What can RPGs learn from board games?

edited November 2012 in Story Games
I'm not all that much of a board game guy, but every time I read about board game design, I feel like it's a field that's quite a bit more... sophisticated? than RPG design. I'm not sure that's the right word, but just looking at, for example, this thread on board game design from the Something Awful forums, it seems like board game designers have more and more varied tools and techniques, and more sophisticated metrics for evaluating games.

So, what can RPGs learn from board games?

I'm sure other people around here can offer better insights than me (hence the thread), but here are a couple that come to mind:

One big one that's been on my mind a lot, especially since I started working on a card game of my own, is how RPGs by and large avoid using much of anything in the way of components, when those things just aren't all that hard to buy or even make, especially in terms of prototypes for playtesting. There was a bit of a learning curve, but at this point slapping basic card designs together and printing them up on cardstock at home has gotten downright routine for me. (Though making multiple iterations of a game that has over 300 cards will do that to you.)

Board games also seem to have do a much better job of creating an overall experience. Some of that undoubtedly comes from the nature of the different mediums, but the better board games nonetheless seem to have more thought put into them about the overall learning experience, from taking the shrink wrap off the box to mastering the game. I see a lot more talk about learning curves and strategic depth in board games, and when I look at D&D4e for example, I see a well-designed game with mediocre presentation, a text that doesn't really know how to go about teaching you the game it contains.
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Comments

  • I'm psyched about this thread since I'm such a board game noob.

    One thing I've noticed is that board games include a lot more mechanical interaction between players. People are always taking cards from each other's hands, moving each other around the board, and in general interact in a way mediated by the mechanics. Whereas in roleplaying games (and Diplomacy, *DEAL WITH IT*), you're interacting a lot more socially/conversationally.
  • edited November 2012
    Rules presentation. Name the last time you saw a board game with a 300-page rulebook.





    Thank you for not saying "Advanced Squad Leader".
  • edited November 2012
    Some of my favorite RPGs of late enforce a round the table aspect to scene setting and the like. They also draw in the players to interact when it is it not their 'turn'. I really like this because it cuts down on spot light hogging and in turn focuses the spot light on everyone, even the shy 'support' characters.
    --
    TAZ

    Examples: Fiasco, Ocean, Panty Explosion Perfect, The Trouble with Rose, Project Ninja Panda Taco (when it comes out.) I'm sure there are others waiting for me to discover.
    Thank you for not saying "Advanced Squad Leader".
    *cough* Starfleet Battles, Doomsday Edition :-)
  • edited November 2012
    Often the best boardgames are ones where most of the rules are on the playing pieces themselves. It can be a test of proper balance in how to include the rules and what to leave out and what to reduce to simple iconography. Too much text and the cards/boards end up looking ugly and too wordy; too little and the players are forced to go back to the rulebook all the time. In this regard, I love the Apocalypse World playbooks as they have almost all the rules right there in the players hands. Of course there is a long history of rules cheat sheets with RPGs (ie., the classic GM screen) but this is less common with indie games. Rules cheat sheets are fine but really it's best if everything is right there with what is in your hand (cards, boards, character sheets). I say this as both a boardgamer and a roleplayer, as every time someone has to stop and check the rules it breaks the flow of the game.

    As an aside there are a number of boardgames which are also partially role playing games: Decent (hack and slash), Mice & Mystics (basically Mouseguard as a boardgame with story scenarios and everything), Arkham Horror (cooperative save the world from the Elder Gods), Dixit (build a story with pictures), Gloom (gothic family gets destroyed game which works best when a story is told with each card). Many of these games result in a story being played out over the course of the game.
  • Visual presentation. Using symbols, colors, cards and tokens to show the game state and the rules involved. If I play Seven wonders, most of the rules are on the card simply as a set of iconic symbols. This card has two bricks on it, and I know that that means it makes two brick per turn. Some games could reduce their rules down to the simplest and have the rules encoded as icons on the artifacts of play (the character sheets, etc.) as reminders for the players.


    Different ways of structuring decision making and randomness. The default old-style boardgame is to have the dice make most of the decision, as it is in D&D and similar games: you choose to attack, but then the dice decide the actual success. Decide, then roll to find the result. In many euro-style boardgames, the randomness happens less often and earlier in the process: in Settlers of Catan, the randomness happens all before the important decisions of trading and building occur. (And eurogamers often complain about this in Settlers and prefer games with randomness happening even further from the decision points.) Fiasco is also good about this: the randomness all occurs at the Act breaks, and then the meaningful decisions flow from there, but aren't overridden by random die rolls.


    Cooperation versus competition. In Puerto Rico and Settlers and a bunch of other games, you balance between cooperating and competing with the other players. You take actions that help yourself as well as others, in the hope that they will benefit you more than they do the other players. A game of competing but not entirely opposed PCs (e.g., a hypothetical game along the lines of Amber, Best Friends or Skulldugerry) could benefit from these sorts of mechanics.


    Meaningful conflicts that aren't confrontational or violent in nature. Germany has rewards in place for making games that aren't violent in nature. And so many successful euro-style boardgames are about farming or merchants or architects. And there's still plenty of competition, but it's a sly, complicated competition without outright bringing down the pain on your enemies. It shows that conflicts and stories can be told that don't end with life-or-death struggles.
  • Some of the Indie RPGs make me think of board games. I thought at the time "The Mountain Witch should be a board game"!

    The board focuses play down on a manageable narrow window. The play pieces do the same. This is what KomradBob is talking about using miniatures and terrain. Many RPGs are so general in nature - they demand that you make up a world to play them in. Board games give you a world - visually rather than in a 300 page book.

    The rules of board games are narrow and focused. They tell you what to do. This can be a bore in some wargames but in Euro games it gives a consistent, repeatable play experience. They don't have to limit player choice though. Fiasco effectively builds it's own board using cards. Engle Matrix Games (in some versions) have boards that the players move around on - making up stories.

    The next change I see coming is when there is an easy way to load board games as apps for ipad (or other devices). Then board games can explode like RPGs did ten years ago. There can be a convergence of RPGs and boardgames then because it will be cheap to make them - so why not do it! This will be a neat watershed to see.

    Chris
  • edited November 2012
    1.5-3 hours is a satisfying sweet spot. 10-30 min 'fillers' get a lot of play.
  • What RPGs can learn from Dominion: For a complex game, there's no substitute for hundreds of hours of playtesting.
  • Sounds like what you're specially talking about, Ewan, is product design. And, yeah, many RPGs are mediocre-to-terrible at it. People have great ideas for games, but turning those into something that people can easily implement using materials and concrete procedures has been a weakness, historically. See also: interface design.
  • edited November 2012
    Wow. I love CoC and despise AH as easily the most boring thing I've ever played. That sounds like the worst idea I've ever heard.
  • @NickWedig makes some great points on how board games vary their approach to randomness. Most game-mechanics geekery talk focuses on the nifty dice/card mechanic, but little in where it fits in with actual play — this was especially true in the 90s. Most traditional rpg games are "my character wants to do ____ so I roll to see if I can." Whereas, most of the indie games discussed here — Apocalypse World, My Life With Master, Fiasco, Ghost/Echo, Dogs in the Vineyard, etc — push the fiction more to the forefront and often entangle the dice with the fiction: where the fiction informs the dice which inform the fiction.

    One thing that happens a lot in more euro board games is that the ever changing nature of the game results more from the other players actions rather than a die roll or card pull — Puerto Rico, Agricola, Belfort, etc. The player bases their next action on the state of the "board" and what moves/resources they have to use. Various diceless systems operate in this area to some extent.

    Another aspect of board games is that they are meant to have a set play time and thus often have some sort of progression mechanic. Sometimes it's blatant in that you only have so many years/seasons/turns. Or sometimes it is determined by the play itself and can go up and down based on player actions like Arkham Horror's terror level and Elder Sign's clock. Lacuna's Heart Rate and Static mechanic is actually very board game like in that it is a direct measure of the story's progression. Personally, I think Cthulhu Dark would be great with a terror/weirdness/threat/adrenalin progression mechanic of some sort. Hollowpoint has a progress mechanic in that the scene difficulty grows in proportion to previous successful scenes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Mythender, the character dice pools get ever more ridiculously huge as the game progresses.
  • I also wanted to add a note on packaging and presentation. I think in general this is more important for board games. Also both board games and rpgs have games where the graphics are great but the game sucks and vice versa. However, rpgs have a special additional factor in that much of the presentation during actual play is up to the GM (and sometimes the players) to provide: Maps, props, character sketches etc all add greatly to the game.
  • One thing that board games do particularly well is that they try to make losing fun. The most popular contemporary designs do this in a few ways.

    They embrace competition. You can't have wining and losing if you don't embrace competition as being a core part of the experience. But if you notice - when you're playing a great board game, the single fact of win/lose is FAR from the only enjoyable part about the experience. Just because winning and losing is a thing, doesn't mean it's the only thing.

    They keep it fast. The worst board games are the ones where you know you're way behind the curve and you still have 2 hours of play ahead of you. More recent designs tend to play faster than older games in a similar vein. (Compare History of the World to Small World)

    They keep the results of failure small but meaningful. Great board games give you lots of opportunities to make optimal and suboptimal decisions while trying to make it so that you don't risk losing everything with just one suboptimal choice. (In other words, death isn't constantly on the line.)

    The best implementation of these ideals I've seen in RPGs to date are in the *World games.

    The fact that the GM is given procedures that help make sure that failure is fun and not a gaping hole of empty boringness is HUGE! Yeah, you can bolt the fail forward idea onto other games, but it helps so much when it's built right in to the core.

    Also, the way the fiction first approach encourages failures of types other than death is huge and important. It makes me feel like I can take risks and try crazy things that may have consequences but are unlikely to have death as a consequence. Conditions, for example, make great consequences.

    I am hopeful that future games will build on those learnings.

    As a group culture, though, I see a lot of resistance to the idea of embracing the gamey elements. There are reasons for that, and I get that. But I'd like to see more folks ready to grapple with that. (Yeah I'm being vague here. I don't want to derail unless people are really interested in this thought.)
  • +1 Arkham Horror.
  • Adroid: Netrunner made me realize that games are way more compelling when you need to play close attention when other people are doing things. It's surprising how many games out there you don't need to play all that much attention to when you're not doing anything yet. (See D&D 3.x, D&D 4e)
  • Also, +1 to not liking Arkham horror all that much. Arkham horror always feels really dice-rolley to me, with very few real choices.
  • Adroid: Netrunner made me realize that games are way more compelling when you need to play close attention when other people are doing things. It's surprising how many games out there you don't need to play all that much attention to when you're not doing anything yet. (See D&D 3.x, D&D 4e)
    True. Plus games that don't use a strict turn order and allow things to go in all sorts of wacky order can help keep you engaged rather than waiting for your turn to come round.

    Strict rounds involving many players with long turns that don't involve the other players are usually considered less great design.

    The emphasis on spotlight time in tabletop games needs to be structured with an awareness of this potential pitfall.

  • I will second rules presentation (board games spread the rules over cards or sheets which ease up the basic rules) and how one action will affect other people and therefore making one player's actions is interesting in all eyes.

    Another thing we can learn is how to make a game complex by using small means. You don't need 7000 feats with +2 bonuses to make a game complex. What you need is some basic rules that the other specific rules then break. In Magic, you got the basic rules (turn sequence, mana, combat, how to win) and then Strike First, Flying, Discard, Draw, Reshuffle that changes the basic rules et c.

    By limiting the options of what you can do, you will achieve a lot. You will decrease the number of pages it takes to explain the rules. Your game will be more focused and handle that specific thing really well (Story Now games are actually great at this). You will also make the game become more complex, by letting the other players limiting the options for each other.

    RPGs mostly rely on agon - the chance. What are the chances of this succeeding? Boardgames mostly rely on risks. Is it worth doing this and what will the consequences be?
  • Oh yeah, boardgames have made great strides into making you be involved during other people's turns. You don't sit passively by in Settlers or Puerto Rico (or Happy Birthday Robot or A Penny For My Thoughts) when it is someone else's turn. It just means that your role is different. But you're still engaged. Making a player be engaged during someone else's turn is a really powerful thing.
  • As a board game designer type who found this place poking around while trying to make my games more "narrative"....I can offer these insights.

    'Structure' The nature of board games is that they are highly structured beasts. If you a fighting a guy, and you want to jump up on the table and swing from the chandelier, but the rules don't allow, tough luck, pal!

    From the Euro design world, there's "build up, not tear down." This is where at the end of the game, even if you've lost in a pitiful fashion, at least you can still gave upon your world that you've built (however pitiful it may be), and still feel like you've accomplished something. Monopoly is the opposite of this, where you sit in the corner after you've lost and complain you are flat broke because Chuck didn't make that sweet deal with you an hour ago.

    'Abstraction' Maybe one or two rules have some semblence of real life going-on; the rest of the rules really just support those main premises, and have a theme merely tacked on to them, because in board game world, the system is what's important, and making sure that that is what works is the first priority. My god, Dominion is a prime example of this...I've never read a game box that I think so inaccurately describes what you are doing in the game, but man, the game is in general a tightly wound piece of machinery. And what's probably the most amusing thing about it, which no one ever notices that it's missing, is that the cards feature no "flavor text" to try and help "sell" the pasted on theme that almost all theme-y card games have imprinted on them since the dawn of Magic.
  • I don't know that I've got great insight on boardgames, but here are a couple of things from games that I like that might be useful:

    The play of the game itself is more fun than winning. Winning is just the cherry on top, and win conditions are more of a shut-off switch than anything else. Apples to Apples comes to mind, but Aye Dark OverLord and Mad Scientist University also. Those are also games where human judgment is core to play and considered entirely okay. RPGers/SGers seem to have some real issues with that human judgment part at times.

    There are multiple paths to a win, or at least score points. I'd put Alhambra in this category, along with Ticket to Ride.

    They tend to be pretty forgving to beginners. Alhambra's multiple rounds with increased point scoring at each one gives an almost practice round feel at the game's beginning.

    You don't generally re-arrange the entire board part way through play. Admittedly, I'm only referring to problems folks have mentioned with the more minis-use heavy forms of D&D, or other RPGs played heavily tactically with minis. Boardgamers and even minis wargamers would never consider it a good idea to up and re-set an entire table partway through a session, because that would be annoying and dumb.

    People like toys. Axis&Allies, Last Night on Earth, Ticket to Ride, and Memoir '44 all benefit from the appeal of their toylike components, and would be much less appealiing if simple chits were used instead. They'd be no less playable mechanically. Euro-games seem to go in the opposite direction, using simple, abstract, stylish components, but that style is an appealing thing in a different sort of way all on its own.

    If you are going to use toylike components, semi-abstracted/area movement and positioning is not only okay, it's probably preferable to zoomed-in tactical movement. It doesn't mean you can't, or don't want to, use "color" reperesentations on your play surface. Last Night on Earth is again the one I point to for this sort of appeal.

    The supplement treadmill actually does work, when you do it the right way. Going along with that, show love to your fans that create fan materials, provided it doesn't mess with your core revenue stream, and be willing to offer minor add-ons for free, especially as downloads. I think dirty-hippy gamers already have this one down, but worth mentioning.
  • I could write a book on this topic. One day maybe i will. Perhaps a book is an ironical form for my advice.

    I really like modern efforts like the mouse guard box set and the boxes put out by pathfinder, DnD and war-hammer third. They have their hart in the right place, but the execution is wrong headed. In every case these are games that still have their core content hidden in a book.

    The number one thing rpgs can learn from board games is this.

    YOUR GAME IS NOT A BOOK

    Most people who play board games never read the rulebook. Only one person reads it and then teaches everyone else how to play. those people then teach others, who teach others, so on and so fourth, very few people read rulebooks. rule books are a bottle neck. In fact rule books can be entirely optional with a new rise in digital board games leading to sales of physical board games. Someone who got ticket to ride on their phone could play the board game without ever reading the rule book.

    The more of your game you hide in the rule book the less people will play it.
  • edited November 2012
    Not really boardgame related, but TylerT's post reminded me of something else, Matthijs Holter's game Fuck Youth.

    It has a scripted breakdown of setting up the game, with people handing around an instruction sheet with essentially boxed text and stpping points where players built up the starting fiction. It spreads around responsibility for character and setting creation a bit, and breaks up the info-dump, meaning you can kinda jump into play pretty fast.

    That same thing could be broken up into cards with instructions, numbered by steps, and handed around before anything else is done.

    I'm pretty sure similar things could be done with a whole lot of other games. it's still text,but it gets it out of a book and puts it into the hands of players, and distributes some of the authority.

    With so many games in electronic formats, printing these kinds of things seems a valuable option to consider.
  • edited November 2012
    I could write a book on this topic. One day maybe i will. Perhaps a book is an ironical form for my advice..
    Please write more. :) It's an interesting read.
  • edited November 2012
    The more of your game you hide in the rule book the less people will play it.
    This. Totally. I've been working in some way to combine an RPG with a card game. My idea was to make rpgs more accessible to newbies but so far my intent still bounces with the barrier of the physical objects: it's like, when players get to see their characters pieced on cards, they stop thinking out of the box. I'm hoping this is just happening because I'm adding too much rules and/or the mechanics are still unbaked and confusing... but a part of me fears there's a huge wall between these two worlds and that's the reason we haven't seen the two merge earlier.
  • edited November 2012
    I could write a book on this topic. One day maybe i will. Perhaps a book is an ironical form for my advice..
    Please write more. :) It's an interesting read.
    You are in luck, because I have!

    nothing there is real fresh but i'm getting back into it. I have a few new posts started but not finished yet.
  • Nontrivial setup and teardown processes can have a focusing effect on playing the game in front of you. A barrier to entry creates investment. (Mileage on this varies, of course, and there are free-rider problems).
  • You are in luck, because I have!

    nothing there is real fresh but i'm getting back into it. have a few posts started but not finished yet.
    Cool. I skimmed through it and it looks like you tackles the subject from a different angle.

    You should really put a link to your rss feed on your blog.
    http://seedrpg.wordpress.com/feed/
    http://seedrpg.wordpress.com/comments/feed/

    I've subscribed and I look forward to read more posts. :)
  • One thing I think that differentiates bord games from RPGs is the game aspect.

    A lot of storygames (Monsterhearts, as the most obvious example) have conflict resolution mechanisms that are as game-y as chutes and ladders. One thing I like about some games,(Marvel Heroic, Dogs in the Vineyard, to name a few) are that there is a game strategy that one must employ, in addition to fun narration and character development and story progression.
  • Actually, the more I think about it, the more I'm certain it's the best idea ever (if there is any hyperbole there, it 100% unintentional).
    ...
    Clue tokens become the fate points of CoC. They are the player's narrative ammunition against the GM.
    I'm sold, that's a Cthulhu game I'd acutally want to play. (Although I'd probably call them mythos or lore tokens so that people won't say it was Colonel Mustard with a Migo in the billard room.) :-)
    --
    TAZ

  • That sounds like the worst idea I've ever heard.
    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I'm certain it's the best idea ever (if there is any hyperbole there, it 100% unintentional).

    Just think of it! Most CoC adventures are investigator Bob has to go to a predetermined location and pass a check for a predetermined skill to get a predetermined macguffin to help him fight the big bad. Lame! Unless I want to star in a static HPL-knockoff story someone else wrote.
    Personally, I want to star in an HPL knockoff story someone else wrote, and is modifying along the way as I play my character.

    Having said that, some of those games that are really awful ( like Arkham Horror,A Touch of Evil, or even possibly Tannhauser) but have great "color" involved could be repurpised for something more storygame-y pretty easily.

    I recall John Marron was taking the awful A Touch of Evil ( which is on par with AH for sheer boringness, but thankfully faster playing) and combining with something else (FUBAR maybe?) in a way that sounds vastly better than the game itself.

    For that matter, AToE and AH would both probably be good starter-stuff for Rafael Chandler's Grail Epoch as well.

  • YOUR GAME IS NOT A BOOK.
    QFT.
  • Rpgs have adopted turn taking and distributed responsibility, which board games have always excelled at. We can stand to keep learning how and why.
  • Elegant levels of abstraction.
    Mechanics that pair perfectly with the game's premise and theme.
  • YOUR GAME IS NOT A BOOK.
    QFT.
    I want to make sure this is not misunderstood, as it has been in the past. Your game is not a book in the sense that there should be much more to your game then a single codex of bound pages.

    Your game is all the things used to play it in the most accessible format, your game is the engine you build inside the player's mind.
  • Elegant levels of abstraction.
    Mechanics that pair perfectly with the game's premise and theme.
    The latter is IMO too often not well executed with Euro-games (which I generally like). Sometimes the theme can be just tacked onto a "cool" set of mechanics. IMO RPGs need to be careful of this, lest it undo the good work of story-focused games with theme-related/supporting mechanics.

  • Awesome thread.

    One thing that pops into my mind is that boardgames are tactics-driven whereas story games are theme-driven. These features can possibly co-exist, but they don't naturally support each other or anything like that. Usually you can ramp up the theme only so far before the tactics start to suffer, and vice versa. Even heavily simulationist wargames don't usually even try to model the decisions made by a single general, as it would introduce too much luck in the game.

    In presentation sense boardames have many advantages, but the lack of visual components in RPGs is not just a negative feature for me. Minis and floor maps can be cool, but it's really fun and more immersive for me just to imagine the fiction in my head.
  • I also believe the lack of a visual interface helps a lot with inmersion, when it doesn't provoke the players into bringing/creating their own visualization of the shared fiction. Not that cool illustrations on rpg books doesn't help with that.
  • I've given the idea before of an RPG that can be played purely at a boardgame level, but if you want there are rules to help bring in spoken fiction to affect the boardgames mechanics, adding bonuses, more dice, etc.

    In a way the warhammer quest boardgame did that.

    The idea usually gets alot of resistance - people say it wouldn't be an RPG. But I suspect it might be that they feel/fear they would just play the boardgame part of it, exclusively.
  • Elegant levels of abstraction.
    Mechanics that pair perfectly with the game's premise and theme.
    The whole "mechanics that pair perfectly with theme" is pretty much all over the map in board games. Especially when you a looking at Euro designs (versus Ameritrash designs).

    Probably one of the best examples of this is the argument I got into with someone over Caylus. It was described to me as this game where you are building this little village around the construction of this glorious castle, but all I could see was that it was just a long winded cube exchange game.

    Loosely from memory...

    "So, if you go to this building, who's the butcher he turns 3 pigs into 6 food and 2 gold"
    "How do I know it's a butcher"
    "If you look close, there's a dead pig on the tiny sign"
    "Okay, where's the pigs?"
    "The pink cubes"
    "And the food?"
    "White cubes?"
    "And the gold?"
    "Orange cubes?"
    "And then I spend orange cubes..."
    "NO GOLD!"
    "Whatever, on those yellow rectangles..."
    "Those are bricks!"
    "Okay, bricks, then i go and build the castle with them?"
    "Yes, you line then up over here..."
    "Line them up? You mean, we aren't actually, like, building this glorious castle? They just go in a line?"
    "Oh, no, we ARE building the castle, it's just that we only keep track of bricks that we deliver!"
    "So we aren't building the castle."
    "YES WE ARE!"
    "But you just said that we are only delivering them...."
    "okay, fine, delivering the bricks."
    "Yellow rectangles"
    "Bricks! And it doesn't matter anyway, because the Provost hasn't opened the butcher yet, so you can't sell your pigs for food and money."
    "I don't see a sign saying it's closed..."
    "The white circle, that's the Bailiff, buildings are closed to the left of him, but open to the right."
    "That's not what a Bailiif does. That doesn't make much sense."
    "That's okay, you can have the Provost bribe him to not move."
    "Why would a Provost do that?"
    "Because he has influence!"
    "That's not really why, that's how. And It's not really a bribe. More like extortion or calling in favors or something..."
    "Anyway, the Provost is the white circle. He moves, too. You can bribe him to not move, or to move."
    "Okay. Sounds like a sweet deal. For him"
    "Anyway, since he's here you can use the Puppet Show to exchange 4 wood for 3 cloth and 1 silver."
    "Which, in reality, are THESE colored cubes?"
    "No, those are wood, cloth and silver."
    "Which are colored cubes."
    "Why do you have to make things so difficult?"
    "You realize almost nothing you've said actually talked about building a castle like that which is depicted on the box?"

  • Yep. It may be an unfair generalisation to say that Euro games are all style over substance and Ameritrash games are all substance without style! :-)

    In general I prefer euro-games and full-on sim wargames, Ameritrash games just don't do it for me. Nonetheless my euro games get a lot more play because they are quicker to play and easier for non-experts. I definitely prefer the ones that have a stronger link between theme and mechanisms.

    Some of the issues expressed in the last post about euro components are maybe to do with a different aesthetic (although I obviously agree about the lack of theme in many cases). I love wooden, tactile components and can deal with abstractions like pink cubes (sometimes)... they're certainly no worse for me than a cardboard chit with a picture of a pig on it! But the components are not the issue if the mechanics and theme aren't linked!
  • I've given the idea before of an RPG that can be played purely at a boardgame level, but if you want there are rules to help bring in spoken fiction to affect the boardgames mechanics, adding bonuses, more dice, etc.

    In a way the warhammer quest boardgame did that.

    The idea usually gets alot of resistance - people say it wouldn't be an RPG. But I suspect it might be that they feel/fear they would just play the boardgame part of it, exclusively.
    I think part of it gets more down to an issue that people in the hobby have a sort of mental vision of RPGs as things that are different partly because they don't use much in the way of physical components, beyond say dice and character sheets and a few cheatsheets/GM screens.

    It isn't exactly part of the definition of RPG, more like part of the mental image of the thing, left unspoken.

    It's part of several feedback loops in gameplay evolution that have occured over time, with both good and bad effects.

    On the up side, lack of that stuff has led to in-character immersion style fun as its own thing, one that's pretty much definitive of RPG play for a significant number of people.

    On the down side, it has led to in-character immersion with lack of physical stuff as pretty much being definitive of RPG play for a significant number of people.



  • edited November 2012
    But the components are not the issue if the mechanics and theme aren't linked!
    That's something good boardgames achieve that sometimes I wish some rpgs would have, I mean, best boardgames I've played are bent into using mechanics to achieve a particular atmosphere. In some way is like railroading (well, more like rollercoasting/good railroading) but it doesn't feel wrong because everyone knows where the fun is and that they don't need to break the game to have their own. And in the end there will be a winner.

    That's why I love RPGs that are focused into specific genres and make good use of their mechanics to achieve a particular atmosphere/ellicit a particular roleplaying style on their players. A good GM can also have the same effect on any game, but it takes a lot of experience from both the GM and the rest of the players.
  • The best rpgs focus on how the game is played at the table, and get this, the best board games focus on how the game is played at the table. (Or larps at the conference center, or sports in the field, or video games in front of the tv, etc)

    Tools. All the stuff from both types of games are just a bunch of tools. When a designer figures out how she wants the game to go down at the table with real players and works towards that, then we'll have a better game. I think it's a mistake to begin designing a rpg or a board game. I think you should design what you want the experience itself to be like. Use a board if you want people to move pieces around as part of play or use a 300 page book if you want people flipping through it for reference during play. Just don't call it anything before it's where you want it. Don't pigeon-hole yourself.

    But man, play some board games if you don't already. Hell, play a type of game that you don't already ESPECIALLY if you want to design a game. I'm really tired of rpgs designed by people who play mostly rpgs. I can't tell you how many times that I walk into End Game, flipping through all the different rpg books and seeing the same things over and over and over.


    That said (sorry about my mini-rant), here's my list of awesome tools from board games:

    -A board and pieces instead of paper and pencil. (erasing all the time sucks)
    -Cards. (slightly predictable randomization, physical interaction, I don't have to write shit down, many more)
    -Taking turns (The quiet person gets to play as much as the loudmouth)
    -Goals/Endgame (Something to work toward, less meandering around)
    -A box. (It's all in a box! Not a problem for most of us, but if you want new players or convenience)
    -No prep (aside from reading the rules, which yes, many board games are bad at too)
    -Mechanics that are integral (too many rpgs have mechanics which are extra, whereas most board games are the mechanics)

    There's also a load of stuff that board games can learn from rpgs!

    tl;dr .... play these board games: Battlestar Galactica, Apples to Apples, risk legacy, and Tales of Arabian Nights.



  • tl;dr .... play these board games: Battlestar Galactica, Apples to Apples, risk legacy, and Tales of Arabian Nights.

    While I'm sure that there others (like the Descent series, or the new WOTC lineup of D&D board games), out of the games that I've played....

    Battlestar Galactica and Tales of the Arabian Nights are probably the two board games that come closest to playing like an RPG...even though TofAN is severely broken the way my wife played it (always selecting "drink/get drunk" as a response to every encounter winds up with pretty much the same result all of the time).

    Dixit is a nice Apples to Apples variant that lets you flex your creative muscles a bit....even though the scoring in Dixit is a little head-scratching to understand.






  • The reason I say to play Apples to Apples INSTEAD of Dixit (which, yes I like better too) is because Apples to Apples is more elegant, is played by more people, and is easier to play than Dixit. The reasons why are important for designers to know.

    Tales of Arabian Nights has so many things to learn from it, broken and weird mechanics included. (My favorite being how to use a huge book as part of a game in a fun way.)
  • Funny thing is the RPG I'm currenty designing has everything on cards, and the GM deck's mechanic is based in Apples to Apples. I still dunno where this design is gonna take me but I'm deffintely learning from boardgames.
  • "Tales of Arabian Nights has so many things to learn from it, broken and weird mechanics included. (My favorite being how to use a huge book as part of a game in a fun way.)"

    Not to mention that the Z-Man reprint is an absolute gorgeous package.
  • edited November 2012
    I've been thinking about this thread a lot. It tickles my game mechanics geek side as someone who played both RPGs and board games for years. A lot of great stuff has already been said about the general aspects of board games. I thought I'd add one specific example of a board game mechanic that I personally really like and extrapolate how this could be applied to RPGs.

    Bidding or Using an Action/Resource to Change Turn Order or Gain Advantage
    Some board games allow turn order to change, usually by having a player choose to use up a "worker" (basically an action) to choose to go first on the next turn. Example games are Agricola and Belfort (which allows players to choose 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.). This potentially allows them to pick the best option for their worker on the following turn before another player grabs it up. This can be applied to RPGs by allowing a player to use up an action or resource or chuck of their dice pool to go first on the following turn or to gain some other advantage or better positioning. These points/dice could be just used directly to buy a better position or they could be used with some secret or open bidding mechanic. With simulationist style mechanics this directly applies to typical conflict resolution where a fighter holds back to follow up with a strike that is faster and harder or a lawyer refuses to cross examine the witness so as to bring forth a new surprise witness. This can also be used for more narrative play where a player may choose to let someone else throw a money wrench to their scene so as to be able to set the stage for the next scene where their character has an advantage.

    As an addendum, a few games you should play: Agricola (really feels like the tight struggle to run a farm), Twilight Struggle (amazing cold war game which feels like you are playing out history), Fluffy Bunny Tea Party (roleplaying is encouraged with this card game and the "must remain polite" rule is great), Seven Wonders (frankly the theme is barely duct taped on but the game is amazing), Mice & Mystics (haven't played it but I thought I'd add it as I hear it's great at doing the dungeon crawl adventure thing).
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