“Default” Actions

I think one of the fundamental things that can make a game feel overwhelming while learning it (or even while playing it later) is a long list of “default” actions available to the player at all times. I was recently learning the board game Through the Ages (by the excellent Vlaada Chvatil) and was presented with this!

Note the long list of actions listed in phase 3 (I count 13!). The main problem I find with this is that it is hard for the player to compartmentalize all of these actions together, so frequently you will have to iterate through the list one by one, think about whether it’s a viable action to take, and then move on to the next one, comparing each subsequent action to each previous one in the list. If the list is long enough (and I would assume 13 is for most players) by the time you get to the end of the list you very likely could have forgotten your assessment of action #1!

So as not to harp on Through The Ages, lets look at another example from Android: Netrunner.

On the right you can see the list of default actions that the Runner player can take on each of his turns (limited by the resource “clicks”). This list is of a much more manageable size than that of Through The Ages, and there are some other benefits here as well. Drawing cards, gaining money, and playing cards from your hand (option 3 and 4) are very common game type actions, and easy to shorthand in your mind (there is no branching complexity in terms of gaining a dollar!). Another advantage is that the final action “Make a run” is fundamental to the game of Netrunner and done frequently over the course of the game, helping the player to remember it and develop heuristic shorthand about situations in which it might be useful. However, I would argue that that 5th action: “Remove a tag” is much easier to forget because a) it is not used very often over the course of an average game and b) it is not a core/fundamental/defining mechanic of the game. 

Some takeaways about default actions:
1) Try to keep the list at a manageable number (7 is probably a good max).
2) Actions that are common to lots of games are easier to remember (drawing cards, gaining money)
3) Actions that are inherently simple are easier to remember (gaining money)
4) You can get away with a few more complex entries, if they are fundamental to the play of your game and/or used very often!

SkyBoats Breezy Mode (Also, SkyBoats is 25% off this week!)

You can grab SkyBoats on sale here.

I’m currently working on a new mode for SkyBoats in an attempt to cut down on the time each turn takes, and generally smooth/speed up play. At the same time, I want to preserve as much depth as possible, while making it “breezier” to play! Enter ‘Breezy Mode’

Breezy Mode will be available in a sub-menu for now, and has its own ranking system attached to it. It is currently experimental and has no tutorial implemented, but if it is sucessful enough, it may be swapped with the main mode to be the new “Ranked” and appear on the title page. At this point the old “Ranked” will become “Classic” and will be moved to the Bonus menu.

The current changes for the mode are listed below, but if you’d like to become a part of the process, we’d love to have you on the discord to hear your feedback! Just click this link to hop in: https://discord.gg/UvyeDEN

Breezy Mode Changes
-Fuel removed from boats. Now the leftmost unused cell is always used to move
-Goods value only based on quantity for first round (random every round thereafter)
-Boats down to 2 (may go back up to 3 at higher ranks)
-Reduced board size
-Removed contracts
-Removed gold bonus for selling goods far from their origin
-Removed refuel from shop
-Replaced with “Refresh city demands”
-Allow moving out of cities for free
-Each city can only be visited by each boat once per turn
-Wind meter bonus reworked to be 1VP/5 meter (from more complicated chart)
-Modified Carrot pattern
-You can now pick up items mid-glide (dropping other goods if full)
-Added “goods” abilities to boats as default upgrades
-Two goods spawn at the end of each round
-Remove end of turn wind meter decrease



Keith Burgun, Fabian Fischer and I have started curating a site of game design content (blogs, videos, podcasts and whatever else). The goal is a) to promote more of this writing to take place and b) to show how game design principles inform actual games as they are made! 

You can check out and subscribe to GameDesignTheory.org here.

Mechs vs Minions GDC Talk

Very cool, personal talk about the design of the Riot board game “Mechs vs Minons”. Really enjoyed the candidness here. Some nice nuggets about specific targeted play-testing as well. Cool unexpected slide cameos of Tom Vassel and Quinns from Shut Up and Sit Down as well. 🙂


Interview On the “Clockwork Game Design” Podcast


I was interviewed yesterday by Keith Burgun of Clockwork Game Design. The episode ended up being over 90 minutes long (!) and covered a ton of interesting game design ground, focused around the BrainGoodGames Commandments and each of the BrainGoodGame releases up to this point! I enjoyed it thoroughly and through it turned out really well.

You can check it out here:

GDC Talks from Board Game Design Day

Obviously I’m much more of a fan of strict match based play than the legacy stuff, but I’m sure there are some interesting nuggets contained within! Paul Dean and Shut Up and Sit Down basically do the best reviews of any kind ever with their board game reviews.

You can watch them for free on the GDC Vault website. Link courtesy of Polygon here: