Massively Casual

Massively Casual
Digital Cardboard and Electric Dice

Rob Zacny | 27 Jul 2010 12:44
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The variety of systems, mechanics, and subject matter in board gaming can be awe-inspiring to jaded PC gamers like myself. During the Memorial Day gaming marathon, my head spun from the combinations of mechanics and themes on display. Once my mind could get a firm grasp on the mechanics, the fields of play slowly yielded secrets and hidden strategies. Best of all, I got to know my fellow players as we argued strategies, hurled accusations across tables, and endlessly rehashed our favorite moments from Battlestar Galactica or Last Night on Earth. Some of these things are only possible when you're sitting at a table with your fellow players.

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Some, but not all. Strategy designers are finding new ways to adapt board games and their sensibilities to electronic formats. In the last few years, XBLA has played a host to a number of well-received board game conversions, like Big Huge's adaptation of Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan, and some of those titles have made their way to other platforms like PSN and the App Store. The line between board games and the videogames is getting blurred as gamers and designers cross it.

Consider Brian Reynolds, who went from designing Civilization at strategy powerhouse Firaxis to creating what might be the finest RTS in the history of the genre (Rise of Nations) at Big Huge Games, to designing Zynga's newest Facebook offering, FrontierVille. Before that major transition came a smaller one, as he took the opportunity to design the celebrated Settlers of Catan conversion.

"It was one of those 'right project at the right time for the right guy' situations," says Reynolds, "and certainly one of the most fun projects I've worked on in my 20 years making games. That was also my first jumping-off point into working on more casual games, and so I think it's fair to say that it was an important step along the way to becoming Zynga's Chief Game Designer!"

Petroglyph Studios have taken the unusual step of developing for XBLA and board games simultaneously. When Chuck Kroegel and Ubisoft agreed to make a new Panzer General game, he designed it as a board game for the Xbox 360. Once it was finished, Petroglyph decided to go the whole nine yards and published the board game version as well.

Community Manager Mathew Anderson explained that the whole project made a great deal of sense to the company, and it's a model Petroglyph are further developing with Panzer General: Russian Assault and Guardians of Graxia. Since most of the components were designed by the production assistants during the course of prototyping, and because only a small fraction of the studio is required for projects like this, Petroglyph is able to complete its board games without disrupting development on bigger titles.

The vitality of the modern board gaming scene right now is one reason for interest in bringing its strengths to other platforms. Reynolds finds "Eurogames" (European board games, often German, that tend to be a bit more systematic and less cutthroat than American games) to be a reliable source of insight and inspiration.

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