Thursday, November 15, 2018

Real World Mechanics Nessicate Innovation

An obstacle to implementing a real world mechanic is translating that mechanic into a functioning mechanic in a board game.  Many real word mechanics have yet to be built into a board game design, so the problem of making rules and and a board game interface is key challenge for creating a real world mechanics board game.  To successfully create a real world mechanic board game, the designer must innovate.

Take my game Bookies & Bettors. Bookies & Bettors is a horse betting game where players experience the thrill of making bets with other players in a betting market modeled on naked short selling. In the real world, a betting market's primary purpose is to facilitate trading information.  A bet communicates information between the bettors. One bettor has information a horse is going to improve and the other bettor has information the horse is falling back. Skilled player can watch other players' bets to deduce what other players know and use the information to more accurately predict the outcome of the race.  Having the most accurate prediction for the outcome of the race enables a player to make better bets to help them win the game.

At the onset Bookies & Bettors was crafted to implement the real world mechanic of naked short selling.  The challenge with Bookies & Bettors was creating an interface and rule set that made the experience accessible to board game players.  Since a naked short selling mechanic was not in other board games, there was limited guidance from looking at other betting board games or other market games.  Nor, could I rely looking at how modern financial markets and betting markets operated in the real world since real world markets are lucrative enough to afford computer programs to track and handle the processing of bets.

I had to come up with an interface to reduce the complexity of playing and learning the game in a form that a publisher can afford to produce.  Notice, there are multiple problems I had to solve. First problem, can an interface be created that players understand, can smoothly convey information, and operate without distracting from gameplay. Whew, that is a long list of problems to fix the “first problem.”  but if you want to implement a real world mechanic, these are the sort of problems a designer must be prepared to tackle.

I want players to have a real ‘trading floor’ feel while they played the game.  To make that happen the interface for making bets on the ‘trading floor’ needs to enable speedy trades without wasting time moving around fiddly bits to complete the bets.The solution was to create a betting slip the bookie handed to a bettor with all the information needed for the bettor to collect on their winnings at the end of the race. Initially, I had players hand write the initials of the horse on the betting slip.  Writing initials meant players had to pause, make sure they wrote the right initials, and hope their handwriting was legible. Time was being spent administering the game and not playing the game. Simple fix, replace writing a horse name with circling a horse. Players no longer had to think what is the name of the horse and if the handing writing is legible.  They just swiftly circle the correct horse, move onto the next bet, and keep playing the game.

Second problem, can the mechanic be taught in a reasonable timeframe to players.  Coming up with a solution with the fiddly bits used to play the game does not mean you have solved how to teach players to play the game.  In the early version of the game I had a table which let players track all of their bets they booked during the race. To use it, I taught players the meaning of multiple columns, how you should aggregate things, and the meaning of each row.  While the setup made intuitive sense to an expert player, say the designer of the game, it was a complex and confusing element that extended the rule explanation and over complicated learning the game. Solution, get rid of it all together. Players, I later discover, already know how to make their own lists.  Their personal tracking system they make up on the spot makes sense to them because they created it. Getting rid of the table also reduced the time to teach the game because I do not have to teach them the way I like to make a list.

Third set of problems, make the game affordable to publish.  Having the greatest idea for a game in the world means nothing if you cannot deliver the game with components that are affordable for players to buy.  Remember my betting slips I mentioned earlier? Well, I failed to mention they were disposable betting slips. You write on one once and at the end of the game you throw it away.  Disposable betting slips, while clear and effective at making the game easy to play and learn, are an expensive nightmare for publishing the game. The innovative tools to solve my earlier challenges must be refined again.  How about dry erase board slips. Dry erase markers are not cheap. But multi-colored clips on a card clearly communicates the key information from the old betting slips and is made from off the shelf cost effective components.

Patience is needed to address the problems of implementing a new real world mechanic.  There will be multiple problems that will need to solve. In the case of Bookies & Bettors, I spent years solving how to make the game playable before I was able to spend additional years solving how to create a version with the right sort components to be economical to publish.  

Big Picture

A Real World Mechanic is best used when a series of strategic choices people make in the real world is ported into a board game.  Numerous real world mechanics are a powerful enough experience they do not need to be overshadowed with other mechanics that distract you from a new exciting strategic experience.  Designers just need to make sure they understand what part of the real world mechanic they want players to experience and how to remove things in their design distracting them from the core experience.  Refining a real world mechanic into a playable game will challenge designers, and requires patience to work through all the steps to develop a successful real world mechanic game.

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