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My belated review

  Posted by johnhattan, 23 December 2011 · 372 views


First off, apologies to Kobold Quarterly for this. I promised a review of their book a while back. And I actually wrote the review. But we're having a bit of a problem with Gamedev's CMS right now, so I'm going to do an end-run around it and post it to the blog.

Problem is, the Amazon-scraper we use to grab book covers and links and info about books is having a fit about The Kobold Guide To Board Game Design because there's no dead-tree version listed on Amazon. Envisioning this as a one-act play, I think the process is going something like this.

Gamedev: Amazon, do you have a listing for The Kobold Guide To Board Game Design?

Amazon: Why yes, it appears that I do!

Gamedev: Outstanding. Please send me a bitmap of the cover art.

Amazon: Oh, that would be no bother at all. Here you go!

Gamedev: Much obliged. Would you mind sending me the Amazon price and the number you have on the shelves right now?

Amazon: I would be delighted to. The price is $9.99 and we have zero copies on the shelves.

Gamedev: Zero copies eh? Oh that's just ducky. I shall mark it as out of print until such time as you get some inventory.

Amazon: Suit yourself!

FIN

I don't know exactly what field is giving our book-scraper fits. But there's something about e-books that's convincing the scraper to mark it as out of stock whenever it checks Amazon. As I'll post the review and feature it, but then a couple of hours later it'll get delisted from our little book section.

And I'm not faulting our programmer, as he's got much bigger fish to fry right now than fixing a bug in our book-scraper. He's tied up making Gamedev a far awesomer and more organized thing than it's been in quite some time, so I'm staying outta the way.

So for the time being I'm going to post the review here. At least the Kobold guys can link to it and/or quote-mine it. Once the scraper bug is tackled, I'll make sure it's properly listed on the site proper.

Cheers and thanks for everyone's patience!

 

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I'll say this from the onset. The Kobold Guide To Board Game Design is the best book on game design that I have encountered in quite some time. I discovered this book outside of the normal PR-channels where my to-be-reviewed books normally appear. I happened across the title while reading one of the dozen or so nerd blogs that I frequent. It looked interesting, so I plunked down ten bucks for the PDF at koboldquarterly.com and took a look.

The book is a collection of twenty essays written by some of the most popular non-computer game developers around today. While board game developers do not achieve the inexplicable rock-star status that some computer game developers get, their chops are every bit as sharp, if not sharper. Some of the authors are responsible for a five great games. Some have a dozen. And at least one has probably fifty games to his credit. What board game designers lack in notoriety, they make up for in prolificacy.

What, for me at least, moved this book from good to great was the chapter on writing precise rules. Virtually all computer game development books concentrate so hard on the steps from concept to "code complete" that they ignore the other half of the process, which is how to get the danged game done and boxed and to a point where someone other than the test-team can play it. Coherent instructions or tutorials seem to be of no concern to developers because that will be handled by a technical writer in another office somewheres. Game development is a pile of a hundred little tasks, and if you assume that those tasks will be best handled by "someone else", then your game won't be done to your satisfaction.

And what does this have to do with computer games? Well, stout yeoman, computer games and board games are virtually the same. If you grab the latest deep fantasy quest game on Xbox ("sky-something-or-other"), I guarantee that big chunks of it could be played with pencil-n-paper or a hex map with miniatures or dice or even just your hands.

Heck, those DS "Pokemon" games are, at their hearts heart, rock-scissors-paper.

My only complaint about this book is with the packaging. On the Koboldquarterly.com site, I could buy a paper or DRM-free PDF of the book. On Amazon (linked above), I could get a Kindle-DRM'ed epub. Unfortunately, neither solution is optimal for my cheapo e-reader. Unless fidelity of the screen to printed page is important, I would prefer an epub to a pdf. And this book is about 95% text with just a couple of illustrative graphics, so epub is best.

But that's just me venting a minor pet peeve. If you fancy yourself a game designer, you need broader horizons than simply having played every game available on Xbox. You need to know how to develop a working mechanism. And a board game is the mechanism of a game stripped down to its essentials, with the 3D animation and particle effects and, yes, even the computer itself stripped away. This is game design as design itself.

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