One of my primary sources of inspiration (in gaming and in life) is the creative work of other designers (not just in gaming). I back a lot of Kickstarter campaigns now, somewhat because I want to support these creative ventures, somewhat because I’m studying the Kickstarter process for my own game, and somewhat because I want to be inspired by new ideas and concepts. I recently received and played a few games in particular that caused me to reflect a bit on the experience I’m trying to create with Epoch. Here’s the first that comes to mind:

Islebound by Ryan Laukat of Red Raven Games

Let’s just start with OMG. This guy makes incredibly beautiful worlds. I may have purchased the game solely on it’s looks, if I’m honest. A 7.7 rating on BoardGameGeek is pretty awesome considering the sheer number of games on the site and the toughness of the crowd, but I truly didn’t care. I wanted the game to be awesome because it looks incredible. I opened it, assembled it, played it, and…loved it.

Steve, one of my best, closest gaming friends, however, thought that too many of the choices felt “arbitrary”. But he also admitted later that a large part of it was also that he wasn’t jiving with the artwork. The gamer in me disagreed mildly about the action selection. The designer in me wanted to punch the universe in the face because…how could you not love a game that looks this beautiful? I mean, seriously. I felt it was elegant and simple and rich and not-too-heavy. He felt it lacked depth. (He’s probably just bent because I won. And even more bent because I rarely win). There’s a subjectivity here that is both beautiful and terrible. Truth? We’re both right.

Islebound_Back-800x591 Inspiration #1:  Sailing Ships and the Terrible Beauty of Subjectivity

Takeaway:  Don’t judge a game by it’s looks alone–but the visuals play a huge role in creating an immersive experience. The character and visuals of the story should work together with the game mechanics to create the experience. Balance is key, but this balance is different for each person. I’ve also found that sharing what you love is more powerful than complaining about what you don’t, because people can usually tune detriments to focus on benefits. Call it our self-focused culture, but positivity makes gaming more fun for me personally. Why else would we play?

How this applies to Epoch: The visual beauty of the game is subservient to the playing experience that it helps to create. As such, I’m committing to not release Epoch until I’m truly satisfied with the playtesting feedback. 90% of it is super-enthusiastic. But I know that my game won’t necessarily connect with everyone. What I’m learning is to be as accurate and detailed as possible when describing the various aspects of the game so I can cast a wide net. This way, people can make better informed decisions about whether or not to own the game without all the salesy marketing fluff. It’s never about the game…it’s about the experience of playing the game.

Beyond that, I’ve been told that I’ve been masking my passion for this game. It’s hard to believe because I’m loving every second of it, but I’m being much more mindful about sharing why.

What are you playing recently that inspires what you’re doing in life?

Marc Neidlinger

Marc loves killing monsters and chasing his two faerie princess daughters. He’s the creator and graphic designer of Epoch: The Travelers’ Age tabletop board game. At his day job, Marc is creative director at Blue Blazes, a brand-focused design house in Vancouver, WA. He lives to create memorable experiences for clients, building more compelling brands that will stir the hearts of those who get to watch it unfold.

2 comments on “Inspiration #1: Sailing Ships and the Terrible Beauty of Subjectivity

  1. I have played some interesting civil war games from Kickstarter. I find the block ones really interesting. Not knowing everything is an interesting experience in the game and I find it a good thought for life. We can’t know everything. The other civil war games by Martin Wallace that use cards and dice to control what is possible–not a traditional war game. Games like Test of Fire: Bull Run 1861 allow for taking odd gambles that often pay off or are total failures. It is more interesting than more standard games.

    • Michael, I think the high-risk, high-reward mechanics are fun to explore, so long as they don’t create an overwhelmingly negative experience for the risk taker. Calculated risk is the best part of gaming…the fact that it might not always work. I’ve not played too many civil war games, but I agree with your premise that we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) know everything. There’s no mystery in that!

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