Schlagwort-Archive: Carcassonne

iPad Games

Transcript of the podcast published November 8th, 2011.

After talking last time about the surge of electronic board gaming through devices like android, iphone and ipod let’s now look a bit closer at the device that in my opinion has accelerated the development, and that is the ipad.

Mobile phone games (or “Handyspiele” as they are inexplicably called in German) have been with us a long time already. The first of these games were little better than the first Ataris or Nintendos that graced our childhood, with choppy graphics reminiscent of the 8bit games of ye olden times. But even when the processors and the mobile devices became more and more like mobile computers the biggest hindrance to the playing of board games on them was simply the small and tiny screen.

Things improved somewhat with the introduction of the iphone – not because its screen was that much bigger, but because it was now possible to enlarge sections of the screen with an easy movement of your fingers. Map scrolling was never easy on a mobile phone – anyone remember playing scrolling games on Nokia phones? That was a fiddly nightmare! – but suddenly it was possible to simulate a board. The first game that really did it for me was the now already famous “Carcassonne”-App – a faithful conversion of the classic boardgame that works really well on the iphone and all related devices. But still, once you tried to do more complicated games like “Settlers” the screen tended to become crowded and you needed magnifying glasses to tell what was going on.

Along came Steve Jobs’ last great invention – the Ipad. First this device was ridiculed because of its inability to act like a normal computer and its limited freedom for the user. But quickly game developers understood that having a device that basically is a  Star Trek – Next Generation computer interface come true created new possibilities for the avid gamer. Has anybody ever analyzed how much the set design of this series has influenced actual developments in  the computer world? I bet many people working at Apple are former Star Trek fans who tried to make parts of the series come true in reality…But I digress.

I first was not at all interested in the ipad – it seemed like a useless rip off to me, a toy for rich people who have nothing else to spend money on. But then a friend introduced me to “Small World” on the ipad, and I was instantly converted into believing in the endless possibilities this device had. Suddenly it was possible to play a real board game with real board game rules and the feel of pieces to be moved around. The ipad is large enough for both players to act like a little game board, and “Small World” actually is a good choice for a conversion as it is a relatively easy but also challenging game with many subtleties. The designers of the “Small World” app also took great care to make the App feel and play like the original board game, using the original design and animating it to some effect.

Today the “Small World” app has aged a little and some things will now be considered lacking in it, for example the impossibility of having more than 2 players, lack of online play and the relatively weak AI. But it was a pioneering app that showed the way to go for other developers. And it made me buy an ipad, a decision that I have never rued, because of its potential for gamers.

In the times of PC games only good board game conversions were a rarity. It seemed like there were only two kinds of boardgaming conversions – either overproduced ones, where each little element of a game turn featured endless and silly animations that got on your nerves quickly, or underproduced ones, with graphics so ugly and amateurish that one always preferred to play the original boxed game.

But the haptic interface of the ipad changes everything – now programmers don’t have to constantly dazzle us with quirky visuals because the main focus of the players is the direct interaction with cards, pieces or gameboards, an interaction that wasn’t possible and not as much fun as with a mouse. Also programming has developed in such a way that even small and independent companies can manage to make very decent and good looking apps.

Let’s look at a new game that has just come out: “Elder Sign: Omens”, the app conversion of Fantasy Flight’s new Lovecraft game. This is a really slick production that manages to bring the visual quality of Fantasy Flight’s games to the electronic format. As the game it is based on is cooperative there was no need to program an AI, and the game works perfectly as a single or multiplayer game. It is clear that a professional company like Fantasy Flight is at the front of such a development qualitywise, but if one looks at the sheer number of really interesting projects of board games for mobile devices it seems like a revolution has started. Even specialty games are in the works – GMT games has developers working on apps of games like Twilight Struggle and Dominant Species, which I find really exciting. Even a small but highly praised developer like Victory Point Games has several of their titles in the works.

As electronic board games – which now for the first time really feel more and more like board games instead of electronic distractions – don’t have to be stored or shipped production costs are actually lower than for a normal game. And it is only a matter of time until we see the first hybrid games with both physical and electronic elements that integrate second generation mobile devices. And one should also mention that the Android market is developing as well, which I think is actually very good, as one company should not dominate everything. Interesting times for the gamer indeed! Let’s look at some games in detail next time!

New Names for Games – 1: “Silent Games”

Transcript of the podcast published on July 5th, 2011.

I think that newcomers to Boardgamegeek probably find it increasingly difficult to understand what the heck we are talking about. The forums are proof to this, with newbies asking eternally the same questions: what is a “Euro”? What is “Ameritrash”, and why do so many people love them? What is AP (Analysis Paralysis), is it some kind of gamer sickness? What is a grognard, what is a meeple, what is a Kramertrack?

In addition there are a huge number of genres – anyone who ever tried the advanced search engine of the geek can attest to this. There are roll-and-move games, war games, empire building games, tile laying-games, crayon games and so on. There is a problem with all these terms, though. Although they describe exactly what a game uses as a mechanic they say very little about how it feels to actually play the game.

To give you an example: In a way “Groo the card Game” is an empire building game, like San Juan or Puerto Rico, as one tries to lay out cards to form a village with different buildings. But in contrast to these games Groo is a chaotic affair in which you randomly attack your neighbours and in which there is no perceivable strategy to how you build your village, because Groo will come and destroy it anyway. The most useful term for these kind of games is of course the good old “Beer & Pretzel”, a term which simply says: “relax, venturing gamer, this is not a serious or brainy affair, it is just a free for all entertainment in which the main goal is to annoy your fellow players and have fun”.

For some gamers this exact description is a caveat, for others – especially for lovers of the game “Munchkin” – it is a badge of excellence. Whatever the case, the limits of the term can quickly be demonstrated by mentioning a very different game, ”Junta!. “Junta” is – at its heart – a chaotic Beer & Pretzel game, as there is no dedicated strategy to win, there are lots of random events and decisions, and very often you will be at the whim of other players’ decisions. But at the same time “Junta” involves real diplomacy, backdoor dealing, and in parts it is also a real war game with meaningful tactical decisions. So what is it?

I find we are missing terms for what games really are, so I would like to start a little series where I will try to invent some new terms for the BGG database.

My first term is simple, “Schweigespiel”, which means “silent game” in German.

What, you may ask, is a “Schweigespiel”? I try to give a definition: silent games are games that tend to inhibit verbal communication between players because of their sometimes secretive and brainy nature and also because of the moves of the players themselves ARE the communication. Silent games will very often be played with little to no talk during the game.

I don’t know if you ever had this experience: you play a game and suddenly you notice that you are so much in your own little world of thought that there is this all-pervading silence all-around. Every time we notice this in our gaming group we call out – “Schweigespiel!” and everybody knows immediately what is meant.

To give you some examples of a silent game, let’s begin with the most obvious prime candidate, and that is Chess. Chess has never been known to be a particularly chatty game, but this is because communication between players is abstracted and only takes place through the movements of pieces on the board. Also a lot of the strategy of chess comes through the fact that one doesn’t want to have the opponent know your secret plan. Chess is such a silent game, that there are actually rules which force you to talk and announce certain threats, lest you forget.

But there are also examples of games that are more our fare. Let’s take “Agricola” – a good example because it is also somewhat of a multiplayer solitaire game as well. Or “Euphrates and Tigris” – a game which gives you so many possibilities where to place your tiles and what to do with them that actually the Analysis Paralysis alone will keep you pretty silent most of the time. Or “Carcassonne, at least in its basic version. The excellent Carcassonne iPhone app has a chat feature, but most of the time one doesn’t know what to say except perhaps “wow”, when a huge city has been finished. Most of the time the communication is through the game, in a complex sign language of tile-laying. Most players hesitate to state the obvious, like saying “Ha, look, I just placed a meeple that will threaten your meadow domination in a very surprising way”. This is why iPhone Carcassonne players mostly use the chat for insults or complaints about lag (the many Dice Tower listeners I met through this app are absolutely not fitting in this category but have been friendly and ready to chat).

You may ask yourself: Are there any “loud” games? You bet there are, and I will talk about them next show…

Gaining Speed – Part 2

Transcript of the podcast published on May 7th, 2011.

Last show I was talking about the necessity to get the right speed rating for your game when designing it. This time I want to give you some examples.

Take ”7 Ages” for example, a great if still unwieldy game of empires and conquest – when reading the designer’s diary one will find a statement by Harry Rowland, that in its original form the game had each empire go through all possible phases in its turn – production, movement, combat, fate, progress, etc.. This of course meant that the other players would idly watch while one player spent a lot of time doing fiddly things with often no consequence to the other players. At one point Rowland decided that he would limit each empire action to only one of these – this already was a great idea, if not a radical design decision. But this was still not good enough. So Rowland decided to make the selection of actions simultaneous and secret for all players involved. Simultaneous selection of something is always a good idea, as it means that all players can mutually do something that is of relevance, even if it is not in direct communication with another player. It adds two interesting aspects: speed, of course, and also mystery, as in a good game design one should always be guessing about the other player’s motives.

This worked great for “7 Ages”. While I select my empire’s actions I ask myself: will my neighbor be peaceful this turn? Or will he attack me? Should I attack first? So even though I don’t necessarily talk with another player during this selection it is an indirect form of competitive communication, and this is an important element in any game.

I had a similar problem with my game “XX”, formerly known as the “20th Century” until some evil usurping Eastern-European-game designers stole my title. In its original form the game was just mega-long, and each player had a lot of actions to ponder while the others were waiting and doing nothing. Some BGG con visitors of four years back might remember this version painfully.

One of the main design goals is of course elegance and speed – in reworking the game concepts I tried to think about what elements I deemed important and what not. Many ideas were neat, like the effects of population or catastrophes in my game about the history of the 20th century. But I could go two ways – either keep them and develop them, which meant the game would become longer and more complicated, or leave them away and concentrate on the things I really liked. In a painful process I whittled down the possible player actions to only three different ones: getting involved in wars, using diplomacy to place influence in countries and playing a card as an event.

Now I still had the problem that this would mean that each player would have to ponder this decision when it came to his or her turn. The game state might have changed in a way that would make a new pondering period necessary – and again non-involved players would have to wait. I decided to create action cards that had all three actions on them, and how you placed them in front of you (meaning how you would orientate the card) would show to other players what action you would play. With these cards I could now introduce a simultaneous selection phase, like in “7 Ages”. Each player would secretly select his card action for the turn at the same time as the other players and then turn the card over to show his decision when it was his or her go. This introduced second-guessing and mystery and an immense speed gain to the design. You still had the freedom about how exactly you would play your action – this is important as nobody wants to be on autopilot when it comes to an individual action – but you had already made some of your choices. It is a simple insight for game designers that choices are good, but too many choices bog down a game and might make it too brainy or ultra-competitive, like chess or go, games which are sciences in itself and in which sometimes you can wait for a long time until your opponent has done a move. If ever. Finding the sweet spot between too limited decision trees and too many options is the biggest challenge of a game designer.

It is interesting that simple house rules can have a great effect on speed. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t play Carcassonne without one simple house rule that is not stated in the original rules: don’t turn over a new tile when it’s your turn but draw it secretly at the end of your turn instead and place it at the beginning of your next turn. This makes a huge difference, as it gives you the complete turn to think about your placement. Even though last-minute plays by your opponents can ruin your plans you still will have a much better grasp of the situation than if you simply reacted to a completely new tile on the spot. It’s a house rule that I strongly recommend!

Games on ipad

I am momentarily absolutely obsessed with games on my iphone. I mostly play the excellent “Carcassonne” app, and recently made it into the top 100 players of the world. At least for a day! Also recommended is the “Neuroshima Hex” app, which is excellent, as well as “Tichu” and “Wabash Cannonball”, also excellent conversions of excellent games. The iphone is like crack to any boardgame player – don’t buy it or you will seriously lose a lot of your free time!