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Board games have seen a resurgence in the past few years for a variety of reasons, and as a result we have seen an evolution in the style of games, critiques of their design, and the technology the games use.

Over the past few months I’ve come across some cool new developments and analysis on the world of board games.

The beauty of hex grids
If you’re using square or rectangle tiles then you’re living the past. Step up your game by getting with the greatest of grids: the hex.

The 13am team knows my love for hex grids and brought my attention to this great article at Gamasutra: 20 Fun Grid Facts (Hex Grids). Here’s one of those fun facts:

Fun grid fact #6: There is only one magic hexagon with more than one cell

There are magic squares possible for any order, where all the numbers run from one to however many cells there are. But, except for the single cell, there is only one such magic hexagon possible (ignoring reflections and rotations).

Magic shapes that have all the integers in sequence starting from 1 are called normal. Abnormal magic shapes have numbers in sequence that start at a different integer. If we allow abnormal magic hexagons, then there are more possibilities.

If that doesn’t convince you, take a look how hex grids are influencing architecture! Here you can see that hex grids can be used almost anywhere.

Dealing with chance

For board game design exercises I purposefully don’t let people use dice (for reasons that would require their own post); but that doesn’t mean dice are not a good thing for games. Indeed, there are some great games out there which use dice as the primary mechanic. That being said, in my experience new game designers of table top games of all forms tend to use dice as a crutch.

If you’re thinking of using dice in your game you should give this article on to use dice effectively a read. The article looks at Alien Frontiers creator and his goals to make dice games better and more engaging.

Any given turn of Castles of Burgundy, for example, can give players an almost paralyzing number of options. When a player’s roll doesn’t match the actions he wants to take, he may spend workers to make it match. Or he may spend a die to get workers and ensure that he can take the action most important to him. Or he may conserve his workers, ignore the actions he planned to take, and hope he can do them more cheaply on the next turn.

In the 5,000-year scale of dice history, that’s an incredibly new dynamic, but it may be an idea whose time has come. Feld and Niemann arrived at their designs independently. At the time that he created Alien Frontiers in 2010, Niemann had never heard of Feld’s work — despite the fact four of his dice games had reached publication. Instead, Niemann said he drew his inspiration from a game called Kingsburg.

Cultural analysis of games

Not only is there better analysis of how to make and design games every year, we also get better critiques of games.

Bruno Faidutti has an excellent piece titled Postcolonial Catan in which he explores the current aesthetics in popular board games. He looks at the games he’s created and others in a way many designers never do.

There is something old-fashioned, charming and romantic, not only in the themes and settings of boardgames, but also in their graphic style. See the covers of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, probably the two most influential typical board game designs of these last twenty years. Playing games has become a powerful anxiolytic in a western society which probably feels less secure than it did a few decades ago. This might explain why board game sales are countercyclical, why game designers are mostly old white males (I’m one), and why game themes and looks sound so old-fashioned.

He goes on to other important issues in the world of board games in both player and desirgern terms. Indeed, he has a great take on the use of other cultures in the games we play and make. This is also the first time I’ve seen Edward Said’s Orientalism used in an analysis of board games.

Lastly, here’s a fun article looking at the history of how electronic board game have changed over 100 years. That’s right 100 years. To be honest, I didn’t know that electricity was being used that long ago – it seems downright dangerous.

The first electronic game (pictured above) was Electra in 1910!

I recently posted a video summarizing empathy and yesterday I read a short article about how empathy relates directly to game design. Robin Hunicke recently argued at the D.I.C.E. Summit that ‘The super-tool that helps you in game development’.

And there’s good reason to do so: “Games made by people who care about people are the ones that people talk about,” said Hunicke. “They’re the ones that go viral,” she said, with “huge success out of scale of their marketing budgets or their teams.” Her examples? Broken Age, Gone Home, and League of Legends.

The connection between games and empathy is obvious on some levels, but it’s important to remember and share this knowledge. There is also plenty of good news related to empathy too.

We also shouldn’t ignore that empathy can be used for other aspects of design – and in a multitude of ways.

MASS Design Group is a young company that focuses on empathic architecture.

In this talk Dr Brené Brown argues that empathic vulnerability helps with problem solving.

Here’s a recording of a webinar (audio is fairly bad) about bringing empathy into the everyday working world.

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