Writing and Boardgames…

Writing and Boardgames…

Ok, this may be a stretch, so bear with me…

I find writing, the structural part of writing, a lot like designing a good euro-style strategy board game. For those who know me, or taken a look at some of the other pages off the main of my blog, you may be aware of my work in the board game industry.

The definition of “euro-style” is applied to style of strategy board games that rose to popularity in Europe late 1990s that prefers indirect over direct conflict and has very low level of luck.  It has seen a huge growth here in the hobby game market, particularly with the last 15-20 years, more so recently with the emergence of Kickstarter.

In a strategy board game, generally speaking, each player is trying to execute their plan to win the game.  As part of executing their plan, they are disrupting the other players’ efforts to execute their plans.  Better games typically have a high level of interaction whereas those with very limit interaction are considered “multi-player solitaire.”

Applied to writing, I see the interaction between the characters much the same way.  Each character has goals and needs to overcome challenges.  I think it makes the story better when in the process of achieving an individual character’s goals, they are creating the challenges for the other characters.  Sure, challenges can come from the setting or the plot, much the same way a game can throw other obstacles at a player to overcome, but it really the interaction between the characters, much as in boardgames, that make it more interesting.

Again, hats off to Michael Stackpole who introduced me to character interaction in his character driven “21 Days to a Novel” methodology.

If you are interested in hearing more about the upcoming Kickstarter to fund publishing a number of my short stories, and to be notified when the campaign goes live if you are interested, check out: www.brymlight.com

New Writers Resources

Finally, a topic about which I am almost qualified to dispense advice. Being still a new writer and all.

Slight detour…

I just returned with my family from Great Lakes Games, a four day annual invitational event for about 100 friends and family to get together and play boardgames. Boardgames and board game design is another of my frequently exercised hobbies (see “Other Publishing Credits”). This was the ninth year and we have attended all but the first. The timing is such that several of the folks in attendance have just returned from the Spiel in Essen… meaning lots of shiny new games unavailable yet here in the US. It also means getting together a number of game designer friends who are regulars. Exciting and notable this year was the placement of Hawaii by Greg Daigle on the FairPlay Essen scouting report – one of the more reliable predictors for commercial success of a game and pretty remarkable for an American designer. I am extremely happy for Greg – he has worked very hard at his craft and deserves the success and recognition for his work.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well not a whole lot really, but over the weekend I had a number of folks asking whether I had any games in the works. I always have games in the works, like stacks of half finished designs, however this time around they have all taken a back seat to this new writing thing. Several folks were surprised, several others shared their interests or desire to also write. The next question was how did I get myself up and going…

1) Preparation – I attended Michael Stackpole’s “21 Days to a Novel” seminar at Gen Con 2010. In an hour, he was able to explain in simple terms a number of writing exercises that would help prepare and construct a novel. Subsequently I found “The Secrets” podcast available at Stackpole’s site and iTunes. I listened to and enjoyed these podcasts. A portion of this podcast covers the 21 days process with examples. There is also an eBook available at his site and on Amazon.

2) Technique – Hands down the best source of information is the Writing Excuses podcast. Short, fun, and very educational. This should be recommended listening for anyone learning to write! Start at the beginning because they are that good.

3) Technology – I spent a great deal of time trying different writing applications. YWriter was the best application I found for the Windows platform. But hands down the program I prefer is Scrivener. I suffered through the Beta version of the application on Windows long enough to discover its true potential. Finally broke down and bought a Mac, the native platform for Scrivener. Haven’t looked back.

4) Encouragement – Wherever you get it, however you get it, it comes in handy. Give NaNoWriMo a try (adequate preparation is necessary to succeed), take a couple of Continuing Education classes at nearby community college, find a writer’s group, enlist your friends and family.

Enjoy! And best of luck.

Boardgame Design and Novel Writing

I ran into a number of my gaming colleagues at Gen Con (designers, publishers, industry pundits, etc.) with whom I had become acquainted when SDRGames put out Bootleggers– see Other Publish Credits page.  I also attended another Stackpole seminar where he stressed the importance of character development – a common thread through his 21 Days to a Novel and Secrets Podcast.

It got me thinking that game design and writing share a common thread.

Gaming has two acknowledged major schools of design – European and American.  I don’t want to start a debate or go into a dissertation on the details of both, but suffice it to say that the major differences are in their views of conflict and luck.  European eschews direct conflict and mechanics involving a lot of luck.  Their focus is primarily on strategy and indirect conflict.  The American school of design, by contrast, prefers direct conflict and has greater amounts of luck.  A hybrid, which is what we intended to create with Bootleggers, has elements of both.  To drive the point home, think of Risk: I am attacking your country and rolling dice to win.  I “attack” another country in a Euro game by outbidding them for cheaper resources thus making it more expense for them to improve their armies– that’s indirect and no luck.

Its that indirect conflict that I find similar to the Stackpole character development process.  In Euro game design, there is usually some objective that is required to win, e.g. the most victory points, the most money, longest road, etc.  Each player develops a strategy and plays that strategy to achieve the objective.  It is in the process of playing that strategy that the player’s actions will disrupt other players’ attempts to achieve the objective.  The disruption, or “player interaction” in a game is really important in the design – the preference being greater interaction.  No interaction between players and the game earns the negative “multi-player solitaire” reputation.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Consider each character a unique player in the game and, unlike a vast majority of the games, each has a very unique goal they wish to achieve.  It is in the attempt to achieve these goals they will be faced with obstacles that they must overcome.  Just like game design, it is best if these obstacles are put in place by the other players.  The more one character’s actions to reach their goal disrupt the other character’s ability to achieve their goal, the more engaging the story should be.  The conflict arises between the characters going about achieving their goals.  Sometime this conflict is direct – Sally is going to stab Drake because he has been cheating on her in an attempt to find happiness, or more of the indirect kind – Sally has locked the house and gone looking for her cheating husband Drake.  Drake returns to find the house locked and is forced to spend the night in a cheap flea infested hotel where he is forced to confront his definition of happiness.

Some random musings there for the folks that have an interest in board game design and writing.  Probably a bigger group than the intersection of NASCAR fans who are also opera season ticket holders… but that is another story.