Paolo Mori's Augustus was nominated for this year's Spiel de Jahres, and rightly so. I found it a clever and satisfying evolution of classic Bingo. In fact, it's often called Roman Bingo or Gamer's Bingo around my local gaming circles. Neither label has quite been intoned in derogatory manner, but I get the feeling it's sort of a dubious honor.
You hear that term, "Gamer's ____," applied to any game that has a mass market central mechanic at the core of otherwise more modern gameplay. You might describe dice games like Alien Frontiers or Roll Through the Ages as "Gamer's Yahtzee" for example. These "Gamer's" versions of classic games are chimeric beasts, with the heart of a mainstream game and the body of gamer's game.
Here are a few common tips for making a "Gamer's ____" game, in terms of Roman cliches for your entertainment. (Are you not entertained?)
All Roads Lead to Bingo.
Take an existing mainstream game (ideally one in the public domain) and apply a typically hobby-oriented theme. The challenge is finding the theme that complements the emergent properties of the core game. In Augustus, Roman conspirators (bingo players) are seeking clues (bingo calls) in order to effectively execute their conspiracies (bingo cards). Yeah, it's a very thin theme, but it doesn't contradict the gameplay. Bingo lends itself well to ratcheting tension, multiplayer groups, and a satisfying climax when you can yell "Bingo!" or "Ave Caesar!"
Bingo as the Romans Bingo.
Your game may be clearly based on a pre-existing classic game, but the theme is what drives all the other secondary and tertiary mechanics. For example, the cards in Augustus represent either a military campaign or a senator's influence. Each card requires a certain combination of Roman-themed bingo symbols to complete. Once complete, each is worth points and each has a unique effect that can cascade into other effects. It's easy to write a fiction around these outcomes, too. "I finally got that last legionnaire, which won the favor of this Senator, who in turn supported my campaign in Britannia."
Veni, Vidi, Bingo.
Keep the game compact. You want to be in and out within 45 minutes, including any setup/breakdown time. Longer than 45 minutes or bigger than a chess board starts going outside the bounds of a casual play experience. Augustus lasts about 30 minutes and all the components can fit in the velvet bag that comes in the rather oversized box.
Naturally this has me thinking about what the next "Gamer's ____" will be and how successful it might be in the game market. Will a gamer theme turn off anyone interested in the original inspiration? Will the original inspiration face profound disinterest among gamers? Are good production values and marketing enough get a first play? Is the game satisfying enough for its target audience to keep them coming back?
Labels: game design