Shortly after the countdown to 2020, the guests at my New Year's Eve Party wanted to start the year by playing games, and of course I was happy to oblige.
The attendees would not qualify as "gamers" under the community's somewhat stringent standards, but they have played the occasional party game with me previously.
That being said, I wouldn't feel super comfortable exposing them to 90% of the games in my collection, because they are just a bit too complex for players with their limited experience.
So with relatively limited choices, I chose a few games that offer, what I would consider, a unique and interesting experience but with very little rules overhead.
The 4 games I introduced my friends to were a couple of Wolfgang Warsch games (Illusion and The Mind) and a pair of Japanese indie games from Keiichi Suzuki (Color Sense and 1mm Sense).
All 4 of these share a number of features, but before I get into that, let me explain a bit about each game individually for those of you who are unfamiliar.
Illusion is a small card game in which each card has 4 colors on it. The colors could be in the form of random blobs, shapes, typefont, patterns, etc.
Each color consumes a certain percentage of the total card (whitespace included). I don't want to spoil percentages of the actual cards in the game, so I quickly made this custom card for reference, it contains roughly 17% Blue, 17% Red, 17% Yellow, 17% Green.
Here are some examples of the actual cards you will see in the game:
The object of the game is to put the cards into ascending percentage order of one specific color as determined by this deck:
Players will take turns adding the top card from the deck into the location so that ascending order is maintained, until eventually someone says "I don't believe it."
That person then flips over each card to determine if the order is indeed wrong. If it is, they get a point, otherwise the person that played the last card gets the point.
The game continues until a player has gotten their 3rd point.
Color Sense is a game that consists of cards that are shades of color. The cards all fall somewhere on a scale from red 100 to zero to green 100. Each card along the scale represents the percentage of that color's presence, and cards are separated by increments of five percent.
The cards will be shuffled and splayed out face-down on the table. Players then take turns flipping cards over 1 at a time.
The object of the game is to flip a card that is within 5% color presence of another face-up card. If you do, then you collect the cards that are face-up.
Some of the cards have stars on them that are worth points at the end of the game.
Play continues until all the cards have been flipped face up. The winner is the person with the most stars at the end of the game.
1mm Sense is the same game as Color Sense, except instead of judging colors, we are judging size.
Each card has a plain white back but is a specific square size ranging, in 1mm increments, from 6.1mm to 9.9mm.
The gameplay here is virtually identical to the aforementioned Color Sense, except instead of trying to pick a card within 5% of a face-up card's color presence, you are trying to pick a card that is within 1mm size difference of another face up card.
The Mind is a small cooperative card game consisting of cards numbered 1-100. You and your teammates will need to play all the cards in your hands in ascending order. Seems easy right?
Well, the catch is, you cannot communicate at all, you just need to play the card when you feel it is appropriate.
Let's look at some simple examples:
If you have the 1, you obviously play that card as soon as possible since it is the lowest card in the game. If you have the 100, you obviously wait, as long as you have to for the other players to be void of cards.
But what happens when you have a card in the middle? This is where the brunt of the game will reside seeing as how there is only a 1/50 chance of having the 1 or the 100 (at least during the first level).
If your team manages to play all the cards in ascending order, you move on to the next level where everyone will play again except this time, each player will receive 1 additional card than they did during the previous level.
If you play something out of order at any point, you lose a life and the game continues until you are either out of lives or until you have completed all 12 levels.
These games all have a few general things in common that make them extremely accessible:
1. Small rules overhead
2. Few components
3. Quick playtime
4. Language Independence
5. Small box size
The 2 designer's points of focus contribute to these common trends and also make these games unique from a lot of other games on the market, which I will highlight over the course of the next few sections.
Creating an Experience
All of these games offer a relatively small amount of replayability, with the only potential exception to this being, The Mind, which features enough of a gameplay arc, structure, and difficulty scale to encourage the repeat play.
Replayability is just a generalized buzz word thrown around in our hobby. In my opinion, it is a bit of a misnomer, but that is another article for another time.
For this article's purpose, just think of replayability simply as "after you've played it once, would you want to play it again?"
These games focus much more on offering a unique and interesting experience rather than offering a deep game warranting continuous investigation and plays to master.
However, because these games offer more of an "experience," they are extremely great to introduce to new people, especially non-gamers. It can be eye-opening just how unique and interesting games in the modern hobby CAN be.
These games, despite their small footprint, are some of the best at offering that type of food-for-thought both to those unfamiliar with the hobby, and those in the hobby alike. They may even cause some people to pose the question "is this a game?"
Is This a Game?
For those who follow along with my writings at Game Hungry, you may have stumbled across my article highlighting the Japanese game/art exhibition "Is This a Game?"
This exhibition featured 17 prominent Japanese designers and their "games." These were designed to expand the definition of what is a game, often by utilizing a person's preconceptions against them in a way that makes them see games in a potential new light.
I won't delve too much into detail, but feel free to check out the full article here. I highly recommend it, not to toot my own horn, but it may be my best article since I started blogging just 6 short months ago. This article even got mentioned by Dice Tower's Tom Vasel during a Board Game Breakfast segment and it helped to get BoardGameGeek on board with hosting an Is This a Game? at BGGcon in 2020.
What I want to mention here is that many of the designer exhibits experimented with player perception. Just as Illusion, The Mind, Color Sense, and 1mm Sense have done.
For example, Daita, took a standard game of the classic Reversi, which typically features black and white discs, and turned it on it's head by simply replacing a majority of those discs with a spectrum of brown shades between black and white.
What occurred was an abstracted ruleset that was highly dependent on the players. Most players inherently knew they were playing Reversi, but even then, their color perception was called into question by uncertainties about which disc belonged to which player.
Then there were people like me, who saw these pieces and a gridded board and did not see Reversi, but instead decided to create my own game out of it. I wrote up a ruleset for fun which can be seen here:
Please note, I don't think that my design is a good example of utilizing a player's perception well, in fact, it is quite bad for that purpose, but at the time I was happy to have created a game on the fly in just a couple of minutes.
It may seem like I'm incessantly rambling here, but please humor me, I promise, I do have a point, a lesson in fact, one that I will eventually tie in to the rest of the article (hopefully) seamlessly.
For now, I'd like to explain the first part of my lesson:
The PLAYERS are the single most important part of any game.
Yes, they are more important than innovative mechanics, more important than a unique theme, and yes, more important than table presence and production quality. Of course, having these things will definitely help to make a game successful, but if a game does not create an interesting experience for the players, it's all for none.
So how do we create a dynamic, player-focused game? Here are just a few of the ways that I would like to highlight.
Think about Chess for a minute. Chess has been around for nearly 1500 years and is the most well-known game in the world, played by students, mathematicians, computers, game-theorists, and non-gamers from all walks of life. Success in the game comes down to four major things.
a. Understand and utilize your pieces strategically.
b. Know your opponent, their available moves, and their most likely maneuvers based off the current situation.
c. Puzzle out how you can stay ahead of them over the course of an extended period of time; two, three, four+ moves in advance.
d. Capitalize on an opponent's mistake, should they make one.
This game is distilled down to a grid and some pieces with a clearly defined set of movement rules. The rest, is entirely up to the players and the interaction between them.
In fact, many abstract strategy games rely heavily on this type of player interaction. The reason this works so well in abstracts, is because you can provide that distilled experience, and allow your players to evolve the puzzle themselves.
This plays a critical part in social games because they naturally rely on the players to create the drama, tension, or humor that makes those games enjoyable.
A players words, actions, and tone can completely change the game state just as much as moving a piece during a game of Chess.
Believe it or not, you can create dynamic player-focused experiences in games that feature little to no direct player interaction.
This is naturally more challenging from a design perspective because you cannot rely on interaction alone to produce this result. You typically need to include some of the following to really make this work:
a. Create a feeling of natural self-progression.
b. Create a challenging but satisfying individual puzzle.
c. Have a tight player loop.
d. Offer large amounts of positive-reinforcement.
e. Offer uniqueness from other players and a sense of unbridled power.
One of my favorite examples of this is the 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres Winner Quacks of Quedlinburg which manages to incorporate most of these into one of the most dynamic multi-player solitaire games ever made (this is of course, my subjective opinion only).
If you would like to know just how highly I feel about this game, be sure to check out my rankings and commentary on games that I played in 2019.
You may recognize this section's header from the title which means we are finally coming full circle. The final method to create a dynamic player experience that I'd like to touch on, once again relies on the players, but not their interactions with each other as much as with their own internal perceptions of external stimuli.
Do you remember way back when I mentioned introducing games to my friends at that New Year's Party (seems like it was last year)? Well, in case you forgot, th