Hi folks! Welcome to Fun Problems Issue #7, the newsletter for board game lovers.
This week we have:
Board game design tips from Sara and Peter
Familiar faces in Port Royal
Blockus, a classic polyomino game
The real “gateway to the underworld”
Board game terminology: what terms mean and how they’re useful
Hope you like it!
— Peter, Sara, AJ & McKinley
Game Design Tips
Components: The fine line between satisfying and fiddly
An important characteristic of board games is their tactile nature, or how you feel and relate to the game by touching it. There are two sides to a game’s tactile feel: the physical attributes of the pieces and the feelings players get from moving those pieces around.
Let’s start by taking a look at player feelings. Moving pieces around can create positive experiences for players, but there’s a fine line between your game feeling satisfying and being irritatingly fiddly.
Fiddliness comes about when players spend more time moving components around than they do actually playing the game. If a player has to move a cube on the income track, refresh a market, move meeples around, and flip a new tile before they can even take their turn, they’re going to start feeling frustrated.
Fiddly mechanisms keep players from interacting with the fun parts of your game.
One way to avoid that is to reduce your game’s components. For each action a player can take, count the number of components they must interact with to complete it. The more pieces they need to touch, the more fiddly your game is. Try reducing your components to streamline your game and improve the players’ experience.
— Sara Perry & Peter C. Hayward
Board Game Easter Eggs
Familiar faces in Port Royal
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.
Board game covers have historically been a little... patchy, when it comes to the quality of the art (as this list hilariously details).
But have you ever wondered where the stars of your favourite board game cover are now? Well, 2014’s Port Royal decided to follow up on the two gentlemen shown on the cover of El Grande.
Apparently, after the events of that game, things started to go downhill for them
— Peter C. Hayward
Blokus: A classic polyomino game
Blokus is one of the few “classic” games that I’ll recommend in this column. The goal of the game is simple: place as many of your pieces as possible while preventing your opponents from placing theirs.
Each player starts by placing a polyomino (Tetris block) in a different corner of the board. Each turn you place a tile onto the board with the restriction that it can only touch at the corners of your tiles (NOT its sides). That’s it!
The game is incredibly confrontational; you can push into the starting corners of other players to dump your most awkward pieces, or place pieces defensively to prevent opponents doing that to you.
As a result of the “corners only” rule, you can also play more friendly strategies, where you place pieces in the gaps left by other players. They couldn’t place pieces there anyways, so who’s it hurting?
You are constantly managing different fronts, and must carefully decide where and how to use the pieces you have. Many of the pieces are much larger than those found in Tetris (which makes it tricky to find space for them) but it’s incredibly satisfying to play out all your pieces.
Overall, Blokus is insanely easy to get into and highly replayable.
— A.J. Brandon
This Ancient Roman “gateway to the underworld” turned out to be real
Artist impression of the ‘gateway to the underworld’ (right) in the Roman city of Hierapolis
Ancient historians tended to report both rumour and fact with equal seriousness, making it hard to tell what stories are real. For example, Herodotus earnestly reported that humans with dog heads lived in eastern Libya.
But what about the story of the entrance to the underworld, where priests brought animals to be sacrificed? The priests didn’t have to kill the animals – the animals simply lay down and died, and the priest, protected by his gods, walked out unharmed.
The ancient historian Strabo said: “Any animal that passes inside meets instant death. I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell.”
It was assumed to be myth, until scientists discovered a cave in the ruins of Hierapolis that emitted steam and vapours, and was surrounded by dead birds.
It turns out that carbon dioxide was coming out of the thermal vent. Since carbon dioxide is heavier than air, it sank to the ground and formed a ‘lake’ of toxic air. Animals’ heads are lower to the ground, so they suffocated, but a priest standing upright would be fine. [Source.]
You sometimes see a contemptuous attitude towards people of the past – like, how could they have been so dumb as to believe that? But when you dig deeper, they had pretty good reasons for it, given the information available to them.
— McKinley Valentine
P.S. the land formations around Hierapolis, named Pamukkale ("Cotton Castle" in Turkish) are stunning, just look at this.
Fun Problems Podcast
Podcast: More 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 more board game terms. What do they mean, and why are they important and useful?