New Thoughts on Victory

At times I’ve been “accused” of being a theme-first designer. While this is true to some extent, it’s not the whole story. My philosophy is that (most) games need to evoke a strong theme and build on it with mechanics.

With AtG virtually every idea started with “so what actually happened in history…” However, the enjoyment of a game is the result of interesting mechanics, and your theme is meaningless if you can’t translate it into something that’s fun to play. So I always start with and lean on theme, but only when doing so doesn’t get in the way of mechanics.

What this means for AtG is that I’m first and foremost looking for ways to make the experience of playing the game feel like forging a barbarian kingdom. Migration is a very cool, innovative feature, but it’s only included because, well, that’s what barbarians did.


TGDRT #29: Solium Infernum & ‘Futbol’

Episode #29: Solium Infernum, ‘Futbol Strategy’ & More

Episode #29 is live!

Jon and Dirk finally get around to discussing ‘Solium Infernum’, a tabletop-digital “hybrid” strategy title where you aim to become the lord of hell. They wheel around and talk about the light worker placement game ‘Stone Age’ and why it might be a great entry point for casual fans. After our hosts wrap up what they’ve played with a brief revisiting of ‘Command and Colors’, Dirk reveals his newest tabletop project, ‘Futbol Strategy’, and Jon provides an update on ‘At the Gates’ and his plans to revisit the game’s victory conditions and strategic trade-offs.

Solium Infernum is one of those games that makes you scratch your head as a designer. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s good. It grabs you not with flash or spectacle, but tabletop-like rules and interesting systems. The game almost provides that roguelike feeling of exploration, mystery and harsh consequences. Like most titles of that sort, it takes some work to get into, and is not something you can enjoy casually.

And that’s where the head-scratching comes in. The game is fun and has a passionate audience, but it’s also unforgiving in many ways. As a designer there’s always a tension between trying to produce games that as many people as possible can enjoy, while also unapologetically covering new ground and accepting that the most beloved games are those which took chances.

We’re hoping to have Vic Davis on at some point in the near future, which is really exciting as I really admire his ambitious and unique designs. While his style is quite different from my own, in many ways I see his company and the games he’s produced to be be a model for my own endeavors with Conifer.

– Jon

TGDRT #28: Scoring & Victory

Episode #28 is live!

The usual three-man crew discusses – debates, even – the ways in which we win games. The first half of the show is dominated by dissecting the pluses and minuses of victory points, whether they’re inherently arbitrary, and if they might even be a sign of lazy design. In the second half our hosts talk specifics, analyzing how victory does (and could) work in ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘At the Gates.’

Although it’s not something I’ve talked much about here on the site, anyone that’s listened to the show in the past should be very familiar with my dislike of victory points.

I don’t find the use of VPs to be inherently evil, as they do come with benefits and I’ve enjoyed many a game that’s included them. However, I find VPs to be so much of an abstraction that anything they’re associated with loses all connection to the “theme.”

Sure, you don’t need a great theming in order to have great gameplay, but without it you’re raising the barrier to entry and making it much harder to tell if you’re on the right path. As such, I try to avoid them whenever possible.

Of course, that’s just my opinion! Check out this episode to see what Dirk and David think.

– Jon