Currents 097: Frank Lantz on Network Wars and Games

Jim talks with Frank Lantz, game designer and director of the Game Center at New York University, about Network Wars and the art of game-making. They discuss Frank’s first reaction to Network Wars, how the game works, elegance in game design, the simplest possible expression of an idea, Frank’s overall score record, high stochasticity in the combat results, the combination of high skill & high variance, the tendency to bend randomness in favor of the player’s instincts, learning from poker, whether there are some setups that you can’t win, being rewarded for understanding the mechanics, climbing the ladder of heuristics, semi-tractable problems, how games demonstrate the world’s complexity, network topology games, deterministic AIs, heuristics of Network Wars, connection games, the prisoner’s dilemma, choosing not to optimize, a Presbyterian universe, the idea of human vs human Network Wars, new games with the same underlying dynamics, the doubling cube, games that incentivize creativity, how Network Wars kept Frank sane in a difficult time, games as the art form of problem solving, the power of games to help us understand, and much more.

Frank Lantz is a game designer with a focus on exploring emerging technology to create new kinds of gameplay. He is the Founding Chair of the NYU Game Center, the co-founder of Area/Code Games (acquired by Zynga in 2011), the co-founder of Everybody House Games and the creator of the game Universal Paperclips. He has taught game design for over 20 years at New York University, Parsons School of Design, and the School of Visual Arts and has created numerous influential talks and writings on the subject of games. His book The Beauty of Games will be published by MIT Press in October of 2023.