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

Designing from First Principles

I’ve written before about different tools for running play-tests, ideating on designs, and interpreting feedback, but none of those have ever really covered how to develop a framework around implementing that feedback.

After I sent my proto off for publisher review, I started mentally projecting myself into a future where I would be asked to make hard decisions about Valour’s final incarnation, and I could picture this publisher having to interact with designers who were defensive about their baby, and making the process challenging. Based on conversations I’ve had with play-testers, I knew there were some things I was totally unwilling to change, things I would happily change, and some gradient in between. But if the publisher came back and asked me about changing “X”… how would I determine where on that spectrum that landed? Continue reading

Collaboration

My friend Eric tweeted an expression a few weeks back that has been on my mind recently. I’m not sure where it came from, or I’d source it:

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Frequently, I’m reluctant to bring in others on the projects I’m developing, and I’m not sure if my reasoning behind that is a fear of loss-of-control over the end result, or the loner side of my extrovert that just doesn’t want to worry about orchestrating or coordinating with anyone else.

I’ve been reflecting on this as well as what, if anything, I should do about it. I’ve looked at each project, how and when I’ve collaborated on it, and tried to form a mental model to help determine if or when is the right time to work with others. Continue reading

One Step to the Epiphany

Meeple-Development

The Player Development Cycle?

During a quarterly goals check-in with Andrea, I talked over the status of several Flightless projects, and she asked a question I didn’t have a ready answer for. “Who exactly are your customers for each of these?”

I had a vague idea who I was designing for in each case, but no clue on specifics. “Erm, gamers who like… games… about… things?” Basically some bullshit that would never fly in the startup world where I spend my days and earn my living. Yet somehow I had failed to apply that same type of rigor before spending time developing and iterating on game designs.

Andrea went on to talk out how this could be a valuable tool for deciding who to reach out to about projects, what to include when writing about them, and making sure that my designs were scratching my prospective players gaming itches, so to speak. She, too, was flabbergasted that this had never occurred to either of us in any of our previous goal sit-downs. She said she felt like she’d had ‘an epiphany’. So that became the joke. I added “Andrea’s Epiphany” to my to-do list, which when I later broke out into “develop steps for Andrea’s Epiphany”, made that record-scratch noise in my head. The canonical work on this exact piece of building a business is literally called “The Four Steps to the Epiphany“. I revisited this notion (more specifically via the work’s more-digestible little brother: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development“) and am working to design a model of customer development for tabletop games (…and maybe more).

I’m not ready to show it yet, as I want to run through several cycles of experimentation and revision before releasing, but if you’re interested in this concept applied to tabletop gaming, please email me at woodardj@gmail; we can talk over your experiences, and I’ll share the early phases of my research with you.

Short Story RPG

An unexpected side benefit of sending off Valour to a publisher for evaluation, is that I got a chance to turn my focus to a project I’ve had cooking for a while but has been stalled (much to the chagrin of my collaborators) while I worked to push my board game across the finish line.

That project is Short Story RPG. I love tabletop role playing — it’s such a dynamic medium for human-to-human interaction, and a few dice and a little bit of imagination, you and your friends can spin a tale to rival many mainstream movies. Some of my fondest memories involve sessions of Dungeons & Dragons or Call of Cthulhu.

But those games have a problem. Two, actually: Firstly, while I understand that nerdy genres like high fantasy and sci-fi are gaining ground in public opinion, let’s face it… they’ve still got a long way to go. Ask a person on the street what they think of Dungeons & Dragons, and you might as well have said Dungeons & Dorks. Secondly, even those of us who are into such things have an entirely other problem: Scheduling. An ongoing tabletop RPG campaign requires coordinating the calendars of five or six people with jobs, other hobbies, possibly kids, etc. etc. etc. We’ve all been there, the group misses a session, then by the next session, half is spent catching everyone up on what was happening, then your mage has to leave early… Continue reading

Valour’s “Divine Mandate”

IMG_4904

Dumnorix’s successor as chieftain of the Aedui is a playable character in Valour!

Last night, I headed to Denver to see one of my favorite bands live — Eluveitie. Their “Folk Metal” brings elements from Celtic tradition into the metal genre; for real: There’s a woman in the band who can simultaneously play the hurdy-gurdy and headbang. No joke.

One of their most popular albums, Helvetios, was my soundtrack when training for the Highland Games (both times), but most importantly for this post, working on Valour. Embarrassingly, it took a number of episodes of Eluveitie-fueled late-night hacking through Valour rules and/or Creative Suite documents of boards and cards to realize that the album is actually also a retelling of the Gallic War, just like Valour.

The album’s track list includes so many of the same references as Valour that I’m clearly an idiot for not picking up on it sooner: Helvetios, Alesia, Uxellodunon…! But once I realized this, it definitely became official. Any time I go heads-down to push through to a milestone, this is what I put on.

I don’t go to many concerts, but when Songkick told me these guys were coming to town, I bought tickets that minute, from my phone, at the bar at Root Down in the Denver airport. While the show would have been a sick way to get pumped for this year’s Highland Games, the timing actually ended up being perfect.

Sometimes a concert gets you right in the feelers in a way that seems cheesy to relate in retrospect; but that’s exactly what happened to me last night. I attended the show with a hardcore ‘fuck it’ attitude, as part of a recent attempt at slaying my mammoth. After forty-five minutes in the mosh pit (in a kilt), I was sufficiently out of my comfort zone to start thinking about the deeper questions about life and all that shit.

Eluveitie’s false-finale is a song called Alesia, an alternately brutal and wistful retelling of The Battle of Alesia, fabled turning point of the Gallic war, when Gaul’s defeat became inevitable. In my shields-down state, the sadness and loss in this song really got to me. I spaced out through the encore, and left the show trying desperately to hold on to the feelings that hearing Alesia live had invoked, in the face of driving all the way home, and sleeping in so I wouldn’t pass out at work today. I had something important to remember.

My conclusion was this: the world needs Valour to ship. The profound sense of loss expressed by Eluveitie, and the historic indignation of Terry Jones can’t be expressed in enough different media, to enough varied audiences. No matter what setbacks or obstacles: This must happen.

ps: I’d be incredibly pumped if the band were to see this post, or hear about the board game. If you could share this, or the tweet I sent during the show, that would be so cool :D.