Daily Illuminator

September 3, 2008: Things We Think About Games

"Don't try to make games something they're not. To borrow a phrase, it wastes time and it annoys the pig. Likewise, don't play Munchkin unless you're willing to be royally shafted by (and royally shaft) your friends, and if you ever have the opportunity in Illuminati to use the Girl Scouts to control everything, do it."

-- Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to Things We Think About Games

Another bit of fun at GenCon was Things We Think About Games, by Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball (with a foreword by Robin D. Laws and introduction by Wil Wheaton). Presented as a collection of knowledge and thoughts about games, including some "knowledge" that I completely disagree with, the book covers game design, game publishing, playing games, and pretty much anything the pair feels is important to games. Will and Jeff asked me to contribute, so I wrote one "thing" in the book (my thing was inspired by both reading and writing game rules and no, I won't tell you what set of game rules I had in mind at the exact moment that I wrote my "thing," so don't ask) which means that I can't be trusted when it comes to talking about the book. (Though it is a book that all gamers should own, if only so that they can put some thought into how they play games. This means that you should own a copy because you're a gamer. Right? Right.)

When Will and Jeff contacted me, one of the requests was for comments on the things they had written for the book. They didn't use a few of the short bits I sent them, so I'm going to post one of the unused bits here. (It's not good to let unused writing sit for too long, even my own mad rambling text.) I'll probably e-mail the other unused bits to someone random. (Is there a market for gamer spam? I'll have to research that.) Anyway, in response to the thing in the book titled "Take your turn, already," I wrote:

"Game Designers and Developers: This means you should, during playtesting, keep a very close eye on the length of time from when a player finishes his turn until the action comes around to him again. In a perfect world, each player turn will take one to two minutes, with total time between a single player’s turns lasting no more than five to ten minutes. Any longer than that and you risk losing players to the TV or another distraction. If individual turns are taking longer than one or two minutes, explore ways to allow simultaneous play or reduce the number of player options each turn."

I'm sure that there's no reason for me to explain why short player turns are important to a game. Each and every one of us has been in the game with so many options that the turns take five to ten minures each (and this really isn't fun when there are five other players). Think back to that game where you finished your turn and then ran off to the gas station for a snack -- "if I hurry, the guys won't have to wait more than a minute or two for me to get back," you thought to yourself -- and returned twenty minutes later just in time to . . . see the player to your left still taking his turn? Who wrote these rules?

Do you remember that rambling problem I mentioned? I'm doing it again. I'll go back to work now.

 -- Phil Reed

I also picked this book up at GenCon. I don't write in books -- I'm something of a purist when it comes to the printed page -- but several of the comments had me scribbling retorts on the flight home. A couple of them were just plain dumb I disagreed with strongly, and a couple were genuine epiphanies. But every one made me think. As Phil says, this is a book all gamers should own.

-- Paul Chapman


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