Tabletop and Video

In case any of you lot were unaware, April is a big months for the geekier folk among us (Like myself) and it all kicks off (usually) with and event created by the visionary Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day: International Tabletop Day. It’s a day where people get together in a venue of their choice (Be it a Games Store or a local Community Centre or something) and all play board games together. They can be Deck Building Games, Board Games, RPG’s and anything and everything under the sun. In my town, ours is run by e-Collectica Games and their whole crew. It’s always awesome and you always get to interact with awesome people.

At any rate, I was thinking about Games Day which got me thinking about games. This got me thinking about Video Games and this got me thinking about the relation between the two.

To sum up: I want to discuss how awesome board games can be to Video Game designers, and how helpful they can be.

When I’m talking about Board Games, I don’t mean Ludo or similar “Roll to Win” games. I’m talking about Tabletop Games. These are basically Advanced Board Games. I tend to surmise them as “A Board Game in which the player has enough agency in their actions to strategize to achieve victory”. Games as simple as Connect 4 or Monopoly could be considered Tabletop Games (If you really stretch the definition).

That’s not to say there aren’t more advanced ones out there. Games like Last Night on Earth and Betrayal at the House on the Hill require a team of players working against another, all of them employing different strategic methods. Some games like Forbidden Island and Pandemic remove the Villain Player and make the game the villain. Even games with heavy amounts of Randomness like King of Tokyo or Zombie Dice are Tabletop Games (By my definition) as they still allow basic amounts of Strategy to Win.

However, in order to strategize, you need to know the rules. Rules are important, not just to keep chaos from taking over a Tabletop Game but also exist to be exploited to win it. For instance, the rules in Robo Rally state that the conveyerbelts on the board convey before the pushers push. Do you plan around that? Get pushed onto a conveyerbelt but avoid getting moved? Stuff like that is important.

To teach you the rules, games have to use Rulesheets. Big bits of paper that basically list how to play the game. While this isn’t a brilliant way of teaching the rules, it’s the only way a game can teach. A bad translation in a Tabletop Game can cripple the game completely. For instance, some friends and I tried to play Chronos, a game translated from German, but it was unplayable due to the Engrish that the rulesheet was written in.

Why is all of this important to Video Game Designers, I hear you cry?

Think about it. Take “Mega Man” for instance. What are the Rules of that game?

  1. To win, the player must defeat the boss at the end of each stage
  2. The Player can perform 3 Actions: Run, Jump and Shoot. You may perform any two actions simultaneously except Run and Jump.
  3. You damage an enemy whenever you hit them with your Shoot Action, and Vice Versa.
  4. If your health reaches 0, then you die, and must restart the stage. Each enemy does a different amount of damage.
  5. If you die, lose a life.
  6. If you touch a Spike, your health hits 0 instantly.
  7. If you reduce a boss’s health to 0, you beat the stage.
  8. On beating a stage, you gain that stage’s special weapon
  9. You can refill your health using pickups.
  10. You lose the game if you run out of lives.

There’s more, but that’s the gist of it, right? That right there is basically Megaman in a nutshell. Now, if you use Tiles to represent each area of the game, dice to resolve combat and tokens to change weapons, you have a pretty solid board game right there.

It doesn’t just apply to retro games either. It’s just easier to do it that way due to the story getting out of the way of the mechanics. But, we’ll do it for a more modern game, and one of my favourites. I’m not going to tell you the name of the game this time, you have to guess.

  1. To win, you must defeat the final boss
  2. You may only challenge the final boss when you have defeated at least 30 of his 40 minions. They can be found in predetermined rooms in the house. They only appear in rooms that you have lit up.
  3. You can open up more of the house by collecting keys from dead bosses.
  4. You may perform several actions in each room. You may either search, fight or leave.
  5. Each new room you enter starts off Dark. You can light it up by defeating enemies in the room.
  6. Some enemies require certain elemental abilities to defeat such as Ice or Fire. You can collect these at predetermined spots in the house.
  7. You lose the game if your health hits 0, and must go from the nearest “Safe Spot” to try again. Your collected Keys, Money and Defeated Minions are all retained on returning to a safe spot.

Again, there’s more to the game than that, but that’s the basic essence. Again, it doesn’t sound dissimilar to a board game, yeah?

That’s because Board Games are just Video Games. They make you do the work behind the scenes calculating damage and stuff.

I will admit, Board Games can’t really do Real-Time combat like Video games can. It might be doable with enough space, but it’d still be pretty difficult.

Tabletop Games can teach us quite a bit however, about how to implement mechanics into a game, since when playing a Tabletop Game, the mechanics are all the player has to work with.

What I’m saying is if you’re into Games Design and haven’t given Board Games a chance, you should do so.

We can learn a lot by going analog for a while.

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