Archive for the ‘elegance’ Category

The Importance of Being Elegant — The Upside of Elegance

In boardgames, elegance, game design on April 30th, 2007 at 12:03 pm

While I did a bit to ameliorate the most common complaints about elegant games last time, they still have some clear drawbacks. Without some positives to tip the scales, we might as well tell game designers, “Forget about elegance, it’s just a way of showing off. You’d be better off focusing on other qualities when you design.” Fortunately, I can think of several aspects of elegance that, together, rise to the occasion.

Just as I did not discuss every argument against elegance in the last part, this is not an exhaustive list of the benefits of elegance. In addition to being a futile effort, trying to compile a complete list of the advantages of elegance, with even cursory analysis, would be far more than anyone would want to read. Instead, I will focus on what I feel are the most significant advantages elegance has to offer.

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The Importance of Being Elegant — The Case For the Prosecution

In boardgames, elegance, game design on April 22nd, 2007 at 9:23 pm

In order to critique games — and, if absolutely necessary, gamers — intelligently, you must understand the strengths and weaknesses of the major aesthetic priorities. Developing a grasp of why different priorities makes games fun, which priorities play well together and which ones do not, what the limits of their advantages and disadvantages are, and how the problems they can cause have been overcome in the past are all important to developing a thorough understanding of games and how they are designed.

Here and in the final part of this series I shall try to develop such an understanding of elegance, starting with the problems that emphasizing elegance can cause. I won’t pretend that I discuss every complaint about elegant game design here, though. This article would become (even more) unwieldy if I did, and I feel that some of the common complaints are straw men that anyone can see through. In addition, I am not aware of a comprehensive Encyclopedia of Complaints About Elegant Games that I can use as a reference. I’ve used the Alex Rockwell piece that is quoted in the introduction to this essay as my primary source for serious complaints. There are certainly serious issues with elegance that I have forgotten about.

It should also be obvious that I have a strong bias in favour of elegant designs. Because of this, I doubt that I have done complete justice to the arguments against elegance. I have tried my best to be fair, but I have probably not been as eloquent or as forceful as I should be when presenting the case against elegance.

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The Importance of Being Elegant — Concerning Aesthetic Content in Games

In boardgames, elegance, game design on April 17th, 2007 at 4:26 pm

[This is the second part of my essay on the role of elegance in game design. The first part, introducing the topic, can be found here. Parts 3 and 4 will be coming soon.]

Before getting into the advantages and disadvantages of elegant game design, it is important to understand the role that elegance plays in game design. It is not an objective measure of success or failure in game design, and it is not a goal that a designer sets for himself. Instead, elegance is one of a wide array of aesthetic qualities that a designer can choose to emphasize or ignore. The priority a designer gives to elegance, and every other aesthetic quality, has a huge influence on which players enjoy a game. Elegance only affects a game’s quality indirectly, though.

Advanced Squad Leader is an excellent example of a high quality game whose designers did not give much emphasis to elegance. At the time of this writing, ASL is ranked among the top 50 board games of all time on Boardgamegeek. It has also sold thousands of copies, has been in print for most of the last 25 years, and has spawned dozens of expansions and spin-off products. It is also one of the most inelegant games ever published. Even by wargame standards, its rules are almost (repeat almost) ludicrously detailed. Nevertheless, it has to be accepted as one of the best boardgames of all time. If elegance were an objective measure of quality, ASL would have disappeared shortly after publication.

The list of aesthetic values that a game design can possess is enormous, and each value has both fans and detractors. Every game design features a unique mix of them, and determining this mix is one of the most significant decisions a game designer makes, even when he is not aware that he is making it. Deciding involves trade offs, though, and no game can be all things to all players. How should a designer make this decision? What does this mean for the art of game design? How does this necessity affect the role of elegance — or any other aesthetic quality — in game design?

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The Importance of Being Elegant — Introduction

In boardgames, elegance, game design on April 16th, 2007 at 1:29 pm

[Presented here for your amusement, at long last, is my second essay on elegance in game design The Importance of Being Elegant. Well, actually, this is just the introduction to it. The whole thing is much too long to read comfortably in a single blog post, so I have broken it into four parts, and I will post it over the course of the next couple weeks.
I thought that I would start you off easy 😉

The entire essay consists of

  1. Introduction
  2. Concerning Aesthetic Content in Games
  3. The Case for the Prosecution
  4. The Upside of Elegance]

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Elegance — An Update

In elegance, miscellany on November 4th, 2006 at 2:15 pm

This post is to reassure those of you who are interested in my (alleged) series on elegance that, no, I have not abandoned it, and yes, I am actually working on part 2.

Unfortunately, part 2 is being a bit difficult. My first draft was unusually rough, even by my humble standards. Over the last couple of weeks I have been editing it, but it has been a bit of an uphill struggle. Right now I am wavering on the edge. On the one hand, it has already been well over two months since I posted part one, and people may justifiably be losing patience. I could just put up what I have now, which is complete but rather stilted reading, on Monday or Tuesday. On the other, the perfectionist in me doesn’t want to subject you to rather mediocre writing, especially in a post of this length. Getting a polished essay would mean a couple more weeks of editing, though, and possibly more if I decide to chuck what I have and start again from scratch.

So I ask you, my readers (all three of you :), which would you rather? See it now, but suffer through a rather rough essay, or continue waiting as long as it takes to get a good read, making due with other topics — I have stuff in the hopper that I think is interesting, but isn’t a major production number like this — in the meantime?

P.S. If you’re looking for some good writing about elegance to tide you over, may I suggest Jonathan Degann‘s The Well Constructed Game? I’ve been holding off reading it myself until after I finish up part 2 so that it doesn’t just ape Jonathan, but his stuff always comes highly recommended by me.

Colossal Arena Addenda

In appraisals, boardgames, elegance, mechanics on August 28th, 2006 at 1:15 pm

After I went to bed last night, I realized that I forgot about a couple of points that I wanted to make about Colossal Arena from my last post.

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In elegance, miscellany on August 15th, 2006 at 1:58 pm

A few thoughts parenthetically related to my just started series of articles on elegance, plus one item that’s not related to anything in particular. Read the rest of this entry »

An Introduction to Elegance

In boardgames, elegance, game design on August 14th, 2006 at 11:32 pm

This article is second runner-up, 2006 Board Game Internet Awards, Best Industry ArticleElegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.

-Gabrielle “Coco” Channel

Prior to 1995, there was little tradition of elegant design in the North American gaming industry. Hex ‘n’ Counter wargames that had 20+ page rulebooks were still thriving, and, while block wargames had been invented in the mid ’70s, they were still a niche within a niche. Quasi-RPG wargames like Car Wars, Battletech and Star Fleet Battles, which had their heyday in the ’80s before petering out during the first half of the ’90s, were almost an order of magnitude more complicated than the standard hex games.

A few oddballs, like Illuminati and Cosmic Encounter, had digestible rulebooks, but they relied on chaotic wackiness, including a healthy dose of Take That, to provide fun. Most hardcore boardgamers are no longer interested in Take That games (although Cosmic Encounter still has a loyal following), preferring light or heavy strategy games of various stripes. The primary market for that sort of chaotic game is now crossover buyers from the comic book and RPG markets. Judging by the number of Munchkin and Chez Geek sequels that Steve Jackson Games has published, it’s a winning strategy.

Don’t get me started on role-playing games. This was the era of Rolemaster and Palladium and Torg.

There were elegant boardgames around, of course. Aside from two player abstracts, which have been elegant since the beginning, hobby boardgames like Dune, Empire Builder, the 18xx games (which actually date back to the mid-’70s), and the designs of Sid Sackson were all pleasantly compact designs. They were few and far between, though, and except for the Sackson classics like Acquire and Bazaar, these gems also suffer from playing times in excess of 2 hours.

Then Settlers of Catan came to North America, and everything changed. The idea that you could have meaningful choices and a rulebook that is shorter than 10 pages (ironically, the layout of Settlers rulebook obfuscates that) started to spread. Soon, other games followed that offered greater depth of strategy and tactics than Settlers, but still had rulebooks short enough to be understood in a single reading. The German Boardgame Invasion had begun, and elegance— meaningful decisions coupled with compact rules—was along for the ride.

Even though elegance lies at the heart of the German boardgame revolution, in-depth discussions of elegance and boardgame design are hard to find. Even the most basic definition of elegance seems to be assumed. Thi Nguyen nibbles at the edges of a concrete understanding of elegance in this GeekList, but doesn’t quite get there (through no failing of Thi’s—that’s not what he was aiming for). Yehuda Berlinger takes more direct aim at a definition of elegance and a rough way of measuring it in an article he wrote for the group blog Gone Gaming in his article Elegance in Games (which he pointed out to me in comments below after this article was first posted). Based on the comments to that article, though, I think it is fair to say that there is still room for further exploration.

This article is the first part of a series whose aim is to clearly explain what elegant game design is, why it is important, and how it is achieved. I will focus on defining elegant design for the rest of this article, with an eye toward tying the definition to other uses of the word elegant. Other aspects of this subject, including why elegance is important and how elegant designs are created, shall be examined in later parts of this series. Read the rest of this entry »