One of the Holy Grails of modern game design seems to be “Civ Light”, a game that inexplicably is like Francis Tresham’s 1980 masterpiece Civilization, yet at the same time is not. Every year lately one or two games come out that are proclaimed — by designers, fans, or both — to be this Grail, and every year each and every one fails to live up to the standard — potentially because it sets an impossible bar.
In this article I want to look at first Civilization itself, then the many contenders for the “Civ Light” throne. In the process I’ll give each game a “Civ Score”, which is a 4-point score based on how well the game mimics the four core Civilization gameplay elements of civilization advance, resource management, trade, and warfare and measure the “Weight” of the game, based on BGG stats. Though both stats are clearly somewhat arbitrary, I think they offer relatively analytical measures of how each game approaches the Civ Light ideal.
IP. Intellectual Property. It’s theoretically what encourages creators to create, but here’s a dirty little secret: it generally (and I speak for the United States here, but there’s an increasing amount of conformity throughout the world) doesn’t protect games.
You see, there are two types of IP of general interest to most publishers: copyright and trademark. And, as we’ll see neither of them protects what’s actually the core of a good game design.
(And before I get going, let me carefully note, I’m not a lawyer, but I have been working with this sort of stuff for a while.)
Based upon the hypothesis that game design is a particularly collaborative type of creativity, this February I posted an article I dubbed Six Degrees of Collaboration wherein I showed the interconnectivity of the game design world based upon who had done full-fledged collaborations with whom.
I was quick to discover that the center of my chart was Bruno Faidutti, a French game designer who had done work not with just other French designers, but also Americans, Germans, and Italians. He was the lynchpin that hung the whole world of game design together.
Since then I’ve been occasionally expanding and tweaking my chart, as interest and knowledge strike me. Bruno Faidutti’s central role hasn’t changed much. His 10 connections on the previous chart have expanded to 11 connections in this chart plus a pseudo-connection. However I’ve been able to fill in much of the periphery, discovering entire new game companies who connect back to Faidutti.
In the process I also learned a bit more about collaboration …
This is a reprint of an article written in August, 2006 for first publication in the January, 2007 issue of the now-defunct Knucklebones magazine. Because of its origins, this article is more introductory and (hopefully) more polished than many of my online writings. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.
Card games are a great American past time. Many of us remember games of War, Old Maid, and Go Fish from our childhoods. We might have played Rummy, Euchre, Spades, or Hearts with our families while growing up. Poker and Bridge remain great reasons to get together with friends, while Solitaire keeps our attention when we can’t find other people to play games with.
Traditional card games are great, because with a single deck of cards — and possibly a few accessories, like Poker chips and a scoring pad — you can literally play hundreds of different games. However, traditional card games are, out of necessity, traditional. Sometimes we want a bit more … and in the last ten years, commercial games have begun to fill this void. Increasingly we can find commercial card games that use familiar and standard mechanics — like Bridge’s trick-taking, Rummy’s set-collection, and Poker’s hand-comparison. However, these new games also tend to very original and innovative as well.
There are, over the gaming year, five different major awards. The first two are the German awards, the SdJ and the DSP. Then there’s the RPG industry award (the Origins) and finally the American mass-market award (the Games 100). It’s pretty easy to pigeon-hole each of these:
The SdJ is a German award for a casual or family game.
The DSP is likewise a German award for more serious games, though the results have been getting more casual as they’ve started to let the masses vote.
The Origins board & card game awards are, first of all, more beauty contests than anything else — where people vote on companies as much as products. In addition they tend to award American take-that style play. If you’re looking for a new Munchkin, look here. (Since splitting into the Origins award & Choice awards, Origins proper has gotten somewhat better, while the Choice awards continue to be about what you’d expect.)
The Games 100 are a very eclectic mix, centering on ultra-casual strategy-light games that’ll appeal to the (American) mass market, but extending somewhat to more gamist games, thanks primarily to the fact that they get to name 100 picks.
… and then there’s the IGA, the International Gamer Awards.
In 1974 Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published the first ever roleplaying game,Dungeons & Dragons. It grew naturally out of the wargaming industry — where in 1972’s second edition of the Chainmail miniatures game Gary Gygax had introduced all sorts of fantasy critters, including wizards, heroes, hobbits, dwarves, balrogs, and ents, to the world of medieval wargaming. Dungeons & Dragons was just the next step. It gave players the opportunity to take the individual roles of some of those heroes in smaller-scale skirmishes.
I use the word “skirmish” purposefully because that’s what the earliest Dungeons & Dragons games really were. A look at the earliest D&D supplements reveals that they were little more than tactical exercises, where players moved from one room to the next in a dungeon, cavern, or other carefully keyed location — and fought whatever they found within.
Roleplaying games matured slowly. There were a few village adventures early on, which offered some ability to interact with people other than at the tip of a sword, but they were scattered and far between. It was at least 1984, and the release of TSR’s Dragonlance, before people started to realize that roleplaying adventures could tell stories too.
Which is all to say that it’s an entirely modern bias.
As I wrote in “About Mechanics & Meeples” — the introduction to this blog — these articles ran for two and a half years at “Gone Gaming”, a group blog that I initially shared with seven other talented board game writers (and many more than that over time).
August of 2006 marked the first anniversary of the blog, and so we decided to engage in a bit of silliness. We imagined an “Anniversary Tour”, where we’d all visit the home towns of all the members of the blog. Each of us wrote a blog set in our home town. To go with them, I photoshopped together a bunch of photographs that people had given me to make it look (to an intentionally fake degree) that we’d actually visited these locales.
It was fun and it helped us to not only spotlight the members of the group blog, but also our impressions of those other members.
My contribution ran on August 3, and it wouldn’t make any sense without the context of the original blog, so I’ve opted not to reprint it here. However, I invite you to go read about the entire Anniversary Trip. If you like some of other bloggers featured there, I also encourage you to read the rest of the Gone Gaming group blog, which has lots more articles than just mine. —SA, 8/9/12