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Re: what is an abstract game?

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  • Karl von Laudermann
    ... abstract end of the spectrum is: To what extent does it help to explain the game in terms of its theme? ... to talk in terms of knights who can jump over
    Message 1 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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      --- In Unity_Games@y..., AndAgainMA@a... wrote:
      > One of the questions I ask in deciding how close a game is to the
      abstract end of the spectrum is: To what extent does it help to
      explain the game in terms of its theme?
      >
      > This places chess at the abstract end - unless you find it helpful
      to talk in terms of knights who can jump over castles, which can be
      moved instantly from one end of the map to the other.

      Good point. This would also put Lost Cities at the abstract end.

      >
      > David F says that:
      > >Clearly, as with almost everything in the universe, there is not a
      dichotomy here, but rather a spectrum. (Does that sound sufficiently
      pompous?)
      > <

      I'm not sure I agree. There are some things that are dichotomies, and
      some things that are spectrums. Of course, there's also some grey
      area in the middle...
    • Craig Massey
      ... I put card games in a different category than an abstract board game. That to me and I think most is a separate class of game. Luck is a different beast
      Message 2 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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        --- Karl von Laudermann <karlvonl@...>
        wrote:
        > --- In Unity_Games@y..., "Dave Bernazzani"
        > <dber@g...> wrote:
        > > I don't want to pigeon-hole games, but in general
        > I think of an
        > abstract
        > > game as one that has the following traits to a
        > greater degree:
        > >
        > > 1. feels mathematical and calculating
        > > 2. little or no luck
        > > 3. is generally played by 2 players
        > > 4. little or no theme - mechanics are the core of
        > the game
        >
        > I would disagree about the luck thing. I think
        > Parcheesi and
        > Backgammon are abstract. One could even argue that
        > all card games
        > (games that use a standard deck of playing cards)
        > are abstract.

        I put card games in a different category than an
        abstract board game. That to me and I think most is a
        separate class of game.

        Luck is a different beast and I think I'm with Dave
        that the abstract spectrum is for games with minimal
        or no luck.



        =====
        Craig W. Massey
        cwmassey@...

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      • Foggy Brume
        I usually never post (lurk lurk lurk), but I d like to take a stab as well. I would say pure abstract means that the game is not a metaphor for anything:
        Message 3 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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          I usually never post (lurk lurk lurk), but I'd like to
          take a stab as well. I would say pure abstract means
          that the game is not a metaphor for anything: Reversi,
          Go, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Dots all fall into this area.
          These games also have no real luck factor.

          Bogart (from Cheapass Games's Holiday Fun Pack) is a
          dice game where users try to win chips by rolling an
          increasing number of dice without getting a 1. This I
          would also consider pure abstract, but is much more
          luck than strategy. If I wanted to further classify
          games, I'd probably opt for pure abstract and pure
          abstract strategy to differentiate.

          To me, chess isn't that abstract, as it's a metaphor
          of war. Lost Cities, a metaphor for exploration, is
          definitely not abstract. It could be easily redone as
          an abstract game, however, by removing the metaphor.

          Tally-Ho, from Kosmos, isn't abstract, as it's a
          metaphor. I only mention it because the Games 100
          listed in Abstract and I was irked by that.

          --- Joseph Czapski <czapski@...> wrote:
          > I'll take a stab, not speaking for Richard. An
          > abstract game has no human
          > culture theme pasted on. The game is all about the
          > mechanics and only the
          > mechanics. Through the Desert comes close, but to
          > be labeled "abstract" the
          > camels must become simple disks (nicely finished
          > hardwoods of different
          > shades, of course) and the oases and water holes
          > just differently colored
          > hexagons (inlays on a thick wooden board).
          >
          > -- Joe Czapski
          > Arlington, Mass.
          > czapski@...
          >
          >
          >


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        • Richard Spoonts
          Chess is not a pure abstract game. Using Matthew Gray s abstractness scale, it ranks one level down from pure abstractness. I pulled out all my games that I
          Message 4 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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            Chess is not a pure abstract game. Using Matthew
            Gray's abstractness scale, it ranks one level down
            from pure abstractness.

            I pulled out all my games that I consider abstract
            (about 35 or so). The only ones with any sort of
            theme were Billabong, Cathedral, Ta-Yu. In these
            games, the theme is pure window-dressing and has
            absolutely no impact on rules or game play.

            I like Joe's description of an abstract game a lot. I
            don't really feel like answering Matthew Horn's
            original question because we have discussed it here
            recently and because I'm not very good with
            definitions, but I will comment that abstract games
            for me, at least, have a certain look and feel to them
            which set them apart from other types of games.
            Simplicity and elegance are two key characteristics.

            Richard

            --- Craig Massey <cwmassey@...> wrote:
            >
            > --- Joseph Czapski <czapski@...> wrote:
            > > I'll take a stab, not speaking for Richard. An
            > > abstract game has no human
            > > culture theme pasted on. The game is all about
            > the
            > > mechanics and only the
            > > mechanics. Through the Desert comes close, but to
            > > be labeled "abstract" the
            > > camels must become simple disks (nicely finished
            > > hardwoods of different
            > > shades, of course) and the oases and water holes
            > > just differently colored
            > > hexagons (inlays on a thick wooden board).
            >
            > Where does this definition leave chess then?
            > Knights,
            > King, Queen, etc. all seem to have a human culture
            > pasted on.
            >
            > =====
            > Craig W. Massey
            > cwmassey@...
            >
            > __________________________________________________
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          • Richard Spoonts
            Andrew, Are you implying that you are not pompous? ;-) Richard ... __________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Find a job, post your
            Message 5 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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              Andrew,

              Are you implying that you are not pompous?

              ;-)

              Richard

              > David F says that:
              > >Clearly, as with almost everything in the universe,
              > there is not a dichotomy here, but rather a
              > spectrum. (Does that sound sufficiently pompous?)
              > <
              >
              > Au contraire, you sound like me...
              >
              > Andrew.
              >


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            • Matthew Gray
              ... I agree. As I may have mentioned in the last discussion on this topic, I think theme serves 3 primary purposes in a game: A) Narrative. A lot of themes
              Message 6 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                > Chess is not a pure abstract game. Using Matthew
                > Gray's abstractness scale, it ranks one level down
                > from pure abstractness.

                I agree. As I may have mentioned in the last discussion on this
                topic, I think theme serves 3 primary purposes in a game:

                A) Narrative. A lot of themes create the perception of a story being
                told. This can happen in a weakly themed game, but the
                narrative is often richer the more theme there is.
                B) Scenario. Other games have little in the way of narrative, but
                there is still a "feel" to the game. Adel Verp has little
                "plot", but the theme gives it an air that would be very
                different if it was a game about chickens or WWII.
                C) Rule mnemonics. A lot of games have rules that would be very very
                difficult to remember were it not for some sort of unifying
                theme. I think this is actually the reason so many abstract
                games have simple rules; they simply would be too hard to
                remember otherwise.

                For chess, the theme is an extremely thin veneer, but it definitely
                fulfills purpose A at least to some extent. When I read chess games
                or play, I distinctly feel the "story" is enhanced by the notion that
                these are warring kingdoms. I don't get the same feeling of narrative
                out of, say, Dvonn.

                On the topic of card games being abstract/themed I would say that card
                games can certainly be themed though they tend to be on the abstract
                side of things. Schnappchen Jagd (a trick taking game) weakly evokes
                it's theme (bargain hunting) but is probably a 1 or, at best, a 2 on
                my scale... Certainly Verrater, Meuterer, Magic: The Gathering,
                Ebbe&Flut, etc. are all card games which have non 0-level themes.

                Here's a repeat of the abstract/themedness scale I suggested in May...

                Value Descriptions

                0 Purely abstract. (eg, Go, Checkers, Quarto)
                There is no theme at all.

                1 Abstract with nominal theme. (eg, Chess, Rosenkonig)
                A theme which provides essentially no mnemonic aide for
                remembering rules, nor any substantial thematic "feel".

                2 Weak theme. (eg, Traumfabrik, Mamma Mia)
                A theme which provides some simple mnemonic aide for
                rule memory and adds to the "feel" of the game, but
                could easily be replaced by many other themes.

                3 Moderate theme. (eg, Settlers, OfuA)
                A theme which provides substantial mnemonic aide for
                the rules and has a substantial feel of the theme, but
                could be replaced by a few other themes.

                4 Substantial theme. (eg Mississippi Queen, RoboRally)
                A theme which is core to the game and helping remember the
                rules. Not quite a simulation, but close. Switching to
                another theme may be possible, but would usually
                require some game changes.

                5 Theme driven/simulation. (eg, Circus Maximus, Roads & Boats)
                The theme determines the game rules, though some aspects
                of the simulation's reality may be substantially modified
                for gameplay reasons.

                6 Simulation. (eg, ASL?, some wargames)
                Theme determines the rules, and rules are intended to as
                accurately as possible simulate reality.

                ...Matthew
              • Matthew Gray
                ... And, to further ramble on this topic, when a card game does have a reasonably strong theme (eg, Verrater) it is often characterized as more like a board
                Message 7 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                  > Many of us tend to expect a theme from board games, but not from
                  > card games. Perhaps there is some parallel universe in which it's
                  > the other way round.

                  And, to further ramble on this topic, when a card game does have a
                  reasonably strong theme (eg, Verrater) it is often characterized as
                  "more like a board game than a card game". Verrater may be a bad
                  example though since it has a "board" made of cards. Lord of the
                  Fries or Bohnanza are pretty much straight card games but with more
                  theme, and as a result often considered "more board-game-like"

                  Similarly, one of the objections many wargaming enthusiasts have with
                  Battle Cry is that because of the fact that it isn't very
                  simulation-like, it is "more of a card game than a board game".

                  Hm, if only we had some people with some education in the field of
                  psychology on this list, they might be able to tell us the name of
                  this phenomenon of attributing the common attributes of something
                  (card games are often abstract) with other things that share this
                  attribute being like them (abstract games are "card-game-like").

                  ...Matthew
                • AndAgainMA@aol.com
                  ... Yes, most trick-taking games have little or no theme. The main exceptions among games I ve played are Port Royale, which seems so heavily laden with
                  Message 8 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                    Matthew G remarks that:
                    >Schnappchen Jagd (a trick taking game) weakly evokes it's theme (bargain hunting) but is probably a 1 or, at best, a 2 on my scale...<

                    Yes, most trick-taking games have little or no theme. The main exceptions among games I've played are Port Royale, which seems so heavily laden with thematic cargo that it sinks under its own fiddliness, and...

                    Dia de los Muertos, which I'd put at 3+ on Matthew's 0-6 scale. It's also particularly suitable for this time of year.

                    Many of us tend to expect a theme from board games, but not from card games. Perhaps there is some parallel universe in which it's the other way round.

                    Andrew.
                  • Craig Massey
                    Maybe I m looking at this from a different perspective. I view abstract games as a class of games not as a scale in the way Matthew proposes. Though his scale
                    Message 9 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                      Maybe I'm looking at this from a different
                      perspective. I view abstract games as a class of
                      games not as a scale in the way Matthew proposes.
                      Though his scale is very useful in determining the
                      level of abstractness for a game.

                      If I'm breaking games into classes here is my rough
                      pass

                      Abstract Games- Checkers, Chess, GIPF games,

                      Card Games - Insert the card game here theme or no
                      theme.

                      Wargames - Breakout Normandy, ASL, etc.

                      Family/Strategy Games - This is where German/Designer
                      boardgames would fall.

                      Obviosly some games straddle categories, and all will
                      have a rating on Matthew's scale.

                      Too bad there isn't a classification system like is
                      used for classifying plants animals (Class, phylum,
                      genus, family, speicies or whatever the order is)

                      Craig

                      --- AndAgainMA@... wrote:
                      > Matthew G remarks that:
                      > >Schnappchen Jagd (a trick taking game) weakly
                      > evokes it's theme (bargain hunting) but is probably
                      > a 1 or, at best, a 2 on my scale...<
                      >
                      > Yes, most trick-taking games have little or no
                      > theme. The main exceptions among games I've played
                      > are Port Royale, which seems so heavily laden with
                      > thematic cargo that it sinks under its own
                      > fiddliness, and...
                      >
                      > Dia de los Muertos, which I'd put at 3+ on Matthew's
                      > 0-6 scale. It's also particularly suitable for this
                      > time of year.
                      >
                      > Many of us tend to expect a theme from board games,
                      > but not from card games. Perhaps there is some
                      > parallel universe in which it's the other way round.
                      >
                      > Andrew.
                      >


                      =====
                      Craig W. Massey
                      cwmassey@...

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                    • AndAgainMA@aol.com
                      Matthew muses ...
                      Message 10 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                        Matthew muses
                        >if only we had some people with some education in the field of psychology on this list
                        <

                        A philosopher would also come in handy.

                        Absent such learned input, some of this thread has somehow reminded me of the following quote:
                        "Shoplifting is a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark."

                        Andrew.
                      • David Rapp
                        ... Goaded again. Psychology mode activated.... I tend to stay out of these abstract definition arguments because they often degrade into the lowest form of
                        Message 11 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                          Matthew wrote:
                          > Hm, if only we had some people with some education in the field of
                          > psychology on this list, they might be able to tell us the name of
                          > this phenomenon of attributing the common attributes of something
                          > (card games are often abstract) with other things that share this
                          > attribute being like them (abstract games are "card-game-like").

                          Goaded again. Psychology mode activated....

                          I tend to stay out of these abstract definition arguments because they
                          often degrade into the lowest form of linguistic argument and hypothesis
                          testing - that is, it becomes a matter of somewhat describing various
                          traits and then another person giving a particular example that doesn't
                          fit that trait, ad infinitum. Eventually people decide there are X
                          characteristics to describe the definition, but the definition is
                          sufficiently broad that it no longer serves a purpose.

                          Plus the problem is that these definitions often neglect the human
                          endeavour of describing something - there is something to be accounted for
                          in 'feeling' what category a particular thing falls into, without being
                          able to adequately describe how it does so. For example, the process by
                          which you play an abstract game may be different that the process by which
                          you play a themed game...presumably if a themed game works you could play
                          based on your experience with the actual events or topic the theme is
                          based on...like in We the People...if you know a lot about the
                          Revolutionary War you could try to develop attack strategies that worked
                          in the actual battles. Perhaps you could do this to a much lesser
                          extent in Battle Cry. Now try to describe that process in terms of the
                          traits or features of a game, and you're out of luck.

                          Anyway, back to what Matthew was talking about. An area
                          that has anticipated these types of issues has been
                          categorization research in cognitive psychology. Categorization
                          research has elucidated the potential organization strategies that may be
                          used to construct knowledge representations for information. That is, the
                          strategies by which people place categories into other categories, etc.
                          Consider it an overarching attempt at examining the way you encode and
                          retrieve information from long-term memory structures, and how
                          orgnizations can facilitate those processes of encoding and retrieval.
                          See Rosch, Mervis, Gray, Johnsen, & Boyes-Braem (1976), Rosch & Mervis
                          (1975) and other work by Rosch on issues of typicality, categorization,
                          and the like.

                          The work, for the most part, tries to describe how we organize
                          information. So, for any particular thing, the basic level represents the
                          most typical or descriptive form perferred -- it is the most
                          differentiated from other entries, and the one we learn first. Babies say
                          birdie or doggie, that's your basic level as demonstrated in theory of
                          mind research on development. Ask people to describe scenes or events and
                          they tend to use basic terms ("A dog bit that guy" rather than "The grey
                          doberman bit the grocer" (Unless something is salient enough to make you
                          notice it and you opt to describe it as such, like if a three-legged
                          weinerdog bit a naked woman). So particular game categories might fall
                          into that. Abstract, card, whatever. Then the subordinate categories
                          contain particular exemplars of those basic levels. Superordinate
                          categories are larger, super-general terms (like game)
                          At each level there are characterstics, features, traits, properties,
                          whatever you want to call them, that are applied and fit all of the
                          members of the lower categories. So here is a little example model:

                          Superordinate Category - Game - played by people
                          - may use pieces
                          / \
                          Abstract Card
                          -trait 1 for abstract -uses cards
                          -trait 2 blah blah -trait 2 blah blah

                          / \ / \
                          Dvonn Gipf Spades Hearts
                          -trait
                          -trait

                          ETC.

                          So items at lower levels of the categories should share features with
                          higher levels....Superordinate DVONN has its own particular features,
                          has all the features of abstract game (eliminating redundancy) and then
                          has all of the features of the superordinate term GAME.

                          I could imagine designing a computation model that would evaluate
                          people's particular weights on different traits, and then use the model to
                          develop individualized decision matrices for where a game should fall,
                          based on a few limited trait choices. A predictive system that
                          would determine where a game might fall on your individual
                          asbtract-themed continuum (which is better than spectrum, but
                          don't get me started). This is what people attempt to do with preference
                          programs (e.g., I like Battle Cry so I might like Queen's Gambit). But
                          they have ultimately ignored where people place particular games on a
                          scale...like I might consider Samurai fairly abstract but Through the
                          Desert more themed, based on game pieces, game options, strategy choices,
                          a book I read, etc. Matthew, let's get to work on that grant proposal.

                          Ultimately I guess the reason that wargamers don't like Battlecry is
                          because their consideration of a particular trait or facet of the
                          game describes it in such a way that it falls into a different basic
                          level category. Nothing spectacularly informative there. They are
                          informing their basic level decisions on basic level features that are
                          easy to see and almost natural in existence. I see cards, it must be
                          more of a card game. I see two thousand chits when people play Aladdin's
                          Dragons, that seems more like a wargame, can I try? And if you refute
                          their choice the argument may degenerate into the aforementioned
                          definitional blathering (but it has cards, but so does We the People, but
                          it doesn't have charts, but so does Beest, etc.). I often wonder whether
                          wargamers base their initial decisions on whether a game is suitable to
                          them on either the company producing the item (which is naturally highly
                          correlated with the type of game produced) or the amount of time necessary
                          to play the game.

                          Gamers basing their decisions on games on a particular trait is
                          nothing new, I've experienced it in trying to get others to try a
                          particular CCG or collectible game system. The basic level category is
                          collectible game, so the traits associated with that (need to purchase,
                          levels of rarity, etc.) make it difficult to introduce games that may be
                          expandable but not necessarily require additional purchases (Star Trek
                          disk game, Netrunner, what have you).

                          And some people might dislike all of the traits associated with a
                          particular game. Craig dislikes abstracts...then why does he like the
                          occasional abstract game? What feature or trait stood out, or
                          differentiated it sufficiently from most abstracts? Does that necessitate
                          a NEW basic level category (god, I hope not).

                          The process of assigning the common attributes of something to
                          something else is called, charmingly, family
                          resemblance. People calculate some measure of how similar particular
                          attributes of a member of a particular category are to other members of
                          either the same or different categories.

                          Well, that was a nice break from working.

                          D
                        • Matthew Gray
                          ... This is a disappointingly non-technical sounding term. I was hoping for something more like cognitive co-assignment or displaced attribute inversion
                          Message 12 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                            > The process of assigning the common attributes of something to
                            > something else is called, charmingly, family
                            > resemblance.

                            This is a disappointingly non-technical sounding term. I was hoping
                            for something more like "cognitive co-assignment" or "displaced
                            attribute inversion" or something. Oh well.

                            I've been spending all my time these days working on statiscal pattern
                            classifiers so I suppose it's unsurprising that I see this whole
                            "spectrum of ratings"/"category labels" issue as two sides of the same
                            coin.

                            ...Matthew
                          • Alison Hansel
                            ... The philosopher speaks (more briefly than the psychologist, I might add): Ummm, I would just call this a simile. --Alison
                            Message 13 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                              --- In Unity_Games@y..., Matthew Gray <matthew@g...> wrote:

                              > Hm, if only we had some people with some education in the field of
                              > psychology on this list, they might be able to tell us the name of
                              > this phenomenon of attributing the common attributes of something
                              > (card games are often abstract) with other things that share this
                              > attribute being like them (abstract games are "card-game-like").
                              >


                              The philosopher speaks (more briefly than the psychologist, I might
                              add): "Ummm, I would just call this a simile."

                              --Alison
                            • andrew wright
                              I couldn t help putting in my two cents. I think an important element of abstract games is that there be little or no specialization of moves or pieces. This
                              Message 14 of 26 , Nov 5, 2001
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                                I couldn't help putting in my two cents.

                                I think an important element of abstract games is that there be little or
                                no specialization of moves or pieces. This removes chess, in that its
                                pieces are very specialized in their function.

                                I agree with the sentiment of excluding games of luck and abstract games.
                                There is a broad spectrum of mix between games of luck and games of skill,
                                and I would place abstract games as a subcategory at the skill end of the
                                spectrum.

                                Hierarchically yours,

                                Andrew Wright
                              • Karl von Laudermann
                                ... Well, dang it, it s up to us to make one! :-) Seriously, though, the plant/animal classification is basically a straight heirarchy, right? In other words,
                                Message 15 of 26 , Nov 6, 2001
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                                  --- In Unity_Games@y..., Craig Massey <cwmassey@y...> wrote:
                                  > Too bad there isn't a classification system like is
                                  > used for classifying plants animals (Class, phylum,
                                  > genus, family, speicies or whatever the order is)

                                  Well, dang it, it's up to us to make one! :-)

                                  Seriously, though, the plant/animal classification is basically a
                                  straight heirarchy, right? In other words, a tree with no loops.
                                  Whereas I think to try to classify games this way would result in
                                  having to make tough choices about which characteristic of a
                                  particular game is more relevant for categorization, to decide which
                                  one of several tree positions to put it in.

                                  I think instead it would make more sense to come up with a bunch of
                                  characteristics that games can have and describe each game in terms
                                  of its combination of characteristics.

                                  Uh oh, I feel a project coming on... Ok, are any of you familiar with
                                  the Geek code that often appears in .sigs on USENET? I'm imagining a
                                  game code - a string of characters that describes a game. Better yet,
                                  this code could do double duty to describe both games and gamers.
                                  When applied to a gamer, it would indicate what he/she likes. Thus, a
                                  person's ideal game would have a game code string that matches the
                                  gamer's code string.

                                  What do you think?
                                • Foggy Brume
                                  Sounds doable...suggested characteristics to start... Abstraction vs. Themed Luck vs Strategy (the card game War is on one end, Chess and Go on the other) Open
                                  Message 16 of 26 , Nov 6, 2001
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                                    Sounds doable...suggested characteristics to start...

                                    Abstraction vs. Themed

                                    Luck vs Strategy (the card game War is on one end,
                                    Chess and Go on the other)

                                    Open vs Closed Information (e.g., Stratego has no real
                                    luck factor...but since you have no idea what your
                                    opponents pieces are, that information is closed to
                                    you)

                                    I imagine there's probably several that could be done
                                    for the equipment itself (e.g., for board, the game a)
                                    has none b) has a track-like board or c) has a grid or
                                    map.)

                                    --- Karl von Laudermann <karlvonl@...>
                                    wrote:
                                    > --- In Unity_Games@y..., Craig Massey
                                    > <cwmassey@y...> wrote:
                                    > > Too bad there isn't a classification system like
                                    > is
                                    > > used for classifying plants animals (Class,
                                    > phylum,
                                    > > genus, family, speicies or whatever the order is)
                                    >
                                    > Well, dang it, it's up to us to make one! :-)
                                    >
                                    > Seriously, though, the plant/animal classification
                                    > is basically a
                                    > straight heirarchy, right? In other words, a tree
                                    > with no loops.
                                    > Whereas I think to try to classify games this way
                                    > would result in
                                    > having to make tough choices about which
                                    > characteristic of a
                                    > particular game is more relevant for categorization,
                                    > to decide which
                                    > one of several tree positions to put it in.
                                    >
                                    > I think instead it would make more sense to come up
                                    > with a bunch of
                                    > characteristics that games can have and describe
                                    > each game in terms
                                    > of its combination of characteristics.
                                    >
                                    > Uh oh, I feel a project coming on... Ok, are any of
                                    > you familiar with
                                    > the Geek code that often appears in .sigs on USENET?
                                    > I'm imagining a
                                    > game code - a string of characters that describes a
                                    > game. Better yet,
                                    > this code could do double duty to describe both
                                    > games and gamers.
                                    > When applied to a gamer, it would indicate what
                                    > he/she likes. Thus, a
                                    > person's ideal game would have a game code string
                                    > that matches the
                                    > gamer's code string.
                                    >
                                    > What do you think?
                                    >
                                    >


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