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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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

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

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

After A Publisher Comes Knocking

IMG_4868 copy

“Yeah, well, so, the thing blue should do is… ah frack, lemme figure that out.”

As a first-time designer, one of the big questions I’ve always had is what the publishing process looks like once a design is picked up by a publisher. This summer, I got my first glance into that world.

This year’s Protospiel event in Ann Arbor was a pretty big success for me. I tabled my game Valour twice, once with a big name in the tabletop publishing space and two other designers. After a game full of the most lighthearted but over-the-top shit-talking I’ve experienced in quite some time, the publisher indicated that it was something he might be interested in publishing…(!) We spoke a few more times throughout the weekend, and we settled on a course of action. I imagine this process is similar for most publishers, so I’m putting it here, in case it will be valuable for anyone else.

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Get Out of the Game Room!

talon slopeThere’s an aphorism in the ‘startup’ world, where I spend most of my non-gaming time.

“Get out of the office!”

The point is that if you get bogged down in what you think is cool, you won’t actually build something that’s useful to others. I think the same concept applies in game design. And while an obvious application of this is to get your design in front of people who aren’t in your immediate friend / gaming group, I think there’s a broader sense here too. The last three weekends I’ve been in Breckenridge (in the rocky mountains) doing outdoorsy things like climbing Mt. Democrat or tubing down the Colorado river with coworkers (also playing my first game of Agricola… whaaat?). Continue reading

Theme-first Board Game Design is Awesome

Concept sketching for some mechanics being born of theme.

Concept sketch showing the exact moment a game mechanic was born from a  theme.

I know some in the board game design community consider it sacrilege, but I’m definitely a theme-first designer. I make heavy use of my Catch Sheet day to day, while sitting in meetings, walking around, or wasting time reading articles online. Usually several times a week, I’ll be struck by an interesting economic interaction in real life, and want to build a game around it.

As I’ve gone over in the inception story (here, here, and here) for Valour, that design was entirely theme-first. I started making game notes based on the factual events from the history, and I was able to distill some really incredible game mechanics from them. While I’ve had to iterate multiple times in order to keep the rules and mechanics tight, it was an amazing starting point, and the reactions I get from seasoned gamers when they play Valour for the first time are universally positive, and many say that some of the mechanics are things they’ve never experienced before.

Now, don’t get me wrong — in now way am I arrogant enough to think that anything I’ve conceived of by starting from a real-life scenario and extrapolating a unique game mechanic is as revolutionary to boardgaming as, say, Dominion’s deck building, or Caylus’s worker placement/action drafting. And I also would never disagree with people who assert that games ARE the mechanics (I saw a comment online recently which implied that story without mechanics is just a novel). But theme-first game design is so much more than that. Continue reading

Valour: The Game

When we left off last week, I had the first physical prototype of my board game in-hand. Not knowing any better, I thought I might be near the end of the road. Now, after countless hours of play testing and revising, I know two things: a) I was WAY off the mark back then, and b) while I don’t yet know exactly where the road ends, I’m moving in the right direction. Read on to see the ins and outs of the current, and hopefully near-final, state of gameplay.
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