Hi folks! Welcome to Fun Problems Issue #6, the newsletter for board game lovers.
This week we have:
Board game design tips from Sara and Peter
An architectural easter egg in Eminent Domain
Indulgence, the trick-taking game with big risks
Weird history: the real life Molasses Gang of 1870s New York
Board game terminology: what terms mean and how they're useful
Hope you like it!
— Peter, Sara, AJ & McKinley
Game Design Tips
Guided vs Unguided Playtests
“Playtesting” is a term you’ll hear all over the place as a designer, but it doesn’t always mean the same thing. There are different types of playtests you can run, and picking the right one depends on what stage of the design you’re at and what your playtesting goals are.
The two most common types of playtests you’ll run are guided and unguided playtests.
In a guided playtest, you interact directly with the players. You teach them the game yourself, and you may ask questions or clarify rules as the game is played.
Guided playtests are most often used earlier on in the design when you’re still working on the game’s core loop. When you’re not quite sure what changes you need to make, talking with players directly can help you find some direction.
In an unguided playtest (sometimes referred to as a blind playtest), you don’t interact with the players until the game is over – if you interact with them at all. You provide the players with a rulebook, they teach the game themselves, and they play without asking you any questions.
Unguided playtests let you observe how players would react to your game if it were published as-is, and they’re most helpful in later stages of the design when you’re more interested in fine-tuning small details. Unguided playtests are also a great way for you to test out the clarity of your rules document.
Knowing what you want to get out of a playtest will help you choose which type to run. But guided and unguided aren’t the only types of playtests that exist! If you’re interested in learning about other types of playtests, check out John Brieger’s video on advanced playtesting methods.
— Sara Perry & Peter C. Hayward
Board Game Easter Eggs
BoardGameGeek in Eminent Domain
I love it when creators add “easter eggs” to their games. Hidden nods to other things they’ve created, or clever references to media - anything that rewards you when you go hunting.
The website BoardGameGeek is the IMDb of the hobby – it has details about every game, their designers, publishers, artists, as well as reviews, rankings, forums, and most everything a fanatic could ever want.
Seth Jaffee’s Eminent Domain is a sci-fi game about expanding your civilization across the universe. The card Data Network shows an advanced computer...but it seems even hundreds of years in the future, BoardGameGeek is still in use. The top central application shows the classic homepage of the site!
(I don’t recognize any of the others, however – reply and share what they are if you know!)
— Peter C. Hayward
Indulgence: The trick-taking game with big risks
Trick-taking games are traditionally played with a normal deck of playing cards. The first player chooses a card to play. Everyone else has to play a card in the same suit and the highest card wins. (Incidentally, this is where the phrase “follow suit” comes from.)
Indulgence costs at least twice as much as a standard deck of cards, but it’s well worth it. It comes with luxurious gems, foiled coins, tarot-sized cards with fantastic art, and a fancy metal ring. But much more importantly, this game comes with special “edict” cards.
Before each hand is played, the dealer selects an edict. This will have a restriction such as “don’t take any red suit cards” or “don’t take the first or last trick” [meaning, “don’t win the first or last round”].
The penalty for not following the edict is paying money to the dealer, and since having the most money at the end of the game is how you win, you really want to avoid that penalty.
However, you always have another option: instead of following the edicts, you can try to do their exact opposite – e.g. if the edict was “don’t take any red suit cards”, you would try to take ALL the red suit cards. This is called “indulging” and if you succeed, then EVERYONE has to pay you!
It’s very intense having three other players working together against you, and it’s incredibly exciting when you pull it off. When you indulge, you get to bump up the value of one of your cards, which means that these moments happen far more often than in similar games like Hearts.
It may sound like a relatively simple twist on an old formula, but that’s also its strength. If you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic, then look no further than Indulgence.
— A.J. Brandon
Did cavemen really live in caves?
20,000-year-old painting of a cave hyena from the Chauvet Cave
We call Paleolithic people “cavemen” because we’ve primarily found their remains and their tools in caves, much of what we know about their culture comes from cave paintings, and because we’re used to living in enclosed spaces, so we imagine other people must too.
But there aren’t that many caves in the world – not enough to house all the neanderthals, cro magnons and homo sapiens hanging around at the time. Also, caves are dark and often damp, and home to now-extinct creatures like cave bears, cave lions, and the terrifying-sounding cave hyenas.
In fact, they lived almost wholly ‘outdoors’, moving seasonally to wherever the food was plentiful. So why is all the art and bones found in caves? It’s just that bones and tools and art preserve really well in caves. They’re out of the wind and sun, they don’t tend to erode away, and the mineral-rich dampness increases the likelihood that bones will fossilise.
“Cavemen” lived everywhere, but signs of them were lost to the ravages of time everywhere except in caves.
— McKinley Valentine
Fun Problems Podcast
Podcast: Board game terminology
Board game design is a deep and often challenging pursuit. In Fun Problems, A.J. and Peter explore all aspects of game design and the fun problems (and solutions) that come with it.
Join A.J. and Peter as they take a look at a variety of board game terms. What do they mean, and why are they important and useful?