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Tabletop Atom #2: The Black Hack

Posted on:January 16, 2024 at 11:00 PM

Tabletop Atom: who needs what information, and when do they need it?

In Tabletop Atoms we highlight one idea that we loved whilst reading and playing other people’s games.

Today, we’re looking at The Black Hack. The Black Hack is a streamlined fantasy game with quick to pickup but deep rules.

Design: who needs what information? and when do they need it?

The Blackhack rulebook is clearly separated into ‘rules for everyone’, ‘rules for the players’, ‘rules for the GM’. We’ve not played it, but it made reading and understanding the rules really straightforward. It also seems like it would make the rules easy to reference while playing.

We’ve tried to apply a similar structure while designing our own games. Most of our projects are too small to benefit from that specific split. But questioning whether a piece of information is needed by all players was always a helpful exercise. A key principle of presenting information is knowing your audience, and giving detail at the right time. TTRPGs have a lot of rules up-front, and anything you can do to reduce that cognitive load for players makes it more likely that they’ll give your game a try.

We first used this principle in Automata v2, which is structured as the basics, for the heroes, for the director. Recently it led to FIST: The Only Agent Left being structured explicitly as information needed before, during and after the missions. Explicitly thinking about who needs what information, and when is now a key part of any of our projects. Thanks, The Black Hack!