Our monthly topic for April is Approachability, a concept so important that we’ve spent the last few months laying the ground work. In February, we covered Utility and how game design can expand the situations in which a game can be played. In March, we looked at methods to improve teachability in games.
So what is approachability and how does it relate to game design? To put it simply, Approachability emerges by removing the barriers of entry for new players.
The Uncertainty Gap
Board games can be an unfamiliar medium to convey information. For a new person to the hobby it can be downright overwhelming to see a table full of cards, tiles, icons, charts and maps.
We’ll call this initial response to stimuli in any game “the uncertainty gap”. This gap represents a player’s aversion to attempting the game, the cognitive burden of the player during the game and the general level of anxiety a person experiences while progressing the learning curve of an activity.
The last method of evaluating games that we’ll discuss this month is by how complicated they are, with a particular focus on how easy or difficult they are to teach. Even if you’ve decided a given game is worth the money, and you’ve decided it fits into your collection, there are certain situations when a game is simply too complicated to be appropriate for a particular setting.
The New Player Problem
The new player problem can affect how we evaluate games both at the point of purchase (“this game looks great and is a fine value for the money, but it looks like such a pain to teach that it’s not worth it”) and at the table (“we haven’t played this game in so long, but Mike doesn’t know how to play, so it’s going to take far too long once we’ve explained everything”).
Of course, there are plenty of great resources out there dedicated to explaining how to teach games. We’ll cover those at the end, but since we’re primarily focused on game design, let’s start with what design factors can make a game easier or more difficult to teach.
What makes a game difficult to teach?
This month we started a discussion on how we find value in games by talking about monetary value, a review of some relative valuations board games can bring in comparison to alternative sources of entertainment.
This week we’ll look at a combination of ideas we’ll call “collection value“. How do you decide which games would benefit your collection the most?
One of our initiatives at Games Precipice is to learn from established game designers and learn from their design decisions and thought process as their work achieves publication.
This month we are thrilled to be joined by game designer and Kickstarter trailblazer Jamey Stegmaier. In the fall of 2012 he co-founded Stonemaier Games with fellow designer Alan Stone as a result of the success of their first game on Kickstarter entitled Viticulture: The Strategic Game of Winemaking.
Last year, Jamey ran a record setting campaign of Euphoria: Building A Better Dystopia. Stonemaier games spent the remainder of 2013 publishing and delivering on their promises for both Viticulture and Euphoria.
Over the past 18 months, Jamey has written a series of in-depth Kickstarter lessons to help prospective campaign managers organize and deliver successful projects, using the same proven approach of Stonemaier Games.
In recent months we’ve been looking at how using game design can influence player decisions through balance game decisions and how a game can be played more often by adjusting complexity, player count and game length.
This month we are looking at the consumer side of the tabletop industry and review how players evaluate games. This week we are asking how players frame their purchasing decisions to extract the most from the monetary value of games. We’ll be looking at how replay value can influence the perceived purchase price of a game.
This wouldn’t be a question worth asking unless we implement a constraint and one that affects us all: a budget. If given $100 to spend on games, how do you decide?
Throughout this month we have been exploring Dimensions of Games: Complexity, Player Count and Game Length. These are three criteria commonly listed on the side of a game box whose impact blends together to create game Utility.
Utility is defined as the usefulness of something, the ability of a product or service to satisfy needs or wants. For the purposes in this article, utility is simply a compound of game design elements which help to define how and when a game can best be played. Players acquire games for a purpose and maximizing the opportunity to play them can be a beneficial design goal.
Games can increase utility through a reduction of complexity. Gateway games increase utility effectively by providing a welcoming environment to newcomers in the hobby.
Games such as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne introduce a whole new world of gaming to a wide audience with just a few rules that build on familiar game concepts. Games with low complexity have a high utility as they can be brought to a table full of gamers and non-gamers alike.