Geoffrey West: What Does Exponential Mean?

My friend Paul gave me a really great book for my birthday. The book is Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by Geoffrey West. I spent the whole summer digging into this book and having regular conversations with Paul. There are many landmines in the book. Once you step on one, you find yourself searching the internet for more information and digging even deeper.

“One of the things that I have discovered in my talking with politicians and policymakers is that most people don’t understand what an exponential is.”

—Geoffrey West

One small piece of the book is about exponential growth. I really liked his thought experiment on exponentials and I have applied his insight to game design and development.

 

The Paradox of Choice (Applied to Game Design)

I am developing a board game design workshop here in Boston that starts in September. I am really looking forward to facilitating the workshop and learning from the participants. In preparing the course materials, I came across my notes from a board game seminar that I took at Gen Con a few years back. The seminar was hosted by Jeff Tidball. Jeff is a creative executive and award-winning game designer. His class made a lot of great points, but he made one pint really clear to me. Game design is about doing the work. You have to have a lot of “butt-in-chair” time.

How much time have you wasted trying to choose the best salad dressing?

Jeff also mentioned the paradox of choice. He recommended that we watch a TED Talk from Barry Schwartz on the subject of choice and try to apply it to game design. Barry does not talk about game design in his TED Talk, but his message about choice can easily apply. A game with no choice is not fun. A game with too many choices is also not fun. You need to find a balance and do not overwhelm your players with too many options. Choice is central to the art of game design. You need to decide which choices to present to players and which ones that can be removed from your game.

I recommend that you watch Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk, The Paradox of Choice, to get the full context and see how you can apply it to game design.

 

First Look at Dog

At the Boston Comic Con, I got to meet a comic book artist in the Boston area named Jay Kennedy. I pitched him my character named, “Dog”. Dog is the subject of some children stories and a board game that I have been working on in my copious spare time. I commissioned a color sketch drawn at the con based on the description from my pitch. Jay called me up a couple of hours later to show me what he had created. This is the first look at Dog… stay tuned. You probably are going to hear a lot more about this character in the coming months.

First Dog

Thanks, Jay!

 

Strife: Legacy of the Eternals

Here’s a last minute Kickstarter for you to check out… Strife: Legacy of the Eternals.

Strife Game

Strife is a quick, 2-player card game is designed by Christopher Hamm and will be released by Vision 3 Games in 2015. You can get in now and help produce the game. The game has gotten lots of great reviews and attention since it was demonstrated at Gen Con 2014 in Indianapolis, IN.

A Kickstarter Christmas: Going Cardboard — a documentary about boardgames

I am going to share my latest experience with Kickstarter and review Going Cardboard – a documentary about board games. In order to get started, I want to introduce what Kickstarter is all about first. I find myself telling people about Kickstarter as my experience has been phenomenal as a backer. I am becoming an evangelist.

What is Kickstarter?

(the short version)

Kickstarter is a website that allows people with projects to find financial backing by offering the backers rewards.

(the much longer version)

For example, let’s say you a friend that wants to make a music CD and music video for their band. (And, we all have that friend.) Traditionally, they would have to scrape some money together and try to self-finance their project. Kickstarter allows that person to post a project description and video to a central website where people can back their project. They offer backers rewards such as early access to download the CD, wall art, a signed CD, and even creative things like, a chance to hang out back stage or be in the music video. In some cases, you can reach your target audience. In some other cases you find a whole new audience. What I love about Kickstarter is that it forces the people submitting their projects to think through budgets and come up with a strategy. If they say it will take $5,000 to make an album, they need to raise at least $5,000 to get rewarded the money. If not, the funds do not get transferred from the backers, and more importantly, the friend trying to get their music out there found out that the audience may not be as big as they thought. Trust me, I know a lot of musicians with a 1,000 CD’s in the garage. Knowing the size of an audience is important  and Kickstarter provides a clean mechanism to find that information out. If your project fails, you can reevaluate, try again, email more people, find creative rewards to offer potential backers, and try like hell to get outside of your circle of friends.

Going Cardboard

I received my Kickstarter rewards for Going Cardboard today, almost 10 months after backing this project by Lorien Green. The wait was long but so worth it. The thrill of opening the box of items felt like Christmas. Lorien provided great rewards to her backers and raised 3 times the amount of money that she requested. Her film turned out great and so glad that I stumbled into it while browsing Kickstarter for new projects.

Goaing Cardboard Kickstarter Rewards

I backed this project because of my interest in board games. I have a circle of friends that gets larger and larger that loves to play board games. The games we play get increasingly complex, but often I find games that stick. I was introduced to Dominion by Rio Grande Games at one of our annual gatherings called StruebCon. This is a great game and I teach the game to as many people as I can. It’s a great game to introduce to people, they will get hooked and may try other games. Before you know it, you have another gamer friend.

Going Cardboard features interviews from game designers, game publishers, and game players. There is amazing footage of several of the gaming conventions such as Essen in Germany that draws over 150k people each year. In the US, we typically do not celebrate the game designer. This is the person or group of people who created the game. It’s weird to think, but someone “invented” Monopoly. A new class of games called “Designer Games” have the game designer’s name right on the front of the box (these are the games I love). Maybe in a few year’s time, we will celebrate the designers like they do in Germany and Korea. Think of the memories that they have created for us. Game publishers are the folks that take the chance on the game designer and provide the resources to get the game printed, manufactured, and distributed to game stores and via the Internet. Game players are the wonderful people fo the world that keep the eco system of games going. “We” buy games from the publishers that we love, like Rio Grande, Mayfair, and Z-Man, and in turn more games get published from the game designers. It’s a wonderfully small world in most cases you can meet and interact with the entire supply chain at one gaming convention. Thanks to mechanisms like Kickstarter, I am seeing the industry blur the lines a bit as game designers, publishers, and players are all a little more integrated into the whole experience.

This documentary celebrates all angles of the board game industry. Watching the film is like sitting around talking to your friends about board games, telling stories of what you heard about new games, games that didn’t make it the shelves, and new games that you found on BoardGameGeek. Going Cardboard gives you a window of this budding universe of board games. It comes at a perfect time. I believe that board games are hitting a tipping point. All of the evidence is adding up. Even my local electronic game store features a board game night every week where you can unplug and play games like Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Battlestar Galactica, Arkham Horror, Lost Cities, and on and on.

I recommend “Going Cardboard” to anyone that’s interested in games. You should offer the DVD as a gift or hold a screening at your house, invite friends over to watch and let them in on what you have been doing all of these years. You might find a few closet gamers that just needs a little push.

Game on.

Dominion Card Game Review and Storage Project

Thanks to my friends in the StruebSquad, I have been playing a lot of board games as of late. They started me off with some pretty stock games and then slowly introduced me to deeper Euro Games, Cooperative Games, Abstract Strategy, and Miniatures Games. Now I know what Meeples are, I have said, “I have Wood for Sheep”, and I have even oar raked another ship recreating an ancient naval battle.

Dominion Card Game Storage

The latest game I have been playing is called, “Dominion” by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games in the United States. Dominion is a board game style card game. In the box you get a number of action cards, resource cards, and victory point cards. Each game you pick 10 of the action cards which will be common for all of the players. With resource cards like Copper, Gold, Silver, and Potions, you can buy action cards, resource cards, and victory point cards. At the end of the game you add up the victory point cards and the player with the most points wins the game. Each turn you can play an action card and/or buy cards if you have the right resources. Dominion starts with collecting actions and resources and finishes with a race to gain victory points. During the whole you are striking a balance with resources, actions, and victory points.

I really love this game and my appeal for Dominion is three fold:

    • It’s highly re-playable – with new expansion and card combinations, you can play a new game almost every time
    • It’s really balanced – everyone has the same chances to get the common action cards, unlike a lot of other card games
    • It has a lot of strategy – you have to adapt to how other people play, find good card combos, and know when to switch between gaining resources to gaining victory points

Digression…

You might be thinking, “Hans, I have not heard of this game before, what gives?” My quick reply would be, “There are a lot of games out there,” Hans said gamely. If you have grown up in the United States, there are a few games that everyone has been introduced to – Monopoly, Sorry, The Game of Life, Candy Land – if you are “lucky” you might have played Risk, Scrabble, Stratego, and Trivial Pursuit. In general, you will notice that US favorite games are mostly luck based, meaning you use a randomizer (dice or a wheel) and then move a piece on the board. There is a big part of the game you can’t control, but in most cases these games are fun. Some of my best memories as a kid was playing games with the family and extended family. Now, in other parts of the world the games are less luck based and more choice based. Most European and Korean games are games played with a lot of choices. You have to choose what to do and each player has the same opportunity. As long as your playing board games, I am okay with either style of game or a game with a good combination of luck and choices. I recommend Lost Cities, Pandemic, Acquire, Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, and Divide and Conquer 😉 to name a few gateway games.

Regression…

The designer and publishers of Dominion have released multiple expansions and promo cards that add more action cards and twist to the base game. An issue of storage and portability comes into play. You want to take Dominion over to a friend’s house or to a convention, you would have to carry 4 boxes. After some research online [Labels, Box], I created my own storage solution. I took one box and pasted in dividers. Using card stock and labels, I then added dividers for each set of cards. The result is that all of the cards are in one box in order like a file cabinet.

Dominion Card Game Storage

Looks like there will be a new expansion for Dominion called Prosperity that is scheduled for release Aug/Sep 2010. Just maybe it will be ready for Gen Con 2010 that starts in early August this year. The good news is that I think that expansion will fit in my uni-box as well. The box is getting heavy.

It’s time for you to Throne Room + Woodcutter and buy Dominion and the expansions.

Reiner Knizia at Gen Con 2007

If you play RPG’s, computer games, or board games, then Gen Con is the gaming convention for you to attend. A group of my friends, who call ourselves “The StruebSquad”, a group of game players and designers, go out each year. The competition is tough, but the time spent is a great departure from the grind of the real world.

Gen Con 2007 turned out to be one of the best. The last day of the four day convention, the squad got to meet a hero of ours — Reiner Knizia. Reiner is a german game designer that has created some of my favorite board games and continues to put out challenging, fun, and creative games several times a year. Two of my favorites are Lost Cities and Ingenious.

Reiner Knizia at Gen Con