Characteristics of Games offers a new way to understand games: by focusing on certain traits—including number of players, rules, degrees of luck and skill needed, and reward/effort ratio—and using these characteristics as basic points of comparison and analysis. These issues are often discussed by game players and designers but seldom written about in any formal way. This book fills that gap. By emphasizing these player-centric basic concepts, the book provides a framework for game analysis from the viewpoint of a game designer. The book shows what all genres of games—board games, card games, computer games, and sports—have to teach each other. Today’s game designers may find solutions to design problems when they look at classic games that have evolved over years of playing.
Characteristics of Games—written by three of the most prominent game designers working today—will serve as an essential reference for game designers and game players curious about the inner workings of games. It includes exercises (which can also serve as the basis for discussions) and examples chosen from a wide variety of games. There are occasional mathematical digressions, but these can be skipped with no loss of continuity. Appendixes offer supplementary material, including a brief survey of the two main branches of mathematical game theory and a descriptive listing of each game referred to in the text.
About the Authors
Skaff Elias is Vice President of Three Donkeys LLC, a game design, development, and consulting company.
Richard Garfield, mathematics professor and game designer, is the creator of many card games, including Magic: The Gathering, as well as the board game RoboRally.
K. Robert Gutschera is Lead Designer at Secret Identity Studios.
Table of Contents
- Characteristics of Games
- Characteristics of Games
- George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and K. Robert Gutschera
- foreword by Eric Zimmerman
- drawings by Peter Whitley
- The MIT Press
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- London, England
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
- For information about special quantity discounts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
- Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
- Elias, George Skaff.
- Characteristics of games / George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield, and K. Robert Gutschera ; foreword by Eric Zimmerman ; drawings by Peter Whitley.
- p. cm.
- Includes bibliographical references and index.
- ISBN 978-0-262-01713-8 (hardcover : alk. paper)
- 1. Games—Design and construction. 2. Games—Rules. 3. Game theory. I. Garfield, Richard. II. Gutschera, Karl Robert, 1964– III. Title.
- GV1230.E38 2012
- 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
- To Sadie, Ike, and Lucy, to Terry and Schuyler, and to Karl and Deborah Gutschera
- And to the memory of Martin Gardner
- Foreword ix
- Preface xiii
- Acknowledgments xvii
- Introduction 1
- 1 Basics 11
- 1.1 Characteristic: Length of Playtime 11
- 1.2 Characteristic: Number of Players 21
- 1.3 Characteristic: Heuristics 29
- 2 Multiplayer Games 37
- 2.1 Characteristic: Player Elimination 38
- 2.2 Characteristic: Interactivity 44
- 2.3 Characteristic: Politics 48
- 2.4 Characteristic: Kingmaking 56
- 2.5 Characteristic: Teamwork 61
- 3 Infrastructure 71
- 3.1 Characteristic: Rules 71
- 3.2 Characteristic: Standards 76
- 3.3 Characteristic: Outcomes 82
- 3.4 Characteristic: Ending Conditions 86
- 3.5 Characteristic: Positional Asymmetry 92
- 3.6 Characteristic: Sensory Feedback 96
- 4 Games as Systems 101
- 4.1 Characteristic: Abstract Subgames and Essential Games 101
- 4.2 Characteristic: Snowball and Catch-Up 106
- 4.3 Characteristic: Complexity Tree Growth and Game Arc 120
- 4.4 Characteristic: Game Balance and Strategic Collapse 129
- 5 Indeterminacy 137
- 5.1 Characteristic: Randomness 137
- 5.2 Characteristic: Luck and Skill 150
- 5.3 Characteristic: Hidden Information 161
- 6 Player Effort 167
- 6.1 Characteristic: Costs 167
- 6.2 Characteristic: Rewards 174
- 6.3 Characteristic: Downtime 178
- 6.4 Characteristic: Busywork 183
- 6.5 Characteristic: Reward/Effort Ratio 189
- 7 Superstructure 203
- 7.1 Characteristic: Metagame 203
- 7.2 Characteristic: Conceit/Motif 212
- 7.3 Characteristic: Spectation 220
- 7.4 Characteristic: Game Customization 226
- 7.5 Characteristic: Misbehavior 231
- 7.6 Characteristic: Play Lifetime 238
- 8 Appendixes 245
- Appendix A: Von Neumann Game Theory 245
- Appendix B: Combinatorial Game Theory 255
- Appendix C: List of Games 271
- Bibliography 301
- Index 305
“Many books have been written on the subject of game design over the years, but Characteristics of Games is one of the few that forgoes breadth for depth and takes readers to the next logical step in game design thinking and study.”—CHOICE
“This book is a key step forward in the effort to develop game design from art to craft and thence to science.”
—Raphael “Raph” Koster, Vice President of Creative Design, Playdom/Disney Interactive
“Characteristics of Games is great fun to read, but thorough and rigorous enough to use as a classroom textbook. If you want to understand the social and mathematical dynamics of multiplayer games, this book is a must have.”
—Walker M. White, Director, Game Design Initiative at Cornell, Cornell University
“Characteristics of Games is a meaningful contribution to the literature of games. It presents a system and dozens of examples of how to break out and analyze game mechanics. This book is an excellent step towards a fuller understanding of how and why games work.”
—Jesse Schell, Carnegie Mellon University; CEO, Schell Games