Friday, September 26, 2014

Congress of Gamers Preview 2014: Austin Smokowicz

There is an unwritten rule (until now since I am writing it down in this post) that I do not do a game preview unless I have seen/played the game myself.  Excitingly for me, all the games that I know of that will be at the UNPUB ProtoZone at Congress of Gamers 2014, September  27th & 28th will be new to me.  Sadly that means I have no one to interview to get us all pumped for two days of board game playtesting heaven...or so I thought until I realized there was one game that will be in the UNPUB protozone that I have personally playtested in the past, my own.  So today one half of Dr. Wictz (Aaron) will interview the other half (Austin) about the games Austin is bringing to Congress of Gamers.  

Dr. Wictz:  Well Austin, I have known you since my freshman year of high school and I have seen many of your game designs over the years, including U.N. the Card Game. What new exciting game are you presenting at Congress of Gamers?

Austin Smokowicz: For this years Congress of Gamers I’m bringing the first in the ‘New Jersey’ line of games called Hoboken.  Players play as real estate developers building luxury hotels in the city of Hoboken, catering to the tourists coming to New York City.  Unfortunately the construction costs are too high for any individual player, so they must partner with each other to raise enough capital to complete construction, and negotiate over the ownership and profits of the new building.

Dr. Wictz: Where did you first show the game to Dr. Wictz? (I had to ask, apparently my questions are part of some sort of standardized form).

Austin Smokowicz: Huh? Where did I first show it to me? Well, I first playtested with some friends over the summer, but Congress of Games will be the first open-to-the-public testing of Hoboken.

Dr. Wictz: How has the Hoboken changed since you started playtesting it?

Austin Smokowicz: There were two major changes after that first playtest, one mechanical, and one componital. For the components, every round tourists are drawn from a deck as they enter the city and try to find a place to sleep. Because this deck is supposed to be random every round, I spent the entire playtest shuffling the cards! I decided no one should be stuck with that burden, and so changed it to chit pull, one simple shake of the bag, and you're good to go. On the mechanical end I had it so that once all of the hotels were available to be built, players drew from a hurricane deck that would end the game. But, I found that by then the game had already been won, and the extra deck drug the game out with little change in players positions.

Dr. Wictz: What inspired the current game theme, I mean New Jersey of all places, was New York City taken already? 

Austin Smokowicz: Well, NYC does have rent control…Honestly it was a mistake of geography on my part, I really thought it was by the beach, and thus the hurricane talk, and when I visited a few years ago I really, really, liked the street clocks.

Dr. Wictz: So you picked the name because you have trouble with geography, even after visiting the place, what next, a cattle ranch in central jersey?  

Austin Smokowicz: Well yes, but we’re here to talk about Hoboken.

Dr. Wictz: If you could see my face you would see a look of puzzlement.  So before you send our readers into a freezie by claiming all of Dr. Wictz games are set in New Jersey I am going to ask you a new question.  How did you get into designing board games?

Austin Smokowicz: I started back in middle school. In my first attempt at making a board game I tried to recreate the computer game Wolfenstein 3D using grid paper. And shortly thereafter I attempted to re-purpose my Stratego set to run football plays. If only I knew Space Hulk and Bloodbowl existed!  

Dr. Wictz: Why do you love making games, other than to profuse your love for New Jersey? (I always thought you would have some sort of grudge against Jersey, aren't you originally from New York state?) 

Austin Smokowicz:  Let’s go Buffalo, but I moved away many years ago. as for my games, nothing was intended to be in Jersey, just like everything else in Jersey, they ended up there. 

For myself, when it comes to the choice between being a consumer of content, or a creator, I’ve always chosen to be the creator. After a while it has become second nature to look at the world and ask ‘what can I make with this?’

Dr. Wictz: This will be your 3rd, 4th Congress of Gamers.  So at this point you must have some favorite past moment from previous Congress of Gamers?

Austin Smokowicz: My favorite past moment of Congress of Gamers came during the first time I attended. I spent the entire day in a room featuring unpublished games for a contest. And had a blast playtesting and discussing the games with their creators. It was only years later I learned that that event was the impetus for the Unpub network.

Dr. Wictz: What draws you to Congress of Gamers?

Austin Smokowicz: I enjoy the people who attend, the location is great, you can’t beat the price point for entry, and I get to play a lot of great published and unpublished games.

Dr. Wictz: Any shout outs to your most dedicated game testers (cough  cough, wife, design partner, etc.)?

Austin Smokowicz: I would like to thank my supportive wife Rebecca, and her good friend Zhanna, who while having never played any of my games likes to be recognized for these sorts of things. 

Dr. Wictz: Is that all? (cough, cough)

Austin Smokowicz: Oh, umm, yes, I forgot to mention my good friend and design partner Aaron Honsowetz. Without whom I would still be sweeping the streets of Trenton…. I mean...

Dr. Wictz: Anyway, If someone wishes to follow you and your game designs where can they go to learn more? (I know, I know, we are in essence interviewing ourselves, but its on the form so I have to ask it).

Austin Smokowicz: If you want to follow me (and Aaron), congratulations, you have. You can check out our profile, twitter, and facebook page through the links on the right side of this web

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Dr. Wictz List: 10 Ways to Procrastinate within a Board Game

After having a hard time getting this weeks post down on paper I decided in a moment of panic to think of all the different ways I could procrastinate writing this post within a board game.

1. Engage in no trades in the game of Monopoly.

2. Only conquer one territory a turn in Risk.

3. After castling in Chess only move your king back and forth for rest of the game.

4. Hoard resources in Settlers of Catan by never turning in any cards to get anything.

5. Never move your back line in checkers.

6. Order all units to support in Diplomacy.

7. Every move of Clue goes between the Kitchen and the Study.

8. Shoot no one in Bang!

9. Do not complete any objectives in Firefly.

10. Play Twilight Imperium.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Prototype Question: Should I include money with my board game prototype?

On twitter I posed the following question:

I was curious because I am preparing to make prototype versions of Post Position to send to publishers. 

Why might I think that publishers would not want me to include play money with the game?  Well, I naively thought some publishers prefer to use poker chips over paper money and they would pull out their own poker chips to play the game.

Quickly, other game designers corrected me of this fallacy.

They make a good point.  These folks are being inundated with submissions from other aspiring board game designers.  Time spent trying to setup my game with their own poker chips is time lost playtesting other games.  Even worse, missing an important game component starts the playtesting off on the wrong foot, reducing the chances of my game being picked up.

And if there was any question to doubt other game designers, Crash Games, Dice Hate Me, Stronghold Games, and Tasty Minstrel Games confirmed that they want play money included with the prototype.

To be honest, Tasty Minstrel liked The Cardboard Jungle's idea even more.

Tasty Minstrel never said which currency I had to use, so I am going to see if I can get my hands on Zimbabwe dollars.  The currency is so worthless that Zimbabwe officially abandoned it, meaning it should fit nicely into my prototype budget.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Market Mechanic Lecture: Auctions

Unlike the other market mechanisms mentioned thus far, an auction is one of the market mechanics that board game designers properly label. But, just because game designers can properly label an auction mechanic does not mean their game needs or is better because it induces an auction.  To understand the benefits and limits of an auction mechanics in board games I will look at how auctions are used in the economy and some of the reasons auctions in board games can differ from auctions in the economy.

Auctions in the Economy

A big question in the back of my mind is why does anyone use an auction in the first place for anything?  Auctions are just one of the many ways people can negotiate with each over on the price for a good or service.  Why would I sell something by auction versus negotiating one-on-one with people?

1. Auctions Gets Goods to Highest Value User

Say I am trying to sell my My Little Pony Collection.  Without the auction I have to take time to talk to people one-on-one to solicit their bid for an item.  Talking to people individually raises the risk that I might not talk to the person who values the items the most.  I might talk to my brony neighbor, the brony down the street, but I might miss the local gas station owner who has an entire room of his house dedicated to My Little Ponies.  

Auctions that are well advertised solves this problem by making it possible for fans of My Little Ponies to find me instead of me finding them.  If someone highly values My Little Ponies, then they will be on the lookout for events, like an auction, where they can acquire more.  I no longer have to search for the people who most highly value My Little Ponies, they will reveal themselves by attending my auction.

I could advertise about selling my My Little Pony collection on a particular day and still negotiate with people one on one.  Although, I still risk not talking to the correct person who really values a particular My Little Pony the most.  Even though everyone attending my sale highly values My Little Ponies, I am not omniscient and know the particular person who values a particular pony the most. When I hold an actual auction, the person who values one of My Little Poney more than anyone else reveals themselves by outbidding the other My Little Pony fans.

2. Auctions Save Time

Theoretically, if I there is time to talk to everyone who is interested in buying a My Little Pony, I can get a similar outcome as an auction.  What I do is go to each individual and repeatedly negotiate with them to buy a My Little Pony and then sell it to the person who offers the highest price.

The problem with negotiating with everybody is my time is scarce.  I can only allocate so much time to talk to people about how much they are willing to spend to buy one of My Little Ponies.  Auctions allow me to ask everyone at once how much they value an item, so I no longer have to waste a bunch of time talking to people individually.

So those are some of the benefits of auctions, what are the drawbacks to auctions?

1. Auctions are costly to organize

To organize an auction you have to take time to publicize it; organize a venue; and find people who value the items being auctioned enough that they are willing to attend despite knowing they might not successfully bid on an item.  That means to justify holding an auction, the goods and services being sold have to be valuable enough to cover the upfront costs of hosting the event. 

2. Auctions are susceptible to the Winner’s Curse

In my post explaining The Winner’s Curse I show that if you believe in rational expectations and the item being bid upon has a known true value, then the average bid should be the actual value of the item.  But the winner of an auction is the person who makes the bid that is the highest bid above the average.  So the winner of an auction ends up paying more money for the item than what the item is worth.

The good news is that research shows that people who repeatedly engage in auctions over the same type of good escape the negative aspects of the Winner’s Curse by adjusting their bids downward.  The bad news is that this means in a board game setting, auctions will always favor experienced players of a game over new players.

Auctions in Board Games

These benefits and constraints translate into board games, but designers need to be aware of the additional constraints placed on auctions in board games space.

1. Credit Constraints

In the real world, if someone is the most valued user of an item, they can write a business plan and borrow money from a bank or investors to buy the item.  Credit/loan mechanics in board games tend to have arbitrary constraints.  I will save the details why for the next market lecture, what matters now is the realization that an auction may result in the person who values the item the most not getting it because they are liquidity constrained.

2. Board Games are usually Zero Sum Games

That means when there is board game with an auction, the designer needs to project how the price for the item alters game balance.  In particular, what happens to the resource used to buy the item.  How does that change in resource shift game balance.  And, due to credit constraints, is the auction constructed to accelerate the player in first to run away with the game, or does it extract enough resources to minimize any gain made by winning the auction.

3. Lazy Game Designers

There is merit to the adage that designers use auctions so they do not have to figure out the value of items within the game itself.  There is nothing wrong with letting players use prices and auctions to allow them to reveal value of items conditional that values of an item fluctuate due to credit constraints or different strategies/game conditions that alters the value of items from game to game or at different times within a game itself.

But if the true value of an item never fluctuates in a game, an auction in a board game just rewards seasoned players over inexperienced players.  Plus, it takes time away from the game going through the auction process.  The designer might as well set a fix price and supply for an item to save time and create a more even playing field for new players.