal innovative approaches to the game.

RoboRosewater showed us that computers can help us brainstorm. AlphaGo has a new lesson on offer: if a game is deep enough, AI players can direct us toward avenues of complexity that humans have yet to explore. Computer assists can be valuable at both ends of a game’s lifecycle.

Bernard DeKoven & Play

Few people have done more thinking about the nature of play than Bernard DeKoven. He was a leading light in the New Games movement, which sought (in an extremely minimal and perhaps unfair summary) to separate games and play on the one hand from competition on the other, demonstrating that the former could exist without the latter. In addition, he is the author of the seminal text The Well-Played Game.

Sadly, Mr. DeKoven has terminal cancer. His announcement includes this call to action:

Make up your own games. Make them up together with the people who play them. Play. Teach. Invent. Play some more.

Also especially – look into this playfulness thing too. Deeply. Because we’re not talking just games here. We’re talking about how you can let yourself be as playful as you’ve always been, how you can be playful almost anywhere with almost anyone, how you can invite people to be playful with you, in school and office and in the checkout line: all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities from all kinds of backgrounds.

Mr. DeKoven’s work is a treasure trove. Designers should check it out for an entirely unusual, and yet entirely compelling, perspective. They should also check it out because play is a good thing to bring into the world, and so few of us have created as much play Mr. DeKoven has.

Theory: Have Bad Guys, Part 2

By way of evidence for the idea that having a “bad side” is useful for introducing two-player games, consider the introductory sets for Warhammer 40,000 over the years:

We know that space marines are Games Workshop’s best selling product–and, unsurprisingly, they feature in every one of these. There’s an argument for simply doubling up on them, and letting new players divide the marines with a friend. After all, the numbers say that they’ll both end up wanting space marines more than they want Dark Eldar or Orks.

Yet, there’s always a bad guy from a less-well-selling line. I don’t have market data, but I have to think that that increases sales. Over time, players might decide that they want to play the space marines: they see the marines as the main characters of the setting, or like how they work on the tabletop. At the introductory stage, though, the villain has a unique appeal.

Games Workshop has its detractors, but I think it’s important to respect that they have been very successful for a very long time. They know how to make an introductory product. The fact that their introductory products always involve a bad guy strikes me as evidence that it’s a strong approach.