Alternative game element classifications

Different game designers have pondered different kinds of game element classifications. Following definitions by Jesse Schell and Tony Manninen show how different designers and game studies often come to similar conclusions from their own separate viewpoints. Remember, classifications are only a tool but they are important part of thinking how game should be done.

All these aspects are equal in weight -at least in theory- but in practice all games stress some elements over others. Available time, resources and skill form constraints to all games so final game is always a compromise between constraints and dreams. The magic of game-making is putting these elements together in such a way that the game works.

Remember, the ultimate reason for thinking various game elements is the game experience that player feels from playing the game. Formal models and elements are all used to support this design work.

Jesse Schell: The Art of Game Design, A Book of Lenses

Another classification possibility is elemental tetrarch by Jesse Schell who sets four main game elements as game mechanics (responsibility of game designer), story (responsibility of game writer), aesthetics (responsibility of game artist) and technology (responsibility of game engineer).

Game Mechanics contains game rules and procedures. Mechanics define game’s goals and how players can and cannot try to achieve these goals. Selection of game mechanics is crucial to gameplay and they must be possible with selected technology, supported with aesthetics that make those game mechanics clear to player and story that make (occasionally unrealistic and fantastic) game mechanics appear logical to player.

Story is a sequence of events that will happen during the game. Story may be linear or branching and emergent. If game has a story, the game mechanics has to be chosen so they strengthen the story and make it emerge through gameplay. Aesthetics should support themes and ideas that story contains. Technology should be selected to make all this possible.

Aesthetics is how game comes across to player through player’s senses. Aesthetics is important as it directly affects emotions and feelings of player. Technology must make it possible for players to immerse when game has certain look and tone. Game mechanics has to make it possible for player to act in game world that matches the aesthetics. Story should be written in such a way that aesthetics emergences through it.

Technology is any materials and interactions that make game possible. In essence, it is the basis that allows game mechanics, story and aesthetics flourish.

Tony Manninen: Pelisuunnittelijan käsikirja – Ideasta eteenpäin

Tony Manninen has background in video games and his work is really intended for video game designers. He sees game design having three directions game can be approached from. They are basic mechanisms, story and writing and finally interactivity. These directions are used by designer to create a basis for her game.

Basic algorithms describe game’s main game loop and sets the goals what player is supposed to do. This is essentially same as Jesse Schell’s Game Mechanics and Technology.

Story and writing sets the game story but Manninen adds there also graphics and sound. This is very much same concept as Jesse Schell’s Aesthetics.

Interactivity is how game’s player and game itself interact and builds on ways the player can do things with the game. This builds from the game loop and it deals with what strategies and activities player can do with the basic algorithms. These issues are effectively game strategies that player can device based on possibilities that basic algorithms give to her. This is also known as gameplay.

Tony Manninen also describes viewpoints of game design that are effectively same concept as Jesse Schell’s game elements. Manninen sets these viewpoints as game architecture, game content, game functionality and game aesthetics.

Game architecture is the game’s selected technology and game mechanics chosen for the game. This means that game rules are most important part of game design.

Game content describes game content that is shown to player.

Game functionality is how the game is played and how interaction between player and game creates ”gameplay”.

Game aesthetics is described as quality of audiovisual material. Interestingly Manninen sees computer games as artistic works so audiovisual aesthetics is described as separate artistic vision while Jesse Schell’s aesthetics is closer to game content in Manninen’s view.

Virtuous cycle

Thinking of game elements is important. Game elements work together supporting gameplay. Following observation can be made when all elements work together creating a following ”virtuous cycle”:

 First, when game mechanics and technology work, player learns quickly to play the game. Players no longer need to worry looking at how game plays.

Second, when players know how to play the game they have time to start looking at the game beyond mechanics. Depending on their curiosity they may start to look at the other parts of the game provided by game elements (story and aesthetics). If player likes these elements there is a good chance she becomes interested in these elements and ultimately the possibility of immersion to game grows.

Third, immersion further increases players interest towards the game and player’s curiosity. Player then plays more and tries different game mechanics and different approaches to game in her gameplay. This is supported by first step and cycle repeats itself.

Alternative game element classifications and tabletop role-playing games

Tabletop role-playing games should use these elements just like formal game elements discussed in previous part.

Game mechanics is most important way for a game designer to affect gameplay. Her decisions concerning ruleset should be the basis of gameplay. Second important factor is wide variety of gaming aids to players filling both gamemaster and player roles. Tabletop role-playing games require a lot of close co-operation and creative thinking so wide variety of game aids should be included in any commercial game.

Story is important as it sets the imaginary world and fantastic mechanics that are ”real” within it. Story elements do not have to be realistic per se but they need to be internally consistent within set game universe. Story does not appear to be important to many role-players who describe story as ”fluff” (compared to ”crunch” of game mechanics). However, story should be the basis that game mechanics simulate so story basics should be determined first and game mechanics added to match the story in game design.

Aesthetics is important as it springs ideas and feelings to players. Tabletop role-playing games are essentially books (non-electronic storage media) so aesthetics comes in form of book format, book layout, typography and layout. Most books have also wide variety of imagery and charts and tables to support gaming. Aesthetics appears to be given little thought in most commercial role-playing books so there is clearly room for improvement. Aesthetics is closely combined with story so writer and art director should work in very close co-operation.

Technology of tabletop role-playing games typically uses dice (as a randomizer game mechanic) and pen and paper for record keeping. Supporting game technology includes tokens, cards and game boards. Players often do additional material so game aids should cover samples and basis of at least most common record keeping and supporting material.

Take home tasks

Think your game according to different game element classifications.

What kind of game mechanics your game has? One or more? Why?

Think about your game’s story. Does it need one? Why? Why not?

Think about aesthetics of your game? How does it show? What concepts it stresses?

What is the selected technology of your game? Why did you select it? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Does it have something new? Why? Why not?




Players: How many players does the game require? How many total players can the game support? Do various players have different roles? Will they compete, cooperate, or both?

Objectives: What are some objectives of games you have played? What impact do these objectives have on the tone of the game? Do certain genres of play lend themselves to certain objectives? What about multiple objectives? Do objectives have to be explicit? What about player-determined objectives?

Procedures:  Who does what, where, when, and how? Who can use the procedure? One player? Some players? All the players? What exactly does the player do? Where does the procedure occur? Is the availability of the procedure limited by location? When does it take place? Is it limited by turn, time, or game state? How do players access the procedure? Directly by physical interaction? Indirectly through a controller or input device? By verbal command?

Rules: How do players learn the rules? How are the rules enforced? What kinds of rules work best in certain situations? Are there patterns to rule sets? What can we learn from those patterns?

To be added when I have time…


Game Design and Formal Game Elements

Games are made of formal and dynamic elements which are combined to create a final product. What are the formal elements that game designer has to think?

Game elements can be classified in multiple ways and a lot of game designers have generally classifications that fit their own game design team. Fairly well known classification follows Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (Rules of Play, 2004 MIT Press) which sets up following formal elements: Players, Objectives, Procedures, Rules, Resources, Conflict, Boundaries and Outcome.

Players: When player joins the game gameplay takes over mundane life. There are number of considerations that start from pondering player vis a vis game system. First, the invitation to game should be engaging process itself. Second, the number of players greatly change the social dynamics around the game. Game designed for a specific number of players is again far different from game designed to range of players. Third, most games have uniform roles for all players (for instance, Chess). Some games have variety of roles for player to choose from. This is common in team game like Football. Finally, there is need to consider different kinds of play styles.

Player Interaction patterns: These patterns determine interaction between player, game system and any other players. Player interaction patterns are described in “The Structural Elements of Games” by E. M. Avedon. Following interaction patterns can be considered:

Single player versus the game is most common pattern in video games. Game creates conflicts for player to solve.

Multiple individual players versus the game has number of players who compete against each other in company others. There is no need to have any kind of interaction between players. Players compete against each other indirectly so there is no mechanism to directly destroy opposition players. Many family board games use this pattern.

Player versus player has two players who directly compete each other. Many sports like for instance Tennis follow this pattern. This is most common pattern for strategy games. This pattern creates intensive head to head competition.

Unilateral competition has two or more players competing against one player. This works fine in ”free for all” situations (for instance Tag) or in asymmetric games where multiple players must co-operate to defeat one player (who has considerable advantages). This pattern combines both cooperative and competitive gameplay.

Multilateral competition games have multiple individuals competing against each other. Videogames use term ”multiplayer” to describe this pattern. Most board games have tuned this type of game to 3 to 6 players.

Cooperative play game has a group of players cooperating against game system. This is common in children’s board games but rarely used in adult games (for instance Pandemic). Many computer role-playing games have co-operative quests combined with competitive play.

Team competition games have two or more groups competing against each other. Many sports like Football or Basketball follow this pattern. Team competitions are highly addictive to spectators (fans) so this pattern is very powerful in gaming.

Objectives: Game has objectives so players have something to do. It is something players try achieve within rules of the game. Some games have different objectives to different players while some games allow player(s) to choose their own objectives from list of several objectives. Some games allow players to form their own objectives. There can be partial objectives to help player to reach full objective. Finally, objectives set the tone of the game.

Following list of objectives from ”Game Design Workshop” by Tracy Fullerton is fairly complete: Capture, Chase, Race, Alignment, Rescue or escape, Forbidden Act, Construction, Exploration, Solution and Outwit.

Capture: Objective of the game is to take or destroy something opponent has while avoiding being captured or killed.

Chase: Objective of the game is to catch an opponent or elude one if you are being chased.

Race: Objective of the game is to reach the goal before the other players.

Alignment: Objective of the game is to arrange game pieces in certain spatial configuration or create conceptual alignment between categories of pieces.  For instance, solitaire or Othello.

Rescue or escape: Objective of the game is to get defined unit or units to safety.

Forbidden Act: Objective of the game is to get competition to break rules by laughing, talking, making a wrong move or otherwise doing something they should not. For instance, Twister.

Construction: Objective of the game is to build, manage or maintain objects. Resource management is often core gameplay element. For instance, Settlers of Catan.

Exploration: Objective of the game is to explore game area. This is typically tied to other more competitive gameplay objectives.

Solution: Objective of the game is to solve a problem or puzzle before competition.

Outwit: Objective of the game is to gain and use knowledge before other players. This can be either outside the game (for instance, Trivial Pursuit) or inside the game (for instance, Diplomacy board game).

Procedures: Procedures are play methods. They state directly what player can do. Video games typically tie procedures to gamepad or keyboard buttons. Board games have typically lists what player can do within their rules. Procedures are different from rules in video games because rules are generally hidden while procedures are not. Games have typically four kinds of procedures: starting action (to put game in play), progression of action (for ongoing activities during the gameplay), special actions (that can be triggered during gameplay due special game state game is currently) and resolving actions (that close the gameplay).

Rules: Rules define game’s objects and actions available to player. Thus all rules must be considered in relation to players of game. Too many rules make it difficult to absorb the ruleset. Poorly written or simply cut off rules may leave players confused or alienated or leave exploits that destroy original intent of the game. Rules should be written to fulfill following things: define objects and concepts, restrict actions and determine effects.

Define objects and concepts because they are always representations of real life objects and concepts within game. They have variables with values. Board games have typically fairly simple definitions due difficulty of following multiple variables simultaneously and complexity of rules necessary.

Restrict actions because rules this way prevent players winning/losing game by accident and close potential loopholes within system. They can also be used to direct gameplay towards wanted player progression.

Determine effects because player’s decisions must have consequences. These consequences deal with two issues: First they provide variation to gameplay. Effects may be triggered due different activities and results providing uncertainty. Second, effects can be used to force player towards wanted gameplay. Penalizing and rewarding effects guide player’s activities through harvesting cycles.

Finally, rules have also other important tasks that game designer must consider. How players learn rules? How are rules enforced? What kind of rules work best in certain situations? Can there be patterns for rulesets? Can game designer and players learn from these rulesets?

Resources: They are assets available to player. Game designer has to decide amount and type of assets available and how they are gained during the game through harvesting cycle. Assets must be useful for achieving goals through gameplay. Assets must be both useful (they help player to achieve game goals) and scarcity (otherwise they lose their relative value in system and harvesting cycle no longer matters). Typically, available resources include: lives, units, health, currency, actions, power-ups, inventory, special terrain and time.

Lives are most common resource in arcade games where lives are easily lost. The idea is that extra lives prevent need to start again from the bottom. Generally, there is no downside in extra lives, the more the better.

Units are most common in games where player is represented by a number of units. They are most common in various strategy games. Units themselves can be up-gradable or evolve to different type and they are either finite or renewable. Biggest problem in units is determining their relative cost compared to each other and thus balance within game. Units typically require a lot of game testing to work properly.

Health dramatizes loss or near loss of lives. This assumes that health can be increased in game. Speed of how quickly health is regained is important too. Most action games have quick health gain in order to get back to fighting quickly while many computer adventure games take longer time to heal.

Currency assumes that game has a trade system where player can buy/sell items. Currency does not necessarily mean just money. Game can also have some kind of bartering system that accomplish same goals. Goal of currency system is to allow quick and easy access to items while barter systems slow acquisition of items considerably.

Actions are resource that changes game rules for player’s advantage. This can be additional actions per players turn (in most turn based games) or possibility of entering game state where player can function faster while others cannot as ”bullet time” in computer games (Max Payne videogame).

Power-ups are typically temporary activities that player can do way over normal rules that considerably aid player to achieve goals. These power-ups are triggered on players will when she sees it necessary and are typically scarce so she needs to search for them.

Inventory is based on idea that player needs to manage actively her resources which are not power-ups. These are typically maluses and bonuses brought by different kinds of bought or found items that are actively manipulated. Some inventory related items are switched during gameplay such as weapons or ammunition. Inventory systems have typically a general idea is that character cannot carry everything needed and must make a meaningful choice.

Special terrain is important in games where scarce resources can be extracted from strategically important terrain. This is typically related to economic system of the game and most commonly found in various strategy games. However, special terrain can also mean abstracted positions of particular importance. These are important in worker placement games.

Time is important resource in game where player needs to do multiple decisions in limited time. Time adds tension to game. Some games use counting clock as well.

Conflict: Conflicts are designed into game with rules, procedures and situations that player must solve to achieve their goals. Classic sources of conflict are: obstacles, opponents and dilemmas.

Obstacles are common in wide variety of games but they are typically most prevalent in single-player games. Obstacles can be physical (for instance water barrier in Golf) or mental (puzzles are common in computer adventure games).

Opponents are other players that are working against player. For instance, monopoly has multiple players who work towards winning by driving others to bankruptcy.

Dilemmas are decisions that have both good and bad consequences to player herself and/or other players. Point of decisions is that they have consequences in future.

Boundaries: Huizinga’s ”magic circle” is used to set barriers that separate game and real world outside it. These barriers are physical (for instance, a football game has pitch and typical board game have play area defined as board) or conceptual such as social agreement to play in a tabletop roleplaying game or many party games. Boundaries are important in sense that they limit gameplay in practice. Most games are closed systems. However, changing these boundaries can totally change game experience. For instance, alternate reality game Pokémon GO combines gameplay with few real world physical barriers.

Outcome: Game should have uncertain outcome so player’s attention is held throughout the game. Players generally lose their interest in game when the end state is known and generally either start a new game or do something else. Outcome should be related to player’s interaction so player’s actions have direct consequence in game. Games can be further divided to zero-sum games and non-zero-sum games.

Zero-sum games have a clear-cut victory and/or loss conditions. Main advantage of these games is very clear definition of who won and did not. For instance, Backgammon has very clear victory conditions. Many sports have also very clear victory conditions.

Non-zero-sum games have grades of outcomes. The can be ranking systems, player statistics or multiple objectives. Main advantage of these games is to create player dilemmas and complex risk-reward scenarios which allow interesting gameplay and player strategies.

Formal Elements and tabletop role-playing

Most of the thinking concerning formal elements in tabletop role-playing games can be traced to writings of Gary Gygax (”Role-Playing Mastery”, 1987 and ”Master of the Game”, 1988) and Greg Costikyan (”I Have No Words and I Must Design”, 1994, 2002).

Table-top roleplaying games are similar to board games that there is effective upper limit to number of players due need to communicate effectively with all players simultaneously. Board games appear to be close analogy so 3 to 6 players appears to be a good design goal.

Table-top roleplaying games have two player roles: a gamemaster and a player. Gamemaster designs and runs imaginary game universe. Player creates avatar for herself who then acts in this game universe. There is one gamemaster and at least one player. A good design goal would be 1 game master and 2 to 5 player roles.

Tabletop role-playing games have one implicit permanent objective and multiple temporary objectives. The implicit objective is improvement of player’s avatar through play (using harvesting cycle). Temporary objectives are invented by players (both gamemaster and player roles).

Role-playing games are cooperative and thus players establish ongoing mutually beneficial relations with each other. Therefor players can ask other players to help them carry out temporary objectives of their own invention. These objectives spring from the game world that game master has devised. Players find opportunities and interests they wish to exploit within game world. Gamemaster’s task is to offer players additional objectives to pursue based on gamemaster’s and players’ interests. These objectives follow mission structure (typically called ”adventures”). Number of missions can be chained to a longer campaign allowing setting smaller goals as adventures.

Table-top roleplaying games stress players’ freedom of action within game world. They are effectively open world games where player can approach objectives in nonlinear way. Gamemaster is responsible for running the game world and responding to player actions. This can lead to emergent gameplay.

Table-top roleplaying game rulesets are typically set to emulate conventions of a specific genre or setting. Rules are not expected to cover all eventualities and many aspects of game world are simply not simulated by rules. Gamemaster is expected to use her own initiative to make rulings to cover situations that rules do not cover. This is a counterintuitive to board games but it is necessary as writing rules that cover all possibilities is not feasible endeavor to game designer. Furthermore, many players use also their own initiative to create additional rules or remove parts of existing rulesets. Rules has thus become a toolbox rather than final word in most games. Many tabletop roleplaying games actively encourage this kind of thinking.

The goal of the role-playing games is not roleplaying per se but to play a game where players have avatars who do things players find interesting and enjoyable. Players are expected to know other players and their game avatars. Players are expected to work together with gamemaster to create avatars as well as have continuous interest in game world and work together to create new content during gameplay. Gygax particularly stressed importance of teamwork.

Take home tasks

Formal game elements mean plenty of thinking for game designer. While these issues do not need to be set in stone immediately, it is advisable to think these issues over and then make informed decisions concerning pros and cons.

Players: How many players does the game require? How many total players can the game support? Do various players have different roles? Will they compete, cooperate, or both?

Objectives: What are some objectives of games you have played? What impact do these objectives have on the tone of the game? Do certain genres of play lend themselves to certain objectives? What about multiple objectives? Do objectives have to be explicit? What about player-determined objectives?

Procedures:  Who does what, where, when, and how? Who can use the procedure? One player? Some players? All the players? What exactly does the player do? Where does the procedure occur? Is the availability of the procedure limited by location? When does it take place? Is it limited by turn, time, or game state? How do players access the procedure? Directly by physical interaction? Indirectly through a controller or input device? By verbal command?

Rules: How do players learn the rules? How are the rules enforced? What kinds of rules work best in certain situations? Are there patterns to rule sets? What can we learn from those patterns?


Think what are the goals in your game. What are the conflicts in the setting and what are the goals that players must achieve? Are there any hidden obstacles to solve that arise as part of gameplay?

Think harvesting cycles in your game. Ask yourself what is valuable to the players in my game? How valuable it is to them? Can it be made even more/less valuable? Why? How these harvesting cycles affect players’ motivations?

My answer is that I want my game to emulate exploration.

Goal is to find locations that are valued by financier of the exploration. For instance, potential minerals or breathtaking scenes. This drives players to go across the map and go to unexplored terrain as well as interact with locals to find information concerning these issues.

The main conflicts in this setting are the wide variety of local inhabitants and natural obstacles (terrain and weather). This requires players to combine diplomacy and careful planning. The main hidden obstacle is the relations towards local population. Characters cannot carry everything with them and thus local co-operation is vital for exploration success.

The main game loop (harvesting cycle) is the exploration of a hex in map, solving possible encounters with natural hazards and then then determining how to deal with local population. If characters establish good relations with locals they can then rely on aid and friendliness of locals. On the other hand, locals may also wish their guests to do something for them.

Secondary game loop is the expedition personnel management. Eventually some or all of the gamemaster driven avatars will do something that disrupts the expedition. Thus players need to deal with these issues. The main action/consequence question is that postponing things should make consequences harsher. This also encourages players to deal with locals as they need to get their expedition to rest and recover between harsh exploration journeys.

The number of loops here may appear low but it is important to make game to have as clear loops as possible. Additional rules and possibilities are always possible but it is good to have clear basis that everything else is built from.


Game Design and Game


Players feel experiences from playing the game. Subsequently the gameplay must give them players different kinds of emotions that becomes play experience once play of game has finished. Thus, what is a game?

There are no clear-cut definition of a game in current ludology. There are number of competing definitions from various researchers and thinkers. Some of the more prominent older ones are Chris Crawford and Greg Costikyan and Robert Callois while many modern readers like Katie Salem and Eric Zimmermann who wrote Rules of Play (MIT Press) as well as Jesper Juul.

In my personal experience the most influential thinker in game design is Greg Costikyan who wrote essay ”I Have No Words and I Must Design” in 1994 in Interactive Fantasy #2. See it in . There is also newer version written in 2002 and published in Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, ed. Frans Mäyrä. Tampere: Tampere University Press, 2002. You can find it in . Cracking stuff!

Costikyan defines game as following: ”A game is an interactive structure that requires players to struggle toward goals.”

In my view this means following:

“An interactive structure ” means that player must be an active participant in a game and work according to game rules (structure). Player must thus be active in game and make things happen rather than follow passively what is unfolding. This interaction happens through rules provided by game designer.

“Struggle toward a goal ” means that game offers a good (not too hard and not too easy) challenge. Game must have some kind of conflict that players must solve or overcome using rules in order to achieve goals.

“Endogenous meaning ” means that game has things that matter only within the game itself. They are resources that are somehow limited forcing player husband scarce resources and make decisions concerning possible activities within these limits.

Conflict and Goal are of Paramount Importance

Game should have goals for players to struggle towards. This focuses the mind and provides common purpose for play for individual or a group. Will to win generally springs from the common and accepted purpose.

Goal cannot be achieved with struggle. Struggle is created by creating a conflict that must be solved by overcoming a number of obstacles. Nature, number and difficulty of obstacles differ from game to game but they provide struffle as a whole. Obstacles are difficult because player has limited number of resources in her disposal.

Goals may be explicit or implicit. Explicit goals are clearly defined victory conditions found in games like Chess or Poker. For instance, most board games have explicit victory conditions. This is not compulsory. Several games have implicit victory conditions such as SimCity, The Sims or most tabletop role-playing games. No matter the case it is important for game to provide goals for players so they are constantly focused to do something.

The Sims allows players to play simulated life of a person in a city interacting with other computer simulated persons. It has no explicit goal as player is allowed to play her avatar’s life as she pleases within rules. The implicit goal of the game is to experience a lot of activities and improve one’s house and tag along friends along the way. Socialization and generally good behaviour towards others is not compulsory but most mechanics support these kind of activities.

Eldrich Horror has explicit victory condition where players are supposed to work together to destroy powerful monster from destroying the World. The explicit goal is to destroy the monster by solving individual missions which typically require collecting clues, closing gates to other worlds and like.

Struggle in game comes from obstacles that require player to make decisions with limited amount of resources. This decisionmaking is a job for players who have to decide that to do. Decisionmaking can happen with either full or limited information available to players.

With full information player’s skill is calculating forwards what is going to happen next and then after that. With limited information players are faced with a chance that game mechanics surprise them. However, skilled player can often reduce chance of this surprise. For instance surprise can be reduced in most card games by calculating cards used and having a good memory.

No matter if player(s) have limited or full information available the decision should be a calculated risk based on previously gained experience, situation at hand and information available. It has been noticed that players do not like games where end result is the same no matter what decision has been made beforehand or where result is random no matter what has been decided.

Chess has all the information available to all players at all times. The decisisonmaking and thus player skill is based on planning several moves ahead of the opposition.

Poker is based on limited information. All players know some of the cards but no one knows all the cards.

Harvesting Cycle of Endogenous Resources

Harvesting cycle can be used to describe how players collect and use game’s endogenous resources. When players find game interesting and they want to win it, they concentrate more and more to collecting these resources. The more resources players have in their disposal, the better chances they have to overcome game’s obstacles. Thus harvesting cycle directly affects how players succeed within game structure.

Harvesting cycle is thus the most important way to control and direct player behaviour in game for a game designer. Harvesting cycles should be used to reward correct gameplay. However, Game designer must also think carefully what are the consequences if players do not behave according to harvesting cycle.

Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain has following harvesting cycle: Player gains points from doing battlefield missions well. Additional points can be gained from harvesting different kinds of items in battlefield. These points are then used to build more and better equipment and assets that make more difficult missions easier.

Monopoly board game has money that is used to buy real estate within game. This money has no meaning outside game but it is very important within the game as inability to pay bills leads to bankruptcy and loss.

Alternative description of games

Computer game designer Chris Crawford has also pondered question of games in his book ”Chris Crawford on Game Design” (New Rider, 2003). He proposes a simple taxonomy for play activities from most to least interactive as Games, Puzzles, Toys and Story.

Games are rule-based systems where goal is to one player to win. They involve “opposing players who acknowledge and respond to one another’s actions. The difference between games and puzzles has little to do with mechanics; we can easily turn many puzzles and athletic challenges into games and vice versa.”

Puzzles are rule-based systems where goal is to find a solution. They have little replay value.

Toys are manipulable but there is no fixed goal.

Stories involve fantasy play but they cannot be changed or manipulated by the player

Game and Tabletop Role-Playing

Tabletop role-playing games have generally been thought to be different from other games because most of them do not have explicit goals. However, I do not agree to this and I believe that tabletop role-playing games are fundamentally similar to the other games.

In my view tabletop role-playing games have typically implicit goal that player’s avatar improves during gameplay. This can be achieved with endogenous scoring method (experience points) or character having more in-game resources (like better equipment and/or contacts). Harvesting cycle is thus improving one’s avatar so it becomes more capable to deal with future obstacles.

Downside of implicit goals in tabletop role-playing games is that players may feel lost at times. This is why game has a human gamemaster that provides them something to do. These goals are adventures and missions.

Furthermore, tabletop role-playing games are co-operative by nature. Individual players do not win by defeating other players. Their goals are typically same or at least have common ground within adventure or mission on what they want to achieve. Thus struggles revolve around defeat of enemies/monsters, social struggles, exploration and puzzles of opponent’s plot provided by gamemaster. Tabletop role-playing games are thus very flexible.

Take home tasks

Think what are goals in your game. What are the conflicts in the setting and what are the goals that players must achieve? Are there any hidden obstacles to solve that arise as part of gameplay?

Think harvesting cycles in your game. Ask yourself what is valuable to the players in my game? How valuable it is to them? Can it be made even more/less valuable? Why? How these harvesting cycles affect players’ motivations?

Thinking about Game Design – Part 1: Experiences – Solution

Ask yourself when you are creating your own game what are the main experiences you want players to feel when playing the game? Then ask yourself what are essential things to achieve this experience? Finally ponder if and how your game captures these experiences?

My answer is that I want plyers to feel to have a game of vicarious experience. This means new experiences and exciting locales. Experience should be energetic for player. Closest thing is adventure, where by definition player engages in a risky venture (Oxford Dictionary). In popular culture adventure means experiencing travels, conquests, explorations, creation of empires, struggles and overcoming confronting situations. Hero should be resourceful and active ( Thus I seek to watch adventure films as a basis to experiences I want to have in my game.

Second thing to look at is the player’s avatar in game. Games differ from literature in sense that different qualities are sought in game writing. Novel characters are usually all about internal struggles and introspection while game characters are all about physical struggles. Novel characters are typically realistic (or more grounded) while game characters tend to be more fantastic in skills and abilities as well as deal with fantasy situations. Finally novels tend to have far more complex plots and situations than games. It would thus seem that game should only deal with physical issues.

However, reading old-school novels where basic conflict is man against nature (such as most novels written by Alistair Maclean) the main element in character’s is idea that man has his limits. One suffers through tremendous amount of punishment until either getting through or succumbing to elements. This limit comes from combination of character’s physical and spiritual strength – raw guts. These same issues come across any writer with experience about force of nature or great peril.

Similarly there is same style of thought in memoirs written by Ernest Shackleton (South! The ENDURANCE Expedition and The Heart of the Antarctic: The Farthest South Expedition, 1907-1909 ). Shackleton deals with a thorny issue of morale when facing practically impossible odds to get through the obstacles. Thus leadership and ability to keep morale up during the expedition should be equally important.

I want my game to capture these issues by having a resource of guts that player can use to overcome obstacles that she has failed. This way people with extraordinary spirit can continue long after lesser breed have succumbed. Second issue is that expedition members should have a morale resource that describes their willingness to continue. This would be most important to expedition leadership (players) who need to deal with morale issues. Dealing with subordinates should be something that could backfire but not dealing with subordinates should increase chance and severity of explosion to come.

Thinking about Game Design – Part 1: Experiences


Some players leave stronger mark on players than others. Usually players think higher of these games than they do of other games. Some games simply rise above than others according to players. Why?

Players feel emotions -experiences- during the game. It is a strong feeling of some emotion that players remember after the game. When player is asked what did you feel about the game, experiences rise to surface whether they are good or bad. Subsequently it is important in game design that player feels emotions that game designer wants them to feel. If everything goes well, player describes this emotion to others when asked about the game.

There is also a commercially exploitable aspect in experiences and emotions. Strong emotions remain in player memory far longer than milder emotions. Thus player describes game she had strong emotions more frequently and longer than game that had only lukewarm response. This increases sales if word of mouth is positive. From learning standpoint increased awareness and learning experience are heightened when player has strong emotions. This is the reason why role-playing (where immersion is strong) is used in professional training in military, rescue and education.

For instance, I have been in check point dealing with wide variety of people found in (thankfully imaginary) battlefield. Similarly, one of my friends have been creating situations that medical staff may (and often do) face in a refugee camp. Negotiation is typically trained using role-playing in different situations and so on. Similarly teaching has been taught to me by role-playing teaching in school.

Examples of successful games creating strong experiences

BattleStar Galactica: The Board Game strives to create two feelings: co-operation and paranoia. Game is essentially co-operative in sense that all players must work together in order to deal with crises that are generated for them. Negotiation skills and willingness to co-operate are thus premium in the game. However, the main attraction in game is the feeling of suspicion and paranoia by having one (or more) of the players as traitors. These players try to hinder progress of others while trying to remain hidden. As game progresses the number of traitors may increase leading to ever more desperate circumstances and ever more traitors increasing paranoia and mutual suspicion higher.

Pandemic is a co-operative board game where all players must work together to prevent global pandemic by preventing disease spreading and developing cures. Game is impossible to win without strong co-operation and players must effectively work as a unified machine to win. In this kind of game every player feels to be part of something bigger as they go to deal with crises or potential crises while others strive to create cures. Main game resource is cards that allow players to create cure and/or move rapidly across globe. Strong group cohesion and ability to contribute in developing plans to ever changing crises are keys to victory and there is a strong spirit amongst players.

Experiences and tabletop role-playing

In my view, tabletop role-playing games offer following experiences:

First, tabletop role-playing games are intensely social experiences. Players can and do interact with each other in ways that are typically impossible in real world. They can work together like a well-tuned machine or perhaps secretly against each other.

Second, players can individually experience things they do not normally experience. They typically enjoy vicarious experience by seeing new and strange things and actions by other players around the table.

Third, individual players typically enjoy living a life different from their own and doing things they do not usually do in a typically very different setting from where they live. This makes tabletop role-playing game an adult counterpart of childhoods plays where they meet similar imaginary experiences. Players’ avatars can then experience these imaginary worlds as they wish.

Take home tasks

The concepts I have presented above are broad experiences and by no means be all, end all.

Ask yourself when you are creating your own game what are the main experiences you want players to feel when playing the game? Then ask yourself what are essential things to achieve this experience? Finally ponder if and how your game captures these experiences?