Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional tension and engagement.  That hook that pulls people in and holds them in the game sometimes even after the game ends.

I have been working on Voyage of Our Own for 3 years now.  The rules are smooth and clean. The play is easy to understand, but it’s not grabbing the players. Play is calm and mechanical. There is nothing that pulls the players into the action. Nothing to make them feel invested.  The game just feels flat.  So now I am looking for the tension in the game? What will give the players that finger crossing moment or that kick of adrenaline.

Literally emotional tension in a game is the moment between action and result. Where the uncertainty of the moment creates stress.

When you think …

Will the Jenga tower fall?

Did I go too far in Risk ?

Call! Is my poker buddy bluffing?

This was a focus of mine during my last game night.

First Rhino Hero. The tension in this game is strong and obvious, it’s that breath taking moment after you play a roof and you see if the tower falls.

And you are rewarded for tension with a cheer when it still stands.  The higher the tension the higher the reward.

The second game was small world.

This one you pick character races to take territory in a map that is too small for everyone’s characters . This games tension is in the planning, risk, rewards cycle  common in strategy games. This over lays a series of small decisions that add to the tension in the game.  Did I pick the right team? Did I spread too far ? Should I switch teams this turn or the next? and so on…

small world aug2016.jpg

Dice rolls are particularly good at providing this tension because every roll has that uncertainty, as the dice bounce before the result.

Now for Voyage of Our Own we have a few guidelines.  Whatever mechanism we add must also add to the interplay between players and the feeling that there is something  special or odd about this expedition.  In many ways the game has refined out these other parts of the game so the whole thing feels samey.

I will brainstorm and try some things.  I am hoping to post more frequently on subjects such as these. If you have any thoughts on emotional tension or have any games , I should look at as a good display of emotional tension please leave comments below

Also I will start blind play testing for Voyage of our own this fall. If you are interested please send me a message at and you will be considered.  Thank you.