As stated before, We hope the following isn’t considered as a know it all expert blathering about how to make the best game ever. We hope it provides insight into why we make our games the way we do, and provides a starting point for discussion on this topic.
This post has taken a while, since the way that choices affect the hands in a board game is different to a video game. You see, in a video game, you can control much of how the story is presented, however, In a board game the player creates the story in their head, or it’s a shared experience with the other players.
I’ll start off using my own board game as an example of how story could be told in a board game. On the first day, players need to find shelter. There’s two ways this can go, since the playing area is randomly generated each game. Either they get really lucky, and they see a shelter in the first few turns, or they are really unlucky and they could be spending the whole day looking for a place to stay overnight. In this way, while not being a choice the player has, the overall story of the game is affected, either they feel lucky, or they feel relief they finally found a place to stay. They players can base the start of their shared story in the board game off that first day.
It seems like the most important thing to do with choices in a board game for people that are only starting out with board games other than Monopoly or Scrabble, is to reduce the amount of choices the player has on their first few turns, or to make it so that each turn it is readily apparent what the player should do. This is to stop analysis paralysis and to keep the game moving. An example of this, along with dramatic tension in our game, After the Crash, is the food and water meters. After the first day, where players should be exploring as much as they can to find shelter, players will find they need to keep drinking and scavenging food to stay alive. As the food and water meters run out, players will find it obvious what actions they should be taken next. If their food level is low, they can either scavenge for food, try and kill an animal for food, or see if any of their friends have food to share. If their water level is low, they will either find a friend with a water bottle, or go to a lake. Hopefully this makes it easy for newcomers to get used to the game within the first 10 minutes.
Where these choices get interesting is when you are working together, since you all want to keep each other alive. What is the best use of everyone’s time? Should everyone scavenge for food, which randomly returns either tools, food, or animals? Or should jobs be broken up among players? Would other players like to be told what to do? These choices also get interesting when your life points are running out and you need to kill animals for food. Do you gang up on the animals, reducing the amount of damage that you incur but reducing the amount of food all the players receive? Or do you risk dying to get more food faster?
I guess what I’m saying within this post is that board game choices need to be made meaningful by the mechanics of the game. Your choices need to have real weight behind them. In the beginning of After the Crash, choices are made easy so that new players can get used to the game. Later, choices might make other players die in the game, or keep them alive. Having a co-operative game where you want to keep everyone alive, with other people that react to your choices can lead to some interesting discussions with your friends around the table, which makes the choices you make more meaningful.
In the next post, I’ll describe different ways other board games make their choices meaningful.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to see some comments from anyone interested in starting a discussion.