There are a lot of traps to fall into when it comes to game design. One of those traps is the kind of choices designers allow their players to make. Combine that with what a designer thinks is a lot of fun vs what is actually a lot of fun and we are in a danger zone. Which brings us to today’s topic:
Calculations are not choice, they are math.
I am going to start with an example using one of our own games. We were working on a Soccer GM game a few months ago and we loved it. We came up with a way to play a full season with each team playing each other. Every team would have a home and away game. We had a way to simulate injuries and give teams a home field advantage. It was great, but none of that was the special sauce of the game. The awesome of this game, was in the roster construction. I am not going to cover the particulars, but what you need to know is that the players on the roster were used to fulfill stat requirements of various soccer formations. If your roster’s combined stats met the different requirements, your team would get bonuses during the season. When Aidan and I played this game, we had a blast. Roster construction was by far the most fun thing in this game. An yet, it was the mathiest thing in this game. Looking at the rest of the game, it was die rolling. There was no compelling decisions for players to make in the game. This was a math min/max game that was tucked nicely into a soccer theme.
This game will not be a lasting game. It might be a hit at the table for a month, but there is nothing in this game that will make players want to come back because they made choice a instead of b. Players will never ask what would happen if they had picked the other thing?
Games based in the realm of calculation, like our soccer GM game, will appeal to a small group of gamers but we want our games to appeal to a wider audience. Who wants to spend their game night calculating after having been at work all day? What is your game going to do about the calculation gap between players who are experience with your game vs new players?
Digging a little deeper, calculations can be figured out. Once a player knows what they can or can’t do with their set of players, all choice is removed from the game. At that point, using Soccer GM as an example, the game turns into a dice rolling game. While there are plenty of games that are dice rolling fun, that is not what we want to game to be.
There is a place in gaming for calculation, but beware about how much that calculation means to the awesome of your game.
If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.