I've never been formally taught game design but I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of how things should work when it comes to my favourite game of all - Gorkamorka.

In order to understand this it's probably best we take a look at its sister game, Necromunda. This wonderful game was released in 1995 or so and features many similar elements. For whatever reason it was always the more popular game and received considerably more support, to the point where the models were only recently removed from Games Workshop's site. It also received an updated rulebook and a lengthy run of coverage in the form of its own magazines.

I love Necromunda but find it difficult to wrap my head around the vast array of materials available for it. The fact that such a rich base of content exists is wonderful but as with many other things in life I feel I need someone else to guide me.

There is one side effect of this - fragmentation.

Off the top of my head there's at least four versions of the core Necromunda rules. Not reprints, versions.

First there's the original set, let's call them "vanilla". Then there's Necromunda: Underhive, a newer version with some changes. Those are the two printed sets (The compiled hardback falls into the vanilla category, not a separate one).

Then there's the "living rulebook" available from Games Workshop's site, and lastly there's the Community Edition. There may well be other variants too but that's the four I know about.

So before we get into anything additional or esoteric there's four different sets of base rules. I'm sure that's not confusing for new players at all.

Gorkamorka is nowhere near as popular though and so doesn't have this problem. I don't think any of us expect Games Workshop to suddenly release a new version of the rules. As such we can have an interesting situation for game development: the core rules can be treated as immutable.

Whilst there may be fragmentation on how squigs work, for example, the core rules are unchanging. A new player can get the books and everything builds upon them.

This results in an interesting game design environment. New mechanics can be created, sure, but that means more complexity on top of an already fairly extensive system. Instead one has to try to work with the elements that already exist to create. Personally I find this a fantastic challenge and an exercise in elegant design.

The intended outcome is to create a situation where a new player can pick up any additional content and immediately have a good understanding of it. That's the goal at least!

Cheese it!

04 March 2014

Every now and then I come across one more mental tool for tackling the world around me. Sometimes this is a lens through which to examine things through, other times it's more of a handle to grasp and work from. Today it was an additional way to think about games and activities.

A little preamble - chess. Personally I'm not interested in the game. It clearly takes a lot of skill to play well, I don't doubt that, the problem I have with it is that it's not fun. I'm sure plenty of people finding immensely entertaining but sadly I do not count myself in their number. I can see how it'd be fun in a much more boring world, for example if played by post. That's not the world I live in and as such it seems intensely dull.

Listening to an episode of Radiolab I learned about "book moves":



Chess has a set number of moves. Certainly the number of possible games is a ludicrous amount but that's because each additional move drastically raises the count. As a result we have a whole library of ways to start a game. Fritz is basically that, from what I understood.

Essentially any given game will start out "in book" (a documented state) and at a certain point will go "out of book". When it reaches that state the game is unique.

My problem with chess is the fact that there's such a vast library of knowledge on how to play it. It's just a matter of time before it's a solved game. Don't get me wrong - that might happen in the next ten years or long after I die of old age, I'm not suggesting it's necessarily soon, just that it will, in theory, be solved.

If the game is solved then there's not only no point in being creative in playing it, it's actively detrimental to winning. To me that's slow death. I've felt this way for a long time but it's only today that I learn names and examples in order to be able to better explain it. What I love about Gorkamorka is that there's no risk of it ever being solved. There are combinations that work better than others but there are so many more elements in play as to make other strategies plenty viable. I love that!

Chess is not the only game that is affected by this, I feel, it's the same reason I don't enjoy competitive video games. There are a number of ways to best win and deviating from those strategies is tantamount to conceding defeat from the outset. I do not like to play games where I'm being told specifically how to play - I want to be able to be creative. Hearing strategies that have worked for others is fine, as long as they're not the way, merely a way.