Though deckbuilding games have been around for a few years now, we haven’t seen many experienced eurogame designers dive into the category. Martin Wallace’s A Few Acres of Snow (2011) was a notable exception — and unsurprisingly one of the most distinct deckbuilder designs. Thus, I was very pleased to see Copycat (2012), by experienced euro designer Friedemann Friese.
Copycat is uniquely a game that combines worker placement mechanics and deckbuilder mechanics. After players have auctioned for initiative, they place workers on certain choice office spaces. Only afterward do they have the opportunity to purchase new cards and earn victory points.
The game works because its two parts are very symmetrical — a topic I’m going to return to shortly. The powers of the worker placement spaces and the powers of deckbuilt cards have a lot of overlap: either one can give a player money to spend, or let him draw cards, or earn him victory points. The worker placement spaces provide the unique ability to give players “buys” — which are required to actually make purchases — while the cards have several (slightly) more esoteric powers, and also offer the unique ability to give players more workers to place.
The entire goal of the game is to earn victory points. These show up whenever players place workers in victory point spaces, play victory point cards, or use worker placement spaces that were unpopular in recent rounds. At the end of the game, players may also get the opportunity to turn their last hand’s worth of money into victory points — though this can sometimes be blocked by other players.
No matter what sort of deck a player made, it’s the person who earned the most points over the course of the game who wins.
Game design can be influenced by many different fields. Among them, psychology is one of the most interesting, because it suggests ways that players might act that don’t necessarily go hand in hand with the actual mechanics presented in a game. Thus this week I’m kicking off the start of what I hope will become a series on psychology, with a look at loss aversion and gaming.
I found one of the best discussions of loss aversion at Usabilia, which describes loss aversion thus:
Loss aversion is a human characteristic that describes how people are intrinsically afraid of losses. When compared against each other people dislike losing more than they like winning. Thus losses loom larger than gains even though the value in monetary terms may be identical.
There isn’t much question on the existence of loss aversion. Instead, the modern scientific articles on the topic tend to focus more on why it occurs and what its boundaries on. I think some of those issues could be intriguing for a follow-up article, but for the moment I want to concentrate on the core of loss aversion as it applies to game design.
Driftwood Games first released Arctic Scavengers (2009) in a limited edition back toward the start of the deckbuilding era, but it just hit the mass market recently with its rerelease from Rio Grande Games (2013). It turns out that there’s a surprising amount of innovation for something published so soon after Dominion (2008).
Arctic Scavengers is built around a menu of four options: draw, dig, hunt, and skirmish. Each player can do each action no more than once on his turn (though he often won’t do all of them). Cards used for one action can’t then be used for another. Continue reading
Matt Leacock is the author of Pandemic — one of the essential games in the cooperative field thanks to its attention to light, quick, well-polished gameplay. He’s also the author of Forbidden Island and the brand-new Forbidden Desert, which is to be released in several languages this quarter.
This interview was conducted in email over the course of April 2013.
Shannon Appelcline: What made you decide to design a cooperative game — and more specifically, what made you decide to design Pandemic?
Matt Leacock: I was introduced to the idea of a cooperative game being genuinely fun (as opposed to a “fun” educational experience) by Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings. I found the mechanisms in that game fascinating — how so much tension could be created by pieces of cardboard — and wondered what it would be like to create my own. At the time, pandemics where all over the news and it seemed to me that diseases would make an excellent opponent: they’re unfeeling, scary, can grow out of control, and I figured they could be modeled with fairly simple rules. Those latter two properties were the most attractive. I’m drawn to designing games with emergent systems (where a simple set of rules can result in highly complex and variable results) and the thought of a system spiraling wildly out of control was irresistible to me.
Cryptozoic Entertainment continues to quietly offer up eurostyle games with strong themes and/or great licenses. Their releases in the last year have included no less than three different deckbuilders — all of which I hope to discuss here in turn. First up I have 3012 (2012), a combative deckbuilding game focused on a future world of antropomorphic tribes.
I’ve been lagging in my Mechanics & Meeples posts again, and it’s for the same reason as last time: I just finished up work on book #3 of Designers & Dragons, my four-book history of the roleplaying industry.
To commemorate that event, I’ve opted to share a second part of my fragmentary history of board game. This one falls a bit after my article on The Birth of the Modern Board Game.
Wargaming would eventually become an American-dominated industry. However, first the United States had to develop its own gaming national identity, and that would begin in late 19th century. Though the earliest major publishers aren’t remember well today, they nonetheless form the start of a stream of publication that would start gaing steam in 1883.
The first leader in the American board game industry was McLoughlin Brothers & Co. (1858-1920). By the 1880s they dominated they industry. Though their games are little known today among the general public, they remained the most desirable games for this period from collectors. With the emergence of chromolithography their beautiful designs truly began to shine.
Other early companies that were active by the time McLoughlin rose to ascendance include the aforementioned Milton Bradley (1860-1984) — then primarily an educational company despite their production of The Checkered Game of Life — and Selchow & Righter (1867-1987), best known in early days for Parcheesi (1870).
But these three companies would be a prelude for what came next.
In this third part of my look at the Alea games, I’m moving into the small box set which appeared in 2001 and concluding with Alea’s best known release, Puerto Rico (2002). For Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal, see the first article in the series. For Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa, see the second article. Continue reading