Hello everyone, I hope that we all had a wonderful holiday filled with gaming and joy. It falls to me to get back into the saddle so to speak with this week’s blog post and I have had some things simmering in my brain for a while.
I have played a lot of games in my lifetime; after all, I’m young enough to not know a time without a home computer and video game consoles but old enough to remember what a floppy disk is. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been able to play a good handful of game ranging from Dragon’s Dogma and Domina on my PC, to the different flavors of Azul, The Tree Lined Avenue, and Gudetama. The one thing they all have in common is that they create good moments; it’s moments that make any kind of entertainment enjoyable.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that all kinds of entertainment overlap more than what most people would think. Maybe I’m just an entertainment junkie that listens to too much music and plays too many games. But maybe the music, movies, video games, board games, podcasts, sports, books, and everything else we do to occupy ourselves all have moments that make it worth doing. Moments of triumphant brilliance or of even sorrow from failure is what makes moments memorable I may not be able to recall every game I’ve played but the ones that come to mind come back with memories (hopefully good). You may be asking “Well Dave, of course good moments are good. So, what about it?” The next obvious step is how to make good moments and when to know if a moment is in fact good.
So, with a moment being defined above as “engagement that brings emotion” i.e. I played Azul, my wife beat me, and it made me little sad but also eager to win the next time (spoilers: I have yet to beat her, still a little sad). I engaged in playing Azul and as I was playing, all kinds of emotions ranging from deep thought to perceived brilliance to despair, all these culminate into moments in the game that bring me back for more. Board Games that break player engagement too often can lead to the players feeling left out or being distracted and simply missing out on moments in the game itself. When making a game I think everything needs to lead to the moments you want your players to feel.
To illustrate this, I’d like to use the game Cult of the Deep; I spent a lot of time playtesting various iterations of the game from its initial conception to its finalization. With every mechanical or thematic element that was added or removed from each version the question was the same, “Does this add to the feeling of betrayal and organized confusion?” “Does this add to the visceral backstabbing idea of the game?” Even down to the way the icons on the dice were chosen, to have daggers that matched the dice, the rituals and even what the characters were holding. Whether it was playing Cult of the Deep on index cards, hotel notepads, random dice we got from various gen-con booths or discussing final changes; trying to reinforce the moments that Cult of the Deep invokes. The great question is “How do you know if a moment is good?” This is also the hardest part I feel like anyone who makes something understands, not everyone will like what they see. The key is whether people understand what moments are happening and what feelings are being evoked; and if they are willing to come back for more for a specific feeling or moment.
I will always play a game of Carcassonne if someone offers and that’s because there is a moment of thinking on your feet and trying to set yourself up for the long run. A good moment is one you think back on and say, “I want to do that again” and brush the dust off the box and grab a drink and play another round. I think it can be easy as a designer or even a hobbyist to get caught up in the technical aspects or the “rankings” of what’s hot and new without thinking about the moments that led us all here today; sometimes putting on the rose-tinted glasses and thinking that those were some good moments. If your hands are sweating dodging strikes from a cyclops in Dragon’s Dogma, watching in anticipation as your gladiator fights to the death in Domina, achieving complete zen in The Tree Lined Avenue or outwitting your opponent in a game of Azul or Gudetama. Remember it’s moments like these that make it all worth it.