Friday, October 31, 2014

Market Mechanic Lecture: Property Rights

We have gathered here today to celebrate the conclusion of the market mechanic lecture series.  I know some of you have sad faces because you see the word “conclusion.”  Do not be sad, for while the “Market Lecture” is ending, my writing on what board game designers can learn from economics will still regularly appear on this blog.  But before I part this lecture series to undertake other exciting topics, I want to reflect on the market mechanic that makes all meaningful decisions possible in board games--property rights.

You cannot engage in trade, negotiate prices, hold an auction, and make meaningful choices with money without a property right mechanic.  A property right is the right to do or to not do something; to posses a privilege you can elect to use or not to use.  To clarify what this means I will pull some examples of the use of property rights from the real world

Property Rights in the Real World
From your own personal intuition, if I said you owned a car that means something to you.  That means you have the privilege to drive your car to Kalamazoo (granted you also have the privilege to put gas in your gas tank to run your car).  You also have the privilege of choosing to put it on cinder blocks in your front yard and use it as a lawn ornament.  Owning the car means you have the privilege to elect different ways to use it.     

Ownership means you also have the power to exclude someone from using the car.  If I want to drive your car, I need your permission first.  You can exclude people from repairing the car.  A mechanic cannot repair your car unless you give them permission to repair your car.

Not all property rights come from straight up ownership of a good.  Sometimes, you can have property rights over an object you do not directly own.  When you rent a car you do not own the car.  However, you still hold property rights over it.  You were granted a lease that instill upon you privileges you can execute.  These privileges, such as the ability to drive the rental car, are your property, even though it may only provide you with a set of limited temporary actions.

Why Are Property Rights Important
Property rights enable people to voluntarily interact with each other.  All interaction is a form of trade, even a conversation.  If I start talking to you, you have the privilege to select what you can do, you can elect to listen and engage me in conversation or you can elect to walk away from me.  To have a conversation, my talking has to be valuable enough to entice you to trade to me some of your time instead of you using it to pursue a different activity.

Without trade, there is no need for money, there is no need for auctions, there is no need for prices, there is no need for interaction.  To trade, you must be able to confer to a person a privilege, a property right, be it a good or a service.  For example, to acquire the privilege of me rubbing your back, you must exchange with me a privilege I desire, say the privilege of driving your car for a day.

Imagine a world without property, a world where you no longer have the ability to grant or not grant someone the privilege to undertake an action.  In this world, you do not have the property right to choose where to drive your car, you do what you are told.  You do not have the ability to choose whether or not you give someone a back massage, you are told to and you do it. 

Some people will call this world an extreme version of communism.  I personally call this the game of Candy Land.  You do not decide where you move your gingerbread man, the gingerbread men overlords have instructed you where you will be.  The gingerbread men overlords dictate who will be granted permission to stop walking around in endless circles and finish their trot to Candy Castle.  In Candy Land there is no property, there is nothing to trade, there is no need to hold an auction because players do not own any privileges they can exchange with other players. Without property rights the only privilege that exist is the privilege to exist, the privilege to play the game.

To be honest, I want more in my gaming experience than just the privilege to play.  I want the privilege to make meaningful decisions, preferably with some sort of trade and price mechanism involved.  I can only have this experience if the board game, if my life, includes property rights.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Dr. Wictz List: 10 Uses for Pennies in Board Game Prototypes

After prototyping countless games I am going to let you in on a little secret on my favorite cheap material I use for board game components in my prototypes, the penny.  I know some places may scoff at my list (Canada) because they no longer have access to lots of low cost pennies for you to take from the convenience store cashier (as change, I am not advocating robbing the party store to get your board game components).  But for those of us who still have access to this low cost, versatile, board game component, here is a list of ways you can use it to build your board game prototypes.
Pennies used as movement pieces in
Underground Street Racing.

1.  Pennies as movement pieces.

2.  Pennies as mental coins for currency.

3.  Pennies represent a resource in a game, like copper.

4.  Pennies used as wound markers.

5.  Pennies as weights to prevent movement prices from being blown away.
Penny used as base to
prevent Post Position
horse from blowing over.

6.  Pennies track victory points.

7.  Pennies flipped as a way to determine start player.

8.  Pennies used as a way to denote ownership of a territory.

9.  Pennies thrown as a means to distract other players from making rational decisions.

10.  Many, many pennies used to bribe board game publishers to publish my game.

Are there other uses for pennies that I missed? Because I sure can’t use them to buy anything. So help me out and leave your suggestions in the comment section.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Faculty Lounge: Bex & Armando Rex from The Game of Wife

Usually when twitter recommends me someone to follow I get annoyed at it for wasting my time.  However, one time, it surprised me and recommended something I discover was very very good: the blog The Game of Wife.  So to make sure other people check out this entertaining series where Armado Rex attempts to entice his wife with mix drinks to play boardgames with him, I invited them to stop by the faculty lounge for an interview.

Dr. Wictz: Could you give a quick rundown about The Game of Wife?

Armando Rex: The Game of Wife is a blog by my wife and I where we thematically pair a cocktail with a board game.  I recount our experiences during the process of choosing the drink and playing the game.  Pairing a mix drink with a game is a way to make an event out of our game nights while learning about new cocktails.  

It also allows me, an overzealous gamer, to add a bit of interest and enticement for my wife to try a new game.  She loves playing games but strongly dislikes learning new ones and does not seek out new titles herself. The process of finding games I think my wife will enjoy and then reading rules, watching how-to-play videos, doing solo test plays and preparing the sales pitch to her has become its own game. The Game of Wife.

Dr. Wictz: What motivated you to start The Game of Wife?  

Armando Rex: Just before we started the blog we had then only been playing designer games for about six months. We were playing at least once a week but often two or three times. We were playing the same games repeatedly and I was hoping to find ways to convince Bex, my wife, to try some new ones. I had also by that point been listening to the Blue Peg Pink Peg podcast, among others, for some time and envied how the guys got to regularly play new games with their wives. So during a rare date night with Bex she happened to bring up a list of cocktails she found on Buzzfeed that sounded interesting and in a flash of brilliance she had the idea to pair cocktails with games, which by that point in time I couldn't stop talking about.

In my introductory blog post it probably sounded like the game and cocktail pairing was my idea when it was actually Bex's. I think that because right around the time we started the blog I was putting a lot of thought into finding ways to convince Bex to play more new games that I co-opted the solution when she came up with it, mistakenly thinking it was my idea in the excitement after coming up with the name. She deserves the credit for the genesis of the site.

Dr. Wictz: How did you come up with the title The Game of Wife?

Armando Rex: I came up with the blog's title the morning after Bex had the idea for game and cocktail pairings. I was concerned that maybe the title might be misconstrued as condescending or misogynistic, like I'm manipulating her or something, which was not the intent. Bex didn't think it was condescending in the slightest and so we went with it. There were no other contenders for a name as this one fit so well. Of course, it's a play on the title for The Game of Life game as well as an homage to the Blue Peg Pink Peg podcast.

Dr. Wictz: What gave you the idea to pair cocktails with board games?

Well, as anyone with young children knows, at the end of the day, when dinner is done, the dishes are washed, the kids are bathed, well-storied and in bed there is rarely opportunity or motivation to do much else, though the desire to unwind and interact remains. We both enjoyed gaming together and thought that paring games thematically with cocktails would add some excitement to game nights and would broaden our horizons with both drinks and games. It would allow us to feel like we were having a date night without paying for a babysitter.

Dr. Wictz: When you select  a cocktail to pair with a game, do you base it on what first the theme of the game or what will entice your wife to play the game with you?

Armando Rex: When picking a cocktail the process usually goes like this. I pick a game. I'll then pick two or more recipes and bring them to Bex for consideration. Sometimes they are already-existing cocktails. Sometimes they're my original creations. She usually shoots down all of them. We then brainstorm and work out together the kind of drink that we think would be a good thematic pairing for the game. Part of the fun is working on this as a couple. Sometimes the pairing is based on ingredients, sometimes on the name of the drink, sometimes the color of the drink. Whatever the rationale always try to make sure that the thematic connection between the two is strong.

Dr. Wictz: So do you have something against wine?

To date, we've only used mixed drinks. While we wouldn't rule out any ingredients or types of beverages we have tried to stay away from only recommending a single wine or brand/style of beer because that just doesn't seem like fun for what we're trying to do. It's too easy. Besides, we're trying to allow folks the opportunity to recreate these recipes themselves for their gaming sessions, a process that would be made difficult if we selected a specific wine or specific beer that may not be available in those folks' region.

Part of the fun of this experiment for us novice/aspiring mixologists is to learn about new cocktails. Simply pairing some game with a 2009 Chilean Pinot Grigio would not allow us the opportunity to learn anything. That's not to say that we won't use beer or wine as part of a cocktail. In fact, our upcoming post involves a beer and bourbon cocktail and I have one planned for a wine and liqueur mix. I'd also like to add that we know next to nothing about the art of crafting cocktails so we try to keep the ingredients simple, limiting them to things we can find in our suburban grocery stores so that it's easy for folks to recreate the recipes themselves. Sometimes we'll be adventurous and use an exotic ingredient because it's fun and we're broadening our mixological know-how.

Dr. Wictz: Are you familiar with the blog Games With Two?  Do you feel like you are filling part of the void left from its unplanned discontinuation?

Armando Rex: We were not previously familiar with that blog but I've started reading it. It's clear that Games for Two was a labor of love and all your readers would do well to acquaint themselves with it.

What I can say is that we find it an interesting phenomenon that so many folks, from Games for Two to The Game of Wife to countless others, are compelled to share their love and passion for gaming with their significant others. Just check out the forums for any game on Board Game Geek. Every single one will have a post asking if such-and-such game plays well with two players. It speaks to the goal of gaming as we see it - connectedness and meaningful, stimulating, shared experiences with the ones you love and are most close to. I hope that in some small way we can pass along to others that same desire the author of Games for Two had for fostering and nurturing relationships through the shared hobby of gaming.

Dr. Wictz: If you were introducing someone to The Game of Wife blog which post would you recommend?

Armando Rex: If we had to pick one post it would be our Lords of Waterdeep post. Lords of Waterdeep has become one of our favorite games, the cocktail we paired with it was delicious and we have fond memories of that night. Additionally, that is the post I've gotten the most feedback for. I had one gentleman reach out to me thanking us for the post because it convinced his reluctant girlfriend to play Lords of Waterdeep which she ended up enjoying a great deal. That's one of our goals - to help people make an event out of their game nights through thematic pairings, thereby making it easier to get new games to the table.

Dr. Wictz: If someone, say myself, was involved with their own “Game of Wife,” what would you recommend as the first game I break out to entice my wife to play a board game with me?

Bex: I would definitively say, Carcassonne. It's a gateway game, it takes less than an hour, and is easy to learn with only a few rules. I am really turned off by games that have a long rules explanation. If the rules explanation takes too long and there are way too many steps in the game I will inevitably lose interest and my mind will wander to non-gaming things. Carcassonne is simple and easy to learn. I like how you can play this game nicely/casually and carry on a conversation but you can also play mean if the mood strikes you. Since we started gaming it's probably the game we've played the most and plays very well with two. I like the base game and some of the expansions are okay too.

Dr. Wictz: Bex, what does Rex need to keep in mind when he tries to entice your to play a game with him?

Bex: When it comes to choosing a game to play there are definitely some things that turn me off in a game. I don't like confusing icons or symbols. Tournay comes to mind. I don't usually like games with too many steps or options on my turn. I don't like dark or gory artwork/illustrations. I would like Dominion more if it wasn't for the artwork. I don't like warfare. I don't like D&D-type fantasy themes. Zombies are off the table. There is zero chance of me playing a zombie game. Zero.

Now, I do like games with clearly defined goals and victory conditions like in Ticket to Ride. I like unique character abilities/perks like in Pandemic and Lords of Waterdeep. I like worker placement games but not when they involve too complicated a decision tree. For me, mechanics are more important than theme. I know I said earlier that I don't like D&D and I am aware that Waterdeep is a D&D board game. That's an exception because it's just such a good game (but I wouldn't play it if it was The Undead of Waterdeep). And I like to win but sub-optimal play on my husband's part would be condescending.

Dr. Wictz: Rex, you describe the endeavor as the “Game of Wife,” what do you define as winning and losing the “Game of Wife”?

Armando Rex: I put a lot of work finding games I think Bex will like. I like just about everything but Bex's tastes are more discerning. So for me the victory condition is finding a game we both enjoy that becomes a part of the regular rotation. The losing condition is putting in all that work (choosing, researching, reading rules, watching videos) and having her really dislike the game. It's happened a few times and it's no fun for either of us. During a rules explanation when Bex's eyes start to glaze over and I start getting polite smiles of pity I know I'm in trouble. With each miss I get a better understanding of what I think she'll enjoy.

Dr. Wictz: Bex, if there was a “Game of Husband,” what would define as your winning and losing conditions?

Bex: I really enjoy playing games but I'm not obsessed with it like my husband is. If he had his way we'd play a game every night. After a long day of work and raising kids sometimes I just want to relax on the couch and watch a little House Hunters or Project Runway or Top Chef. I love gaming but in moderation. So, I guess my victory condition would be setting up a regular game night on the weekend for the two of us with a 'substantial' game and maybe playing a lighter game during the week if there's nothing going on or it hasn't been too long a day.

Dr. Wictz: How long have you two been playing board games together?

Armando Rex: Proper board gaming is a recent love. Bex and I have been together for about 15 years. The first 14 we played lots of traditional games: Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Taboo, Cranium games, dominoes, Scrabble. I almost lost a good friend playing Scrabble once. We just didn't know that better games existed until a year ago. Late to the party but we've jumped in head first. I'm so obsessed that I've even designed a couple of games myself but then who hasn't. On our trip to Italy discussed in our previous post featuring the Chris Handy-designed game Cinque Terre we did play Pass the Pigs quite a bit but I don't know if that counts. I feel like we have always been gamers at heart who were just never aware. If only we had known about them sooner than last summer. But then I guess we wouldn't have The Game of Wife.

Dr. Wictz: Is there a board game designer you wish to stop by with their significant other for a double date board game night?

Bex says Klaus-Jurgen Wrede because Carcassonne is such a beloved game of ours. Ticket to Ride was our prom date but Carcassonne was the game we married, if we're using relationship analogies. Such good memories.

Because I think he's single (according to podcast interviews) I would set up Jamey Stegmaier with one of my cousins and have them over for drinks and games. I adore Eurphoria. That game has inspired me to design a series of five interconnected, dystopian-themed games, each featuring a different mechanism. I'd love to pick his brain about the development of Euphoria. From what I understand he's more of a Newcastle beer kind of guy, so we'll have to mix him up a tasty Euphoria-inspired cocktail and change that.

Dr. Wictz: Thank you, to both Rex and Bex, for stopping by.  You can follow the game of wife on twitter @TheGameOfWife.  Their blog can be found at  Armando Rex also is an aspiring game designer.  To learn more about his game designs follow him on twitter @GreenOwlGames.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Market Mechanic Lecture: Credit (Loans)

Board game designers have to decide when they provide credit in a board game if that credit is issued by a person (credit mechanic) or if credit is issued by an algorithm in the rules (credit theme).  Both techniques have different challenges to make them work within a board game.  To better build a board game mechanic or theme I am first going to see how both concepts fare in the real world.

Lenders in the Real World:

In the real world lenders gauge the riskiness of their investment in order to protect their money.  If a real world lender thinks a business plan has a higher probability of failing it will find compensating factors to either increase its reward if you succeed (higher interest rates) or provide compensation if you fail (higher collateral requirements).  While not always successful, lenders will take time to supervise their investments to make sure they did not get duped into some sort of ponzi scheme.  The incentive to protect their money from bad investments results in bankers vetting the people and businesses they extend credit to.

Real world lenders are always open to opportunities to make more money.  At first, this might sound like stating the obvious, but this statement has a big implication in lending behavior.  This means that if a lender discovers someone with a good business plan, even if the person asking for credit is not rich, does not have a long credit history, or is already holding some debt, the lenders is still willing to extend credit.  Credit in the real world is about seizing opportunities to make money and assessments are made based on the likelihood of the projects success.  

Challenge for Lenders in Board Game:

The advantage lenders have in the real world is that everyone benefits from making more money.  In a board game with a lending mechanic, game designers have to worry if any credit will be exchanged whatsoever because players may purposefully default to damage the lender in the game.  Even if players were not worried about a strategic default to take down the lender, lenders may not be willing to loan other players money because that might result in the borrower becoming stronger than the lender.

Michael R. Keller address this issue in his game Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice by having lenders and borrowers play two different games at the same time that interact with each other.  In one corner borrowers are competing with each other to be the best producers of goods.  In the other corner, lenders are competing with each other to be the best at extending credit.  By separating the borrowers and lenders into their own sub games, lenders and borrowers no longer have to worry they are engaging in a direct deal with their opponent that will undermine their chance to win the game. Borrowers do not reduce their chance of winning the game when the person who loaned them money does well and lenders are not hurt when the person who borrowed money from them does well.  

This separation allows Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice to enjoy the benefits of a loan mechanic.  Lenders will adjust their offers to borrowers in response to their credit risk.  They will monitor the investment decisions of borrowers and extend credit to borrowers who have good business plans.

Algorithms in Real World:

Real world credit, like board game themes, also use algorithms to issue credit.  Credit scores result in some lenders automatically offering individuals a credit line. Meanwhile, pawn and car title loan shops will happily issue anyone a loan using an algorithm based on the value of the collateral.  

Algorithms are a way real world lenders can reduce the cost and time to asses the risk of extending credit.  Credit scores allow lenders to look at a single number instead of talking to everyone who has information on the borrower.  The reliability of the scores let lenders get rid of costly employees and replace them with computer algorithms to automatically assigned credit lines to people with specific credit scores.

Pawn shops and title loans utilize an algorithm based on collateral to reduce the cost and time of assessing borrowers risk.   Instead of taking the time to track down the borrower's credit history, they take on the easier task of assessing the value of the items being pawned.  Imagine you walk into the pawn shop with 2 pounds of gold and you ask for a loan equal to 80% of the value of the gold.  The pawn shop owners can spend countless hours talking to your friends, your employer, and past creditors or, they can look up the current price of gold and say, if you do not pay back your loan the pawn shop keeps the gold.  Assessing the value of the collateral is an algorithmic approach to loans that takes much less work than assessing the worthiness of the borrower.  This enables the pawn shop to issue loans at a relatively fast pace and extend credit to a wider swath of people.   

Challenge of Algorithms in Board Games:

Algorithms (aka credit themes) in board games face two challenges that do not exist in the real world.  First, in the real world, if someone has a good business plan that does not fit into a pre-existing algorithm, they can pitch their plan to lender who has the discretion to offer them credit.  In the game of Monopoly, you cannot tell the bank that if it lent you the money to build the hotels on Park Avenue and Boardwalk that you would win the game.  Your credit opportunities are completely constrained by the algorithms followed by the bank.

Second, board games with a credit theme, unlike the real world, cannot alter its algorithms in response to new information.  If a player finds a loophole in a board game algorithm that lets them run a ponzi scheme then there is no adjustment to stop them.  If a person in the real world found a way to run a ponzi scheme due to a loophole in an algorithm then lenders would change the algorithm to protect themselves from future exploits.

That said, properly designed credit themes have one big advantage on credit mechanics.  Algorithms ensure credit will be extended to players playing the same game, even if credit gives one player an edge over another.  Algorithms are automatic, and potentially available to everyone.  As long as players meet the correct conditions they will have access to credit and be able to use credit gain an edge on other players.