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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gamer Down! Gamer Needs Aid!

Have you ever gotten a new game, learned it from reading the rules, and the first game you finished, you thought, “This needs a player aid,” or “I wonder why they did {X} the way they did?” If you acted on your impulse, you may have joined the hundreds of gamers who happily create player aids or fixes to games they love. There seem to be some generic good reasons for these.

Don’t like the components. When I first got Carcassonne, I didn’t like the game scoring board. It’s functional, but I didn’t think it went with the theme of the game. So I scanned the tiles of the game and made a new scoring chart. This one is rectangular, and it’s a completed game of Carcassonne in miniature with a single road running all the way from the central town to the end of the board – 100 spaces. And every 5 spaces, you pass through a new town which makes counting fives a bit easier. To make it work, I had to design a few “new” tiles, like two city-ends (east and west) with a road running north-south between them. When the expansion came out, it was cool to see they created some of those same tiles!

Make it easier to teach / play. When we first learned Ra, it was hard to keep track of the various sets. Someone (I think through Game Cabinet) had developed a player mat for keeping track of everything. I liked it, and decide to make my own with a little more color and information. We still use the mats today.

Rule book is too long, or not too great. Lots of nice folks on Boardgamegeek make “quick play” sheets for new games, often boiling down a 20 page rule set to a page or two. That’s great if you’ve learned the game and a few months later you jst need a quick refresher. And in the cases where unclear rules have been clarified by the producer or the game author, those “quick play” sheets can be updated with the latest info. My quick play sheet for Tichu has a quick summary of the special cards and how scoring works.

I thought of something different. There are a million pieces to Roads and Boats. So I decided to try 2 new things. First, I made hex tiles in a computer program (Excel, but that’s another story) and created scenarios from the Splotter website and from scratch. Since part of the fun is drawing roads, I created maps that had these hex-sets on them with a bit more background and texture. I printed them off on a map plotter and rolled them up. Sure they’re too big for the box – but use them with a plastic oversheet or draw right on the map with water-based pens and you have a cool map when you’re all done.

... Plus you can play part of a game. I created miniature sheets of the board layout in black and white so we could list what resources and movers where where in the game. So a game partially done gets logged and its map put on the shelf until we can finish. My other change was to the movers. I noticed in the original there were only 6 types of movers. So I made stickers for each type and found some 7/8” six-sided dice. Each player had a color, and each die had all 6 movers shown – whichever side is up is the active mover. No more switching out all those mover tokens for each player. And since there’s a limit for how many movers you can have, the number of dice is that limit.

I just don’t get it. Sometimes, even if you think you have a good rule set, people let you know their learning style and your attempt at teaching just clashed. When we released Havoc, we never thought the Dogs of War would cause so much confusion. But they did, and through a few iterations we cam up with a player’s aid that shows how Dogs work and put it on the SunRiver site as a download.

I don’t speak German. Finally in this group a huge thank you to all the players who translate German rules into English or a variety of other languages. I picked up Euphrat und Tigris – the Card Game at Essen. Without the kind efforts of whoever translated the rules, we would not be playing this game today.

When I continue this story, I’ll talk about the close cousin of player aids – Playtesting. The better the playtesting, the better you can avoid the need for someone else later to play your game and say, “This needs a player aid,” or “I wonder why they did {X} the way they did?”

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