Games as Language

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Mech Retriever Dev Blog

If you how to move the pieces in chess, you know how to play chess.  But you don’t know how to play chess.

Put another way, there are two layers of understanding to Emergent Games, aka games with a lot of possible states and deeply interrelated mechanics. (more on Emergent Games here and here).  There’s understanding the basics of how to make legal moves, and then there’s understanding the shape of the game and how specific choices and forces influence each other.  It’s the difference between knowing a Knight moves in L-shapes in chess, and understanding that it’s good to get your knights into tho center of the board and that they are strong when the board is cluttered.

These two layers of understanding are like words and sentences.  The simple mechanics*–knowing how to move a knight, or that playing a card requires energy, etc., form the vocabulary words.   The way those words can interact–like how you can corner someone in Checkers or knowing how to Zerg Rush someone–form the grammar.  Sentences can be grammatically correct without making sense–Moving a piece back and forth all game, for example, can be the equivalent of saying “Tuesday always plays Red Rover with trash bags and the number blue.”

Games then become a language, and playing them becomes a conversation between you and the other players.  In truly deep games, the conversation can likewise become very deep.  This will lead us into next time, when I talk about why Games are Important.

*Note:  A lot of the best games get you playing right away by moving complexity to cards that have specific effects, so that you don’t have to learn or think about them unless you draw or play them.  These are like higher-level words that join multiple concepts, like the word gravitas, which describes someone who is simultaneous solemn and commanding of respect.

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