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Downsizing and Keeping it Simple

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Joined: 12/31/1969

I found on the web this website that has some quite good articles on game desgin.

In particular there is an article from James Ernst (Cheapass games):

There is another article on a war game designer on cutting down on rules:

I find the articles very interesting because I see the tendency when designing games to err on the side of too much instead of too little. I think there are a lot of successful board games out there that could even be streamlined and still be just as good (an example is Formula De Mini).

I think James Ernst is correct when he says:

In any case, you shouldn't include anything unnecessary, if you really want your game to work.

Especially with an emphasis these days of designing "German games", it is even more vitally important on learning how to get a game to its bare, functional essentials.

An emphasis on efficiency and parsimony, I believe, can lead to game designs that are simple, elegant and playable.

What do you guys think of the articles?


Joined: 08/03/2008
Downsizing and Keeping it Simple

Thanks for posting these. I didn't read the first yet, but I liked the second article. Even though it was about wargames primarily, the concepts are the same. His approach seems to mirror my own. While some people are able to start small and add mechanics piecemeal, I just can't -- I start with a game that includes everything I could think of that goes with the theme, then I start hacking. I think this is a good approach because it ensures you aren't trying to finagle in something that you feel is an important simulation element into an already-pretty-well-finished design. On the other hand, it can lead to the opposite problem of going to heroic lengths to preserve a not-that-good mechanic, even if doing so means adding other not-that-good mechanics.

What I particularly liked was his example of the Formula racing game -- start with a list of "core game elements" and build the game around that. That's basically how my process would work in an ideal world. Of course I can't be that economical, but I think that's really what every game has to boil down to at the point that it's "done" -- a set of three to five "links" between your theme and mechanics, that also form the backbone of the interesting decisions the players are going to face.

In fact, something like that was going to be my advice to the poster who was looking for advice about his "politics" game. My response was going to be to narrow down to a small subset of that broad idea, to identify what the game is actually going to be "about."

I like the Game Design Showdown excercise, and I think an equally useful excercise for designers could be to take a theme and write down three or four theme-mechanic links that show what aspects of the theme the mechanics will "simulate". (This is, in essence, what the GDS is, but I think the process I'm envisioning would be more concrete). When I'm starting a new project, I always look at the other games out there in the same theme/genre, and try to make sure my links explore a different "angle" than other games out there.

Definitely a nice article, thanks for putting it up there!



In my experience, the over-engineering of their game is one of the biggest mistakes inventors make. We have had games submitted for review with 75 pages worth of rules, a 48" x 48" game board, in a Christmas Tree Sized box, with 5000 pieces, etc. Bigger is not better!

And, as Pablo Picasso once said:

"Art is the elimination of the unnecessary."

Joined: 12/31/1969
another link

There's a long discussion from Kory Heath's website, "Elegance And Game Design", which analyses the elegance of the classics (chess/go/etc.)


Joined: 12/31/1969
Downsizing and Keeping it Simple


Thanks for the link. I'm looking at it now, and it is a very interesting discussion. Kory's last post is a great one. He goes into more detail on defining elegance, flaws and so on.

To quote:

a rule is "fiddly" (inelegant) when it explicitly dictates or enforces some desired high-level behavior, instead of functioning at the low-level in such a way that the desired behavior emerges naturally.

I think this is right on. When we try to force our design to be a certain way instead of allowing the design to emerge from a simple set of rules that meets our needs, we tend to make things more complicated and create extra rules and exceptions (more inelegant).

Very neat. A lot of food for thought and useful in providing ideas on how to develop an eye towards elegance in one's designs.

I really think it could be benefical to all of us as designers to go ahead and examine our rules to see if they could be more elegant. This would be a great practice to get in the habit of doing.

Not only examing a game afterward, but while we are doing a design as well. If we find ourselves lumping rules upon rules in order to fix something, it is a good idea to step back and see if there is not a better more elegant way of achieving our goal.


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