4 GDC 2019 Talks Worth Your Time

The board game design day at the Game Developer’s Conference has been a rousing success, if you’re judging it by its ability to produce quality talks. (In terms of interest at the conference, I suspect it’s done well since they’ve continued it). I’ve posted before about my favorite lectures from the two previous years. From the 2019 conference four stood out.

1. King Me: A Defense of Kingmaking in Game Design

Cole Wherle’s defense of kingmaking is a doozy, tracking the historical role kingmaking had in the history of gaming, and providing a theoretical defense of it as a valuable asset in game design. This is a topic I’ve been wanting to cover ever since reading a rather dismissive chapter about political (or diplomatic–however you want to categorize it) games in “Characteristics of Games”, and now I have another great reference point from which I can formulate my own thoughts.

I don’t think I’m as much of a fan of political games as Cole is (indeed, I’m rather lukewarm about his intensely political design Root, though I had a great time with my only play of PAX Pamir), but I think this is a must-watch for anyone interested in design and thinking about the role games can play in creating wonderful social experiences from an almost anti-euro perspective (not that I’m saying Cole doesn’t like or appreciate euro design–I’m sure he does).

2. Why Indirect or Zero Player Interaction Can Be Great

Firing right back as a sort of counterpoint to Cole’s talk is Gil Hova defending low-interaction games. It’s not really a rebuttal as it is a complementary defense. Neither person is trying to delegitimize the other’s design preferences. That said, both talks capture what I enjoy about each style of game. Gil is great here with his outline of different kinds of indirect interaction–something I knew but hadn’t yet put into words.

As a sort of compliment to this talk, check out Gil’s response to another person’s talk from SHUX denigrating victory points as a design tool. I had some minor quibbles with that piece even though I largely agree–if you look in the comments you’ll see my response.

3. The State And Future of Board Games

Paul Dean once again assembles an interesting panel to talk about the state of the board game industry today in his annual presentation. This year’s panelists are the most eclectic group yet, and the diversity of experience makes for a super interesting discussion. You’ve got SdJ-winning Susan McKinley Ross, who works a lot in the toy and mass produced games sector as well as the hobbyist space. Jonathan Ying brings his experience designing mega-hits from Fantasy Flight Games, and Jenn Sandercock recently created a book of edible games. I don’t recall any of the ideas in this being particularly new–no super big developments to comment on that haven’t already been discussed–but I loved how each person had a unique perspective every topic.

4. Better Board Games Through Cultural Engagement

Finally, the standout of this year’s slate is Rik Eberhardt and Mikael Jakobsson’s talk about their work leading game design programs designed to counter the glut of colonialist games on the market. This is another topic I haven’t quite yet found the words to write about yet, but there’s certainly plenty to discuss.

Rik and Mikael have taken action by helping people from places like Colombia design games, and the results are excellent. They talk about one game prototype that was produced about the very specific bus system in Bogota that probably could only result from a design team that has actually lived there. There’s a confluence of weird economic factors that make that game an absolutely compelling design idea. I’m definitely going to be keeping a sharp eye on what Rik and Mikael do in the future.

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