PX 6: Player Experience Beyond the Time Box

This is the sixth entry in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX”. We’ll reference a few earlier installments below, so maybe peek back at them before coming back here!

During early research of this topic (the Player Experience / PX) I discovered an earlier research paper by a group out of northern Europe. Their paper was focused on video games, and in general mobile, but included a great deal of interesting inquiry.

One of the concepts which struck me first, was how their concept of the “Experience” of a game extended well beyond the literal time boundaries of the session. A player begins experiencing your game from the moment it’s brought to their attention, and will continue well on into the future after the game is put away.

A different kind of time box. (Photo Credit: Flickr user rooners)

Everyone’s favorite time box. (Photo Credit: Flickr user rooners)

In Agile development and workflow, there’s a precept while running meetings to “respect the time box” — if  meeting is scheduled from 2–3, end at 3. Don’t let it drag it out. (There are likely volumes to be written about board game “play time” estimates, but this article is not that.) Here, we’ll focus on developing the context of experience reaching beyond the time before the moment the first die is rolled, and beyond when the components are packed away in the box and returned to the shelf. “Outside the time box.”

Clearly the core of the player experience is the time while the game is on the table, but let’s run through some examples of experience outside this ‘time box’:

  • How does someone hear about your game? Through a website like BoardGameGeek, an excited friend, a board game group? The way a thing is introduced to us becomes a powerful part of our memory of it, our willingness to try it, and how we view it when we do.
  • When I’m planning a session of Battlestar, while everyone coordinates their schedules, I’m reliving stories (both in my mind and in the email thread) from all previous tablings of that game — because for me, the shit talk and the paranoia begins the minute the invite goes out. In fact, I’ll sign off “—not a Cylon, Jonathan”.
  • All the buzz surrounding a regular poker night. The experience of that game includes the morning-of when your buddy texts you: “Can u believe Nate took all our money last week? I’m totally getting him back this time”. And the one the day after: “Shit, why did I fold on my pocket fours[1], I should have known that jerk was bluffing!”

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PX 5: Determinism, Information, and Hedging Against the Future

This is the fifth topic in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX”. This entry references several key concepts from earlier installments, so you’ll either want to start at the beginning, or else drop back as they’re linked!

Spilled scrabble tray

Scrabble tray accidentally becomes “perfect information”. Photo Credit: Flickr user whiskeytango (CC-BY)

Beyond all the things we’ve discussed so far, players will all be bringing a certain set of gaming preferences with them to the table when they play your game. These may have basis in their personality types, experience levels, or brain chemistry, but these preferences also grow through the types of games they play and the life experiences that they’ve had.

Some players enjoy having perfect information about the game state, while others may have either a tolerance, or even a preference, for hidden information — finding fun in the need to deduce unknown aspects of the game state, or the hidden situations of the other players (think: ‘Cat & Mouse’ mechanics, such as Scotland Yard, Fury of Dracula, or Clue: The Great Museum Caper). Information may become un-hidden in a variety of different ways and rates, making a continuous gradation from “fully hidden” to “fully public”. (e.g.: secret drafting, simultaneous reveal like Robo Rally, or Revolution! in contrast to the trickle of revelation in the cat & mouse games listed above). Continue reading

PX 4: Neuroscience and the Thinky Bits

This is part four in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” The earlier posts aren’t prerequisites for this one, but I recommend checking them out anyway 🙂

This week, we’re going to tackle brain chemistry, neurotransmitter hormones, and some of the deeper psychological aspects of what’s going on during a board game, and how the Player Experience is molded by those things. Full disclaimer, I’m wholly unqualified to discuss this aspect of the PX topic; I’ve done my best to research each of the aspects I’m presenting below, but if your areas of expertise overlap what I’ve got down here, I’d love to connect and revise this a little bit. Please reach out!

BPx7OA lot of popular press these days seems to be covering the hormones that influence our moods, feelings, and reactions — sometimes in fairly simplistic ways: I needed a dopamine hit, so I ate a cupcake. The science, however, appears to be painting an increasingly complex picture (he says, as he’s about to lay out a super-simplified worldview). The “heavy hitters” in your brain that we can cover at a high level here include, with very simplistic explanations:

  • Dopamine — regulates the reward center of the brain. Something good happens, and you get a little hit of it. You feel good.
  • Serotonin — has a major influence over mood regulation. The vibe at the gaming table likely is tightly connected to the players’ Serotonin levels. But that’s actually just a hypothesis; current science doesn’t actually know the exact purpose it serves, only that it’s definitely important.
  • Oxytocin — sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’ (because it appears to be generated in high quantities during cuddling) contributes to the overall feeling of bonding among people. Ironically, it is also turning out to be related to high-stress situations as well, with research finding that extended stressful childhood experiences can lead to anxiety issues later in life.
  • Adrenaline — causing the ‘fight or flight’ feeling — released by danger or during competition.
  • Cortisol — Adrenaline’s arch enemy, released during stressful situations to lower Adrenaline levels, and has big impacts on digestion and other bodily systems.

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Player Experience is Other People

This is the third topic in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” You don’t have to read the others first, but it does reference several concepts from before, so I highly recommend it.

“L’expérience, c’est les autres”

— with apologies to Sartre

When designing a game, there is one major factor which is nearly impossible to predict, and accurately accommodate for, all combinations of: The other players around the table. Since most games are competitive, players are attempting to beat one another, overcome the obstacles put into place by each other, etc. Therefore, a huge aspect of Player Experience is necessarily who is sitting across the table from a player[1].

A troll player who disregards the intent of a game, or intentionally goes out of his or her way to grief the other players is going to cause a negative experience for them. Likewise, a player who never wishes to “step on toes” may also impact the game negatively by failing to drive in-game battle economies as expected. Continue reading

PX #2: The Familiarity Spectrum

This is an installment in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” I highly recommend you start at the beginning, but it’s certainly not required 🙂

The experience a Player has with your game is going to vary based on a lot of factors. Imagine someone brand new to your game. Thay have no familiarity with any aspect of it, though perhaps they have seen the box. Maybe they have read the rules, but there’s no way to know. At the other extreme, lies you, the designer. You’re not only familiar with all the aspects, but also the history of each component, and the full evolution of each mechanic and each system. Anyone who sits down to experience your game is going to fall somewhere along this spectrum of familiarity. Continue reading

Player Experience (PX) Series #1: A Primer on User Experience and Interface Design

This is an installment in a multi-part essay covering board game “Player Experience” or “PX” feel free to start at the beginning, or just jump right in!

Valour with TeapotTo begin our exploration of Player Experience (PX), I feel it’s important to take a step back, and understand some underlying concepts. Luckily, there have been decades of research on human-centered design (and, turns out, board games are intended for consumption by humans). So to set down some vocabulary around fundamentals, we’ll begin with an analysis of board games from a raw “User Experience” or “UX” perspective.

No discussion of User Experience or Human-Centered design is possible without a peek at the research of Don Norman. In his seminal work, The Design (‘Psychology’, in some printings) of Everyday Things, he lays out a series of terms for describing an experience a user can have with a system. He’s gone on to clarify many of these topics through successive editions of the book, and a great online presence. Continue reading

Designing the Player Experience (PX)

IMG_4515When designing, it’s easy to get hung up on the details in front of us — the mechanics, the theme, the components. But ultimately, the point of designing games is for others to play them.

And why do they play them? In my view, it’s to facilitate a rich human-human interaction, unique from just about anything else. Competitive, fun, a centerpiece for conversation, a reason to get together with people you may not see frequently, and so on.

Because these interactions are fundamentally human in nature, we designers have a responsibility to understand the user experience, or, as I’m going to not exactly coin, (as there is a bit of previous research on this) but to champion the term “Player Experience” or (PX), even if that’s a bit on-the-nose as an adaptation from the software world, where the emphasis by good product teams is the “User Experience” or “UX”. Continue reading

Lots of games this weekend!

Big weekend for gaming! I hit the trifecta on Sunday: Worked on my game, Valour; tried out a new game; taught an old favorite.

Got all the components for Valour uploaded to The Game Crafter, so now I’m ready to start sending out blind test prototype copies to those far-flung fans who have been asking to give it a try! This week is also your last chance to get on the Valour mailing list if you want the February update!

Then, got a chance to try out A Study in Emerald (2ed), a Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft crossover game (…I know, right???) which just came out with its second edition. The rules were dense, and there was a lot that may have been peripheral, but overall, it combined several modern game mechanics in a really elegant way. None of us at the table had ever played before, so I think the strategy began to dawn on everyone just as The Old Ones were cinching a victory, but I would absolutely play this one again. See my friend Dave’s review, which was based on this play session.

Afterward, I introduced a group of (mostly) new players to Battlestar Galactica — one of my perennial favorites. I love how well it captures the tension of the series: The paranoia about Cylons among the humans, and the continual panic while fending off attacking ships. I do tend to forget the rules for most of this, like space combat and details around warping the ship around, since it’s usually tabled so infrequently, AND because, in my opinion, all of that ‘stuff’ in this is merely backdrop for the real game: sowing mistrust among the humans, and throwing Cylons out the airlock. I knew my feeble poker skills left me out of my league with this crowd after the following exchange (which I know won’t make sense if you haven’t played… but count that as one more reason to try it):

Nick: “You’re card-counting the Destiny Deck, aren’t you?”
Megan: “Of course I am.”
Nick: “HOW??”

Cylons ended up winning by a hair, but only because an ‘outed’ Cylon served up a crisis card to the still-hidden Cylon who was able to use it to drain the final Population from the Human fleet 😐 Good stuff!

I’m working on a slightly larger post where I’m going to put a stake in the ground around some game design concepts, but it’s going to require a little more research than most of my posts based on experiential learnings. So count this week as a multi-game “review” week 🙂

A Study in Emerald: Worth a try if you can get your hands on a copy, but I’d recommend playing with others who have all either never played, or are all experienced. N00bs would get worked by even second-time players.

Battlestar Galactica: Why haven’t you played this yet?? If you’re in Boulder and want to give this a go, hit me up and we’ll try and get it tabled 🙂

Guest Post: One-Shots v. The Long Game

This is the second post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. This week’s post comes to you from Justin Helmer. Let’s go! – jw

I guess I’ll start with a little background. The first time I had ever played was in 1978 (I know to some of you that was before time began!), my 1st game was a one-shot adventure and I was hooked. Anyway, I digress. Personally, I don’t run a lot of one shots.  Most of my games feature very long, very dark storylines. So my setup can take months to even a year or more.  Lately I’ve run a few one shots (Thinking they may require less setup, less writing, less fuss);  I was wrong in some ways and correct in others. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Anatomy Of A One-Shot

353px-Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_ViatourThis is the first post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. This week’s post comes to you from Ian F. White. Ian can be found online at his site. Without further ado, I turn you over to him! – jw

Introduction:

In my time as both a Player and a GM, I have probably spent the same amount of game time in one-shots as in campaigns; until fairly recently campaigns had outnumbered one-shots.

I joined the Facebook group “Tabletop RPG One Shot Group” about a year ago and have – I hope – improved my preparation and presentation of my one-shot skill-set since then. The reason for me concentrating on One-shots are varied but in the main concern availability for regular campaigns and also the fact that I can try out so many different RPG systems, Players (and GMs).

However, in this article, I am simply concerned with sharing with you a little advice – including an overview my process for planning a one-shot scenario. Continue reading