Example of Play

Commentary on Games Design

Social Footprints of Games


Recently, there has a brisk exchange of views in the ExPlay chat box vHangout. Offices? They are SO last year. The topic of this verbal sparring is the card game Sushi Go!

Both Sam and I think it is a very good, light, game. And that where the problem starts.

You see, when Sam reviewed the game for Purple Pawn, I switched off completely when I read the comparison with 7 Wonders. It’s a game like 7 Wonders…? I don’t care about it. 7 Wonders is a good game, but not one that is worth me owning because having borrowed the local shop’s copy and played it a couple of times my wife remarked that it was too much like work and none of my other groups like the experience of playing it. If I have a chance to play a 60 minute game, it would not be 7 Wonders.  7 Wonders has the wrong ‘social footprint‘ for any of the groups I play with- I shall explain…

20131113_170222 20131113_170047

On the left  is where I keep Sushi Go! and on the right  is where I don’t keep 7 Wonders. 

Sushi Go! is a card drafting game. Players are dealt an opening hand of cards from which they select one, reveal it, then pass the rest to the player on their left. this continues until all cards have been selected. There cards are fairly straightforward in that they score points either n their own or in combination with others, or are chopsticks that allow you forgo a selection in the current pack in exchange for two selections in a later pack. It is light, small, fast-playing, easy to explain and a joy to play. Essentially it sharing the same core engine with 7 Wonders, but none of the other characteristics.

A game is more than a collection of mechanisms

This leads me to something that I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while: the social footprint of games. This article about RPGs is interesting because I think the graphical way of showing the reduction of the potential to get a game played in a social situation is great. Briefly, the more exclusionary layers you add to a game, the smaller the potential number of plays will be. A game might really need a 6 hour play time to get across what you want to achieve with the design, but that layer of design will cost you players and plays.

Sushi Go! Has a different social footprint to 7 Wonders. The situations in which the two games get to the table are different, and therefore a straight comparison in a review is not useful to me. In fact, it’s an actively destructive thing to do.  Sam disagreed and escalated matters by contacting the designer, Phil Walker-Harding:

Hey Sam,
No problem about the delay, thanks for playing!
Yes, “7 Wonders light” was definitely a conscious aim of mine in designing Sushi Go. Although really I was trying to bring the raw mechanism of pass-and-draft to the fore, without worrying about all the little subsystems like in 7 Wonders, so maybe that’s why your friend is resisting the comparison!
Anyway, thanks again for supporting my games!
All the best,

All of which is fine, but consider this:

rocket 280px-Ford_Focus_2004

On the left  is an MRV Rocket, on the right is a Mark 1 Ford Focus. They both have the same engine. I’m going to give you a moment to let the raw power of that analogy sink in…

I’m not arguing that Sushi Go! owes something to 7 Wonders. It does. However, when you review a game or pitch it I strongly feel that positioning it in the same social context as it’s real competitors is important. For the target audience of Sushi Go! there is no decision as to whether you buy/play it or 7 Wonders, it’s whether or not it gets played over Tenakee, Botswana or R-Eco. For that matter, Fairie Tale is probably the most analogous game to Sushi Go! and would have a wider appeal were it not for the fact that graphic design makes the game frustrating for non-gamers to grasp. Hopefully the new Z-Man edition will help this.

So, designers, fight the right enemies. Your game is clamouring for a time slot, not a  mechanism slot. I can safely say the number of times I’ve said:

“Right- we should fit a blind bidding game into this session”

is vastly less than the number of times I’ve said:

“Right- what 20 minute game can we fit in?”

Equally, reviewers, take a a broad spectrum approach. There are many factors that influence a purchase and working out the fit of a game to potential players has a lot of value.

In summary: Don’t just be aware of the competition, be aware of the playing field too.


3 thoughts on “Social Footprints of Games

  1. There I was about to write a review for Sentinels of the Multiverse and your article pops into view well before I go ahead and make some rookie errors; cheers for that. I have not played 7 Wonders it might be because people tell me it is a bit like 7 wonders which leaves me wondering. I tend to fall back on more descriptive tropes such as describing King of Tokyo as ‘Battle Yahtzee’ or Love Letter as Poker with less pretention. I may not be clear but I hope to set a tone that offers people the scent of a game if not the whole haunch

  2. Pingback: Today in Board Games – Issue #88

  3. Great post. Great insight.

    I like to think of games as cars too, but I take it a little farther. I agree completely regarding the engine being the central mechanic that drives the game, but I think of the transmission as the way that “what you do” is translated into “how you score”, including such common transmissions as Area Majority, Set Collection, Race, Last Man Standing, and of course the many hybrids that allow for multiple paths to victory. The shape, color, and overall appearance of the car translates as theme. I tend to think of little light games, like Uno, as scooters, while 18XX is a big truck.

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