BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.


Hippodice: The Results Are In!

In which I am suitably excited.

The results of this year’s Hippodice Game Author Competition have today been posted on the club’s website. I have already written within these pages about my two entries — Archipelago and Jukers! — and although neither design made it into the top three (hearty congratulations to the winner and runners-up!) the big news is that both of my designs made it to the final round!

This means that of only nine prototypes selected from all the entries to go forward to the final round and be playtested by this year’s jury, two of them were mine. I am obviously disappointed to miss out on a top-three placement (after all, I had pretty good odds!) but it is very exciting to think that both Archipelago and Jukers! have been played by a group made up of representatives from eight top game publishers — Phalanx, Pegasus Spiele, Hans im Glück, Ravensburger/Alea, Eggertspiele, Schmidt Spiele, Amigo and Zoch — plus a member of the jury for the prestigious ‘Spiel des Jahres’ award.

Which, I think you’ll agree, is an impressive playtest group. Go me!

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How to Write Rules, or “Do This. Don’t Do That.”

I have previously written about rules writing in my enigmatically entitled article The Price of Magic, and if you want the lowdown on what I consider to the ‘Five Cs’ of good rules writing then I urge you to give it a read. Since I wrote that article I have begun working with a large publisher as a freelance rules editor and writer, an endeavour that has allowed me to analyse my own approach to rules writing with a little more care and precision.

I wholeheartedly stand by my ‘Five Cs’, but the games that I have been working on recently — and about which I must be duly circumspect — are a line aimed at children under 10, and so stand apart from the adult Eurogame ideal which has informed the notion of boardgame design that I have written about in the past.

Of course, what is revealing is the similarity, not the difference. One possible preconception about children’s game is that their rules must, in some sense, be ‘dumbed down’ to meet the language skills of the average child, and that somehow the games themselves are required to be not only simple but deliberately simplistic.

Children aren’t stupid, but they can be impatient. And if the games are simple, then it is only because they are designed to be quick.

We have been driven by that child’s sense of impatience to develop and define a specific language style that is both instructionally direct and stylistically neutral. What this means is that we are, at all times, mindful to tell the children what to do, what not to do, and very little else. What this means is that we have taken deliberate care to remove superfluous instruction and redundant text, and not to say in ten words what can otherwise be said in five. Less truly is more in this context, since a lean, instructional text, stripped of description and narrative, cannot help but be more readable, more understandable and hence demonstrably more effective.

And the revelation is that this is precisely how all rules should be written, including the ones notionally designed for us grown-ups, blessed as we are with our more developed vocabularies and sophisticated abilities to parse more complex sentences. There is no grace in complexity for its own sake, and the mistake is to imagine that we must begin with an ‘adult’ ruleset and then deliberately dumb it down for the kids. If we are even able to admit that it is possible to render the text with greater clarity for the child, then we must at the same time admit that we did a very poor job with the so-called adult ruleset in the first place.

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Ciutat de Granollers Board Game Design Competition

News reaches BrettSpiel Towers of another European board game design competition, this one organized by the City Council of Granollers in Spain, although it must be said that it only barely reaches us in time; the closing date for entry into this year’s contest is… tomorrow. This gives industrious game designers who were otherwise unaware of this contest just a few more hours to meet the deadline, and the interested can read the rules of the contest in English, Spanish or French.

The contest is organized by Oriol Comas i Coma, a game designer and writer from Barcelona, and is part of the annual jugarXjugar games fair in Granollers. This is the fourth time in which Oriol has run the contest, which has attracted a steadily increasing numbers of designs each year: 32 in 2007, 57 in 2008, and 73 in 2009. The small (but growing) Spanish publisher nestorgames has already published several of those designs, while the 2008 finalist was published by the French company Cocktail Games as 22 Pommes.

So, if you are the sort of budding game designer who always has a good few prototypes on the go, and is generally of a mind to enter European board game design contests in the first place, then you may still be in a position to enter right away and hence meet the rather tight deadline. If so, good luck! (Note that the English translation of the rules give 9th March as the deadline, whereas it’s actually the 8th March on the Spanish and French pages, which I believe are correct.)

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