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Subject: Which of these abstract games do you think is most publishable? Why? rss

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Daniel Piovezan
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What Nick said. Plus, take a look at Santorini and Onitama, games that have received tens of thousands of ratings on the geek. They both have cards with powers that produce a slightly different game each time.

Edit: I might be giving the impression that I think those games are "empty", but that's not the case. Even if strategy is shallow, there's good tactics! And that's all we want, sometimes.
 
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Nick Bentley
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Kunkasaurus wrote:
Note: I think you could revisit the Bug theme. Find something that is aesthetic and unique but not necessarily super thematic.
Do you have an example so I can better understand what kind of thing might fit that bill?
 
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Kunkasaurus wrote:
I think you’re onto something: the snack-sized appearance. Maybe another way to say it is that the gameplay quickly gets to a point that encourages you to connect your choices to their outcomes.
I agree that there is a demand for immediate or, at least, quick gratification. And people get that from (a) simple rules and (b) small boards. That's okay, and I understand that professional designers need to take this into account.

There is one bit that I don't understand: a really big advantage of the games we discuss here is scaling. Precisely because they're played on mostly regular grids with generally simple pieces, you can easily enlarge or shrink the playing field. In fact, for didactical purposes I am doing exactly that in my book: I present games on smaller (than standard) sizes if I think it helps. For example, Go on 9x9.

I've seen game designs with several suggested sizes, and I believe that should be the standard. You can't force strategic depth onto any abstract game, but you can choose between a good size ("snacky") for learning and another one for deeper play.

christianF wrote:
The temptation of the classics is the promise of depth of play.
The paradox you feel is true. The cliché "a minute to learn, a lifetime to master" was never meant seriously! It's just self-confirmation by & to the in-group, how smart we are, playing those *really* deep games, instead of the Euro / Ameritrash gamers with their shoddy disposable products.

It's not right, of course: many current box games are very well designed, thoroughly tested and have lots of replayability, even though the huge majority of players will never tap into that potential. And among pure abstracts, some designs are so dull and dry, I get bored from reading the rules alone. "A lifetime?" Sounds like a bane to me.

christianF wrote:
That being said and so far as abstract strategy games are concerned, if one invents a game with the aim to sell it, corruption looms.
I am totally on that side, too, but don't forget that we are privileged: I think you never had to live from your games, and that's why you are totally free. Same with my book: thankfully, I'm writing it as a hobby and I don't need (or expect) any revenue. That's why I don't have to make compromises. For example, it will have be information-heavy and quite dense. Still, that's not something one should hold again someone who is trying to make a living from the hobby. Compare with musicians: once they go professional, they have to take crowd expectations into account but it's a tough decision we shouldn't judge.
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dale walton
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When I was producing games at Pin in early 2000's, we ran into a couple problems in marketing (other than that the awards committees were afraid to look at newcomers from Asia because some parts suppliers in Asia had been irresponsible in supply in the few years prior, and game design/selection was not seen as an Asian thing)

My feeling was the larger market would be for short, tactical abstracts.

However, many such games are not necessarily expandable in principle into a larger strategic version, and/or might be solvable. There had been a lot of games marketed that gamed complexity by position recycling/indecisiveness while keeping small (eg DeBono's "L"), and others that simply weren't very deep. (They were all advertized as easy to learn and hard to master/ greater depth than Chess ...)

These qualities are seen as flaws (and the advertizing as an affront) by the abstract community (despite the enduring popularity o tic-tac-toe as a first game) and soundly bashed at every opportunity, -- meaning a person interested in finding a light abstract would be guided by friends into games too challenging for their developing tastes.

This was augmented by the absolute reluctance of all but a very few game reviewers to review abstracts, because many had been burned by giving good reviews to games which the abstract community would then determine were broken, thus damaging the reviewer's reputation.

Additionally, many abstract game players do not play games lightly, and this emphasizes the guilt factor ("I am stupid") that casual players may find in playing abstract, damaging the potential market further.

We also found the hard-core market wanted the perfect game, but already were married to one, such as Go. Or they would tell us thanks, they liked our game and that they would make one for themselves. The broader gamer interested in our games would tell us that it was not their highest priority, - and that their wife would only allow one game per year addition to their houseful of games. The wives were often interested in our games because they could beat there husbands in a tactical game. The wives often did not want to put in the time required to study and beat them at a strategic one. Some husbands bought our games to appease their wife, some didn't want to buy a game their wife could beat them at, owing to her ability to pay better attention to tactical threats than they could.

We got a record 3 Mensa awards in one year. (Also know as the kiss of death award to abstract players we met at the time)

I think the market needs to find a way to segregate abstracts in away that delivers the right games to the right people, with out counter - productive interference. Hopefully this has already happened some in the intervening years. In any case, the game must be clear in its marketing who it is targeted to.

Hope this can help find a way forward...
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Nick Bentley
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dale walton wrote:
This was augmented by the absolute reluctance of all but a very few game reviewers to review abstracts, because many had been burned by giving good reviews to games which the abstract community would then determine were broken, thus damaging the reviewer's reputation.
This doesn't seem like the reason reviewers avoid them at present. Rather, they seem to avoid them because their audiences aren't interested. Viewership drops for abstract reviews, etc.

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I think the market needs to find a way to segregate abstracts in away that delivers the right games to the right people.
We sort of already have this. Light abstracts sometimes get published and heavier almost never do!
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Nick Bentley
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My own observations about why abstract games are harder commercialize in the late 2010's than they were in the 2000's (e.g. The GIPF series wouldn't have likely sold anywhere near as well as it did if it were published in the late 2010's):

1. Because people buy games on Kickstarter without actually having played them, they end up judging them more by art direction and production design than they used to. That has spurred an arms race among publishers for better art direction and production design, and indeed games have gotten a lot better along those dimensions in recent years. But it's hard for abstract games to keep up. They look plainer and plainer in comparison with each passing year, and that matters to the people who buy games.

2. There's a large movement away from strongly competitive games, with much more emphasis now on cooperation and story elements. Neither of those are strong suits for abstracts.
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Cody Kunka
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—————————————
New Outlook?

I think we should be careful about assuming common associations must always be true. Consider:

1. Is increasing the number of possible moves the only way to increase “depth”? Consider how the number of moves in a combinatorial abstract generally decreases over time, yet we focus alot of effort only for certain, key moves. What if we could increase perception of importance for more moves (especially the early ones) and therefore increase the density of those key moves?

2. Does “depth” require pushing the complexity far past human ability? We generally dislike games that are “solved.” However, all games are finite. The point is to play games just outside our ability to drive growth/discovery. What we call emergence is just discovery of a new facet of a finite game. Hence, I think we should be careful about dismissing a game just because it doesn’t have as many possible moves as or doesn’t make neural networks struggle quite as much as Go. By that argument, some ridiculously large Go board... much larger than 19x19... would be the “ideal” abstract.

3. Does lowering the skill floor necessarily reduce the skill ceiling? Think about how Hive guides your early moves more than Chess does by quickening defeat for mistakes. However, Hive has more possible moves than Chess (I think... though that debate isn’t really the point). I think this point underscores the “bite-sized” attraction. There’s a difference between a simple game and a deep game that appears simple initially.

4. Can a game that appears tactically driven at low skill levels be strategic at high skill levels? Think about how moves seem “obvious” until that one innovative player tries something surprising. Now, you have 2 options in that situation. Both are viable in the short term but may have different long-term effects. Also, I think we should be careful about distinguishing tactics from strategy. That line can blur.

5. Does the difficulty in selling combinatorial abstracts mean people have moved on to more thematic games and no longer appreciate puzzles? Or have marketers not well pitched the value of combinatorial abstracts to new audiences? Think of how wargame culture can sometimes be aggressive to potential newcomers out of protection of a “true” art. Combinatorial abstracts have alot to offer, so I hope we consider the next generation. That consideration doesn’t necessarily mean abstracts need to lose depth but might mean a focus on approachability. If we just refuse to consider approachability, the non-combinatorial abstracts may eventually kill the development of deep combinatorial games.

—————————————
On Bug:

I haven’t played Bug enough to know, but I’m hoping it offers a low barrier to entry (though the hexhex3 board... I like the new intro, by the way) yet high complexity (through a high density of decisions perceived to be key). The perceptual binding offers yet another intriguing angle. Plus, the small board enables high component quality at a price people are willing to pay for an abstract.

As for theme, I’ll think on it for a while. My point is that theme serves mainly as an aesthetic anchor in abstracts. Hence, theme is easily changed, but its uniqueness is very important. Several bug-themed games are out there... notably Hive. Several farming and plant games too...

I imagine you lean to biology themes because of your background, but there are still many creative options within that. Think of how Viral (not an abstract) made the players diseases taking down a body. Perhaps focus on a single, uncommon type of animal. Instead of bears, cats, or insects, maybe try sea snails (very colorful too). Alternatively, you could think outside the biology box...

Note: I do think having some classic feel is helpful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Go stones or a wooden checkerboard. It does mean elegant, satisfying, artistic components.
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christian freeling
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milomilo122 wrote:
There's a large movement away from strongly competitive games, with much more emphasis now on cooperation and story elements. Neither of those are strong suits for abstracts.
I see, we fight for real and cooperate in games. I'd prefer it the other way around, but then, I'm with Bob:
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People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
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David Ploog
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dale walton wrote:
We got a record 3 Mensa awards in one year. (Also know as the kiss of death award to abstract players we met at the time)
I'm totally intrigued by this! Would you expand a little? Do people not buy Mensa-awarded stuff because they're intimidated or because they assume that Mensa awards go to boring games? (Also many thanks for the interesting report!)

milomilo wrote:
Kickstarter & cooperative games
A very valid observation! But why should it harm abstracts overly much? Interest in Chess and Go is certainly unaffected by such trends. And with many publishers jumping on these trends, shouldn't that make it easier for someone who's catering to the niche? (I might totally misunderstood how markets work.)

Kunkasaurus wrote:
1. Is increasing the number of possible moves the only way to increase “depth”?
Absolutely not! It's just a fashionable one. Scaling the board size is a simpler and older method. (Here we're both approximating "depth" with "branching" which is sort of ok for this purpose.) Still other ways to increase depth are full-game positions evaluations such as the Backgammon doubling cube or pre-movement protocols as in Unlur or Libra.

Quote:
Consider how the number of moves in a combinatorial abstract generally decreases over time, yet we focus alot of effort only for certain, key moves. What if we could increase perception of importance for more moves (especially the early ones) and therefore increase the density of those key moves?
Being able to discern which are the crucial moves demands a lot of clarity from a player. I don't think there is a recipe to achieve what you want.

Quote:
2. Does “depth” require pushing the complexity far past human ability? We generally dislike games that are “solved.” However, all games are finite. The point is to play games just outside our ability to drive growth/discovery. What we call emergence is just discovery of a new facet of a finite game. Hence, I think we should be careful about dismissing a game just because it doesn’t have as many possible moves as or doesn’t make neural networks struggle quite as much as Go. By that argument, some ridiculously large Go board... much larger than 19x19... would be the “ideal” abstract.
The problem here is that "depth" is overloaded: the actual analytic depth (the skill levels) does not really matter, as long as it is high enough. The fact that any combinatorial game is solved at the outset is irrelevant to human gameplay. What matters is how much the community (a) can mine out of the game (this is the total potential "conceptual depth") and (b) actually has mined so far. The difference between (a) and (b) is a reason why games like Chess and Go are the undisputed kings of the genre, and new games have an incredibly hard time, even if they're potentially extremely deep.

A game that can be *human* solved (or human drawn) is dead. Years ago, Karl Juhnke explained how Abalone, Quarto (Mensa award!), Pente and Othello all had a chance but blew it. I don't know if his favourite, Arimaa, has to be added to this list by now. Of course, the ambition to make "the next Chess" is ridiculous, but the real problem is that even if a game is that good, we'll just never know.

Quote:
3. Does lowering the skill floor necessarily reduce the skill ceiling? Think about how Hive guides your early moves more than Chess does by quickening defeat for mistakes.
A design where complexity opens up gradually is great! In a sense, Chess' pawn structure does that, too. In Go, strategy is there from the start, but complicated tactics only come up earlier (joseki excluded, and the complex variations can generally be avoided).

Quote:
4. Can a game that appears tactically driven at low skill levels be strategic at high skill levels?
Absolutely. Compare size 5 Havannah with size 10. The tactics will stay, but the strategic width opens up drastically.

Quote:
5. Does the difficulty in selling combinatorial abstracts mean people have moved on to more thematic games and no longer appreciate puzzles?
I don't think so. People do play Chesses, Go and other classics. They may not buy abstract games, though. So what do you mean by "move on"?

Quote:
Or have marketers not well pitched the value of combinatorial abstracts to new audiences?
I wouldn't put my hope on marketeers In my opinion, some people will always be interested in abstract board games (and not just the titans of the genre) because they have so much to offer. I think that in the long term, it is much more important that newcomers can play abstracts when they want to -- this means clubs, servers, web pages. (I am writing a book to help the cause.) New games are cool to have, especially since abstract games have no production threshold (they're hard to come up with but easy to distribute), but I don't think that our hobby really correlates with sales.

Quote:
If we just refuse to consider approachability, the non-combinatorial abstracts may eventually kill the development of deep combinatorial games.
I see two other problems: too many shallow designs. Especially, some win conditions seem to be problematic, in my opinion, among them forming patterns and connections. It is quite easy to design reasonable games with such goals (much easier than good elimination or territory games, I'd say). Personally, I am overwhelmed by the flurry of pattern and connection games, and find it off-putting.

And the other problem is that I worry almost no games (thematic or themeless, free or published) get the chance to explore their potential. It's a bit like a bubble waiting to burst. Too many games, too few players with too little time. However, the market may collapse, but abstract games will continue to be played and to be designed. Falter not
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Cody Kunka
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dpeggie wrote:
dale walton wrote:
We got a record 3 Mensa awards in one year. (Also know as the kiss of death award to abstract players we met at the time)
I'm totally intrigued by this! Would you expand a little? Do people not buy Mensa-awarded stuff because they're intimidated or because they assume that Mensa awards go to boring games?
There are other possibilities:
1. The types of games that get Mensa awards are the ones that appeal to the short-term crowd more than the dedicated combinatorial fans.
2. Mensa draws attention to the game so might increase the likelihood of the game being solved.
3. Mensa may not correlate with a combinatorial's success. For example, Hive, YINSH, DVONN, Blokus, The Duke (not combinatorial), and Azul (not combinatorial) got Mensa's. Maybe we're just neglecting the fact that few combinatorials catch on in general.

dpeggie wrote:
Kunkasaurus wrote:
Consider how the number of moves in a combinatorial abstract generally decreases over time, yet we focus alot of effort only for certain, key moves. What if we could increase perception of importance for more moves (especially the early ones) and therefore increase the density of those key moves?
Being able to discern which are the crucial moves demands a lot of clarity from a player. I don't think there is a recipe to achieve what you want.
I disagree. I think we can achieve the PERCEPTION of shallowness without the shallowness itself. The existence of a complex strategy does not require the absence of a simple strategy nor the presence of more possible moves (e.g., a bigger board). For example:
- On a given turn in Push Fight (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/54221/push-fight), you move up to 2 pieces an unlimited number of spaces and then push a piece one space. That's alot of options (P-space hard actually), but beginners can easily forgo the optional moves and benefit from a seemingly small decision space implied by the small board. Further, Push Fight allows poor moves to very quickly lead to defeat. Push Fight encourages you to tactically dance around a while till you discover a strategy.
- Likewise, consider Hive. The few number of pieces at the beginning encourage white to race to surround black's Q or pin everything as black. However, at higher play, we break from these simple strategies.

dpeggie wrote:
What matters is how much the community (a) can mine out of the game (this is the total potential "conceptual depth") and (b) actually has mined so far. The difference between (a) and (b) is a reason why games like Chess and Go are the undisputed kings of the genre, and new games have an incredibly hard time, even if they're potentially extremely deep.

...

I see two other problems: too many shallow designs. Especially, some win conditions seem to be problematic, in my opinion, among them forming patterns and connections. It is quite easy to design reasonable games with such goals (much easier than good elimination or territory games, I'd say). Personally, I am overwhelmed by the flurry of pattern and connection games, and find it off-putting.

And the other problem is that I worry almost no games (thematic or themeless, free or published) get the chance to explore their potential. It's a bit like a bubble waiting to burst. Too many games, too few players with too little time.
I'd counter that the goal should NOT be to be greater than some maximum theoretical complexity only. I also think being less than some nearly achievable complexity is important too. When games are too complicated, we cannot grasp strategy and move as if we were playing randomly. Consider, for example, if we were to play Santorini with 10 non-conflicting god powers or Thrive with 10 non-conflicting pond-life powers. Likewise, consider Azul, a game I imagine many of us consider to be "shallow." However, if you were to dynamically calculate and act upon probabilities, Azul would be very complicated/deep. In that way, Azul is too deep.

By focusing on achieving a maximum complexity, we may counterintuitively be missing the goal of combinatorial abstracts. We want to push our limits... not break them. Hence, I'd caution against quickly perceiving a combinatorial as too shallow. As you say, we rarely explore the true depth of a game anyways. I think that focusing on approachability through a small decision space AND on depth through meaty decisions yields elegance. In contrast, designing games with a super large number of options just to force "emergence" by the rule of averages can sometimes be a bit clunky.

dpeggie wrote:
Kunkasaurus wrote:
Does the difficulty in selling combinatorial abstracts mean people have moved on to more thematic games and no longer appreciate puzzles?
I don't think so. People do play Chesses, Go and other classics. They may not buy abstract games, though. So what do you mean by "move on"?
I was speaking more of the industry in general. Whereas the last generation of gamers may have had few alternatives to combinatorials, modern gamers now have the ability to choose other genres.

dpeggie wrote:
I wouldn't put my hope on marketeers In my opinion, some people will always be interested in abstract board games (and not just the titans of the genre) because they have so much to offer. I think that in the long term, it is much more important that newcomers can play abstracts when they want to -- this means clubs, servers, web pages. (I am writing a book to help the cause.) New games are cool to have, especially since abstract games have no production threshold (they're hard to come up with but easy to distribute), but I don't think that our hobby really correlates with sales.
I disagree somewhat. Some thoughts:
- I think "marketing" may have too negative of a connotation here. We do marketing too... just for free . Your book and online play are effectively marketing tools. Hive's Official World Championship is marketing. Capcom Cup is marketing. The goal of game design generally is to not only create but also to share. Why create an arbitrary math problem for no one to solve?
- Yes, sales may place value on aspects that people in this forum do not necessarily enjoy. However, sales also place value on gameplay and unique ideas. Consider the uniqueness of financially successful combinatorial games. Think of how you evolve both your positions and the board itself in Santorini. Think of how Hive lacks a discrete grid and forces growth from a single piece. Think of the unique combination of flipping and movement in YINSH.
- Sales are a way to measure how many people are enjoying and contributing to a field. Imagine if combinatorial abstracts suddenly became popular. The number of designers of those games would increase rapidly and likely result in new concepts... away from things like patterns and connections as you say.
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dale walton
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Kunkasaurus wrote:
dpeggie wrote:
dale walton wrote:
We got a record 3 Mensa awards in one year. (Also know as the kiss of death award to abstract players we met at the time)
I'm totally intrigued by this! Would you expand a little? Do people not buy Mensa-awarded stuff because they're intimidated or because they assume that Mensa awards go to boring games?
I was writing about experience 15+ years ago, and for sure a lot has changed.

People told me that they found the Mensa award suspect because the selection process of having people play a large number of new games, one off, in a short time, favored simple-to-understand games with short rules, and what I might call a hook or twist: interesting behavior readily apparent, but not necessarily sustained after multiple plays. There was a general belief that such games would not turn out to have sufficient depth and would tend to be abstracts. The abstract community more on the former concern and the wider community more on the latter concern.
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christian freeling
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dpeggie wrote:
Too many games, too few players with too little time. However, the market may collapse, but abstract games will continue to be played and to be designed. Falter not
AiAi online currently has 32 players which may be considered progress. It means that now there are only four times as many games as there are players. Any views on this ratio?
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Kunkasaurus: very interesting, I like polite dissent a lot. I'll not reply in depth, so as not to derail this hapless thread even further. Sent a PM instead.

dale walton wrote:
People told me that they found the Mensa award suspect because the selection process of having people play a large number of new games, one off, in a short time, favored simple-to-understand games with short rules, and what I might call a hook or twist: interesting behavior readily apparent, but not necessarily sustained after multiple plays.
That sounds very sensible to me. I am one of those persons which need *extra* push to consider a game with an award (of any type but especially by Mensa). Just looked at the list for the first time, and it starts off with Abalone.

christianF wrote:
AiAi online currently has 32 players which may be considered progress. It means that now there are only four times as many games as there are players. Any views on this ratio?
It says that you are too impatient. An optimistic interpretation is that AiAi is still in the long tail of exponential growth.

I will certainly become involved at some point. There's one problem I have with a project like this, and to which I have no solution: I find the large selection of games to be overwhelming. I am literally exhausted by even looking at it. Since AiAi is intentionally a huge collection of abstracts, that's unavoidable, and Stephen has done very much to make game selection accessible.

I did the first step by installing AiAi some months ago, and it proved extremely useful in playtesting a few abstracts. In particular, my Symple text benefited a lot from that, as well as Gonnect.
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christian freeling
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dpeggie wrote:
It says that you are too impatient. An optimistic interpretation is that AiAi is still in the long tail of exponential growth.
I certainly hope so but I fear I won't be around to witness it.
 
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I think for modern gaming/markets, theming can't be ignored. I'd argue that combinatorial or not is less important than how much table presence it has. This is even if it's pasted on, such as the excellent Through the Desert. While usually an anathema to pure-abstract players, themed reprints of abstracts can do far better than the originals (going by BGG rankings).

For example, Bauhaus is an interesting territory control game which uses cards and wooden blocks to mark off sections. It's ranked 5,006 on BGG. Android: Mainframe by comparison uses flashy cards and a solid plastic board. It's ranked 1,851 which is a marked increase. However, one could argue that it is the Android name which matters more, so we should compare a single game to itself which the same theme: Santorini. Original Santorini is ranked 3,114, while the Roxley version is 103. A high rank by any measure.

So for a game such as Bug, there is a purity to the gameplay (it's my favorite of Nick's designs, out of a collection of great designs) but the appearance to a layman might be too close to Go. I wonder if a more unique theme/aesthetic would help give it table-presence and appeal to casual gamers.

For example (making this up as I go), Bug could be renamed "Invasive" and be given a flowers vs weeds theme. The board could look like soil (with worms, bugs, debris, etc to keep empty spaces interesting) with a hexhex grid overlay on top. The pieces themselves could then be 3D cardboard standees like in Photosynthesis and the recently kickstarted Papillon. One side would have green plants, while the other uses colorful flowers. Personally, I'd be all over this game if it was released, but acknowledge I can't put my own preferences on everyone. An added bonus though would be a fairly low cost of production as it's all cardboard.

Example standee from Indian Summer:

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dpeggie wrote:


dale walton wrote:
People told me that they found the Mensa award suspect because the selection process of having people play a large number of new games, one off, in a short time, favored simple-to-understand games with short rules, and what I might call a hook or twist: interesting behavior readily apparent, but not necessarily sustained after multiple plays.
That sounds very sensible to me. I am one of those persons which need *extra* push to consider a game with an award (of any type but especially by Mensa). Just looked at the list for the first time, and it starts off with Abalone.

Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia recieved a Mensa Award and is an exception to this. Not a bad game but I'm not sure what made this game stand out from the many other euros published this year.

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/04/prweb11779026.htm
 
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Nick Bentley
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Cortez527 wrote:
I think for modern gaming/markets, theming can't be ignored. I'd argue that combinatorial or not is less important than how much table presence it has. This is even if it's pasted on, such as the excellent Through the Desert. While usually an anathema to pure-abstract players, themed reprints of abstracts can do far better than the originals (going by BGG rankings).

For example, Bauhaus is an interesting territory control game which uses cards and wooden blocks to mark off sections. It's ranked 5,006 on BGG. Android: Mainframe by comparison uses flashy cards and a solid plastic board. It's ranked 1,851 which is a marked increase. However, one could argue that it is the Android name which matters more, so we should compare a single game to itself which the same theme: Santorini. Original Santorini is ranked 3,114, while the Roxley version is 103. A high rank by any measure.

So for a game such as Bug, there is a purity to the gameplay (it's my favorite of Nick's designs, out of a collection of great designs) but the appearance to a layman might be too close to Go. I wonder if a more unique theme/aesthetic would help give it table-presence and appeal to casual gamers.

For example (making this up as I go), Bug could be renamed "Invasive" and be given a flowers vs weeds theme. The board could look like soil (with worms, bugs, debris, etc to keep empty spaces interesting) with a hexhex grid overlay on top. The pieces themselves could then be 3D cardboard standees like in Photosynthesis and the recently kickstarted Papillon. One side would have green plants, while the other uses colorful flowers. Personally, I'd be all over this game if it was released, but acknowledge I can't put my own preferences on everyone. An added bonus though would be a fairly low cost of production as it's all cardboard.

Example standee from Indian Summer:

This is a lovely suggestion. Thank you. My big question: do you think it matters that there's no sensible reasons why same-shapes would capture each other, in the context of your suggested theme? Why or why not?
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milomilo122 wrote:

This is a lovely suggestion. Thank you. My big question: do you think it matters that there's no sensible reasons why same-shapes would capture each other, in the context of your suggested theme? Why or why not?

I got the idea from watching the gif of the boards at top of the article on your site. It sort of reminded me of gardening where similar plants will grow next to their neighbors and spread, but also change the soil chemistry so that dissimilar plants are more likely to die off. For instance, coniferous trees tend to increase nitrogen levels so grass won't grow under it. Admittedly a stretch but that was my first thought
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Cortez527 wrote:
I think for modern gaming/markets, theming can't be ignored. I'd argue that combinatorial or not is less important than how much table presence it has. This is even if it's pasted on, such as the excellent Through the Desert. While usually an anathema to pure-abstract players, themed reprints of abstracts can do far better than the originals (going by BGG rankings).

So for a game such as Bug, there is a purity to the gameplay (it's my favorite of Nick's designs, out of a collection of great designs) but the appearance to a layman might be too close to Go. I wonder if a more unique theme/aesthetic would help give it table-presence and appeal to casual gamers.
This resonates with me too. I think it's more important that an abstract has an aesthetic, tactile anchor than a cohesive theme.

Cortez527 wrote:
For example (making this up as I go), Bug could be renamed "Invasive" and be given a flowers vs weeds theme. The board could look like soil (with worms, bugs, debris, etc to keep empty spaces interesting) with a hexhex grid overlay on top.
I like your suggestion to add light artwork to the board itself. I'm frequently surprised by the difference between the attention and detail on a box cover as compared to board that is stared at for far longer. Of course, too much artwork is distracting, but I think most games underdo not overdo board artwork.

Cortez527 wrote:
The pieces themselves could then be 3D cardboard standees like in Photosynthesis and the recently kickstarted Papillon. One side would have green plants, while the other uses colorful flowers. Personally, I'd be all over this game if it was released, but acknowledge I can't put my own preferences on everyone. An added bonus though would be a fairly low cost of production as it's all cardboard.

Example standee from Indian Summer:



I acknowledge that the plant theme is a matter of taste. I prefer something more unique (sea snails, natural disasters, magnetic fields, tacos,... just off the top of my head). However, I think the cardboard standees are a more obvious concern. Imagine if Azul or Splendor used cardboard standees instead of the chunky, satisfying pieces. In Bug's case, you don't even need that many pieces. I think it would be missed design opportunity to not take advantage of the need for few pieces in Bug.

milomilo122 wrote:
My big question: do you think it matters that there's no sensible reasons why same-shapes would capture each other, in the context of your suggested theme? Why or why not?
I agree with Peter that table presence (i.e., artwork and component quality) are more important (at least to me) than an intricate tie between theme and mechanics. I don't have a problem with Hive asking me to jump on a Bee with a Beetle. I would have a problem if Hive had cardboard pieces. Likewise, consider how many financially successful games attract with component quality and artwork rather than theme-mechanical connection (e.g., Azul, Sagrada, Splendor, Santorini...).

In case you want a little more theme, I'll reiterate the idea of making the individual pieces represent individual members of a pack of animals (pick a unique family of carnivores, especially those that eat their own). Maybe wolves. Rival packs only attack when they feel threatened by a similarly sized pack. Growth represents the birth of a new pup. Hmmm... this idea of jealousy of a similar size/shape could drive many other themes as well.
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Kunkasaurus wrote:


I acknowledge that the plant theme is a matter of taste. I prefer something more unique (sea snails, natural disasters, magnetic fields, tacos,... just off the top of my head). However, I think the cardboard standees are a more obvious concern. Imagine if Azul or Splendor used cardboard standees instead of the chunky, satisfying pieces. In Bug's case, you don't even need that many pieces. I think it would be missed design opportunity to not take advantage of the need for few pieces in Bug.

I agree with Peter that table presence (i.e., artwork and component quality) are more important (at least to me) than an intricate tie between theme and mechanics. I don't have a problem with Hive asking me to jump on a Bee with a Beetle. I would have a problem if Hive had cardboard pieces. Likewise, consider how many financially successful games attract with component quality and artwork rather than theme-mechanical connection (e.g., Azul, Sagrada, Splendor, Santorini...).

In case you want a little more theme, I'll reiterate the idea of making the individual pieces represent individual members of a pack of animals (pick a unique family of carnivores, especially those that eat their own). Maybe wolves. Rival packs only attack when they feel threatened by a similarly sized pack. Growth represents the birth of a new pup. Hmmm... this idea of jealousy of a similar size/shape could drive many other themes as well.

This is very true. I was thinking cardboard for the full range of printable colors of the assets, but you are right that solid tactile components could stand out more. These could be similar to the Through the Desert camels in both uniqueness of the game components, but also in that it is more likely the components will be a single color. Also in Through the Desert are the plastic trees, which any sculpt I think would ultimately be less attractive than the trees in Photosynthesis.

The pack/social animal idea I think would be better as sculpts than drawing so like most games, the theme chosen would probably dictate the chosen assets. Animal territories would be intriguing and could do fairly well.
 
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Cortez527 wrote:
This is very true. I was thinking cardboard for the full range of printable colors of the assets, but you are right that solid tactile components could stand out more. These could be similar to the Through the Desert camels in both uniqueness of the game components, but also in that it is more likely the components will be a single color. Also in Through the Desert are the plastic trees, which any sculpt I think would ultimately be less attractive than the trees in Photosynthesis.
Hmmm... sculpts can be neat if they're durable. Another option is pucks :

War Chest:

Battle Sheep (I particularly like these ones):

Cloudspire:
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Kunkasaurus wrote:
Hmmm... sculpts can be neat if they're durable. Another option is pucks :]

I do really like the games with pucks, such as those by Chip Theory Games. I was thinking they would be better suited to games where stacking is an aspect, such as Hoplomachus: Origins, but Seikatsu uses disks and looks pretty good on the table. The standees/sculpts though would stand up off the table, so that's why I'd like them personally.
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Cortez527 wrote:
I was thinking they would be better suited to games where stacking is an aspect, such as Hoplomachus: Origins, but Seikatsu uses disks and looks pretty good on the table.
Yes, there are off-board advantages to stackable pieces too.
- Instead of a pile or hoard of your unused pieces, you can have a single stack.
- Stacks also can neatly fit in a small game box, especially in an insert.
- Finally, it's just fun to clank together and slide your pucks as you await your turn.
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Cortez527 wrote:
Kunkasaurus wrote:


I acknowledge that the plant theme is a matter of taste. I prefer something more unique (sea snails, natural disasters, magnetic fields, tacos,... just off the top of my head). However, I think the cardboard standees are a more obvious concern. Imagine if Azul or Splendor used cardboard standees instead of the chunky, satisfying pieces. In Bug's case, you don't even need that many pieces. I think it would be missed design opportunity to not take advantage of the need for few pieces in Bug.

I agree with Peter that table presence (i.e., artwork and component quality) are more important (at least to me) than an intricate tie between theme and mechanics. I don't have a problem with Hive asking me to jump on a Bee with a Beetle. I would have a problem if Hive had cardboard pieces. Likewise, consider how many financially successful games attract with component quality and artwork rather than theme-mechanical connection (e.g., Azul, Sagrada, Splendor, Santorini...).

In case you want a little more theme, I'll reiterate the idea of making the individual pieces represent individual members of a pack of animals (pick a unique family of carnivores, especially those that eat their own). Maybe wolves. Rival packs only attack when they feel threatened by a similarly sized pack. Growth represents the birth of a new pup. Hmmm... this idea of jealousy of a similar size/shape could drive many other themes as well.

This is very true. I was thinking cardboard for the full range of printable colors of the assets, but you are right that solid tactile components could stand out more. These could be similar to the Through the Desert camels in both uniqueness of the game components, but also in that it is more likely the components will be a single color. Also in Through the Desert are the plastic trees, which any sculpt I think would ultimately be less attractive than the trees in Photosynthesis.

The pack/social animal idea I think would be better as sculpts than drawing so like most games, the theme chosen would probably dictate the chosen assets. Animal territories would be intriguing and could do fairly well.
Ok, I think I agree with this. This allows me to reframe the challenge here in my mind. Thank you for convincing me!
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I still think bugs can work with bugs haha
I think this so strongly that I bought some cheap plastic ants to make a copy for.myself. they just arrived, it's late but I'll be paying some of them red and do a green (grass) or brown (dirt) board with irregular hexagons to give it a rustic look.

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