Schools of Game Design

Last week I talked about three game designers, classifying and categorizing their works. This week I want to move a step up the food chain, and instead talk about schools of game design — to once more try to categorize, classify, and index.

The central idea is that game designs can — as with most creative works — be grouped into schools of design, each with their own character and their own quirks. In the modern gaming world, I believe there are four broad schools of design — mainstream, Anglo-American, Euro, and hybrid — though each of those schools also has sub-schools within them, which I’ll be covering after my summary of each category.
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The Auction Grand Unification Theory

Over the years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about games. It’s led me to a unifying theory about how many games work—in part thanks to some comments from Doug Orleans. In short: many or most game mechanics actually have a common basis, and that common basis is the auction.

I’ll offer the warning that this article is more technical that a lot of my Gone Gaming articles, for reasons that I’ll discuss at the end. I’ve decided to post it, nonetheless, because I think it’s an interesting discussion of some core mechanics in eurogame designs. If it bores you, I suggest you hop on to the next article, as this isn’t entirely typical of the column.

Notes on Auctions

I’ve written some more detailed discussions of the mechanics of game design in my computer game design column, Trials, Triumphs & Trivialities. I discussed the basics of auctions in #144: Strategic Insights: Auction Games. In that column, my definition of auctions included the following specifics: Continue reading

Three Designers: Knizia, Kramer & Teuber

I like puzzles. No, not necessarily the sort that you’d fine in Games magazine, but instead puzzles where you slowly build up pieces of information, only to see a larger pattern suddenly emerge. Tactical games often satisfy this desire in me — be it Australia or Dungeon Twister. You can imagine the chaos of possible turn, but then a sudden, perfect move abruptly emerges. I suspect Sleuth would satisfy this urge too, and I have no idea why I don’t own a copy of that yet.

This like also influences my writing, and so I often have a desire to categorize, index, and sort — hoping to again find that ever-elusive pattern underlying the mundane. And that’s what I’m going to do this week, in the first of what I expect will be many columns about game designers.

Here I’m going to give overviews of three of my favorites, and talk a little bit about what I feel holds their games together. The three designers I’ve chosen for this installment are, I think, the three biggest influences on the current Eurogaming scene: Reiner Knizia, Wolfgang Kramer, and Klaus Teuber — the Special K’s, to quote Larry Levy.
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Shannon’s List of Do’s and Don’t’s for Component Design

I’ve long been convinced that the reason for The Settlers of Catan‘s huge success wasn’t its simple — yet strategic — gameplay, nor the fact that a lighter, more random game was more likely to appeal to families. Instead, I think it was largely due to its superb usability. Settlers’ clean, intuitive, and well-done player aid is the heart of the game’s ease of use, and thus I think the heart not only of its success, but also the overall success of the eurogame movement.

Thus whenever I’ve reviewed a game, I’ve looked very carefully at the design of its components, and in particular at their usability. I’ve tried to figure out what was done well and what wasn’t. Below I’ve listed about 50 of my lessons learned. They’re not necessarily the 50 most important; I’m sure I missed the third biggest thing that every component designer should know. Instead they’re just the first 50 or so items that came to my mind first and/or the ones recently mentioned by other gamers, by my wife, or by myself in my last 9 months or so of reviews.

Feel free to add on your own in the comments section!

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Supporting Your Locally Owned Game Store

I moved to Berkeley in 1989 and discovered a game store called Games of Berkeley, located near the corner of Shattuck & University Avenue — at the edge of the downtown drag in Berkeley.

I was neither particularly impressed nor particularly unimpressed with GoB when I first arrived. It seemed about on par with the game stores that I’d frequented before I went away to college. They got the newest products in promptly and had a decent depth of back stock. I mostly bought roleplaying games at the time, but I’m sure GoB had a decent selection of the Avalon Hill and Milton Bradley board games that were common at the time. And I know that they had an overdecent selection of science-fiction books, puzzles, and kites. (Yes, kites. Lots of them.)

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