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two part seminar series to discuss the role of video for board game designers in attracting publishers and players for unpublished board games.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on the insights shared by the publishers and the players to deduce what are the most valuable roles of video for unpublished board games.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two part seminar series to discuss the role of video for board game designers in attracting publishers and players for unpublished board games.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.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tips on Making a Rule Explanation Video with Two People in Different Locations

Someone asked me to make a video on how to play Hoboken to share with their friend.  Excitedly I said of course, but then I was faced with a problem, how do I make said video?  The challenge is that Dr. Wictz is not in fact one person, but two (just like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde without the evil), and I wanted both of my personalities to appear in the video.

Quickly, I got together with myself and I hatched out a plan on how to put together a rules video with two two people in different locations.

Separate Video from Voice

The key innovation I came up with was that I can record voice and images separately, with the images being only game components.  This allowed me to have both of my personalities in the video (Aaron & Austin) without ever having to get both of us in the same place.

Write a Script

To keep both personalities on task I wrote a script.  With two personalities, we can easily talk over each other, forget a key point to the game, and ramble (ok, that is just my personality, not because there were two people involved in making the video).

With a written script, I could just focus on saying what needed to be said and not worry about if I was missing something.  All I had to do was look at the script and ask myself if that part was finished or not.

Recorded Different People at Different Times

Writing the script took loner than I expected, so I was not able to record both of my voices at the same time.  Luckily, with a script I did not need to record both of my voices at the same time.  Each voice could make a recording and the recordings could be put together at a later date.

Each Person Reads the Entire Script

Just because I thought pre-recording one personality should say one thing and the other personality should say something else does not mean that was the correct decision.  By having both voices read the entire script I could elect to make any combination I pleased based on who sounded better doing what.  It also speed up the production process because if one voice did something wrong than I could check to see if the other voice did it correctly.

Google Hangout

A Challenge I had was how to record the voices and get it all to the same spot.  That was the magical moment when I realized the internet provided me a solution through the magic of youtube google hangouts.  I could have each each voice record a google hangout that I downloaded to get the audio for the final video.

Separate Video & Voice Bonus

As I watched the final product all put together I discovered one more bonus of recording voice and images separately, I realized that when I update the game components I only need to re-record the images, not the voices.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Dr. Wictz List: 6 ways a Board Game Designer would Rewrite Tax Rules

Being tax season and all I have not had as much time to sit back and write.  So in honor of tax season I am listing a few ways tax rules would be different if they were created by a board game designer.

1.  All rules for taxes would have to fit on 4-5 pages or less.

2.  The rulebook would not be filled with exception after exception.

3.  How to do your taxes would be communicated with infographics. 

4.  Expected time to complete learning the rules would only take half an hour.

5.  Rules would have undergone blind playtesting before publication.

6. Rules would be designed to be accessible for casual players.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lessons from UNPUB 5 Presidential Race Cup

The Idea


For those of you wondering why there was a giant cheer Saturday night at UNPUB 5 when some random dude in the corner hosted a paper trophy made from construction paper, toilet paper rolls, a paper plate, and a steak-um box, let me tell you the tale of the UNPUB Presidential Race Cup.

The UNPUB Presidential Race Cup was an experiment to reward playtesters who participated in race games that possibly play better with more people.  A few days before UNPUB 5 I realized there were at least two other racing themed games other than Post Position attending the event.  So I reached out to Douglas Schultz (UFO Racing League) and Daniel Solis (A La Kart) to be part of the series.


The idea was that players would receive an extra benefit from playing all three games because it would let them play a 4th game, to take home the UNPUB Presidential Race Cup--signed by every UNPUB president in the history of UNPUB.  To further reward playtesters, we also created a prize/trophy for each race.  The race trophies themselves may not have been made of the best materials (UFO Racing League - Two Styrofoam plates) or presented in the most desirable form (Post Position - shredded money), but they helped create each race into an event itself by rewarding play testers with something they could only get from playing the game.

The Cup Results




Three players, Johan Kruckemepr, Rob Mitchell, and Marcus Ross signed up for the UNPUB Presidential Race Cup. Each game handles from 6 to 12 players, since there were only 3 players vying to complete the entire circuit, we allowed additional players to compete in each race to win the race trophies and to affect the overall standing of the playtesters fighting for the UNPUB Presidential Race Cup.   


In a bit of competitive balance, each participant in the series won one of the three races. So it was not a surprise that the winner of the cup, Johan, won by a single point.

Playtesters Reactions

I asked the Presidential Race Cup participants if the series improved their experience at UNPUB 5?  The answer was an overwhelming yes.  First, they affirmed that they enjoyed all the game they ended up playtesting.  Second, to my surprise, they said how they appreciate the series giving structure to their day.  With so many great games to play at UNPUB 5, it was hard to decide which games they should or should not play. By participating in the UNPUB Presidential Race Cup series, they were able to not worry about what they were going to do and look forward to the races they knew they were going to complete.

This reaction surprised me because the hardest challenge to recruiting participants was that it required them to commit to playtesting three games at three specific times.  On reflection, I wonder by having the event we enabled those who enjoyed having structure to have that option amongst the chaos of UNPUB 5.

Reflections on Execution

After the event I asked myself, would I hold a game circuit with a championship again?  On the plus side, it created buzz for each game--both at the event and afterwards--and allowed there to be a highlight moment for at least one playtest of each designer’s game.  On the downside, its a bit of work.  Making the trophy was not too bad, but taking the time to recruit participants ate up a chunk of my morning of the circuit.
Looking at it, I think it comes down to what type of game and publicity I desire to consider doing something like this again at UNPUB 6. Creating an event, like a Presidential Race Cup, serves as a way to create post event publicity. There are so many games being playtested and only so many people who write about the event that they cannot cover every game. The only way to ensure your game receives some sort of post convention coverage is to create an event yourself. 
The other reason to consider doing it again was because it was fun.  Creating the trophy, building up anticipation for the event beforehand, keeping track of the participants, and having key moments we share with playtesters & designers creates shared memories that all of us will preserve about the awesomeness of UNPUB 5.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Dr. Wictz List: A Few Quotes from UNPUB5


There were "more in attendance to UNPUB 5 than the previous three combined"

- UNPUB 5 volunteer

"When a play tester comes back for a third time to play your game again, how can you refuse?"

-Charlie Hoopes talking about demoing his game Lady of the Diamonds  

"I play Power Grid, I like Power Grid, but this game is better than Power Grid."

-Hoboken Playtester 

"I had to run back from lunch with half of it stuffed in my mouth because there was a mob of playtester demanding to play my game."

-Nathaniel Levan

"Last Year I could sit down at any table and play any game, this year all of the tables are full...always."

"Its a good problem to have"


"The game ends when the players have decided who is the winner"

"Oh"

"They have been playing for 2.5 hours"

-Alf Shadowsong talking about Kiva Fecteau and his game Diplomancer

To get picked up by a large publisher you need to design something that their in-house designers could not make."

-Advice given to Paul Owen from a playtester

Friday, January 23, 2015

Faculty Lounge: Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games (formerly Fail Better)



I first started reading some of Gil Hova’s blog work because Gil had left some insightful comments on a post I wrote on prototype problems and gave me great advice on whether or not to include play money in prototypes I send to publishers.  Gil Hova…

Gil Hova: Who is also a game designer.   I've been designing games for over a decade. My games from 2000 to 2004 were pretty horrendous, but I slowly got better; I had a game make the Hippodice Recommended list in 2005, and my first published game, the word game Prolix, came out in 2010. My newest published game, the economic strategy game Battle Merchants, came out in September 2014.



Dr. Wictz: Thank you Gil for finishing the into for me.

Gil Hova: I blame the parasitic worm that is now controlling my brain who also has decided I need to self-publish my own games. I'm releasing them as Formal Ferret Games. My first self-published game, the party game Bad Medicine, will have a Kickstarter that should begin on February 12.
Dr. Wictz: And has that parasitic worm explained to you why you are going to take on all the extra work of self-publishing your own work?

Gil Hova: For years I told myself I'd never do it. But times have changed, and so have I; I feel that my work style is better with me controlling publishing, instead of letting someone else publish my game. Don't get me wrong, having someone else handle publishing has some incredible advantages! I just don't think they suit me anymore.

Dr. Wictz:  Let me redirect your energy to your blog because I really want to focus on your writing, but before we get into too much detail, can give people not familiar with it a quick run down.

Gil Hova: So, the blog. I've had the blog for awhile now. It was originally called Fail Better, after the Beckett line "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Which I think suits the iterative nature of playtesting. I renamed it a few months ago to line up with what I'm doing now. And if I don't make it as Formal Ferret, then the name will be even more apt!

Dr. Wictz: How did you come up with Formal Ferret Games as the name for your blog?

Gil Hova: I've owned ferrets for 20 years. Yes, I'm one of those people! They're my favorite animals in the world; not as needy as a dog, not as contemptuous as a cat. They love to play, they're affectionate, they're fun to be around. Imagine an animal that has the exuberance, energy, cuteness, and gracelessness of a kitten or a puppy, and keeps it for almost their entire lives!

For a long time, I had an avatar of a ferret wearing a bowtie that I "borrowed" from a now-defunct ferret-focused webstore. But it was pretty pixelated, and I didn't really have rights to it. As a personal avatar, that's not a huge deal, but since most of my online friends knew me as "ferret with a bowtie guy", I figured I'd keep things consistent. And so... Formal Ferret Games.

Fellow NYC game designer and artist extraordinaire Scott Hartman drew the logo for me; he's also doing art for Bad Medicine. I'm really happy with how it came out!

Dr. Wictz: Why did you start blog for Formal Ferret Games?  What led you to talk about board game design in general instead of just focusing on your own work?

Gil Hova: I think one of the things that makes the board game design community so amazing is its transparency. I've been lucky to meet all these amazing designers, these people who have mentored me and inspired me, and they're all so easy to approach! There's a lot I've learned about game design simply by reading and listening.

So blogging is a way I can pay it back, and maybe forward. I hope my rambling about game design helps in some ways.

Dr. Wictz: If you were introducing someone to the Formal Ferret Game blog what would you recommend?

Gil Hova: Probably my post about Transparency and Opacity. This is something I struggled with a lot as a young game designer, and I wish I could have read it back then. I've learned so much since then about how a simple mechanism that gives players meaningful decisions is so much better than a gimmicky mechanism that matches the theme but obscures any real choice.

Dr. Wictz: You took a three year break from blogging, how do you feel the blog is different after the three year break from before the three year break?

Gil Hova: A lot happened to me in that time. I got divorced, I took a step back from game design to try comedy out, and I moved a few times. I had to find myself again, as clich├ęd as that sounds.

I feel so much better as a person these days; I feel like I've really gotten my mojo back. And I feel like I'm a much better game designer.

Of course, in three years' time, I will be even better still. The moment I stop improving is the moment I should hang up my rotary trimmer!

Dr. Wictz: You hit on a variety of big topics on your blog (Party game design, Women in Board Gaming, Tips for play testing etc.), what inspires your divers set of topics?

Gil Hova: I blog about the things that strike me in board gaming. They're generally things I don't feel are discussed enough, from competitive imbalance to what I feel keeps women from being more present in the gaming scene.

What helps is that I don't just design games, I play them. Like crazy. I'm a huge fan of games, so they really occupy a central part of my life. So this is stuff I am genuinely passionate about.

Dr. Wictz: How did you first become intrigued about the lack of women in board games?

Gil Hova: Someone once told me that he wanted to keep a 75% ratio of men to women in his game art, because it reflected reality. I wasn't sure he was right, because I felt like I played games with a lot of women. But I didn't know exactly how many. So, I started logging it.

It turns out in 2014, 26% of my opponents were women. So it seems he was pretty close. But interestingly enough, if I played games in private (like someone's house), or if the game I was playing was published, that number rose to 31%.

But if the game I played was in public (like at a game store or a convention), that number dropped to 21%. And if I was playtesting a prototype, it plummeted to 17%!

Of course, these numbers don't prove anything other than whom I get to play with; I'd expect they'd be wildly different for other people. But it feels much better to know them, for some reason.

It also opened my eyes to the subtle things that keep women from our hobby. Not big offensive things, but tiny behaviors that don't do anything in and of themselves, but added up, from a bunch of "invisible ropes" that can wall some women off.

It's a very strange subject, of course, because I'm not a woman. Sometimes I feel unqualified to even bring the subject up; what the hell do I know about any of this anyway? And is my focus on women pulling away from gamers who don't identify with binary gender? And what about race and gaming? None of this is easy to talk about, and I feel so unqualified bringing it up.

But the conversation has to start somewhere. All I know is that I see exclusion a lot more than I used to, and I feel like someone has to bring it up. May as well be me.

Finally, even if only 26% of my overall opponents were women, I feel that sticking to a 75/25 male/female split in your game's art is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You're telling women that they don't really belong in your game's worlds. I'd like to keep art in my games closer to 50/50. Representation matters.

Dr. Wictz: I notice your series on women in board game has inspired you to change how you play board games with people; has it also change how you want to design future board games as well?

Gil Hova: In terms of mechanical design? No. I play with too many women who play crunchy games like Arkwright and Aquasphere to believe some inane generalization that "women like lighter games". It really depends on the woman.

I'd rather focus on a game that's fun and interesting to play, where players can easily imagine themselves in the game world, regardless of their gender.
Dr. Wictz: If you were to hold a podcast round table talking to others about women in board games, who would you invite and why?

Gil Hova: A bunch of women. I would want them to talk about their gaming experience. Specifically, I'd want to have everyone who commented on my women in gaming posts. They've already taught me so much.

I think it would be good to include women who are non-white and non-binary. Those are important but rarely-heard perspectives.  My role would be to shut the hell up and listen.


Dr. Wictz: I have a soft spot for market mechanics and I also know you have played a number of Michael R. Keller's games, so I wanted your thoughts on what you see as the future of market mechanics in board games?

I remember a notable designer speaking at a Protospiel a few years ago, promising us that the age of the cube pusher was over, and people would be sick of playing Euros with weird mechanisms and bland themes. This was a few years before Agricola and Dominion came out, though! So I'd rather not make blanket statements about the future of any kinds of games. I don't have that kind of precognition!

That said, I'm really happy to see market-heavy games staying strong in popularity. They're my favorite kinds of games; they tend to involve snowballing mechanisms and really fascinating game arcs, which I enjoy greatly. And I don't think I'm done designing them yet!

One thing I will say: I think you'll see more games integrate apps into their gameplay. I don't think it's ever going to take board gaming over, but it's going to be a definite genre, like co-ops and deck builders. The only issue with that is playing them in 25 years is going to prove tricky.
Dr. Wictz: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.  You can read Gil’s writing on the Formal Ferret Games blog and you can also follow Gil Hova on twitter.  (Warning-Gil tends to be more verbose on twitter)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trade Mechanic Equilibrium in Board Games

Ever reach a point in a trading game when players no longer trade?  That dreadful part of Monopoly where all the properties are traded into monopolies and all there is left to do is to chuck dice until someone wins the game.

Why do trade games freeze?  Trade games freeze because players no longer have any trades that make both parties better off.  When I engage in a trade both the person I trade with and myself are better off from the trade.  But, it is possible that there are a limited number of transactions within a game where that is true.  

If there is a fixed amount of resources in the world, trade makes people better off by sorting the resources to the people who value them the most.  Imagine we are splitting two bags of M&M’s in a room full of board game players.  Initially, we randomly distribute the M&M’s to the players. Then we assign each player a different color they should collect.  If a person who only wants green M&M’s trades 3 brown M&M’s to a person who wants as many M&M’s as possible in exchange for one green M&M, both are better off.  In this world, their trade does not create new M&M’s, their trade only redistributes the M&M’s, but the players are richer as a result.  

As long as no new additional M&M’s are created, and assuming people maintain the same preference for particular types of M&M’s, eventually there will be a point where no one can make a trade that will make someone better off.  If I only want yellow M&M’s and I have, through trade, gotten ahold of all the yellow M&M’s, then there are no more trades that exist that will benefit me.  At some point, every person trading M&M’s will hit this constraint, be it from the lack of having something to trade for what you want or from collecting all of the M&M's you desire.

Economists consider this point when there are no longer any possible trades that make people better off to be an equilibrium.  When equilibriums occur, trading ends.  If trade is a phase in your game, then equilibrium is when players should move onto the next phase of your game, if you do not move on then basically your players are sitting around doing nothing.  

But what if you don’t want to move on?  What if trade is not a phase, but the main mechanic of the game?  What can board game designers do to keep players trading?

Designers options can be broken into two broad categories.  Category one - change the preferences of the players playing the game.  Category two - change the amount of resources available to trade.  

Changing Players Preferences

Players reach an equilibrium because their current set of preferences have been fulfilled.  If I can only earn victory points by collecting sets of five bricks and two wheat then I no longer have any motivation to trade for anything else (unless it helps me get three stones and two wheat).  Furthermore, if I successfully have traded for all the possible sets of 5 brick and 2 wheat, I no longer have any motivation to engage in trade whatsoever.

But what if something happened that changed my preferences?  Say I also have the ability to exchange 3 wheat and 2 stones for victory points.  This changes what sets of resources I want in my hand and pushes me back into the trading market to attempt to acquire the goods I need.

Variability in players trade preferences can also come from varying the payouts of preexisting actions.  Lets say a player always was able to exchange 3 wheat and 2 stones or 5 brick and 2 wheat for victory points, but what changes is how much victory points each sets earns relative to the other.  This change in relative value changes the value of cards in a players hand and potentially stimulates more trade.

How a game shifts players preferences can vary.  Some games may give players exogenously varying goals where the game instructs the players what is the change in the payout for particular actions. This can be done with dice, cards, etc.  Take the game of Compounded.  Each player has the opportunity to trade elements with other players.  The value of having a particular element will change because the compounds available to be created to earn victory points vary throughout gameplay.  New compounds, dictating the value of each element, become randomly available as they are drawn from the deck.

Other games, like Post Position, alter goals with an endogenous mechanics.  An endogenous mechanic is when players actions empower them to manipulate the victory point value of certain actions/positions/holdings through gameplay.  

Players in Post Position engage in trade by making bets for or against a horse.  For one player to bet a horse is going to do well, they have to entice another player to make a trade with them by betting a horse is going to do poorly.  These bets are based on each player’s expectations (aka preferences) on how they think the race is going to play out.  

The expected outcome of the race comes from inputs by the players.  Before each betting round players secretly submit 2 or 3 horses they wish to move up in the race.  The ability of players to endogenously manipulate the position of the horses alters players preferences for which horses they wish to bet for or against and keeps players trading with each other until the end of the game.

Altering Resource Availability

Another, more settle way, to stimulate trade is to alter the availability of resources within the game.  Altering resources has the benefit of changing the value of actions without explicitly changing the price for said action.  The price for upgrading to a city in Settlers of Catan may remain at 3 stones and 2 wheat, but the cost to players of achieving that goal and acquiring the 1 VP that goes with it, will vary due to the availability of stones and wheat for them to trade.

Altering resources can occur both from mechanics that increase the number of resources in the game as well as mechanics that reduce the number of resources within the game.  When the robber removes cards from a players hand, say brick, it increases the cost to that player of constructing roads and alters the value that player places on brick.

You might have noticed that altering resource availability motivates trade in two different ways.  First, it changes the overall cost of acquiring a resource.  When there are more or less places where I can acquire the resource, the cost of earning victory points through collecting different sets also changes.  Second, it changes the preferences of players of what resources they desire.  If I lost all of my wood to the robber and I need to build one more road to guarantee the victory points from having the longest road, then my value for wood will dramatically increase because the resource is now scarce within my hand.  These two effects combined potentially changes what combination of goods in players hands where they do or do not benefit from trade.  This variability provides an opportunity to move from a point in the game where player no longer benefit from trade back to a point where they do benefit from trade.

-Thank you to Kevin Kulp and T.C. Petty III for motivating me to write on this topic with our conversations at Congress of Gamers.