The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century

Only a few ground rules: like the NYT list that kicked this off, I'm limiting my selections to one per director (my apologies to the Coens, PTA, Malick, et. al). Also, pace almost everyone else who put together this list, 2000 is not a part of the 21st century and as such is not represented here. Below are the films that have left the greatest impression on me, unranked and grouped into five loosely thematic pentaptychs:

  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
  • There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
  • No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
  • Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
  • Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
     
  • Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014)
  • Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
  • The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016)
  • Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)
  • In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
     
  • In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2001)
  • La Grande Bellezza (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
  • A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
  • Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008)
  • Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
     
  • Paprika (Satoshi Kon, 2006)
  • The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
  • Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
  • Mother (Bong Joon-Ho, 2009)
  • Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005)
     
  • The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
  • The New World (Terence Malick, 2005)
  • Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
  • Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
  • Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)

Design, Part Two (or Just What Am I Trying to Do Here?)

I've sat on this board game idea for nearly five years now, for two reasons. First, inspiration had struck when I was mulling over what I wanted to see in a board game using an IP (which shall remain nameless, at least for now). I started with a theme and a specific game mechanic, and built a supportive, although rickety, framework of other gameplay elements and goals. But I don't want to design an IP-first board game for obvious reasons, and it isn't until recently that I considered stripping out the main mechanics and seeing if I could make them work on their own as a coherent game. It's the opposite of what I usually look for in board game designs, but there is an alternative, more-generic theme that I believe could work just as well. Cart, horse, etc. Game first.

Secondly, one of the mechanics I felt was essential for this board game turned out not to be as innovative as I thought when I played Twilight Struggle for the first time five years after its release--the push/pull fight for influence over regions and countries mirrored what I wanted to do in my game. In fact, some pieces of Twilight Struggle were so similar to what I envisioned I had to double-check to verify I hadn't played the game before. And finding out that your game idea is similar to the top-rated board game of all time* is an extremely effective way of shutting down future development. I certainly didn't think I could design a game half as good as that one. Throw in the towel.

So what's changed? The first is that I've made a conscious choice to take the IP out of the design and look at the game from strictly a mechanical perspective. I probably should have done such a thing some time ago, but I've also desired to write again--frequently and publicly--and having a design diary is an easy way to achieve both of my goals at the same time. I also no longer feel limited by the presence of Twilight Struggle; I'm aiming for something broader, and area influence is only a part of the game--a significant part, to be sure, but I also have no idea where I'll end up. As with most game designs, the finish line is a long distance from the idea.

One of the most important elements of a good rulebook is describing a player's goals and victory conditions as the very first step in learning the game. This provides a framework for the rules to follow, and allows players to mentally assemble a decision tree: how do the choices I make affect my ultimate outcome? Trying to piece together mechanics and decisions without knowing the destination unnecessarily taxes players and inhibits learning comprehension. The same goes for the design process: without a firm (yet flexible) set of goals I'll end up with an unholy hodgepodge of ideas that fit together as well as a Chrysler 200. Here are ten that I want to focus on:

  1. Information ambiguity as a primary source of tension

  2. Bounded rationality in short-term decision making

  3. Imperfect information driving Pareto inefficiency

  4. Player choices subject to non-zero-sum options

  5. Push/pull political maneuvering

  6. No victory points

  7. Unique, defined objectives for each player

  8. Success and failure without dice

  9. Board-based bonuses and conditions

  10. Increasing marginal costs of control

You'll notice that the last five are mechanically descriptive, while the first five are broader principles I want to highlight in this game. There's some overlap in these but I think they're a good starting point. I'll spend some time going through my reasons for each and what I hope to accomplish in future posts.

*As determined by rankings on BoardGameGeek; the usual caveats apply.

Design, Part One (or This is a Bad Idea)

Like so many other people who self-assign the title of "board gamer", you've had an idea for a game flitting around for a number of years. And also like them, you've deluded yourself into thinking that not only is this wisp of an idea interesting, it's worth attempting to flesh out into a full prototype--one that can be carted around to various game conventions and publisher meetups. Then you can join the long, long line of would-be Game Designers eager to show off their hot take on whatever the board game design category du jour might be that year. But no, really! Your cooperative/worker placement/app-required/deckbuilding/victory point salad game is unique and awesome and your parents and friends and pets all agree! 

And then, if you're so smart as to curate beforehand your list of desired publishers who might--might--see a fit between your design and their publishing philosophy, existing catalog and target market, you'll get perhaps one follow-up after drowning in a sea of fumbling, failed five-minute pitches. You ship off a full prototype to that intelligent, perceptive publisher (obviously), and nine months later you receive a brusque email letting you know that your game isn't quite the right fit for their catalog. 

Rinse and repeat for a few years.

And one day, your well-worn game meets a well-worn (or desperate) publisher, and you have a contract in your grubby hands. Sure, there's no advance, the royalty rate surely transposed two digits and you forgot to include a rights reversion clause, but you are now a professional Game Designer. With a day job, friends who no longer want to look at your game and five grand owed to the local Kinko's, but still.

Three years later your game, which by now little resembles (theme, gameplay, enjoyment) the version you had when you signed that cursed contract, survives a half-assed Kickstarter campaign and meets its funding goal with mere hours to spare. Eighteen months after your original shipping estimate, backers (who have by now completely forgotten that your game even exists) receive a box with a poorly edited rulebook, slapdash graphic design and missing components. But some random gamer with no understanding of sunk costs gathers her friends and sits down to consume the only meaningful thing you've done in the past five years.

And they promptly discover a fatal flaw in the game that somehow made its way past the hordes of gamers (six people) who playtested the final design. Your game has now been given the dreaded label "broken" and nobody will ever play it again. Time to start working on your next design; with any luck people won't remember your name.

And I am about to embark on this journey. To be fair, the above isn't representative of most designers' experience. I'm friends with published game designers, and do rulebook work for a number of publishers who are passionate about making games that are thoroughly tested, well-produced, thematic and fun (Plaid Hat, I'm looking at you). But this is my first proper stab at game design, and as a way of self-immolation I'll be publishing all of my design work here--the process, the frustration, the breakthroughs, and the (perhaps eventually) submissions. If nothing else, it'll be something to laugh about/cry over in two years. Next up: design goals.