Thursday, December 26, 2013

Classics Lecture Series: Secrete Information - Clue

My sister and I use to taunt each other by informing the other in song “I know something you don’t know, I know something you don’t know.” At the time we did not realize we had stumbled upon a key mechanic to some of the best games ever made...secret information.
The art of secret information in game play should have been apparent to us. One of our favorite games as kids was Clue. At the start of Clue every player is given some secret information about who didn’t commit the murder. The point of the game was trying to force your opponents to reveal their secret information so you could be the first one to solve the murder.
Without realizing it Clue taught us the three central questions to any game based upon secret information:
What do you know?
What does your opponents know?
What do you think you know about each other?
What do I know? I know at the onset of Clue you have a handful of clues about the murder.
What does your opponent know? Well they have a different set of clues in their hand.
We learned quickly the winner tended to be the person who best answered the third question, what do you think you know about each other.
Why? Because secrete information come down to bluffing, misleading, and doing your best to limit what information reaches your opponents. If the person to the left of me has the clue for the library and they have showed it to me once, then no matter what I do in the Library I will lose a valuable turn going back to the Library because they will end up showing me the same clue again.
Or, let's say my opponent correctly deduces I 'know' the murder weapon. If they possess that weapon they will show it to me to prevent me from learning anything new on my turn.
The mental elements of bluffing are all there.  I need to keep track of not only what I know, but what my opponents know, and what my opponents think I know. Otherwise I have unproductive turns in acquiring new clues to solve the murder. Just as dangerous I can reveal information to my opponents that will give them the game. Obviously I should not show them a new clue if I can show them an old clue they already know. Less obvious is avoiding questions that give away information.
Good clue players keep track of every question asked, who asked it, and who answered it. If I know my sister has two of the clues in her theory and my father shows her a clue I know what clue he showed her.
The heart of a secret information that separates one game from another always comes down how to answer the third question.
What I think I know about you will affect my gameplay in Battleship. With repeated play In Battleship you look for tendencies in your opponent. You know that your opponent is committed to their ship locations at the start of the game. Your opponent tries to convince you they have no tendencies or attempts to mislead you so you misidentify their tendencies. But if they become predictable they have less turns to discover and sink your fleet before you send their fleet to Davy Jones's Locker.
What I think I know about you will affect how I play Werewolf. If I think you are a bad liar and I am a villager then I am going to interrogate you and decide right away if I think you are a Werewolf or not. Of course, if I am a Werewolf and I think you can easily read me you can bet if I get the opportunity you will be one of the first villagers to go.
Secrete information games reveal how players make conclusions about other players and what do they do with these conclusions.  They force players to pay attention to other players words, habits, and body language.  The games are more than a good time, they are an opportunity to better know the friends and family you game with.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lessons Learnt On What To Ask On a Blind Play Tester Feedback Form

What did I learn about blind play testing questions from my recent blind playtest of my game Post Position?  Back in October I came up with a series of questions to help me to construct a blind play tester feedback form.  (Link to: What to Ask on a Blind Play Tester Feedback Form?)  The feedback forms are now back and I will give a quick run down over the questions that worked well and the one that did not.

Did you like the game, why or why not?
Here is a question that was not on the original list of questions to try.  The question was a standard question on the old UNPUB feedback forms.  I discovered for a blind play testing this question was wasted ink.  The problem with the question was that people are way too nice.  
No one ever said they disliked the game, even though some players found the game to be difficult and too long.  Plus answers were short on detail so it was not clear what they really liked or disliked about the game.
That said, the sort of questions that did provide useful details about the parts of the game play testers enjoyed and the parts of the game they disliked was when I asked the straight up “What was your favorite part of this game?” and “What was your least favorite part of this game? “  Players were liberated from trying to come up with a reason why they liked the game or disliked the game and just went straight to the details about the parts of the game that were good and bad.
What I discovered was the most important question was actually a group of questions that I will call the four essential questions.
What was your least favorite part of the game?
Name one improvement you would make to the game?
What strategies did not or did work for you in the game?
What was the hardest rule to learn and why?
These four essential questions not only highlighted which rule in the game was the hardest for players to learn, but they also provided illustrations on how that rule affected overall game play.  In form after form, when a player listed their least favorite part of the game they would look to find an improvement to fix that part.  When they talked about their game strategies you could observe how that mechanism made it harder for them to succeed.  And when they talk about the hardest rule to learn it almost always was the player least favorite part of the game.
The four essential questions combined gave me an insight into not only what rule gave the player a problem, but how that problem affected their gameplay and what sort of things I need to try to fix that problem.  
For example, short position selling in my game Post Position could be a player’s least favorite part of the game.  Then the player would suggest a change to the short position selling form as an improvement to the game.  When the player talks about game strategy they then talk about how short position selling was a bad strategy for them and that there were uncertain why a player would ever engage in short position sales.  Finally, when asked what was the hardest rule to learn the player listed short position selling.
What did I learn? I learned the player did not understand the purpose of short position selling and was therefore not able to execute the maneuver in the game.  This means I need to do a better job of not just explaining how to conduct a short position sale but also include a short explanation on why a player might want to engage in a short position sale so they have a little intuition when it should be used.
This is concrete feedback that I will use to improve the game.  No matter the issue with the game, the four essential questions produced similar feedback.  These are the questions I am convinced should be in ever blind game play testing feedback form.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Classics Lecture Series: Moves That Mess With Your Opponents - Sorry

Do not be tricked by the name Sorry. You are not Sorry that you sent your opponent's piece back to the start of the race. You are proud. You are so proud that sometimes you even choice to mess with your opponent when it was not in your best interests because you are having fun messing with your opponent.

Board Games with more than one person is about interaction. If none of your moves in the game affected other players then you are just participating in a race of complex solitaire. The human element, that back and forth of trying to anticipate and outguess the person sitting across from you is removed.

Sorry creates player interaction by empowering your opponents to take an action that directly hurts you in the game. Sure, some players prefer to play a game like Pandemic where players interact by working together towards some common goal.  But sometimes, after a hard day, what you really need is a head to head competition where you pull every trick in the book to take down your opponent before they reach their moment of glory.

More importantly games that explicitly empower you to mess with your opponent are a stark reminder of the differences between a board game, and other professional activities like trading stocks on Wall Street. On Wall Street people are trying to make as much money as possible irregardless of how wealthy or poor it makes other traders. Board game players usually are not trying to get the highest score possible, just one point more than the other guy. 

Sorry teaches players it does not matter whether or not you moved your piece more than any other player. Sorry teaches us what matters is taking the right set of actions to achieve the victory condition.  That asking for forgiveness later is more fun than asking for permission first, particularly when it means you are going to win the game.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Faculty Lounge: Bruce H. Voge of “The Party Gamecast featuring the Party Game Cast”

Here in the faculty lounge I get together and talk to other board game interested podcasters and bloggers to learn a little bit more about what they do.


I met Bruce at Congress of Gamers in the UNPUB room.  After a game of Post Position we played FireBreak where Bruce valiantly made a last stand protecting the airport.


Bruce H. Voge: It was not bravery, I was told the entire time I would be OK "You're at the airport, if things get squirrely you can always get out".  Well guys I am not sure how much more squirrely it can get than having 360 degrees of your view set on fire, but what I do know is I in fact did not "get out".

Dr. Wictz:   During FireBreak I learned about Bruce’s love for Party Games and about him moderating the  “The Party Gamecast featuring the Party Game Cast” podcast. Bruce, can you give a quick rundown about The Party Gamecast in case some folks are not familiar with your show?
Bruce H. Voge: The Party Gamecast featuring the Party Gamecast is a podcast about party games, and games you take to parties.  We talk about everything from clear party games like “Taboo” and “Apples to Apples” to games you might take to specific parties like horror games like “Last Night on Earth” for a geeky Halloween party a dexterity game like Tumblin Dice or a light filler like Las Vegas.  We also occasionally talk about “gateway/casual” games like Ticket to Ride or Catan, anything you might take to a shindig with your family, or co-workers that are not your primary game group.  So if it involves a party or get together, we talk about it.

Dr. Wictz:     Why did you start The Party Gamecast?

Bruce H. Voge: We were as a group talking (we really are friends) in the living room, and Erika (a regular part of the cast for the early episodes) has a podcast network called Fight Fans Radio that talks about combat sports.   I was talking about how I wanted to do a podcast, and that I had looked over the podcasts currently in the board game genre, and they were all missing out on party games.  No one really seems to want to talk about party games for more than a minute or two, it seemed to me that every genre had its own show, collectible games, specific games (like Netrunner), war games, dice games, but NO ONE really was out here tackling party games. 
All of a sudden Chris said “Sounds like fun.”  and Maureen said “Yeah, I would LOVE to do that.” even my wife Rocki who is not a HUGE fan of games said “Party games…so no 3 hour games about the Cold War full of tiny chits and cards with paragraphs of words, so games like Apples to Apples….really, I’m in.”  The last holdout was Mike, who decided he wanted to do the show to “be negative and point how bad these games really are” which we all felt like we needed.  He has really come around, and has learned to appreciate some of these games, even as a dyed in the wool strategy gamer.  So I guess we started it to try to tell both newcomers to the hobby, and angry geeks alike about what exists over here in the party game world.  It’s not all bad, just listen and we’ll tell you about it.
Dr. Wictz:    You have five regular co-hosts and a few more guest hosts, how and where did you find them all?
Bruce H. Voge: Well Rocki was in her lab trying to make our cat Ripley interesting enough to be an internet sensation.  I convinced her that if we could make the cat a part of our party game fun, he might be willing to be a part of twitter and get closer to internet fame.  After a few tests with the cat in the Danger Room, Rocki was on board, and the cat started tweeting as @partygamecat .
We heard Maureen had a chip on her shoulder after Rich Uncle Pennybags killed her family, she has had a vendetta against the game Monopoly ever since, so we knew she would be in.  Maureen is happy we talk about games that new player will like that are NOT Monopoly.  (She will learn in this article that we WILL at some point do a Monopoly episode.)
Chris was a friend, but we noticed every so often he would disappear at night, and wake up on one of our doorsteps with most of his clothes ripped off, and often quite hungry.  After a lot of research we realized he suffered from Lycanthropy and we convinced him if he played enough Werewolf his body might accept that he was in fact BEING a werewolf, and it might lessen his monthly symptoms.  So he was in.  We hope he will at least become more of a 1980’s style Teen Wolf kind of werewolf.
Erika is a ninja, so it took quite a while to put up a decent enough trap for her to even notice, eventually she did, and learned what we were doing.  She said the high stress lifestyle of ninja-ing was becoming a bit much so she decided to join us, however if you listen to the show recently you will realize, once you are a ninja, it is not a lifestyle you get to “leave”.
Mom, was working as a wizard in another plane, friends of the show could contact her while playing D and D, and told her it might be fun.  She asked if we would drink wine or play Agricola.  By and large I turned down both ideas.  She heard we were going to do an episode all about potato chip flavors (Episode #4A) and was in, not realizing it was going to be an episode later. (Her first episode was #3).  She materializes every so often and joins us, and those are usually our most loved shows. 
Mike heard there was going to be a show about party games, and felt it needed a more negative slant, so he left his grump-cave, got in the grump-mobile, brought his grump-arangs and got ready with hit grump-mic to “level things out a bit”.
Dr. Wictz:     How did you come up with The Party Gamecast as the name for your podcast?
Bruce H. Voge: That was just a random stroke of luck.  We knew quickly it was going to be a big panel show, with a cast of characters and it really started with that idea.  Once I heard the word cast, I joked “We should call it the Party Gamecast featuring the Party Game Cast, that way no matter how anyone spaces it in searches, they will find us.” and the room liked it.  Erika literally purchased the domain from her phone while we were talking about, and the rest is history.
Dr. Wictz:   So What is your favorite type of board game? (For some reason I am waiting to hear you say you hate party games :-) )
Bruce H. Voge: I am a big fan of negotiation games and economic games, to me a good negotiation game is like a party game, a lot of banter, a lot of interaction,  the people that play with me disagree.   I also super love dice games, and dexterity games, which was my in road to party games.
Dr. Wictz:    If you were to introduce someone to your show and you could only play for them one episode, which episode would you play?
Bruce H. Voge: WOW, that is a tough one.  I would be quick to say “the newest one”, I feel we get better every episode, we learn new tricks, or get to keep a joke going.  However to be more serious I would say either #14 (Episode 14)where we talked about Ugg-Tect because that is a Mom episode, or # 19 (Episode 19)where we talk about Snake Oil, which is good, but does not have Mom.
I know Chris would have to say episode # 10 (Episode 10) The Dicefest, and Mike would ask what about the episode with Andy Looney? (it was episode #6A Eposide 6A)
Dr. Wictz:    If I wanted you to review my board game what should I do?
Bruce H. Voge: Send me an email at  Just remember if you send us a game, you are not buying an advertisement, you are requesting a review, which we will gladly do.
Dr. Wictz:    Have you had any guest board game designers?  
Bruce H. Voge: Oh Yea, not only did we do a bunch of interviews with designers and game company folk at the WBCs, but we also did an episode with Andy Looney of Looney Labs, it was #6A (Episode 6A) and we talked about Fluxx:The Board Game, as well as a bunch of the other things he has made over the years.
Dr. Wictz:    Is there anything a board game designer can do to get invited to by a guest  on your show?
Bruce H. Voge: Meet us somewhere, be fun, that’s all we really require.
Dr. Wictz:    Is there a board game designer you have always wanted on your show? 
Bruce H. Voge: Well I worked on a project with Mark Rein-Hagen and for a couple of minutes he said he might do an episode.  So my dream was him, Steve Jackson and John Kovalic playing Munchkin Bites.  I want them all to have to sit through a game of that and just understand it was their fault.  Plus we got to talk to Kovalic (over Twitter) a lot while getting our hands on a copy of ROFL, and he seems like a lot of fun, so I think that would be amusing.
Thank you Bruce for stopping by to talk.  If you want to learn more about The Party Gamecast go to either the website at or look for “The Party Gamecast featuring the Party Game Cast” on iTunes or Stitcher, or go to to see all the shows in the network, including the Party GameCast.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

Classics Lecture Series: Telling a Story - The Game of Life and Clue

A grand party held on a dreary night is ruined as the homeowner and organizer of the festive event winds up dead, worst of all his murder is one of the fellow party goers. This scene, which could come from a classic Hitchcock movie, is in fact played out in a board game.

Board games can invite people to partake in a story adventure where their choices make the difference.  A game can tell the story of a persons life. The Game of Life is an epic story where you are taken on a journey making important decisions that affect your life. You start as an 18 year old deciding if to go to college, and finish as a 70 year old with god knows how many grand-children picking a place to retire.

In life you have some pivotal moments where you think you control your destiny only to discover Life has a different path for you.  Don’t you find yourself naming your twins and wondering who is your wife sitting next to you in the car, especially when your real life wife is also playing the game and is married to some other random jerk.

But don’t feel sorry for me, I’m a happily married accountant with twin boys, every tax season people need my services, it’s a living, but I want more. I see an add for the community college, sure I still need to pay off the rest of my student loans, but for an opportunity at a more exciting career, the $10,000 doesn't seem that bad. After a few classes in computer science, I decided to dive headlong into my passion for painting and get my arts degree. My wife is screaming at me what in the world am I thinking but I ignore those beautiful pink plastic lips and risk a family life of destitute confident that I will hit it big and we will spend our golden years a millionaire estates.

The game gives you circumstances.  You, the player, take those circumstances and turn it into a story.  

Story events do not have to be a predetermined path.  Stories can be made through game play actions.  In the game of Clue you create the events by bouncing off a series of theories with all the other people who were in the house during the murder.  Each theory is an opportunity to tell a story.
Mrs. Peacock snuck into the library after an argument with Mr. Green about returning to her letters she wrote Mr. Body’s wife prior to their divorce.  Fearful Mr. Body would force her out of high society after he read the letter she concluded her only hope of maintaining her privileged position was to grab the candle stick off the table and beat him to death without him ever knowing her motive.

Each time a player moves another player the player asks “What do you have against me Mrs. White?”  “Well, Ms. Scarlett, I saw how you approached my husband in private.  If you were willing to flirt with a married man then you lack the moral capabilities to stop yourself from murdering poor Mr. Body.”

Clue and Life give us events to weave tales.  They show board game designers that turning a mechanism into a tangible action empowers any game to be more than an abstract competition.  The game becomes real in one’s senses and imagination.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Random Lessons in Prototype Shipping

If you don't read the rest of the post and are getting ready to mail out a prototype for blind playtesting remember these two lessons:


1. Include your contact information in many different places with your prototype.
2. Americans, ship your prototype using a U.S. Post Priority Mail Flat Rate box.
Of course, to find out why, you need to keep reading.
Last October my board game Post Position left the safety of my home to travel and visit others for a series of blind play tests.  To keep prototype costs low, I was circulating a single prototype between different playtesting groups.  For this to work it needed to be easy for the host play tester to receive the package and to forwarded it on to the next destination.
My solution was to package the game in a flat rate size medium #2 United States Postal System Priority Mail box.  In the box I included pre-print labels with paid postage for each destination.  That way the host play tester only had to tape the next label onto a new free U.S. Priority Mail flat rate box and drop it off at the local Post Office. 
With all the pre-printed labels and an instruction sheet packed together I was on top of the world.  I didn't even have to worry if the postage was off due to a random weight change.  I thought to myself I was prepared for anything that could go wrong.
That was until I received a frantic message from the first play tester.  Post Position apparently wanted to make a side trip to Georgia.  The game hypnotized the host into thinking it was a t-shirt and not a board game.  So under a hypnotic trance the host placed a pre-paid shipping label onto the Post Position box to a t-shirt company in Georgia.
At this point we convened a crisis committee.  The host quickly contacted the t-shirt company and arrange to get the prototype mailed back to him.  Weeks past and still no game had returned from Georgia. 
I was prepared to write the prototype off as permanently missing in action when a human resources manager at Alpha company sent me a message saying they had Post Position.  Something had gone wrong with mailing Post Position back to the host and the U.S. Postal Service returned it back to the t-shirt company.
That is how I discovered the best things I did putting together the prototype for blind play testing was to include a lot of documents with my e-mail on it.  The t-shirt company found my e-mail and reached out to me.  
After thanking them profusely for contacting me and promising to say lots of nice things about them (you should all buy one of the t-shirt brands from I learned the other benefit of mailing the prototype using flat rate U.S. Priority Mail boxes with pre-paid labels.  I was able to e-mail a pdf copy of the pre-paid USPS shipping label to the t-shirt company.  Since the rate was a flat rate from any destination I had no worry about the package having the wrong postage.  And, if the Post Office had trouble delivering the box to its next destination, I would get the prototype game back since the return address was to me.
Now I eagerly await to see what sort of hypnotizes it performs next.  If only I could train it to hypnotize publishers to pick the game up instantly.