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Finger Dice

You and your friends are trapped on a desert island. What better way to pass the time than to play games? But you have no dice! What do you do? You could whittle some out of coconut, but instead here’s an easy way for a group of people to simulate rolling a six-sided die. I […]

Ben Robbins | August 29th, 2022 | , | 6 comments

“The rules are there to help you get the most out of your time”

A quick interview with the nice folks of Pizza Games in Milan: I would definitely double down on the idea that the purpose of game rules is to help us get the most out of our time. All the other stuff — having fun, getting on the same page, being clearly written — comes back […]

Ben Robbins | July 18th, 2022 | , , , , | 2 comments

All the Stuff You Never See

“Show us all the stuff you haven’t posted and the games you abandoned!!!” I write a lot of stuff that no one else is ever intended to read. Thoughts, theory, reflections, problem solving. Lots and lots of stuff. But it’s just for me, to help me figure things out. If you did read it, it […]

Ben Robbins | July 4th, 2022 | | 1 comment

Their Power to Oppress

Rules must always be evaluated for their power to oppress Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs, by Dan Olson, 2022 The discussion is about community rules, economic rules, and even legal rules, but game rules are exactly the same kettle of fish. The community is that group of people, sitting at that table, […]

Ben Robbins | April 24th, 2022 | , , | 1 comment

The Designer Ouroboros

When you’re stumped on a project, what do you do? You can bang your head against a wall — and I usually do, for quite a while, because sometimes that does get results — or you can pivot to another project to clear your head. And when you get stumped on that project, what do […]

Ben Robbins | February 14th, 2022 | , | 1 comment

Three Kinds of Insight

When I’m noodling away, doing that thing we ostensibly call work, I bump into three kinds of insight. There’s the kind of insight that you hurry to write down, so you don’t forget it. Then there’s the kind of insight that changes the way you think, so you *know* you’ll never forget it, even if […]

Ben Robbins | December 26th, 2021 | , | 2 comments

Evergreen

Names are hard. Except when they’re extremely easy. Some names just fly out of the ether and can’t be avoided (Microscope, Kingdom). But more often you have to sit and fiddle and poke and prod. So it’s always an important step in game design when a project gets a proper codename. A name that feels […]

Ben Robbins | July 18th, 2021 | , | 5 comments

Teaching Games

A snippet from the discussion section of the new edition of Kingdom: If you’re reading this, you are probably the person teaching everyone else the rules and how to play: what we call a “facilitator”. First of all, thank you! Learning and teaching other people games is a great public service. You are already a […]

Ben Robbins | March 30th, 2021 | , , , | 3 comments

K2: The Price of Overthrow

Game design journal time! In Kingdom, overthrowing another character and taking their role away falls into that most pernicious category of game rules, “things that rarely happen but are very important”. Which are, my friends, one of the trickiest species of rules. The rule is important, so it has to be robust and fulfill its […]

Ben Robbins | February 7th, 2021 | , , | 3 comments

Watering My Seeds With Tears

True confession: I hate writing seeds. Seeds, playsets, setting templates — whatever you call them, I hate it. I really do. Not because I hate making fiction (I love making fiction) but because, as a game designer, it feels wrong to be making *your* fiction for you. I want the people at the table to […]

Ben Robbins | January 21st, 2021 | , , | 3 comments

Nail Your Setup

One of my game design theories is that if you nail the setup, the rest of the game flows even if there aren’t a lot of constraints telling you what to do. Conversely, if your setup is wobbly, you can have all the structure in the world and it won’t save the game. You’ll be […]

Ben Robbins | January 18th, 2021 | ,

The Trouble With Touchstones

I am very happy with how the Kingdom second edition playtest is going. Kingdom has always been a fantastic game and the new version does a much better job of capturing that magic. But dear reader, let me tell you a secret: the Touchstone rules have been my cross to bear. A game design thorn […]

Ben Robbins | June 21st, 2020 | , , | 2 comments

Names Are Hard

Ever have a hard time coming up with a name for a great game because nothing captures the magic, stew about it for ages, then come up with a totally different idea for a game, think of a great name for that new game, then realize that name would be even better for the first […]

Ben Robbins | August 10th, 2019 | | 2 comments

Diminishing Returns of Random Fiction

We sit down to play a game that’s designed to introduce random elements of fiction. A couple rolls on a table and we have a smuggling ring, ghosts of the old war, and a questionable inheritance. Great! That’s all good stuff to get our game going. We can work with it. Now imagine we’re coming […]

Ben Robbins | July 15th, 2017 | | 2 comments

Forget It’s a Playtest

The worst thing that can happen during a playtest is that you play it like a playtest. Weird, right? The text below is the exact advice I give my playtesters. It was in the Chronicle playtest, the Echo playtest and it will no doubt be right there in the Follow playtest when it goes out. […]

Ben Robbins | May 2nd, 2016 | | 2 comments

Guilt Con 2015

“Let’s work on our games! Use the devastating weight of procrastination shame to jam it up!”–the Mighty CHOBBS Peer pressure makes good company. So this weekend, Marc, Caroline and I set the grindstone speed to “dangerously high” and leaned way, way in. We ignored the pretty-pretty sunshine, the chirpy-chirpy birds, and did the dreadful labor […]

Ben Robbins | May 14th, 2015 | , , , ,

Rewriting Your Game From Memory

@lamemage gives hard advice. Rewriting Downfall from memory suuuuucks.   There’s a thing I do when I design games — this is real secret squirrel, behind-the-curtain stuff — which is that after I’ve written a draft or two and playtested a bit, I take everything I’ve written and just put it away. Make a new […]

Ben Robbins | May 6th, 2014 | , , , | 5 comments

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice…

“Hey, you haven’t talked about Kingdom in a while. What’s up with that?” Good question, caller. Imagine a cave. A dark cave. In a swamp. Lit only by the intermittent glow of fireflies. Now in the cave put a figure. A figure facing a wall of rock. Solid rock. Rock from the heart of the […]

Ben Robbins | April 7th, 2013 | , | 1 comment

Pride Goeth

If I made a war game I would definitely give armies a stat for Pride. Pride isn’t the same as morale. Pride is a blessing and a curse. Winning increases your Pride and Pride lets you do bold things but it also limits your options. Pride won’t let you back down. Pride won’t let you […]

Ben Robbins | January 22nd, 2013 | | 2 comments

Musashi: Suppressing Useful Actions

The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions. — A Book of Five Rings (The Fire Book), Miyamoto Musashi The diametric opposite of role-playing game design. Informatively so. Game design acid test: if your rules block ideas the players want and you don’t have an excellent […]

Ben Robbins | September 5th, 2011 | | 5 comments

Competition Likes Precision

Here’s a simple maxim: Competitive games need clearer rules than cooperative games. The reasons should be pretty obvious: in a competitive game, the participants are motivated to interpret rules differently, because each person wants to interpret the rules in their own favor. In a cooperative game, the participants are motivated to interpret the rules the […]

Ben Robbins | May 10th, 2010 | , | 1 comment

Game Plugin: the Blame Game

Human beings crave cause and effect. When something goes wrong, we try to understand what happened so the same thing doesn’t happen again. It’s a good survival tactic. Taken too far, it means we look for explanations for even the most random events. We don’t want to live in a universe where bad things happen […]

Ben Robbins | July 11th, 2009 | | 1 comment

Solidifying Microscope

I’ve locked down the first playable draft of microscope. There are bits I know are missing and want to investigate later on, but this should serve as a starting point. Getting a playable draft was largely a process of elimination — I’d written lots and lots of stuff about how microscope could/would work, but instead […]

Ben Robbins | March 14th, 2009 | ,

Game Plugins: a Working Definition

Here at the lame mage skunk works we’re always coming up with new ideas. And drinking coffee. Sometimes both at once. Sometimes we come up with ideas that seem like they’d make great games, but making a whole game just to use one cool idea… well that seems like work. If there are already systems […]

Ben Robbins | June 12th, 2008 | | 10 comments