Been playing fairly geeky boardgames with Cathy lately. An old favorite - Search For The Emperor's Treasure [originally published in Dragon magazine way back when] - which we played for a while before we were married (and on our honeymoon) recently made a comeback, and heard good things about Battlelore lately and Cathy grudgingly agreed to play that with me as a sort of Father's Day present.
These games actually have a fair amount in common:
Short session length: both these games can be played in under two hours. Good for short attention span adults like ourselves. I've also noticed something about my own gaming habits - I can play several sessions of a short session game for hours and hours (I'll play three games of Catan back-to-back, no problem) but will get bored to death by a one-session game of the same length.
Rolling lots of dice: for all I know, Tom Wham may have invented the whole roll-lots-of-dice -and-x-is-a-hit system - it was in his games that I first saw it. Just watching my daughter reminds me how fun it is to play with lots of dice; even though she's only two and a half she likes to play with my dice.
High variance: I've mentioned that I tend to lean against variance in my tastes. Richard Garfield, on the other hand, is a huge fan - he wrote a whole article for Game Developer on why it's Good, which I can't find a link to. It definitely has its applications - one of which is it draws Cathy in. She really likes to win, tell you what. With a high variance game, you are spared the painful knowledge of where you actually stand - you can always say, "I rolled really badly that game." (In fact, it's quite possible she's the good player and I'm the crappy one. She wins the majority of our Emperor's Treasure games and we're split fairly evenly on Battlelore.) Cathy seems to have grown fairly fond of Battlelore - at first, she would say, "I'll play Battlelore with you if you fold the laundry," and lately it's been, "I'll play Battlelore with you if you get the mail."
Despite the fact that both these games are clearly accessible enough to bring my wife in, they could be even more accessible. In Emperor's Treasure, you draw a counter, and then have to look up what the counter does in the rules. In Battlelore, there's a symbol and color on your miniature, which you then have to look up on a set of cheat-sheet cards arrayed before you. Since usually the question you're asking is "How many dice do I get to roll?" it seems like that information could have been printed on the miniature itself.
And, in some ways, these games are very different. Emperor's Treasure is cute and nonthreatening - my wife was immediately willing to try it just because of the cartoony art, only to discover that a fairly complex D&D-lite was under the hood. Battlelore looks like a grognard game with its armies of miniatures, hexes, cryptic dice and playing cards, so getting her to just try it required negotiation.
Emperor's Treasure is low budget, entirely composed of cardboard and paper. Bring Your Own Dice. Battlelore is a high budget extravaganza where the cost of goods must have been very significant. One of the first and most obvious ways to differentiate products is Budget and Gourmet; Metagames in the eightes and James Earnest's Cheapass Games lately are quintessential examples of the budget game. ("We were able to bring you cheaper games because they take less shelf space." "We were able to bring you cheaper games because we're not including any actual components.") Then, on the other end of the spectrum, we have games like Battlelore where you get All This Stuff, and the price of the game is sending a message: "At this price, it's got to be good!"
So...what if? You could do a high budget Emperor's Treasure where the map hexes are interchangeable or even lock together, you have miniatures for the heroes, lavish playing cards for the monsters, a "Lost City" model, and special dice marked with shields and swords and fairy dust. Add a marketing budget to match and maybe I wouldn't be the only one I know who remembers the game.
And a low budget Battlelore with just one map, printed on paper, cardboard counters for your units, perforated sheets of paper for your playing cards, and you have to bring your own dice and just remember that 1 = retreat, 2 = magic, 5 & 6 = a hit. You could possibly even make it cheap enough to print in a magazine. Would it still be as succesful? (I don't actually know how succesful it is...seems to get a fair amount of word-of-mouth, but where do you look up board game sales?)
The next step would be to apply these thoughts to digital, and make the videogame that I can play with Cathy...