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Game design compared to a dream

Page: DesignArticle.Article201008130914PM - Last Modified : Sat, 14 Aug 10 - 4907 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

The movie "Inception"

Have you seen the Inception movie? If not, I think it should be a good thing to do because I discovered this theory after watching this movie. To summarize the movie, they have the technology to create and enter dreams. They use this technology to steal information and ideas from people's mind. But now they try to implement an idea into somebody's mind.

Anyways, if you have seen the movie, the part that interest us is when the main character explains how the dreams works to the young lady who is new in the "Business". The lady realizing that she is in a dream she starts changing stuff. For example, she fold the city on itself, she makes a bridge appear out of nowhere, etc. Now the main character explains to the lady that his subconscious will have a difficulty to accept the changes that the lady has done because they do not reflect his conception of reality. Which means that his subconscious reject the reality imposed by the lady.

This is where I make a parallel with board game design. The game designer is the equivalent of what they call the "Architect" which is the person that creates the dream. The players are the equivalent of the subjects that takes part of the dream. So the designer create a game/dream for their players. The designer tries to impose his reality through a game to the player. But like in the dream explained in the previous paragraph, if the game diverge too much from reality the player's subconscious will reject the game because, for them, it does not reflect reality.

Reality Sucks!

One of my friend sent me a funny picture once about games and reality.

This picture illustrate the fact that reality is not necessarily fun or well designed. This is why people watch movies or play video games because they want to escape reality. One of my friend once said that board games force you to think in a certain way that will never happen in real life.

So why should games follow the rules of reality when people try to escape from it?

Each players has a different level of tolerance toward changes to reality. This is why some players will accept some games that other players will reject. Some player might accepts an abstract game with a thin theme over it while other people will prefer games with a thick theme that makes sense.

It links back the the other article I have written about mechanics that makes no sense. Many euro games does not use mechanics that match how it would be done in reality which makes the game being rejected more easily. You can find this article here:

Using mechanics that reflects reality, the problem with auctions


So how should game be designed?

In my point of view, most of the game must look real but you can allow some mechanics of the game to diverge from reality. You do not want to make a completely realistic game because you would end up in a boring simulation. You do not want to diverge too much from reality, else the player will reject your game. You just want to diverge enough.

If you take a look at dreams, you always have a few things that makes sense which is based on things that happened in your life and you also have a few things that does not make sense but that seems logical to you when you are in the dream. But when the dream ends, now it does not make sense anymore. But if the dreamer liked the experience, he would willingly go back in the dream if he could.

Board games must do the same thing. The designer must bring a player into into the wonderful world of his game. To keep him hooked, he must not diverge too much from reality to make sure the player does not realize that the game does not make sense completely. When the game ends, he will realize that some things in the game made no sense but if he had a good experience while playing the game, he will willing to play again.

Example: Puerto Rico

The best example I have of a game that diverge just enought is Puerto Rico. If you take a look at all the mechanics in that game, Almost everything make sense:

  • It make sense to have some fields and plant some crop.
  • It make sense to build a series of buildings.
  • It make sense to acquire and place people in the fields and buildings.
  • It make sense that you harvest resources with your crop and buildings.


Now, what does not make sense in Puerto Rico is the role system. It is totally illogical that one day you are a captain, and the next day you are a merchant. It also does not make sense that if you are a captain, everybody can do something that could not be done otherwise. But since it is the only thing that does not make sense in Puerto Rico, players are willing to accept this part of unreality and say to themselves "In Puerto Rico, people change role every day".

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