Much late, but I’ve finally picked up a copy of Pandemic, and saw a link on the webpage to the designer, Matt Leacock talking about game design on at Google talks.
The two things that stood out to me were:
He mentions the curve of challenge to skill ratio, and that, if you’re going to be off, being under and having the option to ramp up is better than being over.
For players, if it’s a little weak, you can tell yourself it’s a tutorial and then see how you feel with higher difficulty. If it’s hard, you get the initial rush of anxiety and frustration associated with the game, which makes it even harder to learn.
For RPGs, the most common routes of setting challenge are to provide pregenerated challenges (modules, dungeons, encounters), randomized charts (random map/encounter generators), forms of point-buy balancing systems (points, Challenge Ratings, etc.), or most commonly, leaving it completely unstructured.
There’s a certain advantage to having someone dedicated in play towards designing challenge to meet your group, on the other hand, that means someone has to be dedicated in play towards designing challenge… Aside from the many other issues, you can probably point to a good amount of GM advice being just this- advice on designing challenge, mostly specialized to a specific game.
Even still, it seems like there’s a lot we could learn from both videogames and boardgames for self-regulating challenge without leaving it to the GM to design on the fly for it.
Towards the end, there’s an interesting bit about learning curve, and initial investment to play- whether “Hey, it’ll take 15 minutes to learn the rules” or a party-game, “Hey, it’ll take 1 minute to start playing.”
This is something I think more and more about. I just had a 2 hour setup session to play PTA with friends. I’m coming closer to the idea of having pregenerated situations ready to pull out, with punchy conflicts, something you can literally pick up and play without a ton of prep.
Instead of saying, “Hey, let’s play Shock, it’s sci-fi about tech and ideas changing society, etc. etc.”, being like, “Hey, here’s Shock. The scenario is all about self aware computer viruses, living in people’s heads. And you’re the Special Electronic Taskforce, a special police squad to track them down…”
Color and situation to jump into, instead of produced in play. It’s a quicker sell, more visceral, and gives the impetus to jump that “learning curve hurdle” depending on the investment based on the idea. (Lady Blackbird would be a good example of this.)