Teaching Tabletop Games

Have you ever struggled to explain a new game to a group of friends? Or have you ever been totally lost listening to someone else explain tabletop rules to you?

It is extremely tough to teach new games to a group. Every game, group, and individual is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. And I’m no expert either – I’ve had some spectacular teaching failures myself!

But by seeing (and making) a lot of mistakes, I have begun to notice some techniques that appear to help along the process. I hope that you will find them useful!

 

Goals

When you are explaining rules, there are two basic goals you are trying to achieve:

1. Get started as quickly as possible.

People just wanna play! It’s boring and frustrating to listen to rules being read. But on the other hand, it’s also frustrating to play a game and not understand what you’re doing. Which is why I say as quickly as possible, because the right approach is a delicate balance.

2. Give the game its best shot at a good first impression.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely for a tabletop game to be at its best on the first go. Some players just won’t like this game – no matter what! Maybe it’s just not a great fit for them.

But the good news is that if you teach the rules effectively, you will increase the players’ chances of a good first time experience. And that is all you can really do! Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting everyone to fall in love on the first go.

 

Tips for Effective Teaching

Assuming the game you’ve picked is a reasonable fit for the majority of your group (that’s a whole other topic…) here are some tips and techniques that have worked for me.

 

1) Learn the rules ahead of time.

plan-2372176_1920

I understand that for some tabletop enthusiasts, there is a satisfying feeling of discovery that comes with learning a new board game for the very first time.

But for many players… listening to the rules read out loud is the worst.

Even the best-designed rulesets have to serve multiple masters. They need to be concise, thorough, scannable, and unambiguous all at the same time. Reading rules out loud will often come off dry and doubtful. Why should your teaching adhere to those same constraints?

Instead, if you take the time to study the rules ahead of time (or even better, try it first with a willing gamer friend), you can speak confidently, and you will have the flexibility to customize your explanation in real-time to fit the needs of the players.

Think of yourself as a salesman trying to convince the players that this game is worth playing. You should be iterating on your approach with each successive explanation.

 

2) Give only the minimum necessary rules. No more or less.

Less Is More

How do we know what is and is not necessary?

Your explanation should focus on:

  • WHY (goals): What is the object or goals of the game? Usually it’s best stated with alongside a very-generic summary of action.
    • Example (Monopoly): “Eliminate the opponents by bankrupting them.”
    • Example (Carcassonne): “Earn the most points by the time the tiles run out.”
  • HOW (actions): What are the core actions I can take on my turn? How do those actions connect back to my goals?
    • Example (Monopoly): Roll & move, buy properties/buildings, pay rent.
    • Example (Carcassonne): Place tiles, claim features, score features.
  • WHAT (objects): What are the core types of objects and resources that I will interact with?
    • Example (Monopoly): Tokens, Money, Properties, Houses, Hotels.
    • Example (Carcassonne): Meeples, Roads, Cities, Cloisters, Fields.

Your explanation should avoid (or be wary of):

  • Rare edge-cases: If it’s relatively rare, does not punish the player, and can be easily explained on the fly, then there’s no reason to spend precious time on it up front.
    • Example (Monopoly): If a card sends a player past GO, they can collect $200 (unless it says otherwise).
    • Example (Carcassonne): If a player draws a tile that cannot be placed, they discard that tile and draw another one.
  • Overly Specific Details: Whenever you can, let general knowledge inform specific applications. That might mean letting players figure out slight variations of a card type as they are drawn, or discover combo possibilities as they emerge.
    • Example (Monopoly): The specific instructions on each Chance/Community card can be figured out in real-time.
    • Example (Carcassonne): The different shapes or iterations of each tile type can be discovered in real-time (or an individual player can reference the “cheat sheet” in the box if they like).
  • Strategy: Strategies will emerge naturally during play as the rules start to click. Advanced players may choose to help by lightly explaining their actions on their own turns.
    • Example (Monopoly): Defensive purchases, bidding value, build timing.
    • Example (Carcassonne): Blocking, stealing.
  • Highly Complex Mechanics: In some cases, a mechanic is sufficiently advanced that you could gloss over it or leave it out altogether. This can be a great way to simplify the game so players can learn the simpler core mechanics. However, this only works if the game is still playable without that mechanic, and if the experienced players are willing to play the simpler version of the game.
    • Example (Monopoly): If playing with kids – you might leave out Auctions.
    • Example (Carcassonne): Claiming and scoring fields.

 

3) Keep repeating the goal.

arrow-2889040_1920.jpg

It is critical that players understand the goal, above all else. Starting with the goal is obvious. But it can also help to reiterate the goal between other mechanics, to give each mechanic context. Then one more time, at the end of the game, just to hammer it in.

It’s a balance, but extra repeats might be worth the slightly increased speaking time.

 

4) Make use of visual aids by giving examples

Playing Cards Beside Poker Chips and Dice

Whenever possible, your explanation should be reinforced with visual aids.

For example in a card game, you can explain a card by showing how it might be played from an open example hand. An example setup can give extra context to possible player actions, in a way a verbal explanation cannot.

Tip: Try and get the necessary card types up front. It can break the flow of your explanation to suddenly have to dig through the deck for the specific card you need.

 

5) Try a “throwaway” round.

litter signage

For many gamers, things won’t click until you start playing.

If it doesn’t take too much effort to break down and redo the setup, consider a lightning quick “throwaway” round, where everyone gets to practice going through the motions and seeing the cards in context. For example, I have used a quick throwaway hand to teach people the “drafting” mechanic in a clean way.

“Don’t worry about the cards – I’ll explain them in a moment. Just pick any card from your hand, and hold it out in front of you on the table, face down. When everyone is holding out their cards, I will say “3-2-1-FLIP” and we will all reveal our choices. Then, you place your card down (you now own it) and pass your entire hand to your LEFT.”

Also, be willing to restart a “real” round if things are clicking and some players are regretting their initial moves. For a quick casual game, they’ll get another chance in the next game, so regret can just be part of the learning. But if it’s still early in a longer game, players might appreciate a fresh start now that they get it!

 

6) Refer to similar mechanics in other games known by the audience.

Monopoly Board Game on Brown Wooden Tabletop

When appropriate, consider referencing a similar mechanic in another game. For example, recently I introduced Sushi Go to players when we had just played 7 wonders earlier that night.

“Sushi Go is like a quick casual version of 7 wonders. Just like 7 wonders, there are 3 rounds of drafting, except instead of buying cards with resources, you’re picking sushi for sets….”

But be careful: If at least one person has not played one of the reference games, then this tool may just isolate certain players and confuse the overall explanation. I have seen many teachers gloss over important details because they lean too heavily on references.

 

7) Respond appropriately to questions

woman sitting raising her hand beside woman

One of the hardest parts of teaching board games is responding to different kinds of confusion in the form of questions.

Maybe it’s a new player fixating on a specific detail. Other times it’s an experienced player who is wondering why you “left out” or haven’t gotten to X. Sometimes it’s just totally out of left field.

The first and more important thing is to stay positive, by responding with something like “Great question!”. Confusion is expected, and being dismissive of a question will just sour the experience.

After that, the best response is highly situational. There are a few options:

  1. Answer the question: A question can nag at the player’s head, distracting them from further rule explanation. So sometimes, it’s worth breaking your flow to directly address the confusion.
  2. Delay it: Other times, you feel that the answer is easier understood in a different context. In this case you might say “I’ll get to that in a moment” or “I’ll cover that when we get there in the game.”
  3. Push it on the game: In some cases, the answer is just not relevant for reasons the players don’t yet understand. In this case you can try “I know it sounds weird, but I promise it’ll make sense once we start playing”.

 

An Imperfect Process

The best teachers and mentors are always flexible. They have a personalized style, but they are comfortable enough to suddenly break their own flow for unique situations, then pick it back up again.

So my final piece of advice is: Do not mistake any of these techniques for silver bullets.

Instead, just give them a try, see what works, and adjust your approach as needed. See if you can get really good at explaining your favorite games. Try explaining new games to your parents, or to little kids. Try and see if you can take on a new game every game night!

And if you learn anything useful, please let me know!

My Fascination with Feedback Loops

On Monday, February 20th, I will be giving a short 8 minute presentation on Feedback Loops for Boston Indies’s February Lightning Talks. The presentation will be titled Fantastic Feedback Loops and Where To Find Them, and will focus on identifying feedback loops in games.

Feedback Loops can have a massive impact on a game experience. Yet they are frequently misunderstood by game designers, or worse, missed altogether. I hope to use this opportunity to help demystify this important topic, and give game designers some tools to deal with them.

But the complexity of this topic goes far beyond the scope of an 8 minute presentation. So I had the idea: what if I created a companion blog post to go further in-depth? With my blog carrying the crunchy systemic details, I can focus my presentation on being a fun introduction to the topic. This lets me serve multiple audiences (and my own curiosity) simultaneously.

I will be covering Feedback Loops in a three-part series:

  1. Part 1: Identification
    What are feedback loops? Where can they be found both in and out of games? What are the different types? How can you identify a feedback loop in your game?
  2. Part 2: Impact
    How do different types of feedback loops affect the player experience? Are they good or bad? How can they affect pacing, decision-making, and learning?
  3. Part 3: Dealing with Feedback Loops
    What do we do once we’ve identified a feedback loop? How can we effectively create, destroy, strengthen, and weaken feedback loops?

UPDATE 3/11/16: The lightning talk went really well! But the sibling blog post series is taking longer than expected. I have shelved it for now and will pick it back up down the road.

Really Bad Theming

reallybadchess_01

I’ve been playing a lot of Zach Gage’s Really Bad Chess in the past week, and I find myself very fascinated by its use of theming.

Gage goes to great lengths to reinforce the “Really Bad” theme. Some examples:

  1. The Title
  2. Marketing text like “A definitely balanced game.” and “For everyone who quit playing chess”
  3. Quotes from Gage ranging from “This could be perceived as an affront to chess” to “It’s a stupid game”.
  4. An art style that goes beyond minimalistic; it looks like placeholder art that never got replaced.
  5. Somewhat awkward UI layout (examples: awkward line breaks in the title, no visual priority in coloring/shading)

It’s sort of sneaky and unassuming, but I think this theming accomplishes a few key things for the game.

The Impact of “Really Bad” Theming

1. It’s Inviting to “Really Bad” Players

To start with, the theme lends a helping hand to anyone who feels like they are “really bad” at chess. Chess is so embedded in our culture that it’s hard to make it to adulthood without playing a few games. And since Chess skill is often perceived as an indicator of intelligence, it follows that players who struggle might feel bad about their ability on a personal level.

…which is a bit sad, because who can blame anyone for stopping at one of Chess’s huge learning spikes, particularly the ones that involve lots of memorization? Or for being discouraged by crippling defeats, which is common with such potentially wide skill gaps? Players have no reason to feel bad, because their struggle often stems from inherent flaws in Chess itself rather than incompetence.

But the frustration is there, and Gage’s theming capitalizes on it to great effect to create an “us vs. them” feeling.

2. Players Are More Forgiving of “Really Bad” Flaws

Like any Chess variant, it’s impossible not to compare and contrast to the original subject matter. How could anyone compete with such a monumental game? But here the “Really Bad” theme offers a bit of humility – which in turn makes players more forgiving of the game’s flaws. Compare that to David Sirlin’s naming of Chess 2, which I wouldn’t call arrogant but certainly elicits a different emotional response.

A little more subtly, the “Really Bad” theme calls attention to its randomness as a direct counter to Chess’s near-perfect balance. In an era where many gamers still see luck as the opposite of skill, and designers regularly underestimate and misuse randomness (see: No Man’s Sky), it’s no wonder that randomness gets a bad rep.

The designer in me hates this misconception, but I can’t help but be impressed at how Really Bad Chess leverages it. It seems to apply imply “randomness indeed makes this game worse than the original chess, but that’s okay because we’re all in on the joke”.

3. It’s Not Bad At All!

Underneath it all, perhaps what makes the “Really Bad” theme so clever is that ironically, there is nothing really bad about the game at all. It’s not without flaws: the AI is painfully slow, the blue bar is confusing, and there could be better messaging for your turn state. But counter to the theme’s suggestion, the use of randomness in Really Bad Chess is exactly what makes it so damn good.

Really Bad Chess’s randomness does a great job of eliminating the reliance on book learning and putting the focus back on emergent strategy. But what really makes it shine is the rubberbanding system in Ranked mode, which determines your piece distribution. For example since I am hovering around Rank 75, I can expect lots of horses, a few bishops and/or Rooks, and maybe 1 Queen (and I can expect my AI opponent to have at least 2 Queens). It’s just enough of a constraint to prevent the game from feeling too random. And when combined with the promise of a static AI level, the result is a systemic learning that does for my Chess fatigue what Spelunky did for my platformer fatigue.

Of course none of that systemic depth comes from the theming. But when the press says things like “Who knows, that’s the point of Really Bad Chess, it throws out the balance in the game for random chaos!”, I get the impression that maybe the depth is sneakily slipping its way in for some players… just under the cover of its “Really Bad” Theming.

Takeaways

I think the major takeaway here for designers is to not underestimate the power of theming.

Really Bad Chess is not the first Chess variant to randomize pieces. It may not even be the first to combine randomization with rubberband ranking. But its unique theming invites players of all skill levels, highlights its randomization in a fun lighthearted way, and cleverly hides a strong focused design with satisfying depth.

It’s the combination of strong gameplay and intelligent theming that makes it worthy of some extra attention in my opinion, regardless of how much of its success might be attributed to outside factors (such as Gage’s existing reputation and network).

And nothing makes me happier than a great design getting love. So I wish it the best!

References:

  1. Really Bad Chess Press Kit 
  2. How Zach Gage breaks all of the rules in Really Bad Chess” (Gamasutra)
  3. Zach Gage’s ‘Really Bad Chess’ Will Shake up Chess on October 13th” (touch arcade)
  4. Really Bad Chess makes chess fun even if you’re really bad” (The Verge)

A Better Term For “Metroidvania”

Metroidvania term_1

What Exactly IS A “Metroidvania”?

I’ve never liked the term “Metroidvania“.

Metroidvania (a portmanteau of “Metroid” and “Castlevania”) is a well-known subgenre definition in the game industry which generally refers to “any game containing the major gameplay concepts shared by the Metroid series and later Castlevania games.” (Tvtropes.org)

If you have played a Metroidvania, then you probably have a pretty decent idea of what kinds of experiences to expect from other games of the same type, and perhaps you even have a conceptual model of the underlying formula itself. When used right, it is a strong approach that can lead to some really awesome games.

But in practice, the term “Metroidvania” is very clumsy and confusing, and does not get to the heart of the formula within. In this post, I will attempt to outline the term’s flaws, break down the formula into its components, and suggest a more useful alternative.

Falling Short of the Mark

According to Doug Church’s Formal Abstract Design Tools (FADT), a useful definition must be both formal and abstract. A formal definition is precise and can be explained to someone else. An abstract definition focuses on underlying ideas rather than genre constructs. So how does “Metroidvania” fall short of these goals?

To begin with, there is ambiguity regarding which shared properties are essential components of the formula, and which ones are not. Does a Metroidvania need to be 2D side-scrolling? Could it be 2D top-down, or even 3D? Does a game need to have platforming to be a Metroidvania?

metroid_upgrade acquired

Many sources define it as a subgenre of the “platforming” genre. This majority includes Wikipedia, where if you search the term you will be redirected to “platform-adventure games”, a header under platformer. But what about games in the Metroid Prime series, which contain only minor platforming elements and are labeled “first-person action-adventure” games? Do they have enough platforming to be Metroidvanias, or are they excluded?

Another well-accepted trait of a Metroidvania is nonlinearity. But the very first Castlevania game consists of six levels in a strictly linear progression. Tvtropes attempts to remedy this by specifying “later” games in the Castlevania series, but that must have been written before  “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow”, a modern 3D title that returns the series’ linear roots. Will they further update the definition by specifying a range of years JUST to exclude this game?

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow does have some light exploration, but in general the design is linear.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow does have some light exploration, but in general the design is linear.

It feels silly to map the definition to series. Instead of continually adjusting the set to fit the definition, we need to recognize that because our definition is imprecise, it is informal.

The second problem comes from the use of concrete examples instead of abstract concepts. Let’s say that for sake of argument, we limited “Metroidvania” to just “any game containing the major gameplay concepts shared by Super Metroid and Castlevania II. Even though this makes it easier to figure out the what those “major gameplay concepts” are, Metroid and Castlevania are not two different concepts that combine to create the formula, but rather two specific video game franchises that make use of the formula.

To illustrate why this is an issue, lets look at an outside example: Just as many Metroid games and Castlevania games are great examples of Metroidvanias, firetrucks and apples are great examples of “things that are red”. But we don’t use “fapple” (“firetruck” + “apple”) to refer to objects that are red!

A stop sign isn’t red because it shares its color with firetrucks and apples – it is red because it reflects certain wavelengths of light. Properties are not defined by the objects that have them; objects are defined by their properties. So because it does not focus on the underlying formula itself as a set of shared properties, “Metroidvania” is not abstract.

Breaking Down The Formula

To create a FADT, we need to move away from examples and get at the heart of the formula; the real underlying structure and resulting behaviors. What are the component properties of a Metroidvania game?

1. A world design that emphasizes exploration in an open-ended environment full of highly inter-connected areas.

Map of Phendrana Drifts (Metroid Prime)
Map of Phendrana Drifts (Metroid Prime)

2. Obstacles in the environment hinder your ability to explore, and by extension your progress. “Obstacle” in this context is very broad, and can include everything from pits to high ledges to certain kinds of enemies to colored doors, etc

This wall cannot be passed unless you have a bomb (Twilight Princess)
This rock wall obstacle cannot be passed without a bomb. (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)

3. Power-ups, or key abilities attained, give you the power to overcome obstacles in your way. This puts huge emphasis on personal growth, because where you can go and what you are capable of is directly proportional to the power-ups at your disposal. Power-ups include but are not limited to: suit upgrades, magical powers, weapons, tools, creatures, and artifacts.

In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the
“Soul of Bat” lets you fly freely through the air in Bat Form.(Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)

4. Although movement and presentation is generally non-linear, the order in which you obtain these powerups and gain access to new areas will often follow a sequence. This sequence is crucial to the inclusion of a clean difficulty curve and narrative arc.
(Update: Since writing this post, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was released. ALBW notably breaks the sequence rule – more on that in another post!)

While there are other similarities between core Metroid and Castlevania games, to me these are the traits that define the Metroidvania play experience.

Reframing the formula

Now that we have our component properties, I’d like to propose a new term to replace “Metroidvania”. A possible name could be: nonlinear power-up progression (NPP). “Nonlinear” covers exploring an open-ended environment, and “power-up progression” covers using power-ups to overcome obstacles in a sequence. It’s not catchy, and I hope that one day someone can come up with a nickname that rolls of the tongue… but it works.

Pretty much any game currently in existence can be tested against NPP’s parameters for a conclusive decision. Metroid Prime games feature NPP, while the first Castlevania and Metroid Prime Pinball not. NPP includes widely accepted Metroidvanias like Outland and Guacamelee, but also 2D and 3D games in the Zelda series.

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Link opens a chest and uncovers a new power-up in The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap.

Including Zelda might be strange to some, but for someone like me who grew up playing Metroid and Zelda games and seeing those relationships all along, the proposed “platforming” requirement seems much stranger. Zelda games fit NPP because they are nonlinear in physical progression (yet follow a clear sequence), place emphasis on exploration, and promote growth through key powerups (items/artifacts) which are used to overcome obstacles such as pits and destructible walls.

One of the major difference between Zelda and “traditional” Metroidvanias is density. Zelda games will often boast a large but relatively sparse overworld for exploration, then pack the meat of the puzzles and combat scenarios into dungeons. Whereas Metroid games tend to offer spread exploration, puzzles, and combat across the world in a relatively uniform manner. Each approach results in a very different feel, but I think they both fit inside NPP.

Where Does It All Fit?

How do we place our terms into a clean hierarchy? On the one hand we have “Metroidvania”, which exists as a somewhat vague subgenre of the “platforming” genre. On the other we have games that follow non-linear powerup progressionwhich are a subset of all nonlinear games. Since the sets overlap, NPP does not outright replace Metroidvania. But as a design tool, I think it’s more useful to focus on NPP as a formula that subsets nonlinear progression than to worry about “Metroidvania”, redefined as “a platforming game that follow NPP”.

I think that meaningful progress in critical language development requires us to think about game formulas and categorization by genre in completely different ways. Maybe we need a new tree hierarchy, or maybe we don’t want a tree at all! We’ll talk more about genres another day, but for now I hope that this post provokes some thought and invites you to help me question paradigms.

Flip Cup Sumo

“Drinking” Games

I’m fascinated with the origin and design of drinking games. Where do different types of games come from, how were they conceived, and how did they evolve to take on the many varying forms they have today? Why do certain kinds of people gravitate to certain kinds of games? How does a game experience change with varying numbers, personality types, physical resources and space, and party vibe?

There are so many questions! To keep down the scope of this article, today we are going to focus on one game: Flip Cup.

The Strengths of Flip Cup

Flip Cup is great for a lot of reasons – it’s easy to learn, flexible in numbers, accommodating to sudden personnel changes between rounds, doesn’t require a long commitment (like a bad game of Pong might), allows for varying levels of skill and competitiveness, and is fast-paced and exciting.

The social aspect of Flip Cup is also very dynamic. I have seen it used between a small group of close friends to get the party started, I’ve seen it used upon the first explosion of party attendance to get a bunch of strangers mobilized and feeling included as part of a”greater cause”, and I’ve seen it used as a late-party game for people who want to send themselves or others over the edge.

It’s no wonder that it’s a staple of the college party experience!

Flip Cup’s Weaknesses

I have found two key issues with the Flip Cup experience:

  1. Disconnected Games: Each game of Flip Cup is a self-contained victory. It doesn’t seem to matter much if one team is significantly better than the other.
  2. Degree of Victory is Arbitrary: There is a limited and fleeting joy that comes from a “strong” victory (completing significantly faster than the losing team). If Team A wins the first three games in a row by two cups, and then Team B wins the fourth by a whopping 7 cups… how the teams stack up?

You could solve both of these problems by adding a scoring system, based either on team wins or on the number of total cups flipped, but I wanted something less abstract. So I came up with a little variation called Flip Cup Sumo!

Flip Cup Sumo

Flip Cup Sumo is a straightforward variation of Flip Cup Classic, with some important twists!

  • Players: 6-16, 2 even teams
  • Setup:
    1. Given a rectangular flip cup table, draw a long line (“axis”) across its length, parallel to the lines of cups.
    2. Along the axis, draw an odd number of smaller lines (“notches”), such that each line is perpendicular to the axis. The notches should be symmetrical, meaning there should be a CENTER notch. 
    3. At each end of the axis, draw a circle to be the”goal zone”. Each team picks a goal zone to protect. Place some sort of object (“marker”), like an unopened beer can, at the center of the table on the center notch. The end result should look something like this: Flip Cup Sumo Diagram
  • Progression of Play:
    1. Pick a player on each team, facing each other, and play a round of normal flip cup.
    2. The moment the round finishes (the last person on a team has finished flipping their cup), everything stops.
    3. Count the number of unflipped cups (or unfinished players) on the losing team. Take the marker and move it that many notches towards the losing team’s goal zone, as if the winning team PUSHED it in that direction.
    4. Designate a new set of players to start a new round, and repeat.
  • Resolution: If the marker is ever pushed into a team’s goal zone, the game ends and the opposing team is declared the victor. If the marker is an unopened beer can, then you could add a rule where a member of the losing team must shotgun/funnel it as punishment.

There are a few reasons I like this game. First, the game gives players a long term goal, which strings together the individual flip cup rounds into a larger game.  Secondly, a strong victory has a much greater effect on the movement of the beer can, and is thus more rewarding. Saving your team from near-death or finishing off a team with a strong victory should be very satisfying.

It also could use some tweaking. A long table is typically used for flip cup, but teams stand on the long sides. This means that the axis is parallel to the team formation, making it difficult to tell which goal belongs to which team, and why. Perhaps it would help if the single “marker” was replaced with two little colored objects – such as sumo wrestler action figures – facing each other. In this case each team could choose a matching color, and loss state is triggered when that color’s marker is pushed backwards into a goal zone.

Flip Cup Sumo+
To increase strategy (at the risk of accessibility), try the following rules:

  1. When a round ends, the marker should be moved N+1 notches towards the losing team’s goal. This extra point helps move the needle for small victories, so they aren’t completely undermined by a single strong one.
  2. If a team has finished flipping all of their cups in a round, the last person yell DONE to end the round. However, they may also optionally choose to loop around to the first person on the team and flip more cups to score additional points. However, victory is risked each time a person starts flipping, since a player can only call DONE if they have just successfully flipped a cup and the next person has not yet started.

These rules probably take it too far. After all, Flip Cup derives much of its strength from its casual nature; it wouldn’t be very fun teaching these rules in a party setting.

Anyway I’d love to try these out, or get some feedback from someone else who gets a chance. I hope it’s fun!

Building a Critical Language

[UPDATE: My views on this topic have evolved. Today I know that game designers have plenty of tools without a formalized language, and that the game development process is more about doing and listening than saying. This old post was written by a younger version of myself who was frustrated by scattered and inconsistent design teachings, not realizing that the answers come from finishing more games!]

“As game designers, we need a way to analyze games, to try to understand them, and to understand what works and what makes them interesting. We need a critical language. And since this is basically a new form, despite its tremendous growth and staggering diversity, we need to invent one.” -Greg Costikyan [I Have No Words & I Must Design, 1994]

I have a fascination for language and how it influences our ability to think critically and creatively. I often wonder if there are concepts or ideas I struggle to understand, or have yet to even be exposed to, simply because of the limits of the American-English language. Have there been any significant international projects that required high level intellectual communication between multiple languages and cultures? If so, how did we make them work?

The games industry needs this. It’s been nearly 20 years since Costikyan wrote his seminal work… so how come it feels like we haven’t made that much progress? Who is at the forefront of this exploration and development of a common language among game developers? And how come as a 5th year Game Design & Development student that is about to graduate, I have never encountered a discussion on this topic in any of my classes?

I have seen first hand how this issue can hold developers back. I have worked on projects where team members were incapable of talking about games outside of their personal experiences as gamers, and as a result could not effectively communicate their ideas.

So where is the progress being made? I loved Doug Church’s “Formal Abstract Design Tools” [1999], but even that was over a decade ago. Every other article and reference seems to just be a slight extension of the ideas formulated by Costikyan and Church.

I want nothing more than to be able to learn from the work that has already been done, and to be at the frontlines of this exciting trek forward! But where do I start?