Thursday, November 14, 2013

Classics Lecture Series: Dexterity- Hungry Hungry Hippos, Pick up Sticks, and Jenga


The innocent marble takes a pleasant stroll not knowing a great herd of hungry hungry hippos are carefully stalking its movement.  As the marble thinks to itself, “boy the sun sure looks nice today,” it finds itself in the bottomless stomach of a very hungry, hungry, hippo.

Hungry Hungry Hippo teaches us that board games do not have to be limited to games of mental strategic interactions.  Board Games are also a place where we can hone our skills to achieve a physical feat.

Why expand beyond strategic games?  What do designers get out of adding competitions of physical dexterity?  

Not everyone wants to compete over who is the best thinker.  In Hungry Hungry Hippos there is no ambiguity to the goal of the game.  You see the marble, you eat the marble.  People can play it when their mind is not fresh enough to handle complex calculations or strategy without feeling the game is a fancy coin flipping game to see who wins.  Players get to compete over who has the best hand eye coordination.

Games based on achieving physical goals let designers build new games with limited parts.  Take the game of pick up sticks.  The game is literally just a collection of sticks.  Yet by dumping them on the floor you have created a large minefield for the players to defuse.  

Being a game of physical skill does not mean the game has no strategic mental skill.  Winning Jenga is not just about who can best identify which piece to take and having the hand motor skills to successfully take it.  The game is also involves strategizing over which piece to take to make your opponent's turn harder while still leaving you a block to grab in the future.  The same sort of thinking ahead that someone uses in a game of Chess or Checkers.   

All games are made up of mechanics that award one skill over another, be it your ability to do math in your head, read your opponents, or memorize what cards are still in the deck.  Games that combine mechanisms push board game players to embrace strategies that play to their strengths and compensate for their weakness.  

When I play Loopin’ Louie I compensate for my lack of hand eye coordination by just focusing on defending my chickens.  I let the other good players knock each other out and take my chances with the last remaining player.  The moment is tense, yet my fingers hunger to strike the lever for the crown just like a hungry hungry hippo yearns for one last delicious marble.

1 comment:

  1. A Comment about the Post left by Pat Smith on boardgamegeek:

    This reminded me of a conversation I had just last week with a student of mine who is interested in game mechanics. We were talking about ways to use old mechanics in new games or situations.

    We discussed Stefan Feld's use of the Mancala wheel in Trajan, which we both enjoy very much.

    I suggested that you could pull in the old Pick-up-stix game and use that as a worker placement mechanic where the color of the stick you draw out determines the class of action you could take. Your inclusion of Jenga in the short list above could also be used in the same way.

    Thanks for sharing this. It expanded my thinking about this, which is something I'm always trying to do!

    Pat Smith

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