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Some of my favorite games

Published September 14. 2013 09:01AM

I have many interests in my life sometimes but besides magic, two of my favorite hobbies are game designing and puzzle crafting. Game designing at this point is not something I have actively pursued recently but more of an academic interest. I love reading books on game design especially board games.

With the advent of computers, game designers fall into two camps, board game designers or traditional designers and computer game designers. Most books are now written toward the latter designer, but lately there have been some great academic titles directed at traditional board game design which is more my interest.

If you want to learn to design games or have an idea but are not sure what to do with it, "The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses" by Jesse Schell is an excellent book. This book is written in a format that takes your game concept and examines it through a set of 100 questions asked throughout the chapters to help you determine the goals, theme, the mechanics, playability and almost every other aspect of a game one needs to consider during its creation. As a companion to the book, Schell also produced a deck of flash cards with information on them that corresponds to the 100 basic questions he intersperses through the volume.

Another volume that I also enjoyed reading deals with games that transcend the board game. "Pervasive Games" by Markus Montola. This is a really cool book on immersive games that overlay the world. One of the most well-known games in this genre is the old-fashioned scavenger hunt. This is where a list is developed of random items or a list of themed items which players or teams must gather typically in a time period.

When the time limit expires, the player(s) with the most items is the winner. In a variation, the items could have point values based on their scarcity or difficulty in obtaining them.

Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite types of games to plan. The last one I did for my department at work was enjoyed by everyone and included items that were easy and some that were devious.

The book also covers other more immersive games such as a game called "Killer" which started in the 1980s on an MIT campus and consisted of a group of students who secretly received the names of their "victims" who were the other players of the game. The game was virtual to the extent that no one was harmed, but they ran around for weeks with squirt guns and water balloons hoping to get an opening to finish off their prey. If they succeeded, they would get the piece of paper with the quarry's victim and that would become their new victim and the game continued on for days or weeks until the last victim was "killed". The surviving assassin would be declared the winner. The only rules in this game was that they were not allowed to interfere with each other's classes and no one was allowed to be actually harmed in any way.

Live action role playing games are another example of this genre in which the players don't just role play their fantasy games, they actually act them out in the real world. Dressed as warriors and wizards, elves and thieves, players act out the game instead of just talking about it.

With the popular game "Dungeons and Dragons", one of the most well-known role playing games, players have done this for years before it became its own genre. In fact there are several anecdotes about live action D&D games gone astray and the popular TSR title became the scapegoat for several games gone over the edge.

Another type of game is a road rally. This is where teams of players race using cars across an area to solve puzzles or decode clues. Each successful game or puzzle provides a score for the team and only by completing the puzzles and the course can players win the game. Another type of rally is where a course is laid out and cars must follow it and stick to a timed set of waypoints. The only way to win is to be on time at each point. If you speed or break traffic laws or lag behind, one loses points which keeps teams from violating traffic laws.

If these games are your cup of tea, "Pervasive Games" is a good introduction to this genre.

Shifting gears from games, puzzle crafting has been another interest of mine for a long time. The difficulty with this for me was finding source material or enough information as to how professional puzzle crafters do it. That changed a few months ago when I happened across a volume aptly called "Puzzlecraft: The Ultimate Guide on How to Construct Every Type of Puzzle" by puzzle gurus Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder.

This book is a puzzlemaker's dream describing how to construct everything from Sudoku to crosswords to mazes and more. The only book published before this in this genre that was a "bible" was the "Random House Puzzlemaker's Book" which is long out of print.

I just finished my first read through of this volume and it not only gives a sample game of each type but also describes in detail how the puzzles were created and a background in how they are solved. At the beginning of the book is a wonderful essay on how puzzles are created and the related thought processes.

Anyway, if games or puzzles are your cup of tea, check out one of these tomes. It will definitely be an enjoyable experience.

Til next time…

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