Boardgames in Disguise

edited April 2007 in Story Games
Immediate apologies to the following people:

Anyone expecting a thread about Transformers.
Anyone who might have commented on this idea before: I've not found any discussions, hence the post.

The methods and goals of story games (the games themselves, not the forum) fascinate me. I've always been intrigued by the mechanics of games and particularly in making the rules enhance the story and setting, despite my flirtation with generic systems. Some of the best known "indie" RPGs have very specific, tightly defined mechanisms for things such as social conflict, character interaction etc. and I find myself wondering if we are always best served by making some ofese games RPGs rather than card or boardgames.

It really hit me as I was tinkering (again...) with the system underlying a game I have been working on for a while, one which is intended to force people to face the consequences of their actions very directly, while also giving them compelling reasons to try to keep up a respectable front to the world and handle ludicrous escalations of conflicts that the characters will try to keep hidden. As I trimmed away some of the more cumbersome system elements I had added and started to work on something more unified I realised that I actually had the makings of an interesting boardgame. Thing is, I don't play many boardgames any more (although I used to, before RPGs truly stole my heart) and so I don't actually have much interest in designing one. So even though I am beginning to think that a boardgame might suit my intended goal better I still expect this design to be an RPG.

In our attempts to create formal structures within our games to enhance the roleplaying elements do you ever think we might, on occasion, compromise the design because we want to make an RPG, regardless of whether it is the best form for our intended purpose? Have you found yourself looking at any published games and wishing that the designer had turned it into a different form of game?

The heart of this rambling, I think, is that sometimes the methods used in story games have a very non-transparent structure. Usually deliberately they enforce certain modes of play; indeed, that's rather the point of many of them. Sometimes I wonder if we are being a bit narrow in our focus, rather than looking at the best form of entertainment with which to present our vision.

Or I could be talking utter bollocks, of course.

Comments

  • Classroom Deathmatch was almost a board game. But in the end I decided that even though the game has some board gameish elements that it was the roleplaying that was the central draw and the heart of te experience. So even idf it had been packaged in a box with a board Classroom Deathmatch would still be an RPG.

    I've had ideas for games in the past that I later realized would work much better as a different type of game, a comic, a short film or whatever. I think I have been tempted to try to fit certain ideas into role playing game form when they might work better in another form. That's not to say that RPG's can't handlea wide variety of different genre and subjects, but rather that the way I wanted to approach a specific subject would work better for me in another format.

    Am i missing what you are getting at?
  • No, actually you're expressing it rather better than I did!

    I love RPGs, love the whole social interaction, the verbal sparring, open tactical thinking, pretty much all of it. Any way to enhance the experience is great as far as I am concerned; and the rise of games expressly trying to promote certain aspects, such as conflict escalation or facing moral choices, is one of the most exciting trends for years. Sometimes, though, I'll be reading through one set of rules or another and I can't help but think that an RPG is not the obvious choice for the systems the designer has created. Resource management is one tool often used in these games, and if you take it a little too far (as I was doing in my own design) it becomes very much a boardgame mechanic, which then led me to wonder if we try to create RPGs because we love them, rather than because we have a real issue to explore or goal to reach which might be better served through another medium.

    Thanks for replying.
  • it becomes very much a boardgame mechanic

    I think this exact kind of identity politic is the most dangerous thing in game design today, or ever. By imagining walls like this between games, we suppress diversity and prevent ourselves from exploring design spaces that are not covered by traditional forms. Why do I have to choose between "rpg" and "boardgame"? Why should anyone have to choose?

  • edited April 2007
    Posted By: shreyasit becomes very much a boardgame mechanic

    I think this exact kind of identity politic is the most dangerous thing in game design today, or ever. By imagining walls like this between games, we suppress diversity and prevent ourselves from exploring design spaces that are not covered by traditional forms. Why do I have to choose between "rpg" and "boardgame"? Why should anyone have to choose?

    A very good point, actually, and not one I had given a good deal of thought to, particularly regarding how to make clear what I mean by "a boardgame mechanic."

    There are certain expectations associated with different sorts of games, though, and I hear an awful lot of complaints from D&D players that the 3.5 edition of the game feels too much like a boardgame or a miniatures game and not enough like an RPG. Specifically, the main complaint there seems to be that the combat system has become much more difficult to run without a map and miniatures than it was: the line between boardgame and RPG has blurred, which evidently does cause a problem for some people.

    However, I've nothing against a blurring of such lines (indeed, one of my pet peeves is the pigeon-holing of music into ever more narrow categories) but I can see a definite implication for roleplaying. With my own design it became apparent that the character sheet was going to become a fairly complicated piece of work involving a whole series of counters, used to track the ever changing influences in the game (and this was not at all what I had first intended, it just sort of leaned that way more and more as I began to focus on the elements of the story and setting I wanted to push). In the end it was pretty obvious that a board would actually make things much, much clearer for the players. It was still a game about stories, about making choices and acting them out, about considering just what you would do to protect your social standing, but the existence of a board would definitely change the dynamic of the game. The board is really just another tool, of course, but inevitably a very visual one.

    Eventually I thought of a way to get around that and return to a game without the need for a board or a very complicated record sheet. Will that make the game better? I don't know, to be honest. It will certainly make it more like a "traditional" RPG, something you could play sitting on a bus almost as easily as in your living room, which is something I've always liked about roleplaying games, and it would return the visualisation to the players, not to the board in the middle of the table. That is certainly something I want, yet I can't help but wonder if shifting the focus like this might not take away from the very game elements I hoped to promote.
  • Posted By: BigJackBrass
    There are certain expectations associated with different sorts of games, though, and I hear an awful lot of complaints fromD&Dplayers that the 3.5 edition of the game feels too much like a boardgame or a miniatures game and not enough like an RPG. Specifically, the main complaint there seems to be that the combat system has become much more difficult to run without a map and miniatures than it was: the line between boardgame and RPG has blurred, which evidently does cause a problem for some people.
    It's very likely that we'll be seeing even more games with miniatures in the near future. The process for producing decent pre-painted minis ( both mechanically and economically) has been developed and explored. The companies that have the capital to invest inthat sort of thing are doing so, and frankly there's a better return on their investment for doing it.

    My only real complaint right now isn't that minis are coming in, but that the companies involved still seem to believe that the only use of minis is for a wargame. Hasbro ( a toy manufacturer) should certainly know better, anyway.
    However, I've nothing against a blurring of such lines (indeed, one of my pet peeves is the pigeon-holing of music into ever more narrow categories) but I can see a definite implication for roleplaying.
    The division is a false one anyway. "Role-playing" is one element of a game's design. It would be more like if music was categorized by " Music that has Drums" and "Music that has people singing".

    One implication for roleplaying games is to honestly look at all of the elements that have gone into roleplaying design and culture and start seperating them out. Then we can take those elements and recombine them with one another or elements of other sorts of designs at leisure.

    The upside/downside to that is that we won't be able to simply pass something off as "Card Game"," Board Game", or "Roleplaying Game": Each thing will have a name, and it will have to stand on its own.
  • Like Shreyas, this is a non-issue for me. When my friend Steve plays Memoir '44 he always picks a unit and bring it to life in his mind, telling the story of the battle through their eyes. Does that make it a roleplaying game? Does it matter? When we play AGON and it becomes a face-to-face struggle where character fades into the background, does it become a board game? Does it matter?
  • You can also look at this from the other direction. A lot of co-op boardgames (Descent, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Shadows Over Camelot I'm thinking of here) have elements that look like RPG stuff compared to other boardgames. Heck, Descent is basically meant to play like a no-roleplaying session of dnd.
  • Jason, you expressed that really well, dude.

  • Posted By: shreyasJason, you expressed that really well, dude.
    Yes indeed, and thank you to everyone who has commented. I'm not trying to criticise a particular approach or style of game here, rather I'm sorting out some questions about the design process and the choices we make as a game develops. These replies have really helped with that.
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