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Three Moves Ahead Episode 135 – Board Game Lessons

September 22nd, 2011 by Rob Zacny · 20 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Computer and boardgame designer Paul Sottosanti joins up Soren, Julian, and Rob to discuss how board games are evolving, and how their design philosophies differ from computer games. Is the popular success of games like Catan something that will lead to wider acceptance of board games in general? Why do Julian and Paul love drafting mechanics so much? How does the transparency of board games change our relationship to them in comparison to computer games?

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • phunkee

    Soren! You can’t just say “tactical battles in Civ is not a good idea” and then just leave it there! While I do agree that there’s some huge problems with such a concept (I am guessing your talking about a separate tactical map or even real time like total war), just stating such a controversial thing and not explaining why …. no no no, that’s not good enough! :)

    Otherwise, thanks for yet another solid episode with a very nice panel for the topic. Maybe a bit too broad? Think you could have gotten more episodes out of it by splitting it up into more focused topics.

  • Anders

    Could you guys PLEASE get an interview with the guys behind Xenonauts? Looks like to be a new and true revision of X-COM. Aslo they need the PR. =) Pretty please?

  • David Brake

    Please give the links! You mentioned lots of games that sounded well worth looking at…

  • Anders

    @ David Brake, I am pretty sure Google works.

  • David brake

    Thanks for the sarcasm Anders – my issue is not having a pen with me as I listen to take down the names of every interesting sounding item…

  • Steve G. (OzymandiasAV)

    I’m not really an experienced board gamer — I’ve played a gazillion games of the “big name” products like MtG, Ticket to Ride, Ascension, Carcassonne, and Catan, but virtually nothing else — but I found the discussion in the episode to be very enjoyable.

    In particular, I thought the discussion of the different development processes between board games and video games was interesting. The notion that limited resources can make board games sharper and more interesting by sheer necessity is very punk rock…and it absolutely captures what I’ve found interesting about my limited experience with the medium.

    As I listened to the discussion about those differences, I started to wonder if the different design processes come about because of different goals. It made me think of a piece on Pandemic that John Sharp wrote for Greg Costikyan’s latest book/compilation with Drew Davidson, which is called Tabletop: Analog Game Design. As a bit of supplemental reading for the podcast, here’s a link for the book:


    In the piece, Sharp compares Pandemic, a board game centered around avoiding/preventing viral outbreak all over the world, with “Serious Games” that are intended to inform or teach the player some important or meaningful concept as they play them. Sharp notes that, often times, the mechanics in these Serious Games are often at odds with the message that they’re trying to convey and he posits that this is because Serious Games tend to put The Message first, rather than the mechanics that actually impart its meaning. In Pandemic, Sharp finds a game that’s actually much more effective as a teaching tool because it embraces its “game-y-ness” (my awkward term, not his) and engages the players enough through mechanics that they revisit the play space and, over time, eventually begin to identify and digest the different learning outcomes.

    Not all video games are Serious Games, of course, but I wonder if they share symptoms, in this case. I wonder if designers for video games are more willing to mask over mechanical deficiencies because the deceit itself is what they’re truly aiming for. As I see it, theme is more important for video gaming because there are so many more avenues available to convey it — in board games, only the mechanics can carry the largest share of that weight.

    Anyway, it was a great episode (as always!) and I’m looking forward to the next one, even though I’m afraid that my brain just can’t think fourth-dimensionally enough to handle discussion of Achron.

  • Chris

    Haven’t had time to listen, but reaction to summary:

    ” Is the popular success of games like Catan something that will lead to wider acceptance of board games in general?”

    Catan was Spiel des Jahres in 1995. I think it led to the wider acceptance of board games a long, long time ago.

  • Thomas

    Sorry to be such a nitpicker, but hearing Julian pronounce Spiel des Jahres as “shpeel duh jar” drives me crazy! In German the -es isn’t silent like in French. The correct pronunciation is something like “shpeel dess yah-ress”.

  • kenny b

    I have to agree with Soren’s opinion that videogames get to cover up flaws in mechanics, and thus boardgame designers are perhaps more ahead of the curve. I totally feel the same about not running into enough “agnoizing choices” in computer games, I feel like making one bad decision over another might just cause a setback (or a trip to the “Load Game” menu :) ) but never feel that it would cause the make-or-break effect that you see in almost every good boardgame. Civilization feels so long-term and granular that any one bad move is not hard to overcome from the perspective of the entire game, and planning a few moves ahead is not as difficult because the potential things that could go differently in a single turn is much smaller.

    Catan doesn’t strike me as a “nerdy” boardgame because in Germany, where I first played it, it has a status more like Monopoly. Thusly I actually think it /is/ “the old family boardgame” but quite a bit better.

    You guys totally should have mentioned Jay Kyburz and Iron Helmet games (Neptunes Pride, Blight of the Immortals, Jupiter’s Folly)! He is basically making online boardgames, coming from the perspective of videogames. His games have gotten progressively more boardgamey … whereas Neptune’s Pride is basically Master of Orion played over a few weeks, Jupiter’s Folly brings in cards and multiple paths to victory.

  • Shaun

    I know this probably isn’t what a lot of people want to hear, but I really like hearing boardgame discussion on 3MA. Can we get an Advanced Squad Leader discussion with Julian? Please? :D

  • Duncan

    @phunkee The team went into a bit more detail on strategic / tactical splits, including Civ… I think it way back in episode #3!

  • André

    Thanks for the nice podcast.
    It would be great if you could post a list with all those games and ressources mentionend within the discussion so it could be great to play some of the games later on if you didn´t know them before.

  • Eric

    I second Andre’s request for a link to the games mentiooned in the podcast. I am not sure which “Kingdoms” game I should be looking for.

  • Rob Zacny

    I will try to do better with links and resources at the bottom of the podcast post. But it’s not as easy as you might think.

    When we’re talking during the episode, I am trying to focus on what everyone is saying, and if I write anything down, it’s a note for our producer. By the time we post the episode, about a week after we record these days, I have trouble remembering the specifics that we might have to link. I could always listen to the episode again, but that’s not really the best use of my time.

    I’ll try to be more aware of link-material during the recording. But I hope you understand why the resources attached to each post aren’t more comprehensive.

  • Troy Goodfellow

    Links to the games discussed at length are pretty important, I think, and I’ll try to get those in some time tonight once I’ve listened to the show. I’m weeks behind, but I’ll move this one up and take care of it.

    Sometimes when a conversation is going it is hard to remember everything that was talked about (especially when you are not doing the editing and hearing it again) and also hard to keep in mind how much of this is new to listeners. Part of my whole “There will a link at the bottom of the podcast” schtick when I hosted was a mental cue and auditory cue that this was something I should point people to.

    Though I was also joking half the time.

  • Michael

    It would probably make the most sense for me to take down the show notes while I’m editing the podcast. Next episode I will make sure to jot down games as I come across them and send Rob the links along with the episode.

  • David Brake

    FYI I have not been able to connect to StrategyStation since I listened to the podcast. Some kind of persistent technical fault? It sounded interesting but I guess I’ll never know ;-)

  • Gunner

    I haven’t been able to hit Strategy Station either. Is it still running?

  • André

    Thanks for pickung up the link-idea. I am looking forward to it. Keep up the good work!

  • Mark O'Brien

    Echoing David Brake and Gunner – is http://www.strategystation.com still in existence?

    It doesn’t seem to rank highly on google searches for “strategy station”, the forum on weplayciv seems not to have any posts since last year, and the site is timing out.

    Would have liked to try it.