Golden Game Barn

Creators of Fine Digital and Dice Based Games

Category: Meaningful Choices in Games

Meaningful Choices In Board Games: Examples

In this post we describe some exciting examples of meaningful choices in board games, and what makes them so meaningful, both to the player making the choice, and the other player’s playing.

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 discussion on this topic.

Choice in games is extremely important. a game is basically a series of meaningful choices. In order to look at what makes a good meaningful choice, today we will look at examples of games that feature excellent choices, and what makes them so exciting.

We’ll start with a choice very similar to the prisoners dilemma. In Cosmic Encounter, a game about taking control out outer space, the way you handle battles is through a card system. These cards determine the attack value of your ships, and range in power from 4 to 40. So far, so normal. BUT, there are negotiate cards, which will only work when the other player wants to negotiate as well.

This means if the other player attacks, no matter the strength of that attack, they win. You can see how this can get interesting. Players can convince each other to play the negotiate card, then attack them, or be attacked when they bring their own negotiate card out. This leads to interesting discussions between players, lots of mind games between players, and hey! Now just choosing a card to put down has become a game in itself.

EDIT: As it turns out, there’s more to the Negotiate cards than I previously stated, IF a player plays a Negotiate card, and the other player plays an Attack card, the Attack player wins, BUT, and this is a big BUT the Negotiate player is then able to random select one of the attacker’s cards for each ship that is sent to the void. As Pete Olotka says “This leads to many a pyrrhic victory on the Attack side as the Negotiator fishes for key cards.”  You can see how this can influence the game! You might give up a fight to collect your opponents powerful cards (or all of them if your opponent has very little cards) and this rule encourages players that have many strong cards to also Negotiate if their opponent is playing the Negotiate card. Thanks to Pete Olotka for clearing this up.

On the co operative side of things, Pandemic is an extremely exciting board game to analyze for meaningful choices. You and your friends work together to save humanity by ridding the world of four extremely dangerous diseases, and lose when the diseases take over enough cities to cause outbreaks. Every turn you take you’ll have to decide which city to move to, and how you’ll do it. At the end of your turn, you have to pick up infection cards to determine which city gets infected again, and has an extra infection cube placed on it. If a city gets three infection cubes on it, and gets infected again, then an outbreak occurs and the cities around it get infected as well, and this can cause more outbreaks to occur.

So ideally you’d use your cards to go to the most infected cities, right? But here’s the thing, to cure a disease, you need 5 cards of the same color, and then be on a research station, and then cash them all in. So do you keep that “New York” card, so that you can cure the disease in the US, or do you use it to get there, since it has 3 cubes on it and you don’t know if it could be infected again? What do you and your team mates think? You don’t want to let them down do you? Then you’ll always be that guy that kept his “New York” card while the whole world burned…

One of the problems about co operative games is the quarterback player. This is basically someone who knows the game inside out, tells everyone what to do, and makes the game less fun for everyone else. One game that has an amazing series of mechanics to combat this is The Dead of Winter. The game is about surviving the zombie apocalypse in winter, and gives every player their own goal, along with the goal of keeping everyone alive. The thing is that their goal could be to hoard all the food, make a robot using lots of  tools, or just plain burn the survival camp to the ground.

This means that anyone trying to railroad players into doing certain things is immediately suspected of doing something that benefits their goal. And here’s the other amazing part. Players can be voted out of the group, which means all their goals change, and they aren’t playing on the same team as everyone else anymore, so if a player seems like a traitor, they can be voted out, and their entire game changes. That’s some amazing meaningful choice that involves everyone playing.

Thanks for reading, and we’d love to read some of your own most interesting choices you’ve had to make in a game. Maybe there’s a choice you’ve made during family game night that your whole family will never let you live down? Or one which saved the whole game for everyone? I’d like to hear any stories from anyone that’s finished Ghost Stories, and what kind of dark god you had to pray to in order to win that.

Meaningful Choices in Board Games

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.

Meaningful Choices in Games, Part 2: Choices and Gameplay

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.

In our previous post, we discussed why choice is interesting in games, and how to make a choice interesting, and get around the whole “use Google to get the best choice” issue. In this post, we will discuss how to tie choices to gameplay, and even better, how you can use gameplay choices to affect a story.

One of the best games that show examples of how your choices affect gameplay and how gameplay choices affect story is “Deus Ex”, along with it’s most recent sequel, “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” (DX: HR). I’ll go through the first mission of “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, explain the main interesting choices, along with what makes them interesting.

Some of the first choices you get are also some of the most interesting. Before the mission, you get to choose what weapon you want to use to take out your enemies, whether it’s lethal or non-lethal, and if you want a short range or long range weapon. This gives the player immense power over making the story they are playing their own. Do they want their character as a stealthy spy that doesn’t believe in killing security guards that have families, or a bloodthirsty killer that enjoys getting up close and personal before taking them out? It’s a very easy choice to set up, but gives the player so much agency that it’s worth it. Later characters react to you choosing to be lethal or non-lethal towards enemies as well.

Another very interesting “choice” a player gets in the first mission of DX: HR happens before they even start the first mission. The first mission tasks you with saving prisoners, retrieving technology developed by your boss, and taking out the terrorist leader. You can fail the “saving prisoners” part of the mission by taking too long to get ready for the mission, and characters will react to your speed later in the game. Usually things like this are telegraphed by having a timer up on the game screen (HUD) and making it obvious, but DX: HR makes the choice more interesting and less gamey by not making this choice stand out. Doing things like this are another easy way to blend the story and gameplay together, and I’m surprised this doesn’t appear more often in games.

The biggest integration on gameplay on story in the first mission is the conversation you have with the terrorist leader. Since he has a hostage, you want to try and calm him down. You can either talk him into giving up, tell him you’ll let him go, or fail completely and he will kill the hostage and be shot at when he escapes. If your aim is good enough, and you are fast enough, you can also try and take him down lethally or non lethally before even starting the conversation. This brings all the gameplay elements of DX: HR together with the story in a very interesting way, showing the many different ways you can handle this situation. And there are consequences that spring from all of these choices. If you wanted to study choices in games, playing any Deux Ex game is a very good start.

Probably the most interesting example of how gameplay can change a story is in “Silent Hill 2” (SH2). You don’t make any choices in conversations, you make choices in how you play the game. The story in SH2 is extremely dark, with a man called James trying to find his wife, Mary, who is dead, but apparently sent him a letter asking him to come to Silent Hill. The ending you get in the game depends on how you play the game. There are 6 endings, but I’ll only go over the most 3 interesting ones from a choice and gameplay perspective.

Also, spoilers I guess, but the game is like 13 years old.

If you play the game like a gamer most likely would (Conserve health items, examine everything, search everywhere) then your ending features your James committing suicide. If you play the game while trying to keep the memory of your wife alive by being as fast as you can to get to her, looking at her photo and reading her letter over and over, you get an ending where James and Mary make peace and James goes back to living his life again. If you play the game while taking care of Mary’s doppleganger, Mary and James fight, and James leaves with Mary’s doppleganger, who is a twisted fantasy of what James wanted in a woman.

The most interesting thing about this is that at no point does the game make it explicitly clear you are making a choice through your actions, but is able to react to how you play the game, and give you an ending that makes sense with what your character sees and does. I’d really like to see this sort of thing happen in games more often, but since it’s so nuanced and not just a series of choices, I can see why it doesn’t. It seems to be very hard to pull off consistently.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope this makes you think about some choices for your own games.

Meaningful Choices in Games

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.

Choice in games is a big part of making a game a game. Super Mario Brothers wouldn’t be much of a game if all you had to do is click a button to get Mario to jump on the ax to beat Bowser.
On the micro level, you choose when to jump over Bowser to get to the ax, which gives you a choice. On the macro level, you don’t get a choice, you have to save the princess. You can’t change how the story will play out.

It seems to me that micro level choices affect how fun a game can be, and macro level choices affect how invested people are in your story. This post will be about choices on the macro level.

Personally, I’ve found Mario games very fun, but don’t really care about the story, and on the opposite side, “The Walking Dead” has very little ‘gameplay’, but the choices you make in the game are so good that this is one of the only games that other people are willing to watch like a TV show. One thing that “The Walking Dead ” really hit out of the park is the timer on conversations. That really adds an urgency to decision making.

While it’s great that people can be so excited about the story of a game, a quick look at any game review website on “The Walking Dead” will show players that didn’t feel like their choices made any difference, and a look at a wiki for the game will show that in most cases, your choices made very little difference. It’s kind of a trick to make you feel more involved.

While the second one is improving on this by having characters around for longer, it seems a better way to have choices in a game is to have the choice make an impact later, such as in “The Witcher”. “The Witcher” provides choices that really have no clear good or evil choice, much like real life choices, and their impact isn’t felt until much later in the game, do you can’t just reload a save from 5 minutes ago and make a different choice. You also can’t really use a help book or wiki to min-max your answer, as you might not know what would be useful to you that far in the future.

For instance, a choice comes up rather early where you can either let a gang of elves ( this game’s underprivileged race ) steal some supplies because you feel for their plight, or kill them all because you took on a job to protect the supplies.

So which do you choose?

If you let them take the supplies, a character you haven’t met yet will be killed by those supplies in the next chapter. If you kill them another different character you haven’t met will be taken to jail and you’ll need to bail them out if you want to speak with them.

Even knowing the outcome, how would you choose? You can’t avoid someone dying, either by your hand, or someone else’s. You can’t really tell which outcome will benefit you the most, since you haven’t met those characters yet.

Another reason why you don’t see meaningful choices in a game is because there’s so much that goes into games these days, with 3D models, voice actors, animations for those models, etc. There’s only really one way around this, really, and that’s to scale back the technology needed. That’s why games in the visual novel style had so many choices. In a visual novel, the macro choices are the game, so they need to be very, well, meaningful. This is also the main reason why our first game will be a visual novel, to really tackle the idea of choice in a game head on.

To summarize, I feel in order to have meaningful choices in a game, they must affect the player by changing an action available to the player later in the game, in such a way they can not google the best choice to make for their character.

Soon, I’ll write about one of the best ways to improve a choice. Having the choice affect the gameplay in some way.

Thanks for reading, hope to hear your thoughts.

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