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Let's say you have a game board that you look at. It does not move but there is some action going on. For example Chess, Checkers, Solitaire. The game I'm working on is not one of these but it's a good reference.

What are some methods you can apply to the game or the design that increases the appeal of the game to the user?

Of course you can make it prettier but what are some other methods you can use?

For example: Visual cues, game design changes, user interface arrangement, etc.

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Queues are not the same as cues. – mmyers Jul 20 '10 at 20:28
@mmyers fixd :) My English is very broken yes. – Ólafur Waage Jul 20 '10 at 20:55
Numbers. People love numbers flying off the heads of game pieces like they were filled with them. – zaratustra Jul 21 '10 at 20:48

11 Answers 11

As a player, one thing that makes some games stand apart from others is getting the movement animations right. They must feel natural and not forced or be distracting. A few examples:

  • In checkers, the piece should not move in a direct line from square to square. Instead, make it move as if the player would move it, in an arc. But too big an arc becomes distracting.
  • The way gems fall in Bejeweled sets it apart from many of its clones.

I don't really have any tips on exactly how to achieve this, though. A lot of it must be attention to detail combined with trial and error.

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Aye I get your point, and it's a good one :) – Ólafur Waage Jul 20 '10 at 20:59
I think well polished animation paths are an important component. Like in your checkers example - you might want to have a bit of a "tilt" as the piece gets picked up. Little details like that make all the difference. – Andrew Russell Jul 21 '10 at 2:43
Just make sure the animations are relatively quick. Nothing kills the mood like having to watch a checker take 4 seconds to slide. I would much rather slide it with my mouse pointer. – kirk.burleson Nov 7 '10 at 23:14

Don't underestimate the power of having good sound effects. Combined with good animations, the sound effects can provide a bit of realism to your game. And don't simply use the same ones over and over -- for each sound that you have in the game, you should have a few different versions that you randomly pick for each one. If you can adjust the volume and panning based on where the sound is coming from, even better.

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One extra thing to bear in mind:

Please give the poor player the choice about what level of "interesting" they want. I can't count the number of these sort of games I've given up on because they made (to me) annoying noises and wasted time with unnecessary (again to me) animations. The visuals did attract me to the game in the first place, but they can become tiresome. How many people turn off the Windows sounds as soon as they get a new PC?

Part of the appeal of this sort of game on the computer is that they are (or should be) quick and easy to play. You might only have 5 minutes to spare and need a distraction, you don't want to be waiting for half that time for the game to load or animate the setting up of the board.

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There are tons of interesting mechanics you can integrate into a static board.

For a positional-based game like Chess or Checkers, you could add terrain or interesting shapes. Note for example how much more interesting the Stratego board is because it has those two lakes in the middle, creating three major choke points.

For a territory-control game like Risk, structuring the territories to form interesting shapes or clusters and unique landmarks on the board is more interesting than something purely symmetric. In Risk, both South America and Australia are easy to defend but give only a minor bonus, making them natural areas of early-game contention. In Pandemic, South America is an interesting region because it has the only dead-end location that's hard to get to, while Eurasia is also interesting because it has a lot of interconnected cities that lend themselves to major outbreak problems.

For a roll-and-move game like Monopoly or Life, make the spaces you land on interesting by having them give the players meaningful choices. This is one of the major reasons why the board game Talisman is marginally more palatable than Chutes & Ladders.

You can also, of course, include mechanics that change the nature of the board over time. Maybe you have some tokens that get placed on the board that make certain spaces temporarily (or permanently) impassable, or adding some additional effect to visiting those spaces. That keeps the board dynamic, even if the original starting game state is always the same.

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The strength of Chess is it's simplicity. Sometimes a game is better when you keep it simple. Recently I played Neptune's Pride - I love how simple it is and yet how much you need to think about it sometimes (a fleet of 12 ships will approach your star with currently 3 ships in 10 hours. You can't reach the star sooner with your reinforcements, however you can buy enough industry structures to produce enough ships - but how many and isn't it more affordable to leave the star and buy industry on cheaper stars? I actually was analyzing the scenario for 30 minutes!). That said, if you're making a clone of some already existing board game, it is understandable you want to add something new to it.

  • In Chess it could be various variants, like my favorite, Baroque Chess.
  • A modding possibility is always nice. You may avoid losing players by only letting them turn some "feature" or mechanic off. I don't like going back to start in Mensch ärgere dich nicht, I want to turn it off!
  • Humor! It's easy to come up with an idea of animated chess pieces, but what about speech bubbles with some situational jokes? enter image description here
  • Social features: a chat, posting results (achievements) on Facebook, getting automatic recommendations from your friends (after enemy pawn moving on e5, your friend Markus moved his pawn on e4, and Ioanna moved a knight on f3) etc.
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One thing that many strategy games do is to provide a series of informational overlays that you can filter on top of a static board. Playing a game like Europa Universalis 3, it has a wide variety of filters that really let you delve into the deeper structure of the game. You have your simple "what country owns this province" layer, but you can also have it colored according to economic strength or etc. For a game like chess, you could add an overlay that indicates relative strength of positioning, which could help players learn about setting up mutually reinforcing positions. Since we're talking a video game here you could make some really interesting, user tweakable overlays if you devoted development time to it.

Another interesting idea I saw recently was in a XBLA strategy game called Greed Corp. If you watch a video of it being played, you can see that it takes place on a turn based hex grid similar to any number of board games. But, there's an interesting game design choice that makes it work significantly better in video game form: the board changes as you perform actions. "mining" a square lowers the height of adjacent tiles and by the end of the game the terrain is drastically different from when it started. This isn't really a "static" board, but you can apply a similar concept (such as outlawing certain squares temporarily) to any board game design to make it more dynamic and suited to video game form.

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You're an EU3 player? Are you on the Paradox boards by any chance? – mmyers Jul 20 '10 at 20:29
Nah, I'm super casual with it. There's definitely a BUNCH of interesting design lessons to be learned from EU3 though. – Ben Zeigler Jul 20 '10 at 20:33
Ok, just wondering. (I'm working with the EU2 engine.) – mmyers Jul 20 '10 at 21:08

You might try use made skins and create a community for that.

A lot of people like designing stuff for their games. Such as the example of chess or checkers they should be able to draw their own custom board tiles or make their own custom pieces (with that though, if you let the make their own custom pieces be sure to be careful on what your animations are like as they can be easily made to look awkward). (A very good example of this is Spore).

Also, you should really add a community for showing of their custom skins. Their was a racing game (called Forza or something like that) that gave players the ability to paint cars and show them off or sell them on the community market. Even though this isn't a racing community your targeting, almost all communities like to this kind of interaction.

In addition communities can help with multiplayer challenges, leader boards etc. Computers just are not the same as human players. Look at Call of Duty as a good success of multiplayer. I mostly play that game for the multiplayer as well as others too.

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Battle chess has always been interesting even if it was played in a static game board.

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One example of a game that does this, that it worth looking at, is the card game "Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers". Particle effects, sound effects, and lots and lots of animation paths for the cards.

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Aside from fluff. Varying degree of adaptive AI might also make it interesting. Achievements and rewards may also add some perceived value.

Skills like how they are implemented in some mahjong doujin game and puzzle quest might also add some dimension to classic gameplay (just be sure to add the option to turn it off).

Modes of play can also makes thing interesting. I.e. Scenario modes like play with no queen or knight cause the enemy has captured these pieces in chess.

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I'm working on a hex-based boardgame-style game and have some things I'd like to incorporate to keep things engaging:

-Dynamic camera. As characters move and interact with each other the displayed view will pan and zoom to frame the action.

-Layered diegetic and non-diegetic audio. -Diegetic (heard by the game characters as well as the players): The electronic/mechanical sounds of the combat simulator the characters are in, the sounds made by the characters as they move and use their powers, anything the characters say to each other as the game proceeds and any calls made by the scorekeeper/referee. -Non-Diegetic (heard only by the players): Audio for unlocked achievements, menu navigation sounds, possibly a subtle sound made by the mouse cursor as it moves around. Announcements and color commentary made by the game announcers, and all the gamey sounds when people are killed, stunned, drop their tokens, score points, etc.

-Things for players to do when it's not their turn. I have actions characters can take in response to the actions of the current player's characters.

All of these things will hopefully contribute to the mood and tone of the game and keep players' attention. Although the game is turn-based, I'm hopeful that the players will remain engaged even in situations where they aren't personally involved in the action.

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