Building Tutorial into Play

January 3, 2016

Although I’ve been writing a lot less here, I’ve been doing a lot of research into game design.

One of the things we do a lot in tabletop games is give a lot of description in how the rules work, and examples of the rules working, but not so much in terms of considering building play in a way that progressive teaches/builds skills for play in the process.

Boardgames that have variable scenarios will often have tutorial scenarios where you learn a few rules at a time, or highlight a few key strategies that are necessary for proficient play.  And of course, that multi-billion dollar industry of videogames has a lot of development…like this short analysis of Nintendo’s design consideration in Zelda: Link to the Past to teach about how combat works.

While videogames are definitely a different medium, there’s certainly a lot of design ideas we can backport to tabletop games.  In that example alone, consider the fact that the encounter is designed to put all the advantages to the player between giving the player a free ambush, and the option to run.  It’s not just about numbers, it’s about framing the situation, and giving the players information and time to consider their options.

At least for RPGs of the tactical Gamist bent, there’s plenty to draw from in terms of designing to teach tactics or strategies by encounters.  But what about other types of games?

For Narrativist games, Vincent Baker’s Poisoned does a good job with the starting scene of play. For Poison’d, the pirates are in a highly charged situation – there’s an assassin to deal with, someone needs to be nominated Captain, and the Royal Navy will soon be upon them…The game basically revolves on making Bargains and committing violence, and those two are well primed to happen in short order.  Beyond mechanics, however, the situations also set you up to make a lot of moral choices, which is the thematic core to the game.

Narrativism has the advantage that the core skill of expressing a compelling character and their development is something people have a lifetime exposure to, in the form of stories, and the real trick is mostly getting players to think about how the wield the rules towards that end.

Simulationism’s spectrum of creative expression within the genre expectations and the experience of character identification…  The genre expectations part is probably easier by priming situations that fit within it easily, but the latter has always seemed so subjective to me I don’t have any way to consider a full approach to it.

Of course, this all depends on identifying what the core point of your play is to begin with, before you can figure out how to provide situations that best orient and train players.

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