Sam “King of the Hilltop”
Well, that’s an interesting question. Is your board game design too complicated? Funny enough the answer is actually somewhat complicated…it depends on the market for the game.
Game Design For A Market
When creating a game, you need to keep in mind who the game is designed for. Not just the age range or even the theme interests of players but what kinds of games your target market wants to play.
If you are aiming for people who regularly play heavier games, you can very well introduce more complex interactions and actions within the game. But if you try and sell those same ideas to people who regularly play very light games, the feedback from that will tell you right away…it’s too complicated.
The moral of the story here is that there really is no such thing as too complicated as a general rule, but is it too complicated for your target player/target market.
Familiarity With Genres
So, this is another interesting aspect to this “complicated” problem. There are genres of games that once you become familiar with certain rules interactions and mechanics of play that make playing other games of that genre easier to play and understand.
We have experienced this quite a bit with our game, Cult of the Deep. The dice rolling mechanic of our game is compared often to King of Tokyo, Yahtzee, Bang! Dice, and others because dice rolling with multiple rolls in order to try and achieve certain results is a time honored way of using dice. It gives you randomness, with the ability to help change the results by choosing how to re-roll. People familiar with these kinds of games catch on to Cult of the Deep faster than those who are not. Though note, our game is not geared toward the heavy game play experience so people still catch on quickly to the game.
Another story about this are games like Warhammer 40,000. A miniature war game has its own feel and mechanics that make up an interesting part of the game market. However, I have seen players time and again get lost in those kinds of games. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to recall because I have been involved in the hobby for literal decades. (We don’t just say play games, when you are invested, it’s called the miniature hobby.)
When a new miniature war game comes out, I play it and it’s familiar to me. There are differences and even the most innovative changes to the mechanics still leads to an end result that is familiar. All my brothers and I pick up on these games very quickly and know in general what we need to do. Other players who are not familiar with the “hobby,” not so much. There is a lot to explore and understand in those games that can make it overwhelming. I LOVE THEM! However, not everyone is familiar with what to do or even how to do it.
So, in the end, the question “Is your game too complicated?” is a bad question. The question you should be asking is “Is your game too complicated for your target market?” This idea applies to marketing, game design, playtesting, and all aspects of the board game business.
Why’d You Have To Go And Make Things So Complicated?
Ed “Duke of BAZlandia”
Complicated – composed of elaborately interconnected parts; complex
Complicated – difficult to analyze, understand, explain, etc.
Above you see the two different definitions of complicated. The first can be a very good thing for a heavier game. The second is never good and no one ever wants to play that game. While thinking about this topic I thought about going into lighter versus heavy, casual/party games versus abstract, and even Ameritrash/Amerithrash versus Euros/Gyros (see what I did there? I might be hungry…). These may all have valid comparisons and interesting things to talk about, but the reality is it really does not matter what category your game falls into, when someone describes your game as complicated it’s usually not in a good way. Any game can fall into this trap, but you tend to see it in heavier games, while enjoyable at times they have portions that have developed into a Rube Goldberg Mechanic.
Just to make sure everyone is on the same page (I had not heard of a Rube Goldberg reference till about 5 years back… I know, I know, I am uncultured swine). Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who, among other things, drew machines that did complicated things to accomplish a simple goal. Think of the machine at the beginning of Back to the Future, the one that made breakfast or almost any Tim Burton movie that has any sort of machinery in it. The point is most of the machine is pointless. What I call a Rube Goldberg mechanic is a rule/step, or series of rules and steps that while accomplishing the goal, it does so in a way just to add elaborateness and so the player knows how intricate, detailed, and complex the mechanic is. This is especially heinous if players can easily see a simpler mechanic or ruleset to accomplish the same goal. The designer has sacrificed fun and enjoyment on the altar of “it’s a heavy game, it is supposed to be complicated.”
Great games are not complicated for the sake of complication. Great games can have complex interactions and what makes it great is all of the interactions and possibilities before the player.
***Side note*** Bonus points if you find me on Twitter and tell me what I did with the title of my blog post.