Monday, July 25, 2016

Go Forth and Game Interview: Austin of Dr. Wictz

Tom Gurganus of the Go Forth and Game podcast & blog recently interviewed Austin from Dr. Wictz.  In the interview Austin talks about my experience pitching board games to publishers at Origins, how Dr. Wictz was formed, using the Controlling Idea in Design, and other developments (see Index below for more details on topics).

You can download the episode here.

Podcast Episode Index:
(All links below are to related Dr. Wictz blog posts or links  to things outside of the podcast)

00:00:45  Intro

00:04:22  Advice how to make a video for a board game prototype (Part I & Part II)
00:06:30  Dr. Wictz origins (formation of Dr. Wictz) story

00:11:00  How to use the Controlling Idea to design board games

00:19:38  How to use Iterative Design to refine a board game design

00:25:55  A little Unpub Network Love

00:30:18  Cattle Car (Active Design)

00:40:51  Hoboken (Active Design)

00:48:27  Pitching Game Designs at Origins Game Fair

00:51:08  Update on Post Position - Now Bookies and Bettors

00:53:25  Aaron & Austin's Origins Game Fair Side Bet

00:55:40  Game Designers of North Carolina

00:56:56  Why Designers Should Get Board Room Ribbon at Origins Game Fair

00:59:52  The New Jersey Syndicate (Upcoming design)

01:03:56  Overtime (Upcoming design)

01:08:57  A Fishing Story

Monday, December 21, 2015

Publisher Pitches Dos & Donts

Link to Download

Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games and Kevin Brusky of APE Games tell Dr. Wictz and TC Petty III their dos and don'ts for board game designers when they submit their games to publishers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Should Designers Make Videos for Unpublish Board Games Part 2

Link to Download Podcast

Dr. Wictz and TC Petty III get together in a two part seminar series to discuss the role of video for board game designers in attracting publishers and players for unpublished board games.  In part two of the series, Dr. Wictz and TC Petty III talk with board game players Bruce and Mike from The Party Gamecast featuring The Party Game Cast about what videos actually matter to players.  After talking to Mike and Bruce Dr. Wictz and Tc Petty III reflect on the insights shared by the publishers and the players to deduce what are the most valuable roles of video for unpublished board games.

Link to Part One

Examples of Prototype Videos Referenced in Podcast:

Complete Playthrough - Vivajava: The Dice Game

Abridge Playthrough - Table Top

Promo Video - MVP Boardgames UNPUB6

Live Video (Periscope)  - Ed Marriott Gencon 2015

Rule Explanation - Hoboken

Rule Explanation - Daniel Solis 

Snippet - Hoboken Unwelcomed Visitors

Snippet - Hoboken "Game Over Man"

Internal Conversation - Michael R. Keller FCOJ

Should Designers Make Videos for Unpublish Board Games Part 1

Link to Download Podcast

Dr. Wictz and TC Petty III get together in a two part seminar series to discuss the role of video for board game designers in attracting publishers and players for unpublished board games.  In part one of the series, Dr. Wictz and TC Petty III postulate the goals of the different types of board game prototype videos before talking with Kevin Brusky of APE Games and Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games about what videos actually matter to publishers.

Link to Part Two

Examples of Prototype Videos Referenced in Podcast:

Complete Playthrough - Vivajava: The Dice Game

Abridge Playthrough - Table Top

Promo Video - MVP Boardgames UNPUB6

Live Video (Periscope)  - Ed Marriott Gencon 2015

Rule Explanation - Hoboken

Rule Explanation - Daniel Solis 

Snippet - Hoboken Unwelcomed Visitors

Snippet - Hoboken "Game Over Man"

Internal Conversation - Michael R. Keller FCOJ

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Moral Compass: The Last Turn

Something that has always perplexed me about game design is how to assess a board game where the outcome of the game consistently comes down to the last turn.  Does this signify the game is well designed or poorly designed?

Game is Well Designed

Who wants to play a game turn after turn once the outcome has been decided?  It leaves a bad taste in the losing players mouth because he has to spend the rest of his time playing the game with his defeat being rubbed into his face.  For the winner, it can become tedious executing the last series of moves that everyone knows will award you the game.

The solution - make sure the game ends when this moment occurs.  This is easier said than done, but this is the primary reason why it's generally considered a well designed game when the outcome of who will win the game also marks the end of the game.

Game is Poorly Designed

On the other hand if the outcome of the game always hangs in the balance until the last turn, why am I wasting all this time playing the game up to this point.  I could save myself and everyone else a ton of time by jumping to the last turn and completing the few actions it takes to see who wins the game.

I assume the purpose of playing the game is to maneuver myself to have the best chance to win. Meanwhile my opponents are attempting to do the same thing, and if we are trading barbs along the way, having a climatic conclusion is welcome.

But, if everything I do has minimal effect on changing the situation that resolves who is the victor of the game, then it might as well not be part of the game.  Everyone would be better served by a redesign that quickly recreates the end game and start the game from there.  Hopefully, the new truncated version of the game has some set of meaningful decision, otherwise the game is just rolling a dice to see who wins and not a competition of skill with our opponents.  In which case, we can play an equivalent game where we take bets on penny flips since this is heck of alot  cheaper than the current price of board games.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Danger of Stronger Copyright Laws in Board Games

There has been some rumblings lately about possibly strengthening copyrights laws in board games to protect game mechanics.  Historically (from my non-lawyer layman perspective) copyright laws in board games have been relatively weak.  I recall Dan Yarrington explaining it like this at an UNPUB panel in Delaware. Devices can be patented, brands trademarked, and rules copyrighted - not mechanics.

What did Dan mean when he said rules can be copyrighted - not mechanics?  Dan meant someone cannot copy the rulebook of a game verbatim, but if they can get someone to perform the same set of action (aka mechanic) using a different set of words, it does not violate copyright.

The challenge to this older approach in copyright law is a series of court rulings that appear to provide some sort of copyright protection to game mechanics as well. I argue that strengthening board game copyright law is bad for board game innovation, designers, publishers, and players.  

Discourages Innovation

Innovation itself is the thing most at risk from strong copyright laws.  Innovation takes place when board game designers modify pre-existing ideas.  Take Ticket to Ride, a remarkable commercial success with a mechanic that tweaked and rethemed rummy.  

Most innovation is the process of tweaking older mechanics.  Having an innovative idea to compete over a set of actions does not mean it has been honed into an intuitive or fun package for board game players.  Many different board game designers work hard coming up with tweaks or iterations based on the same mechanic looking to hit the sweet spot for players.

Stronger copyright laws severely limits what mechanics are available for board game designers to tweak.  That by itself reduce the variability of board games.  Even worse, if mechanics were to become protected, a designer with any idea, good or bad, has to constantly worry if their idea infringes on someone else's copyright.

Why such a worry? Because with stronger copyright laws it becomes harder and more time consuming to identify when a designers has or has not violated someone else’s mechanic.  Under the older copyright approach described by Dan, I can read someone’s rules and make sure I am not copying what they are doing.  Under a system that protects mechanics I have to spend hours and hours of time researching or money on a board game copyright expert to make sure my game is unique.

The problem is the financial reward for making a board game design does not justify paying these costs.  Only a handful of board game designers earn enough money to cover the expense of attending conventions to promote their game designs, yet alone make a living.  Adding additional cost to the game design hobby only pushes more innovative people away from game design and off to doing something else.

Drives out Small Innovative Publishers

Another byproduct is that the cost of making sure a game does not infringe on copyrights drives out innovative small board game publishers.  Board game publishing is a low margin business.  A slight increase in cost across the industry has large implications for the financial viability of many small companies.

The threat of being sued is a big expense.  Keeping a lawyer on retainer, having to drop an additional X amount of dollars for an expert to review the copyright, having to worry about lost man hours dealing with copyright issues in a one/two man company dramatically increases the amount of capital it takes to publish a game.  

To Hasbro, stronger copyright protection is a minimal expense.  For a variety of reasons they already have a fleet of lawyers on retainer.  But for a small one/two man operation -Tasty Minstrel Games, Stonemaier Games, Dice Hate Me Games, Stronghold Games - it's very unlikely they have a legal team on hand for production runs of a few thousand a game.  Even worse, when there is a legal issue it will take up a huge amount of the owner's time to address it because they do not have the budget to push the problem onto a staffer of the company.

Innovation Fallacy

There are some people out there who would respond by saying, but this is all worth it because we will have more “innovative” games.  That, in an effort to avoid licensing fees, board game designers and publishers have to focus on making things that are truly “innovative.”

But this thinking misses the entire point of innovation.  The point of innovation is not to come up with an idea and only use it once.  The point of innovation is to come up with a great idea that is so useful for so many things that we use it over and over again.

Imagine you are the person who invents the wheel.  As a society we are excited someone invented the wheel, not because we necessarily want someone to invent something better than the wheel, but because the wheel is such a great idea we want to use it over and over again for a variety of applications.

We might, as a society, try to do something to award people to come up with the idea for the wheel to encourage the creation of it.  Be it cash prizes, prestige, or even a time period of exclusive use of the idea.  However, at some point we want the idea to be free for all of society to use so we can benefit from the idea and so others can modify it to become an even greater idea.  

Current Copyright protection in the United States lasts either 70 years after the death of the creator, 120 years after first creation, or 95 years after publication.  That means the game Trains, which tweaks the deck building mechanics created by Donald X. Vaccarion for his game Dominion, would have to wait 70 years till after Vaccarion’s death to publish if it failed to  secure his permission to use the deck building mechanic.  Odds are good Hisashi Hayashi would be dead by then and Trains would be one of the many innovative board game casualties from burdensome copyright protection of board game mechanics.