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Characteristics of Games

Posted By: Timothy Chow
Date: Saturday, 29 September 2012, at 11:56 p.m.

I've occasionally mentioned that I have a friend who's an expert at designing and critiquing games. He and his co-authors have just come out with a new book, Characteristics of Games. This book is not like any other book on games that you've read before. There are a lot of books out there about how to play specific games well, or how to program computer games, or the sociological context of games. Characteristics of Games is different. It introduces a powerful vocabulary for describing and discussing games, enabling you to think more accurately and intelligently about what makes good games good and what can be done to make them even better.

One example where the vocabulary and thinking techniques of Characteristics of Games has helped me understand something is the Jacoby Rule. It is commonly said that the Jacoby Rule was introduced to speed up the game. Bot rollouts, however, show no detectable difference in the average length of a game if the Jacoby Rule is introduced, so something doesn't seem quite right here. I only arrived at the correct understanding of the Jacoby Rule when I understood the importance of looking beyond the rule itself to other characteristics of backgammon, such as downtime and other things that motivate the players.

Characteristics of Games isn't a light read, but it will forever change the way you perceive and think about games.

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