Design Analysis: Corporate America

Between playtesting, promotion, and just hanging out with friends, I’ve seen and played Corporate America well over 200 times. Even after playing that many times, I’m happy to say still I enjoy the game. Corporate America really lets individual personalities shine, so each game feels like a new experience.

Corporate America: awesome, if imperfect.

Corporate America: awesome, if imperfect.

But when you play a game that much, you see the full gamut of what the game has to offer, from the good to the bad. Couple that with the fact that you are (or should be) your own worst critic, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about how Corporate America could be improved. Today, I want to discuss what I would do different if I could do it over again.

Now, before I spend a couple thousand words tearing apart my own game, I want to emphasize that I actually think Corporate America is awesome. It’s my proudest accomplishment. People around the world have discovered and enjoyed the game. Reviewers seem to like it, too. The game is unique, meaningful, and a ton of fun. So even though the tone of this post will be critical, keep in mind that the game is great and you should definitely get and play it.

But even the greatest games can be improved, especially when they’re as experimental as Corporate America. So, if I could change five things about the game design, what would I do?

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Happy Birthday Nothing Sacred Games!

Wow, has is really been two years since the founding of Nothing Sacred Games!? Actually, it’s been a little more, but it has been two years since my first blog post about the wonderful art form that is games, and that’s close enough for me!

To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to quickly look back at some highlights for Nothing Sacred Games, and then look forward to what this year has in store!

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Corporate America Sales Roundup

 

Corporate America's arrival announcement from Card Kingdom in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Andrew Federspiel.

Corporate America arrives at Card Kingdom in Seattle. Photo courtesy of Andrew Federspiel.

Corporate America started hitting the mailboxes of Kickstarter supporters and the shelves of game stores back in July of 2013. Eight months later, you might be wondering… how’s the game doing?

The short answer, I’m happy to say, is pretty well! I recently went over the many positive reviews the game has received, and today I’ll cover how the game is selling.

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Reviewing Reviews

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty lousy when it comes to marketing. It’s the sort of thing I never wanted to do, but is essential for making a game (or really any product) successful. So, reluctantly, I’ve put on my marketing hat many times for Corporate America, and have actually found it kind of fun.

I’ve done three main things to promote Corporate America since it came out in July. First, I’ve been writing blog posts like this one. (Maybe they aren’t terribly effective, but they are fun to write.) Second, I’ve traveled to many friendly local game stores, bringing the game to as many people’s attention as possible. This has actually gone pretty well–probably half of the stores I’ve visited have picked up the game, and some have sold a dozen or more copies, which is great for me and great for them.

Finally, I’ve pursued as many reviews as possible. To me, getting a reviewer to try the game and offer an honest opinion should mean much more than an ad saying the game is good. And because Corporate America has gone over so well with so many different groups of players, I feel confident that reviewers will have good things to say about the game.

Today I want to share my experiences with getting the game reviewed, and share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. It turns out there’s a lot more to reviews than I realized.

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Analysis of Fun: Collecting

Has it really been a year and a half since I posted my two part post on the various types of fun that games can provide? Unless WordPress is truly messing with me, it has!

Perhaps surprising to no one, I missed some key types of fun in that original list. Today, I want to closely examine one of the missing types: collecting.

Prehistoric Collections

People collect all sorts of stuff. Image from decoist.

People collect all sorts of stuff. Image from decoist.

When did people start collecting things? Tough question. While sedentary lifestyles certainly make collecting more realistic, I wouldn’t be surprised if our nomadic ancestors maintained collections for at least short periods of time. Collecting seems to be universal and fundamental to the human experience.

Today, people collect all sorts of things. Stamps and baseball cards are the traditional American collector’s items, but coins, stuffed toys, memorabilia, and any number of other treasures now make up collections across the globe. People collect anything and everything.

Collecting exists frequently outside of games, indicating its affect on a person’s emotions and psyche. It’s a very powerful activity, and harnessing that motivation in a game leverages a lot of built in behavior and strong, positive emotions.

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Thoughts on Theme

Which came first, the theme or the mechanics? Knight image from Giant Bomb.

Which came first, the theme or the mechanics? Knight image from Giant Bomb.

One of the fundamental questions in game design is: which came first, the theme or the mechanics? Different designers have different answers to this question, some holding their answers as sacred as scripture.

While I don’t have strong feelings on this question (I have been inspired by both themes and mechanics), I tend to lean towards mechanics. Even when inspired by a theme, I strive to convey the theme through novel, interesting mechanics.

Today, I want to talk a little about theme. Specifically, I want to talk about what makes a game feel thematic. I feel like there is a disconnect between what many people think makes a game thematic and what actually makes a game feel thematic when you play it. My hope is that designers who read this will avoid common traps when trying to capture a theme in their games.

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All Games Big and Small

Big games, like this monstrosity from Kickstarter, are exciting. Image from the Board Game Geek.

Big games, like this monstrosity from Kickstarter, are exciting. Image from the Board Game Geek.

One of the biggest challenges of designing games is scoping. We’re often inspired by big games and strive to make them ourselves, but bigger does not necessarily mean better.

Today I’ll discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of big games and suggest methods to help you control the scope of your game.

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Teaching Games, Old and New

I happy read through the Warcraft II manual before getting anywhere near a computer. Today, a digital game manual is a relic of another age. Image from ebay.

I happily read through the Warcraft II manual before getting anywhere near a computer. Today, a digital game manual is a relic from another age. Image from ebay.

It wasn’t long ago that every digital game came with its own manual, just like board games do today. An excited new game owner would pour over the manual, learning how to play the game before ever putting it in a computer or console. It was an expected part of the whole video game experience.

Today, few digital games have manuals. Some have online databases full of information for players willing to dig through them, but most games teach you how to play through tutorials and level design.

I’m currently working on a digital game in addition to multiple board games. In order to test those games, I have to teach people how to play, so I deal with both writing rules and programming in-game guidance. Seeing the process from both perspectives has me thinking, what’s so much better about interactive learning experiences? Why have they almost totally obsoleted written rules for digital games? And perhaps more importantly, how can we leverage strategies from tutorials and level design to make learning board games less work and more fun?

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Fixing Magic

Magic: the Gathering is a 20 year old behemoth. Each year, it seems to get more popular and make more money. Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes the game, must be doing something right, right?

Magic: Pretty popular. Image from Modern Myths.

Magic: Pretty popular. Image from Modern Myths.

It turns out they’re doing a lot right. But that doesn’t mean they’re doing everything right.

Magic is an extremely fun game, but it’s not perfect. A large part of its success comes from its position as the first collectable card game, a much loved and very profitable genre. That innovation made players willing to overlook some of Magic‘s less than ideal qualities.

Today, I’m going to take a look at one of Magic‘s biggest flaws and explain how I would try to fix it. In doing so, I’ll show how to approach challenging design problems and encourage you to take a critical, honest look at everything, even games you love.

Before I get into the details, I’ll cut the suspense: the problem I’m going to address is the land system, one of the fundamental pacing mechanisms of the game.

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The Price is Wrong

Corporate America costs $40. What could be simpler?

Corporate America costs $40. What could be simpler?

Publishing Corporate America was a big learning experience for me. I had previously designed games, and I’d even released digital games, but I had never handled so much of the responsibility myself. Manufacturing, shipping, distribution, marketing–frequently, I was in over my head, so it’s not surprising that I made mistakes. Today, I want to talk about one specific decision I didn’t quite make right: how much the game should cost.

There are a ton of factors that go into a decision that might seem pretty simple. Today I’ll go over those factors, why I made the decision I ended up making, and why I now think it wasn’t the correct decision.

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