Skip to Content

[TiGD] "Fiddly-ness": Definition and design consid

5 replies [Last post]
jwarrend
Offline
Joined: 08/03/2008

I'd like to start a series of discussions aimed at some of the folks who are new to designing and/or games, to define and discuss some of the jargon and concepts we use to describe games.

The first discussion, I'd like to tackle an oft-used term, "fiddly". What does it mean for a game to be fiddly?

My quick definition is that an element of a game is said to be "fiddly" if the rules surrounding that element represent an exception to the rest of the rules of the game. An example of a fiddly mechanic is the castling or en passant rules of Chess.

What I'd like to hear in this discussion is what others think of when referring to a game as "fiddly". What are some examples of "fiddly" games? Is being fiddly a bad thing? How much fiddliness can be accepted? Are there ways of avoiding fiddliness in our designs?

I'd also be happy to hear other terms or subjects that might be of use to newer designers in terms of understanding the terminology or basic concepts that seasoned designers and gamers commonly use.

Looking forward to it!

-Jeff

zaiga
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
[TiGD] "Fiddly-ness": Definition and design consid

The "fiddly" term is also used a lot when describing games that have a lot of small components that aren't easy to handle. For example, "Puerto Rico is very fiddly to set up", "Moving the pieces around in Axis & Allies is a bit fiddly".

Sometimes "fiddly" is used when describing a game mechanism where a series of small actions have to be taken. "Resolving combat in Axis & Allies is quite fiddly", "Drawing two building cards and then discarding one in Citadels is fiddly".

And finally, as Jeff said, fiddly can mean rules that aren't very intuitive. A good example is Reiner Knizia's "Lord of the Rings" game. It's a good game, but there are quite a few rules that are easily forgotten, or misplayed. For example, at the end of each scenario the hobbit who has the ring also draws two cards. Since this only happens a few times during the game it's easy to forget.

Fiddliness is certainly a bad thing. The less the better. How much fiddliness is acceptable really depends on the game and its target audience. It's OK to have a bunch of fiddly rules in a heavy gamer's game if those rules really make the game much better. However, in a light family game, or a children's game you really need to remove as much fiddly rules and mechanics as possible. What you have to ask yourself is "Does this rule really make the game better? What if I just remove the rule?".

To continue Jeff's example, the castling in Chess serves an important strategic purpose. It would really be a different game if that rule didn't exist. However, I think the game could do without the "en passant" rule. It doesn't really add much to the game, except an extra fiddly rule to remember.

You can't always avoid fiddly rules and mechanics, sometimes they are simply needed to let the game work properly. However, often a fiddly rule is used to "patch up" a hole in the underlying system. If this is the case then it's of course much better to fix the underlying system. That sometimes means a rigorous reworking of the whole game, but that may be a better solution then layers upon layers of fiddly rules to patch up the holes.

Hamumu
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
[TiGD] "Fiddly-ness": Definition and design consid

I think another type of fiddliness is when what you have to do in the game (for the particular "fiddly mechanic") is out of proportion to what it accomplishes, like a game where you score 3 times the number of guys on the blue squares divided by the number of guys on green squares (yikes!). For instance, scoring farmers in Carcassonne is somewhat fiddly, which was simplified to be much less fiddly in Hunters & Gatherers. Another element to this type of fiddliness is having to juggle stuff in your brain rather than having it laid out in front of you, which is an evident portion of the farmer scoring - you have to keep in mind which cities you've already scored while you're scanning over the board to see which farms connect where.

I think you could call at least one sort of fiddliness "Needless complexity". However, things can still be fiddly without really being needless - the card drawing in Citadels is indeed fiddly, but it adds a significant component to the game: you get to choose which card to take. Although I question whether the game wouldn't work just as well if you just drew and kept 2 cards (which would mesh nicely with the alternative of draw 2 gold). My guess is that they tried that and found it wasn't quite right, and liked the results of the fiddlier version enough more to accept the fiddlitude. That's the thing with fiddly mechanics - you just have to like what they add to the game enough to be willing to make players fiddle. But it's always best if you can find a more transparent way to accomplish things. If you can accomplish the same gameplay effect with the players do less mental and physical juggling, your game is undeniably better for it.

jwarrend
Offline
Joined: 08/03/2008
[TiGD] "Fiddly-ness": Definition and design consid

Thinking of the "rules exceptions/needless complexity" aspect for a moment, I would say that there are some cases where fiddly rules are justifiable. For example, the building attributes in Puerto Rico or the civilization abilities of Vinci are technically "fiddly" in the sense that each breaks some core rule of the game, yet both games would be much less interesting without them.

I think the main design danger in a game with lots of fiddly rules is unanticipated interactions. This is especially valid for games with power cards. The designer must consider not just what each card can do, but also how each special power can interact with every other special power. This can lead to a rapidly expanding rulebook, and a whole set of extra fiddly rules to arbitrate the interactions between the special abilites. For this reason, I agree with zaiga that this kind of fiddliness is to be avoided, or else the effects of upgrades/events/power cards is kept clean and minimal. You don't want players to constantly have to keep referring to the rulebook to arbitrate weird situations, or worse, to hit upon a situation you never experienced in playtesting, and to cook up their own ruling.

In that sense, I think fiddly elements can be justified in a game but fiddliness almost always begets further fiddliness, so the judicious designer will be conserative with introducing these kinds of elements.

-Jeff

Triktrak
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
[TiGD] "Fiddly-ness": Definition and design consid

I think your original (and the subsequent )definition(s) of fiddlyness in game terms are excellent so I won't try to top them.

I find fiddlyness to be most present in simulation type games.

Non-fiddlyness is what attracted me to German style games in the first place. Of course, there is still some of it present sometimes in many games, which is alright by me unless it gets out of hand. And out of hand seems totally dependant on the player. I have some friends who like playing the old 1980's style hex war games with a dozen or so charts to look up and crossreference numbers. They probably also love doing their own income tax.

Triktrak

Zzzzz
Zzzzz's picture
Offline
Joined: 06/20/2008
[TiGD] "Fiddly-ness": Definition and design consid

I agree with everything that has been stated so far... so to add my two cents:

Fiddly, the result of ones attempt (maybe successul, maybe not) to alter a game in hopes to force/fix a desired outcome, but implemented in such a way that it does not flow with the originally designed mechanics (or theme for that matter).

I think that many designers can get to a point where a game is almost perfrect, but then that one, that one (ok not just one) dumb stupid fault in the game rears its ugly head. What is a designer to do? Well we would think the best idea would be to rework the change in such a way as to preserve the mechanic in question. And to preserve a good design...

But at this point, I think some designers cave into patching the problem. Thus producing a fiddly mechanic to solve the problem, instead of investigating the issue on a larger scale.

Sometimes these quick patch changes works well and stays within realistic bounds of a real fix, but then some just make you wonder what the HECK was the designer thinking about when they decided that such a change was a good change.

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut