Friday, June 20, 2008

Hive and the importance of quality components

Nice bits are always desirable in agame, of course, but I think they have an extra dimension of importance for designers of abstract strategy games who want to glean some profit from their inventiveness.

By their nature, abstract strategy games are easy to fabricate on your own, so long as you're interested primarily in functionality. The board, when there is one, is simple and symmetric. The number of pieces is limited and they are usually defined by one or two characteristics, The rules, which would usually be the only copyrightable portion, can generally be boiled down to a single sheet of paper.

This is less of an option for most other kinds of commercial games, which have longer and more involved rules not easily memorized. They often have components such as charts, data-filled pieces and game-relevant artwork that can all be copyrighted, discouraging copies.

As attested by the many create-your-own threads on BoardGame Geek a lot of people like to make their own copies of games. This can be a problem for the designer. Even someone without such a hobby and minimal talent can still create their own functional copy of an abstract strategy game.

The solution, long known to publishers of public domain games such as chess, backgammon and go, is to have really nice components that the typical player doesn't have the time, talent or funds to replicate.

Hive is a good example of that, especially with the latest edition, with bakelite pieces. They are attractive, substantial and pleasing to handle and more than enough of an inducement to actually purchase a game that would be easy enough to make.

Abstract strategy games are a popular endeavor for would-be game designers, but many don't make the extra effort needed to make their games worth buying by paying attention to presentation as well as gameplay.

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