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[TiGD] Keep it simple

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Zzzzz's picture
Joined: 06/20/2008

For most game designers it is no suprise that at some point during their game design the game just becomes bogged down with being overly complex, being cluttered with rules, containing to many components and/or containing to many mechanics.

I am sure there are rare cases in which all the right things fall into place for a few designers, for a very few games. But I guess this is what I would like for us to disuss. How can we as game designers, Keep it Simple?

Keeping it simple does not mean tossing out the new and original ideas, this is required to keep the board game industry evolving. But do we tend to go overboard with wanting our designs to be so *different* from other games that we add in (or force in) other elements that cripple simplicty in our games?

What can we do as designers to keep our designs simple, yet unique and fun?

While we are designing a game, what are some ways to identify when our game is getting out of hand?

Is is possible to create a guidline that will help keep your game simple? Or is this just a personal choice, a personal feeling?

While we discuss this topic, we should also include some sample games to examine for being simple and being overboard. So what makes a game like Ticket to Ride so simple, clean and fun?

And is there a good example of a published game that is overly complicated and that would benefit from the removal of some elements of the game?

Joined: 04/21/2009
[TiGD] Keep it simple

"How can we as game designers, Keep it Simple?"

I think the biggest factor that determines the complexity/simplicity of a game is its degree of realism and detail. The more details included (ostensibly, to produce greater realism), the more complex. The less details, the simpler.

Gamebot's picture
Joined: 07/30/2008
[TiGD] Keep it simple

Re-Evaluate Old Rules

This is something that has helped my designs a lot. As your game goes through its various iterations, some mechanics and rules might no longer be neccessary or worth keeping. It is important that you can justify the inclusion of any rule you have in a game. The less rules you have, the cleaner your game.

For example, in one of my games, I had a limit (3) on the number of missions that could be active at a time. At the time, it prevented players from flooding the game with too many missions, and kept them focused on finishing the ones they had. Many versions and rule changes later, I discovered that that limit was unneeded. I took it out and everything worked out just fine. Some of the newer rules (by coincidence) encouraged player to focus on the missions at hand. I ended up taking out that old rule and the game plays just as well, and the rulebook has now one less line in it.

Something similar was done with the 3rd edition rules to Carcassonne. They removed the rule about the two-tiled cities being only worth 2 points. It was an exception that they later determined was unneeded.

Joined: 12/31/1969
[TiGD] Keep it simple

Knizia's designs are always simple and he is perhaps the example of attempting to keep it simple.

I like most of his stuff, but I don't always see good replay in it. I think it is personal to each the level of complexity involved, but, yeah, it does get bogged down sometimes.

Joined: 01/04/2009
[TiGD] Keep it simple

Here is an interesting subject I was thinking about recently. I think the distinction should be drawn between rules which are hard to learn, and rules which are hard to remember.

The evolution of the two rules is (in my opinion) entirely different. Hard to learn rules are often mechanics which, once memorized, make a good deal of intrinsic sense, but the explantation is extremely difficult (nearly all games have one or two of these rules). As mechanics, they go hand-in-hand with the game itself. But rulebooks are often boring to read, which is why it is still good practice to keep them to a minimum.

Worse is hard to remember rules, which are what wargames are notorious for. These are rules which normally take seconds to read, but are merely there as a fixer and don't really go with the intuitive flow of the game. These are fine, if there aren't too many, but I would say that these are the rules a game maker really needs to look out for.

If you do have a horde of confusing rules, many games have little quicksheets, great for smooth gameplay.

Johan's picture
Joined: 10/05/2008
[TiGD] Keep it simple


There are several ways to simplify a design:
- Remove everything that is not vital for the game. Nice to have things can be added in an expansion. Always have a list of possible ideas that you can put those ideas on, so you can remove those from your brain, knowing that you will take care of them later (normally you will never do that, but it will help you to focus on the important job).
- Make a graphic description of the game. Draw the game board, the different counters, cards or whatever you are including. Try to play the game in your mind and then try to explain the game (for your self or for a friend). You will quickly see if something is wrong, does not fit with the other parts.
- Make an extra check of all components and ask your self these questions:
-- Is the component needed?
-- Can it be made in a different way?
-- Is this component in line with the other components?
- Do the same for each mechanism.

You are designing the game for someone that shall play the game. A simple game can be considered as difficult and complex just because of the components not fit together and/or are not intuitive.
If a game is to complex for the players, try to redesign the components (another graphic or another presentation). A good overview of a game can make a game less complex.
If needed, add help sheets. During a normal game, the player shall not have to look into the rules.

// Johan

p.s. I don’t think that mr. Kniza style is a good model on how games should be made (I think he has done 2 games that are worth playing. They are EaT and Kingdoms). Better examples on good simple design are Ticket to Ride and Carcassone. Both games are easy to explain, intuitive to play and expansions/variants are made directly on the same mechanism.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
[TiGD] Keep it simple

I see game rules like a math formula. The goal is to bring it to its most simplified form. You do neccesarily only need small formulas, you can use big formulas too, but at least it must be on it`s most simple form.

Unfortunately, there is no algebra for game rules, so you must you use your imagination, try new mechanics, change stuff and analyse the results.

[TiGD] Keep it simple

I think, the main part of keeping an game simple is that each oppenent has multiple options. Even better the hole game has multiple options.
In mine opinion the succes of games depends on how simple it is.
I have read something long time ago in an games magazine about computergames. There was a special group (from a producers) that was searching for non-scripted possibilities. I was always very intrested in this.
Like the sims you can do some weird stuff with them and I think that is what attracts people.

Also I think settlers from catan is an example (not my favourite) because you can do several things, without obvious rules or gamecomponents how convoy the options.

I think the con in settlers of catan is that this is not very depth.

You can try to put all your houses on sheep coutries and with a sheep harbor but its very rare that you will win this.

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