At the turn of the millennium, when Lord of the Rings was all the rage (The Fellowship of the Ring film was released in 2001), Reiner Knizia designed a game called… wait for it… Lord of the Rings. The title itself astounds me. We have so many different Lord of the Rings boardgames these days that it’s hard to imagine a time when there weren’t any, but this was the first of any note.
If you want to make a boardgame about Lord of the Rings now, you’re going to have great difficulty coming up with a name for it that makes you think of Lord of the Rings, but hasn’t already been taken. Prior to the year 2000 though, despite having a wealth of very popular material in the trilogy of books, it was a relatively untouched franchise as far as boardgames were concerned.
Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings did very well in part due to the strength of the name. I know several non-gamers who bought the game simply because it was Lord of the Rings. It was certainly an insta-buy for me. However, it created a stir in the gaming world for another reason: it was a co-operative game.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Boardgames can involve a wide variety of mechanics, but the vast majority of them involve making choices of some kind. There are some notable exceptions: deduction, exploration, dexterity, roll and move, for example. But very often games will combine these mechanics with other mechanics that involve choices.
I’d like to suggest that, generally, the quality of a game comes down to the quality of the choices involved. It might be which card to select in 7 Wonders, which block to push in Jenga, which territory to attack in Scythe – whatever the choices are, interesting choices make for an interesting game.
How to Name a Game
So you’ve designed a game. It’s going to be the best game ever. But now you need to give it a name. What are you going to call it?
Anyone who’s tried to name anything will tell you that this is harder than it first appears. Whether it’s a band, a company, a child, a product or a boardgame, there are many considerations. You can’t just go with the first cool-sounding name that pops into your head.
Back in the 80s, I spent rather a lot of time playing Elite. It was the first computer game to have 3D graphics (that I can remember). Up until then, it was all platform games and scrolling shooters. Elite was a space adventure simulator. The ships and space stations were only wire-frame models, but when your whole experience has been 2D, any kind of 3D looks amazing.
A large part of the game involved buying goods at one space station and selling them for a profit at another space station. You would spend the profit you made upgrading your ship or buying bigger and better ships. The rest of the time you would be fighting off pirates trying to steal your cargo. And get this: you would be flying around shooting those pirate ships… in 3D!
It was incredibly immersive. One of the key reasons for that was the theme. I could really imagine myself flying around the galaxy, trying to make a living while ridding the popular trade routes of pirate scum. It was as close as I could get to Star Wars. And did I mention it was in 3D?
We played Terra Mystica last night. It’s one of my favourite games and it seems it’s a favourite for a lot of other people as well as it’s currently 4th on Board Game Geek’s highest ranked games of all time. If you’re not familiar with it, it has a very loose theme of fantasy races terraforming the land around them and trying to expand their territory.
It’s a heavy euro, but one of the things that stops it being dry (always a danger with euros) is the artwork and graphic design, both of which are gorgeous. The colours really pop when it’s on the table.
It has lots of different mechanics that all interact with each other very smoothly, but at its heart it’s an action-selection game. That means that each turn you select an action to perform from a set of possible actions: terraforming a hex, building a building, upgrading a building, acquiring money or workers, advancing on a cult track… there’s lots to do.
But today I want to focus on a relatively small aspect of the game that adds a little bit of magic each round: the bonus actions.
Why I Blog
It’s all Jamey Stegmaier’s fault!
As you’ve probably heard me say on several occasions now, we’re planning to use Kickstarter. You don’t need to spend long researching Kickstarter before you come across Jamey Stegmaier. He is half of Stonemaier Games, the publishers of renowned games such as Viticulture, Euphoria and the superb Scythe (a strong candidate for most-hyped game ever, but rather surprisingly, the hype was well-deserved – it was my favourite game of 2016!).
Jamey has Kickstarted all of his games to-date and is an avid blogger. In the course of doing my homework, I’ve been reading through his extensive blog of Kickstarter Lessons, which are excellent by the way. If you are considering running a Kickstarter campaign yourself, I would consider his Kickstarter Lessons blog mandatory reading.
Gaming with Non-Gamers
“Oh, she’s not interested in playing games.”
I was arranging to play games with a couple of friends (let’s call them Frank and Sarah) outside my usual sphere of gamer friends and I had suggested that we could invite one of their friends (Gill, say) who they had introduced me to earlier that day.
My wife and I had introduced Frank and Sarah to the likes of Settlers of Catan, Dominion and even Puerto Rico over the previous two years and you could see that they were thoroughly engaged by these light/medium-weight strategy games. Sarah in particular. I would explain the rules to a new game and you could see her mind starting to plan her strategy before we’d even started playing.
When I was young, I wanted to be a monk (don’t ask!). It wasn’t because I wanted to retreat from the world; it was because I found the idea of living in a community so attractive. Immersing yourself in the simple things of life, sharing with one another, the daily rhythm – for all the sacrifices, I think it would be worth it.
Now I obviously decided against becoming a monk in the end. And yes, this was in no small part due to meeting an eager young law student while I was at university. She was mesmerising. Unconventional, opinionated, kind, contemplative, fierce – she was ‘beautiful and terrible as the dawn’ – and I was forever ensnared.
Why I Back Kickstarter Projects
I love Kickstarter. I’ve backed a fair number of projects now, but until recently, I’ve never really analysed why I do it. Projects can vary enormously and my reasons for backing a project may differ substantially from project to project.
Obviously, I have to want the core product (usually a boardgame). I’m not talking about why I like certain games though. Very often I will look at a Kickstarter project and ask myself, do I need to back this? Can I just wait for it to be released at retail?
If I’m going to back a project on Kickstarter, it has to offer me more than a product I could buy in a shop when it is released. So here are my reasons for backing. They are in no particular order.
Last weekend we played Unlock! It’s a co-operative, puzzle-solving, escape-the-room game. It reminds me of those point-and-click PC adventure games that I played when I was young. Do watch the video if you’re not familiar with those type of games: it was an amazing experience!
The game comes with three scenarios (each lasting an hour) and once you’ve played a scenario, you can’t play it again. You know the solution to all the puzzles, so it has zero replay-value. We played the tutorial, then the first scenario, and everyone was like, “Let’s do the next one!”
So we played the second scenario and after that, everyone paused and looked sheepishly at each other. You could see what everyone was thinking. We all wanted to play the last scenario, but it felt decadent somehow. Like buying a boxset of your favourite TV show and watching the entire thing in one sitting. We should exercise some restraint, shouldn’t we? Spread out the enjoyment?