I came to class last week with mixed expectations for this semester. Games are something that I consider myself to have very little experience with, which was probably apparent to my group when I announced that my favourite one was Bananagrams.
So when Avalon was placed in front of me, I was very unsure of what to expect from the experience. An experience which probably turned out to be a learning curve for all of us.
On the topic of learning, one thing I worked out from week one is that games are so much more than just cards and tokens. As Egenfeldt-Neilsen et.al (2008) write, the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that in defining any game, “we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and cris-crossing: sometimes overall details, sometimes similarities of detail”. In fact, a whole cohort of factors come into play when considering any individual game, it’s history and significance. And essentially, all these factors amalgamate to form the individual’s personal experience of the game. Let’s break down Avalon.
Avalon, or known by its full name as – The Resistance: Avalon Social Deduction Game, was designed by Don Eskridge, self proclaimed “Game Designer, Popcorn Machine, guaranteed Spy”. Founder of Orange Machine Games, Eskridge and co. develop games, such as Avalon, which are strategically focused, yet simple in nature. Fullerton (2008) explains the importance of the game designer in the final form of a game. They write the “the game designer envisions how a game will work during play. She creates objectives, rules, and procedures, thinks up the dramatic premise… and is responsible for planning everything necessary to create a compelling player experience” (Fullerton, 2008). At their simplest, games such as Avalon are role-playing, card based strategy games, with simple tokens and an uncomplicated board design. Or so I thought. But more on that later.
The mechanics and theme of this game are somewhat simple. 5-10 players are assigned one of two teams: the loyal servants of Arthur or the minions of Mordred. A dialogue then takes place which allows the minions to know who each other are, with these players then attempting to prevent the servants of Arthur in completing quests, all whilst keeping it unknown that they are the bad guys. 5 quests are attempted during the game, and if the Servants of Arthur complete 3 of the 5 quests they win. If the Minions of Mordred can cause 3 of the 5 quests to fail, they win. The rules are seemingly simple, the tokens and cards are relatively minimal.
There was only one issue: I really hated Avalon. From the beginning, I found the rules very complicated to understand, with long-winded wording hindering my comprehension of the game-playing process. Admittedly, the Arthurian fantasy theme was for me personally a major turn off, a reflection more on my character than the game itself, however very interesting to note for my own design development. It is harsh, but all in all I found the game disengaging and way too confusing despite its apparently simple nature.
If I can take anything away from this experience it is that when considering my design process, simple and comprehensible instructions are very important. Interestingly, this game design itself would be suited towards a transition to online classes for the remainder of semester – considering it would be pretty easy to create a print and play variation of the game, which is something I’ve taken note of.
One other interesting observation I noted is that the personal experience of some of my other classmates varied significantly from my own, which is very curious considering what makes a game successful. At the end of the day no matter how strong your concept or mechanics might be, not everyone is going to enjoy playing the game.
Fullerton, T 2008, Game Design Workshop : A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, CRC Press, Florida.
SIMON EGENFELDT-NIELSEN, JONAS HEIDE SMITH, SUSANA PAJARES TOSCA 2008. Chapter 3 “What is a Game?” Taylor and Francis. 22-40.