Massively Casual

Massively Casual
Digital Cardboard and Electric Dice

Rob Zacny | 27 Jul 2010 12:44
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"I tend to be playing or thinking about one kind of game or another all the time. Eurogames are mostly very elegantly designed with streamlined rules, fast pacing, and high quality parts - and that's pretty much what I'm aiming for in all of my game designs these days," Reynolds explains.

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Further spurring the movement is that players are connected in a way that was hard to imagine when strategy games began migrating to the PC. If the PC allowed greater complexity than a board game, designers also had to make games under the expectation that an AI would be one of the players. Even where games offered play-be-email and direct-connection multiplayer, the human was still playing a role that could also be filled by an AI. After all, not everyone could play online or would even want to. In the era of dial-up modem speeds, it could be more of a pain than it was worth. But that has changed as broadband became more ubiquitous.

A game like Iron Helmet Games' Neptune's Pride perfectly illustrates a lot of strategy trends in the era of data clouds and social networks. It's a simple (perhaps to a fault) browser-based strategy game, and its central mechanics are negotiation, cooperation, and betrayal.

"In my games, I'm always looking for a very simple set of mechanics or rules that lead to these complex situations," says Creative Director Jay Kyburz. "I enjoy games where everybody understands how the game works, and has a simple set of decisions to make, but find themselves with lots of interesting problems to solve because of how the players are interacting within that simple rule system."

The striking thing about Neptune's Pride is how it overflows its browser window and starts invading Flickr accounts, Twitter feeds, and email. A game I played earlier this year started popping up in my Twitter feed as other players began conducting snap-negotiations in public, in order to deceive each other or intimidate other players, while a flurry of private emails, direct Twitter messagess, and in-game missives traveled between and within power-blocs. By the time all was said and done, some of the near-complete strangers I played with had become friends, and one of them is now a routine guest at my apartment for afternoons of board gaming.

Neptune's Pride used all the simplicity possible in a basic board game, put it in a server that could operate the game continuously over a long period of play, and included mechanics that encouraged players to utilize every form of online communication as a part of their play experience. It is a bit like a board game, a bit like a traditional computer game, but it mostly feels like the start of something new.

Rob Zacny still contends that Memoir '44 would be better if it included armor penetration tables and factored in muzzle velocities. Read more unhinged armchair design at http://robzacny.com.

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