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"Characteristics of Games" offers a new way to understand games: by focusing on certain traits--including number of players, rules, degrees of luck and skill needed, and reward/effort ratio--and using these characteristics as basic points of comparison and analysis. These issues are often discussed by game players and designers but seldom written about in any formal way. T "Characteristics of Games" offers a new way to understand games: by focusing on certain traits--including number of players, rules, degrees of luck and skill needed, and reward/effort ratio--and using these characteristics as basic points of comparison and analysis. These issues are often discussed by game players and designers but seldom written about in any formal way. This book fills that gap. By emphasizing these player-centric basic concepts, the book provides a framework for game analysis from the viewpoint of a game designer. The book shows what all genres of games--board games, card games, computer games, and sports--have to teach each other. Today's game designers may find solutions to design problems when they look at classic games that have evolved over years of playing. "Characteristics of Games"--written by three of the most prominent game designers working today--will serve as an essential reference for game designers and game players curious about the inner workings of games. It includes exercises (which can also serve as the basis for discussions) and examples chosen from a wide variety of games. There are occasional mathematical digressions, but these can be skipped with no loss of continuity. Appendixes offer supplementary material, including a brief survey of the two main branches of mathematical game theory and a descriptive listing of each game referred to in the text.


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"Characteristics of Games" offers a new way to understand games: by focusing on certain traits--including number of players, rules, degrees of luck and skill needed, and reward/effort ratio--and using these characteristics as basic points of comparison and analysis. These issues are often discussed by game players and designers but seldom written about in any formal way. T "Characteristics of Games" offers a new way to understand games: by focusing on certain traits--including number of players, rules, degrees of luck and skill needed, and reward/effort ratio--and using these characteristics as basic points of comparison and analysis. These issues are often discussed by game players and designers but seldom written about in any formal way. This book fills that gap. By emphasizing these player-centric basic concepts, the book provides a framework for game analysis from the viewpoint of a game designer. The book shows what all genres of games--board games, card games, computer games, and sports--have to teach each other. Today's game designers may find solutions to design problems when they look at classic games that have evolved over years of playing. "Characteristics of Games"--written by three of the most prominent game designers working today--will serve as an essential reference for game designers and game players curious about the inner workings of games. It includes exercises (which can also serve as the basis for discussions) and examples chosen from a wide variety of games. There are occasional mathematical digressions, but these can be skipped with no loss of continuity. Appendixes offer supplementary material, including a brief survey of the two main branches of mathematical game theory and a descriptive listing of each game referred to in the text.

30 review for Characteristics of Games

  1. 4 out of 5

    Johnny

    Sometimes, non-fiction works are more descriptive than exploratory. I think that’s what George Skaff Elias (known in Wizards of the Coast circles for Skaff’s Law, a layman’s reinterpretation of the economic consequences of innovation initially penned by E. F. Schumacher) and Richard Garfield (for some reason known in Wizards of the Coast circles for Robo Rally, Magic: The Gathering, and Filthy Rich—I wonder why—just kidding) were trying to do with Characteristics of Games. It was intended to gro Sometimes, non-fiction works are more descriptive than exploratory. I think that’s what George Skaff Elias (known in Wizards of the Coast circles for Skaff’s Law, a layman’s reinterpretation of the economic consequences of innovation initially penned by E. F. Schumacher) and Richard Garfield (for some reason known in Wizards of the Coast circles for Robo Rally, Magic: The Gathering, and Filthy Rich—I wonder why—just kidding) were trying to do with Characteristics of Games. It was intended to group games together by what they do and how they are alike rather than attempting to define and create strict taxonomies. It is less a textbook like Katie Salen’s and Eric Zimmerman’s Rules of Play (although this effort does have many mini-essay questions scattered throughout the text as “exercises”) and more of a “refresher course” for those with some experience at revising (“modding?”) and designing games (at least, for themselves, if not professionally). The authors eschew broad definitions and generalizations in terms of relevant examples from a broad scope of consideration (They even include sports as examples of game types.). This disinterest in definitions, of course, didn’t restrain the authors from creating their own technical terms. For example, “orthogame” (presumably “right game”) is defined as a game for two or more players with rules that result in the ranking or weighting of the players for purposes of entertainment (Location 183 in my Kindle version). As a result, losers and winners are clearly defined and there is usually some explicit scoring mechanism. Obviously, this is a useful term to stand against sandbox games with their free-form basis. The best distinction in the book (in my opinion) was the consideration of “systemic” as depending mainly upon the game system (duh) itself (Location 190) and agential if it depends mainly on the players. Skaff and Richard contend, “Characteristics are more or less agential or systemic, not all one or all the other. In particular, beware of the frame of mind where everything seems systemic (“after all, everything stems ultimately from the properties of the game system, right?”) or everything seems agential (it all depends on how people choose to react to it after all”).” (Locations 201-202) Naturally, whenever one begins to discuss something as diverse as games and game styles in a more general package, there are quibbles to be made. One wonders if it is fair to lump Carcassone (a tile-laying game) and Puerto Rico (a very limiting political game) in with Settlers of Catan as a “similar” game as done in Loc. 3426. And comparing PanzerBlitz and Tactics II with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is like comparing Candyland to Checkers. Tactics II is not only not historical, but it doesn’t use hexes while PanzerBlitz is a much smaller scale than Third Reich (Loc. 3431) I even thinking comparing Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, and Knights of the Old Republic with Final Fantasy is a stretch (Loc. 3491) since character generation and combat are handled differently in the PC games over the console experience. Still, Characteristics of Games offers a lot of valuable insights in the course of its discussions. I liked the concept of “atoms” as defining the smallest meaningful unit of play. For example, two possessions in football or a hand in a trick-taking card game might be an atom (Loc. 243). Since a lot of “atoms” have clear boundaries and a point value, players who do not have time to complete a full game can be satisfied by completing an atom (Loc. 360). So, identifying the “atom” of a game can be significant. The authors also point out the dynamic quality of multiplayer in both strategy and politics. In terms of strategy, they note: “When the number of players in a game changes, the game dynamics can become very different. Even a game like Scrabble, which on the surface seems fairly similar as a two-player game and as a four-player game, can change a great deal. In particular, the ability to restrict your opponent’s play, and to modify the board in hopes of improving your next play, both change significantly.” (Loc. 458) In terms of politics, “When players can target other players in an arbitrary way that differentially affects their game states, we refer to this as politics.” (Loc. 722) Related to politics is: “Kingmaking: near the end of the game, a player who has no chance to win determining which of the players still in contention actually wins.” (Loc 745) I found it useful when the authors divided sources of randomness into three groups: “explicit random elements (e.g., dice or cards), von Neumann games (e.g. rock-paper-scissors), and human ignorance (e.g. guessing between two apparently equal lines of play in chess).” (Loc. 2064) And I will be quoting the uses of “hidden information.” “Hidden information can do a number of good things for a game: Provide (a perhaps more acceptable form of) randomness; Control calculation (by diminishing returns to calculation); Give a sense of discovery or pacing (as the hidden information is revealed); Provide surprise; Provide an excuse for losing…; Provide gameplay in the deduction of the hidden information from clues.” (Loc 2087) I appreciated that the authors’ observation about “fun” is the same as mine. “Note that we do not include fun as an item in the above list, because the term is too broad to be useful as a specific reward category. For us, the term fun is simply a casual synonym for enjoyment or in-game reward. If a game is said to be ‘fun,’ the question to ask is ’in what way?’—that is, what rewards is the game offering?” (Loc. 2213) I was also impressed with the authors’ solution for downtime. They observe that it doesn’t feel like you’re waiting very long between turns if you can really plan out your strategy during that period and “…it is much easier to read out one’s moves if those moves don’t rely on, say, the unknown roll of the dice at the start of one’s turn.” (Loc. 2274) These are just some of the quality ideas in this volume. I guarantee that, though I’m not real impressed with the way the book is organized, it is a book to which I will be returning time and time again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    This incredibly readable textbook is a great attempt at categorizing and naming the key elements that form games. This should be essential reading for content creators if only to codify terminology and give everyone (consumers and creators alike) a common foundation from which we could build our understanding of board/video games and language. Wonderful ideas with solid questions that could easily be explored no matter how much into gaming (of any sort) you are.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Thom

    The authors break out various facets of games, giving us a terminology to describe them thoroughly. These facets are examined in detail, and one can see how this was a textbook for a course. Could have used a bit more about classification of the game players, connecting them to to the characteristics that they enjoy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Borbíró Andris

    A book that tries to make order in how we think about different board games. Maybe it can be a bit dry for some, but I enjoyed it a lot.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is not a text on designing games, rather it's one on understanding them. It goes about this by establishing a common framework for discussing games, and examining the different characteristics that games can have. Overall, I found it very interesting, and as a result of reading it some characteristics of games that I formerly considered to be either "good" or "bad" I now recognize as having both benefits and drawbacks. That alone was worth the read. It is a textbook, but it's a fairly well wr This is not a text on designing games, rather it's one on understanding them. It goes about this by establishing a common framework for discussing games, and examining the different characteristics that games can have. Overall, I found it very interesting, and as a result of reading it some characteristics of games that I formerly considered to be either "good" or "bad" I now recognize as having both benefits and drawbacks. That alone was worth the read. It is a textbook, but it's a fairly well written one, so not that difficult a read. There were a couple of times that discussions involved mathematical models that were beyond my rusty math skills, but failure to fully understand the math did not keep me from understanding the point at hand (rather, understanding the math would have likely simply made it easier to understand the point under discussion). I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in serious game design or review, but probably not the average gamer.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John

    This book made games fun for me again. A second edition would likely tighten the prose, and most of the pictures are meaningless fluff so the book can clock in at 300 pages before the index. This book systematically looks at differences between games and introduces concepts and vocabulary crucial to discussions about the merits of one game vs. another, or which tradeoffs occur due to various design choices. This is excellent reading for anybody who likes games and required reading for anyone who d This book made games fun for me again. A second edition would likely tighten the prose, and most of the pictures are meaningless fluff so the book can clock in at 300 pages before the index. This book systematically looks at differences between games and introduces concepts and vocabulary crucial to discussions about the merits of one game vs. another, or which tradeoffs occur due to various design choices. This is excellent reading for anybody who likes games and required reading for anyone who designs games or plans game nights.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Serge Pierro

    I’ve read many books and articles on Game Design and Game Theory and have found most of them to be fascinating. However, there is a somewhat familiar thread that weaves through all of them, as they are all approaching the subject from somewhat of the same angle. Therefore, a book like “Characteristics of Games” really stands out from the others, as it approaches the aforementioned subjects in a somewhat different way - it is not about Game Design or Game Theory specifically, but about the actua I’ve read many books and articles on Game Design and Game Theory and have found most of them to be fascinating. However, there is a somewhat familiar thread that weaves through all of them, as they are all approaching the subject from somewhat of the same angle. Therefore, a book like “Characteristics of Games” really stands out from the others, as it approaches the aforementioned subjects in a somewhat different way - it is not about Game Design or Game Theory specifically, but about the actual characteristics that are inherent to games in general. And while the premise itself is quite interesting, the fact that it is written by George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield and K. Robert Guschera only makes the text that much more interesting and authoritative. The 300+ page hardcover book includes no dust jacket and resembles a textbook. There are some diagrams/illustrations and photos scattered throughout. There are seven chapters, eight if you include the appendixes. The subject headings are: Basics, Multiplayer Games, Infrastructure, Games as Systems, Indeterminacy, Player Effort, Superstructure and Appendixes. Each subject is further divided into other topics. Example: The chapter on Basics is further broken down into specific characteristics, in this case, “Length of Playtime”, “Number of Players” and “Heuristics”. The book starts off with defining certain aspects of games. The first series of definitions relate to the length of the game. Terms such as "Atom" are used to describe a small part of the game that functions in a specific manner. What makes the book brilliant is that it breaks this down into numerous examples, far more than the average book on game design. One fascinating insight is the possibility of Basketball becoming more popular over the years due to the fact that a quick pick up game can be played in a far shorter amount of time than that of a baseball or football game. These insights provide food for thought for game designers as to how their design can be perceived by players, as well as what type of experience it can create. There was also an interesting perspective on co-op games and coaching, using sport coaches that instruct a player what to do, but then the player has to execute the instruction, compared to a chess coach, in this case Garry Kasparov, and making the move that he tells you to make. It’s a subtle but highly instructive nuance that provides insight into the role of an Alpha Gamer in a co-op game. There’s lots of interesting insights scattered throughout the book, I only wish that some of them were assigned to the particular author who produced them. Which brings up my only “problem” with the book. Since this is the work of multiple authors, I would have liked to have know who had said what. Clearly I would have given statements by Richard Garfield some additional weight when contemplating the discussion, but I was instead left wondering who actually contributed the thought. That’s not to say that the other writers input was not important, it’s just that I would have liked some clarification on who was saying what. It should be noted that the appendixes in the back of the book are excellent, as they address topics such as Von Neumann Game Theory, Combinational Game Theory and a List of Games. This book is highly recommended to Game Designers of all levels. Although the book doesn’t teach specific design techniques, it does break down many games so that you can take the results and ask yourself how it relates to your designs. Another excellent aspect is the use of Exercises in each chapter that propose specific questions for the reader to answer about the topic just discussed, thus making this an excellent addition to a school’s game design program. Another benefit is that it will also allow you to analyze games more precisely, as you will be investigating topics that you might not have considered before. I know there were many times I stopped reading so that I could contemplate an insightful passage. Until someone else decides to expand upon this tome, this is the authoritative book on the characteristics of games.

  8. 5 out of 5

    bartosz

    Characteristics of Games by George Skaff Ellias, Richard Garfield and K. Robert Gutschera (all of the Magic: the Gathering fame) is a book on game design and analysis based on their series of lectures given at MIT. The book isn't a design manual, or a How-To book on game tactics. Instead the author focus on providing a powerful framework to systematically break down any game (or game-like endeavor). The main premise of the book is that games (computer games, board games, sports) can be decomposed Characteristics of Games by George Skaff Ellias, Richard Garfield and K. Robert Gutschera (all of the Magic: the Gathering fame) is a book on game design and analysis based on their series of lectures given at MIT. The book isn't a design manual, or a How-To book on game tactics. Instead the author focus on providing a powerful framework to systematically break down any game (or game-like endeavor). The main premise of the book is that games (computer games, board games, sports) can be decomposed by several factors and grouped into characteristics such as length of playtime, number of players, heuristics, game mechanics, snowball vs catchup, randomness vs skill etc. The authors introduce a new vocabulary to describe those characteristics, and analyze them in terms of incentives and consequences. For example, the authors define an orthogame (or "straight game") as a game with clearly defined ending conditions, like: chess, soccer, or StarCraft. This is in contrast to non-orthogames like World of Warcraft, SimCity or various sandbox games in which there's no such clear defined condition. Another example is an atom. An atom is the smallest subdivision of a game that has the characteristics of the entire game. Atoms are simply points in tennis or basketball, or a single hand in poker. Some games like chess or StarCraft don't have well defined atoms because of their stateful nature. Games can be broken down into single-player, two player games and multi player games. A single player game can be a truly single player game, like a puzzle, Tetris or SimCity; or a game with simulated opponents (what the authors call "1.5 player game".) Two player (or two sided) games were historically the most popular kind of games due to their high interactivity and balance. Which brings forth the problem of multi-player games. The authors separate multi player games into two categories - races and brawls. Races are characterized by low interactivity between players. Sometimes this means virtually no interactivity between opponents like in track races. Brawls are characterized by high interactivity, where any player may help or hinder any other player. Brawls devolve into what the authors call the "chip taking game". The chip taking game is a game in which: 1. Each player is given a particular amount of chips. 2. Each turn a player selects one opponent to take one chip from. 3. When a player doesn't have any more chips he is eliminated. It doesn't take much to see that this game is completely arbitrary. The game is decided by how people ganging up on their opponents. What is sad and surprising is that most games with politics (high amounts of interaction) have the chip taking game hidden in them. In fact, after mastering the basics of those game (positional heuristics), the only skill in those games is laying low, coercing or tricking other players away from yourself. It was quite an aha moment for me when my intuitions about politics-heavy games were confirmed. And the book is chock full of other major or minor insights such as these! All in all, I'm quite fond of Characteristics of Games. Whether you're into game design, game analysis or game playing the book is absolutely worth your while. Anyone can benefit from the new shift of perspective and a mental framework for analyzing games.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Vanhulsel

    Garfield is a brilliant man

  10. 4 out of 5

    Miquel Garcia

    El libro ofrece una mirada académica a las distintas características que definen un juego, entendiendo "juego" en su sentido más general: juegos de mesa, videojuegos, deportes... Se discuten aspectos como la dualidad entre el azar y la habilidad, las actividades asociadas entorno a los juegos ("metajuego") o el uso de la ley económica de las recompensas decrecientes en los juegos. También menciona cuales son algunos de los problemas típicos en el diseño de juegos como los mecanismos de alcance o El libro ofrece una mirada académica a las distintas características que definen un juego, entendiendo "juego" en su sentido más general: juegos de mesa, videojuegos, deportes... Se discuten aspectos como la dualidad entre el azar y la habilidad, las actividades asociadas entorno a los juegos ("metajuego") o el uso de la ley económica de las recompensas decrecientes en los juegos. También menciona cuales son algunos de los problemas típicos en el diseño de juegos como los mecanismos de alcance o el efecto "bola de nieve" y como se suelen abordar. En resumen, este libro pone nombre a las reflexiones que se hacen normalmente cuando se habla de un juego: "Este juego va de esto", "En el fondo, este juego no es mas que una versión de este otro", "En la jugada X debería haber hecho esto en vez de aquello",... Podréis encontrar un resumen de algunos aspectos discutidos en el libro en el siguiente link: http://tryskele.blogspot.com/2014/05/...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Will had a good point that a lot of the discussions in here are rather obvious, but I like that sometimes, at least, I like it in this case since it's a topic where I haven't seen some of these discussions made explicit anywhere else. Some of their examples went entirely over my head since I don't play computer games or role-playing games. I feel like a more useful Appendix C would have given a little more background (say a page) on each of a half-dozen different genres rather than giving a sent Will had a good point that a lot of the discussions in here are rather obvious, but I like that sometimes, at least, I like it in this case since it's a topic where I haven't seen some of these discussions made explicit anywhere else. Some of their examples went entirely over my head since I don't play computer games or role-playing games. I feel like a more useful Appendix C would have given a little more background (say a page) on each of a half-dozen different genres rather than giving a sentence or two on each of a hundred individual games. Another topic I would have liked to see covered: bidding in games (e.g. Power Grid vs. Dominion or Puerto Rico which have fixed prices for items).

  12. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    I've had this book on my "Currently Reading" shelf for a year but I've probably read it two and a half times over by now. It does a great job of breaking down different game mechanics and identifying the benefits, drawbacks, and trade-offs of those mechanics. Some of the observations seem kind of obvious but I don't really mind the discussions of the explicit since it's not at the expense of discussing the (more interesting) implicit implications of various mechanics. Most importantly, it codifi I've had this book on my "Currently Reading" shelf for a year but I've probably read it two and a half times over by now. It does a great job of breaking down different game mechanics and identifying the benefits, drawbacks, and trade-offs of those mechanics. Some of the observations seem kind of obvious but I don't really mind the discussions of the explicit since it's not at the expense of discussing the (more interesting) implicit implications of various mechanics. Most importantly, it codifies a lot of mechanical terms and solidifies a framework for discussion of games by both gamers and designers. Overall, top-notch and it's earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tony Ødegaard

    A kind of enclyopedia which tries to define terms to the inner mechanics and workings of game design. Filled to the brink with detailed and in-depth information, and the terms that the book defines and explains to you will help you immensly in recognising and breaking down how games works and are designed. My only gripe with it is that it would have been improved with better illustrations. For a foreign-language reader some of the language could also be a little heavy, but do not quote me on tha A kind of enclyopedia which tries to define terms to the inner mechanics and workings of game design. Filled to the brink with detailed and in-depth information, and the terms that the book defines and explains to you will help you immensly in recognising and breaking down how games works and are designed. My only gripe with it is that it would have been improved with better illustrations. For a foreign-language reader some of the language could also be a little heavy, but do not quote me on that one to apply to the average reader. A definite read for someone even remotely associated or interested in games, wheter it be table-top games, card games, sports or video games.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Manny Tingplants

    I've played Magic the Gathering on-and-off for about 13 years. Recently I started working on a computer game myself, and on a whim checked Richard Garfield's Wikipedia page, just to see if he maybe had (co)written a manifesto about what a game design grand-wizard thinks about. He had.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Touko Tahkokallio

    A nice book with many interesting points. Overall an example of a clear thought. The book tries to be very general and wide in its scope, which sometimes can lead to a bit too abstract tone, making it challenging to use its wisdom in practice.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Hunter

    The name says it all: this is just a list and brief discussion of some fundamental and not so fundamental characteristics of games. This exercises feel tacked on and are poorly integrated into the text. Not recommended, but might be worth a look if you have finished other game design books.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    as the title implies, the book breaks down game mechanics systematically into categories. this is great for people like me who want to think about game design in a more organized way. it does this without getting too academic or dense. highly recommended for pro or casual game developers.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    What a terrible, useless book. A complete waste of my time. I didn't bother finishing. Not only was it terribly written, but there are numerous blatant errors.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Perfect read for people interested in how games work. Lots of food for thought, but keep in mind that this is akin to a college text.

  20. 4 out of 5

    JM

    A good reference book for the basic structures and concepts behind games. Written in a dry but understandable and concise manner.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nazmul Ahmed Noyon

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Ginsberg

  23. 5 out of 5

    LDueck

  24. 4 out of 5

    BG Josh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris Harris

  26. 5 out of 5

    Adriana Moscatelli

  27. 4 out of 5

    Max

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Klainbaum

  29. 4 out of 5

    Avinash Maddi

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ben Draper

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