# I am tired of simplifying things

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larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008

I have recently realized that approximately in 90% of my game design (I made up the stat) consist in taking something big and making it smaller. You probably have done some fractions in math where when you end up with an expression like "4/16 + 6/8" and know that it can be simplified as "1/4+3/4". It seems that when game designing, I am almost doing this all day.

Since many of my game ideas comes from board game like video games, it is somewhat normal that the original idea has more information and calculation that needs to be simplified to be played as a board game.

But now I have reached a point that since I am naturally simplifying everything, I am wondering if I am not in fact removing fun aspect from the game and making the game more bland. I have 3 examples I want to explain.

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Example A:

In arkham horror, each investigator has a certain amount of money he can spend on spell and items through the game. I have a similar game design idea but I did not want to add play money to the game in order to reduce the amount of components.

So by thinking about it (from an high level of view), money restrict the access to certain elements of the game to some player either by quality or quantity.

An idea I had to simulate the same effect was that each player had a wealth level. And that level indicated the place you could access, the items you could buy, etc. Extra money received by a character would have been distributed on a 1 time use card which would have a wealth level on it giving you access to that amount of wealth when spent.

So it somewhat do the same thing, but it removes the need to the player to manage their money so that they can think about more important things.

But what if managing the amount of money you had was actually one of the fun part of the game that made the game more immersive? Would removing it make the game less fun?

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Example B

I am currently playing an old Xbox video game called "Shattered Union". It consist of beign a war game where you have multiple kind of units that moves on an hex grid. In a battle, you can have around 30 units to manage + planes.

Last night I had this situation where I wanted to conquer a city, so I decided to split up my force and attack the city on 2 different flanks. This is my "Strategical decision" in the game.

Of course, the 2 groups of units you are going to use needs to be made of equal forces and capabilities in case they get ambushed. For example, you want each group to have the same average strength and some anti-air interception units. To do so, you must move every unit on the hex grid so that in the end, you end up with 2 equal strength group. This is the "Logistical decisions" of the game.

Now at the beginning, it might be fun to do all these moves, but after some time, it can be boring. It end up that the city was empty and I needed to move my troops forward to next next city. Suspecting it was empty, I decided to send scouts to capture the next city and it was indeed empty. So it remove the need to move every unit and made the battle end faster.

Now one way to simplify this is to remove most of the logistical movements out of it. I thought of using a larger hex map where you place 1 pawns that each represents a group of units. The group of unit is actually made of a stack of face down cards where each card is a unit. So in the example, above, I could have 2 pawns of equally distributed forces that moves to capture the city. Strategically, it would be the same.

The advantages of this mechanic is that it is easier to remember which of the 2 pawns you have moved rather than which of the 30 units you have move. Second, by placing the unit cards face down, I get some sort of fog of war which could never reproduced with the other system.

But the problem is that maybe removing this logistical part of the game makes it less interesting. Maybe the fun of the game is actually to do all these logistical maneuvers. So if I simplify this, I need to add a lot more to the game else the game will feel empty.

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Example C:

Imagine a civilization game. By playing the video game I realized that most of the time, you ended up with a defense force in every city and you build up some mobile armies to attack or strengthen certain areas.

First I removed the need to manage units types across the board because I considered that you had officers under you command that would make sure that your cavalry or your tanks would be present in all the cities over the world.

Second I removed the city defense force since all players would protect their cities, I would assume again that officers under your command make sure that all your cities are well protected. So there is no need to mark them, all cities comes with a defense force.

So I end up with a game where on the map, there is only city tokens and a few pawns indicating the location of the mobile armies. Nothing more.

The problem is that there is now so few components on the board that it actually hard of thinking about special abilities, given for example by technologies, that would actually influence these components.

The only advantage of this is that I can allow players to manage much more other things, like trading, diplomacy and espionage since they have less thinking to do about military mobility.

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So it always end like this: Simplify. And it feels like every time I am simplifying, which sometimes has very good reasons, I am removing something important or something fun.

So I was wondering if the simplification syndrome was actually something that you experienced as much as I do?

Traz
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Joined: 04/06/2009
Simple Simon

Yeah, I feel that way too sometimes. Coming from a board wargame background I am very familiar with the dilemma. Because in that field, there are certain games where the designers go in the OPPOSITE direction and actually ADD stuff to the game to the point where it is virtually unplayable [except to die-hard 'purists' who want levels of detail that daunt all except the die-hard].

The point is, there is a market for just about everything. The simpler the mechanics and 'fiddliness', the more mass market appeal. The more complexity you keep in, the narrower your customer base. But never think that complexity will keep people from playing a game. It might keep it from becoming POPULAR - that is, it might be the difference between a print run of 1,000 and a print fun of 25,000.

If you want to gauge the public response, take your full blown prototype to one game Con, then take the 'simplified' version to another. The public response will tell you which is more viable.

You might even have TWO games in there somewhere! :-)

ReneWiersma
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Joined: 08/08/2008
I think that weeding out the

I think that weeding out the unneeded and unfun stuff, while keeping the fun stuff and streamlining that is what game design is all about.

I understand the dillemma though. Sometimes you have this cool, fun mechanic, but you feel it is extraneous to the game. By streamlining the game you would have to remove this cool aspect, but then game as a whole seems less fun. Should you add it back in? Maybe, but perhaps this points at a deeper underlying problem with the game, that you are covering by adding layers of mechanics.

ilta
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Joined: 12/05/2008
solutions

A) Playtest and evaluate
B) Playtest and evaluate
C) Playtest and evaluate

It's impossible to say whether the simplified games you just described are better or worse than their previous, more complicated incarnations. Simple does not always mean better if, as you say, the game loses its "fun." Poker, which is fundamentally a game of chance and bluffing, could be streamlined by making it a single hidden die roll. But it wouldn't be any fun.

Off the top of my head, I would speculate that (C) -- automatic city defense units -- might be worth the cost, but the others would remove too much of the central gameplay. But I can't really know that without playtesting the games, and nor can you.

The only sure way to determine whether a simplification is needed/warranted without seeing the game as a whole is, as others have pointed out, to make two versions and test them. You could also make one version and ask players if they felt it was too complicated or not complicated enough.

As for (B), you should check out Napoleon's Triumph and Bonaparte at Marengo, which are tactical games using those little wooden army sticks. The armies have strength values, which are kept facing away from the opponent until they are involved in combat, and units often move and fight in corps, each commanded by a particular historical officer. The cool thing about the system is that it gives you a diceless wargame.

Redcap
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Joined: 07/26/2008
I have two different types of

I have two different types of games I make.

1st- Games I like and hope to be published.

2nd- Game I like and don't care one way or the other if they ever get published.

The 1st category I try to keep my games simple and small in number of components.

The 2nd I design for me. I still cut useless or boring things but generally if I want it in the game it is in the game. An example is I have a dungeon crawl game right now and I wanted a lot of items. So what I did was created 3 of the same kind of item, but made one excellent quality, one okay quality, and one bad quality. If I wanted to publish I probablly would just have one out of the three but I don't care because I am making the game for myself.

Now if this game has potential, then I will start to shave off some more but for right now it is going to be as big as I want :)

simons
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Joined: 12/28/2008
Game design = maximizing fun

First off, I'd just like to say that switching from a video game to a board game is like switching from a book to a movie. They are not the same formats, and if you try to preserve everything, it will inevitably not be as good. However, this is not to say that one media is better overall, just for certain elements (people always say "the book is always better," although if someone tried to write a book of Hero, or maybe The Matrix, I feel like it would lose something).

Here is how I look at it: designing a game basically is about maximizing fun. Simplification is a means to that, but is not what you are trying to achieve.

For example, a few months ago I was playing D&D with friends, and every battle seemed to take an hour, because we were constantly needing to look up rules and make long series of dice rolls. This was not fun. However, if the DM had simply run a simulation on his computer and said, "Do you want to fight the trolls? Yes? Okay... (click, click) you each take 18 points of damage and burn off four 3rd level spells..." that wouldn't have been fun either. There really needs to be something in between. My roommate one time described his goal when creating a wargame as "getting 90% of the bang for 10% of the buck," that sometimes it is worth it to cut a slightly interesting element to halve your number of dice rolls.

But yeah, I guess my point is if a complex element is fun, and simplifying it would make it less fun, then why get rid of it?

I guess in your Arkham Horror game, here is my thought: You said that money is not a major theme. How minor is it? If you did play with money, do your players feel like it is an interesting part of the game, or a distraction from the real game?

Dirg
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Joined: 07/15/2009
ilta wrote:A) As for (B), you

ilta wrote:
A)
As for (B), you should check out Napoleon's Triumph and Bonaparte at Marengo, which are tactical games using those little wooden army sticks. The armies have strength values, which are kept facing away from the opponent until they are involved in combat, and units often move and fight in corps, each commanded by a particular historical officer. The cool thing about the system is that it gives you a diceless wargame.

To me knowing army A will beat army B before i even try ruins things totally. How does such a system prevent me from knowing what those values are after the first battle with that unit for the rest of our game?
From where I sit it appears more of a game of bluffing on a war theme than a true wargame but obviously I don't know all the rules.

In Arkham Horror money can be pretty vital and the game doesn't really warrant so much focus per player than tracking yours is a burden. In a more complex game requiring players to stay sharp throughout and not just checkout when its not their turn I can see using something like a wealth score that limits the possessions you carry.

Where I sit its all about impact. If all cities have the exact same defense where is my flexibility? In your example what if I have a sudden need for a second army? I would pull my defense forces together to create this army normally and risk my cities if the need warranted it. You have removed that option with your rule. How does it impact your game? If the impact is minimal in a less than 10% of the time type deal then go with it otherwise its probably bad or needs modified.

metzgerism
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Joined: 06/19/2009
Videogames should not be the example

"First off, I'd just like to say that switching from a video game to a board game is like switching from a book to a movie. They are not the same formats, and if you try to preserve everything, it will inevitably not be as good. However, this is not to say that one media is better overall, just for certain elements (people always say "the book is always better," although if someone tried to write a book of Hero, or maybe The Matrix, I feel like it would lose something)."

I think that's a very good quote, and I want to expand on it here:

I play board games for the social-competitive element involved. I play video games (not so much anymore) for the "beat the computer" storytelling element. My friend and I are not going to bust out Tecmo Super Bowl at our favorite resturant, but a pack of cards always hits the table.

A lot of modern-era video games also employ a degree of micro-management, mixed with action. In board game terms, this could be the equivalent of mixing Dungeons and Dragons with Crokinole. Trying to replicate Starcraft or Halo into a box instead of a disc can be done, but you're kinda pushing towards a niche market here. This is not to say that every video game concept cannot be used as a board game...just that starting with the newer technology can tend to move you away from the intended goal.

Recognize that the battle elements of a lot of videogames have complex math involved - complex enough that replicating it would bore your playtesters. Play some Paper Mario and notice the numbers involved there. Richard Garfield, in his wisdom, did not over-math Magic: the Gathering, and most values remain in the single digits in that game.

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This could be simplified better with this blunt statement: CUT THE CRAP.

If you have a GOOD and COMPLEX and FUN game mechanic, there's no reason why you shouldn't keep it complex.
If you have a LAME and UNNECESSARY and WORDY element, scrap it.

"You're making a game, not a simulation." <---This motto of mine is why above I said Tecmo Super Bowl and not Madden.

simpson
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Joined: 10/22/2008
Quote:"You're making a game,

Quote:
"You're making a game, not a simulation." <---This motto of mine is why above I said Tecmo Super Bowl and not Madden.

Great motto and I completely agree (tecmo bowl 49ers rock!). Unfortunately, one is a retro age game and the other is a multi-billion dollar game franchise.

simpson

Lucas.Castro
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Joined: 10/22/2008
Some Thoughts on Complexity VS. Simplification

I have two general thoughts to add when it comes to complexity versus simplification (which is something I've wrestled with constantly as well):

1. Remove anything that can be remotely considered a chore from the game. This applies as much in board games as in video games. For instance, most computer RPGs do not require that players constantly eat, sleep, and make frequent trips to the washroom (to say nothing of bathing and other hygiene-related activities). These activities would be great for a life simulation, but add no entertainment value to a game about heroics and adventure.

As another example, I have been playing (on-and-off) the game Fallout 3 recently. As a designer, one of the minor details that I noticed about the game is how any container that is empty says "[EMPTY]" when you mouse over it, without having to open it to find out. This is a minor touch that removes a great deal of annoyance from the game (because in a game with such limited resources, you WILL go through every little container to get what you can).

That being said, you must determine what the appropriate level of realism is for your game based primarily on the genre and its target audience. To quote one of my favourite design books,

Quote:
Every design decision you make must serve the entertainment value of the game... [as well as] your goals for the overall degree of realism. Some genres demand more realism than others.
Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design.

2. Keep in mind that every single game contains some degree of abstraction (as opposed to realism), especially board games. However, this fact does not mean that the degree of realism must be even throughout the game. Instead, I would add realism to the most important parts of your game, and simplify the parts that are not the focus.

For instance, my current project (also my pet-project for several years now) is a board-based wargame. I have gone through a number of complete redesigns of the system --- and as a side note, one of my tenets of design is "Don't marry your design," meaning that you are better off starting from scratch with a better system then trying to make a bad system work.

Anyhow, back on topic, in earlier versions of the game system I felt the need to add a random factor to combat, much like games such as Warhammer, Battlelore, and Warmachine have dice. In my case, I was using cards; each player started with five "booster cards" that could add to either their attack attribute, or they defence attribute (and they were played face-down and revealed simultaneously). If your attack was just enough to kill a unit, you might feel compelled to play a high booster card to ensure that even if your opponent did the same, you killed your target. But your opponent might decide that this unit was expendable and play the decoy booster card instead (all other booster cards are discarded after use, but the decoy adds nothing to the combat). So now you just wasted a good booster card when you did not need it.

It was an interesting mechanic, but in recent versions of the system I have come to a realization: my game is not about combat-resolution! Instead, it is about tactical maneuvering and strategic adaptability. So in the current version combat resolution is this simple:

• Compare the attacker's AT value to the target's DE value (plus armour).
• Factor in any special abilities.
• The defender may, once per game, permanently expend some or all his/her armour to reduce the damage of this action.

That's it. So other than this once per game factor, you know the EXACT result of a combat before it starts. And reading that last sentence might make the process sound boring, but in the entire game system it works BEAUTIFULLY! Combat resolution is quick and easy; special abilities play diverse and interesting roles in the game (not just in combat). Most importantly, the game has really become about positioning and timing of your actions.

In other words, the game is now more how I want it to be, more fun (because out of context, dice-rolling is not exactly a blast), quicker, and simpler. Now, if I tried to simplify the action-selection process, the game would suffer irreparably.

_______________________

In short, I recommend that you keep a healthy degree of complexity in the key, focus parts of your games, while simplifing the supporting parts of the game as much a possible.

simpson
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Joined: 10/22/2008
Simplicity is crap. People

Simplicity is crap. People commonly mistake simplicity with elegance. Elegance appears to be simple because the focus is how well it executes not the dependent systems that lead up to the execution.

Elegance is vitality shown with few strokes.

Its Da Vinci drawing a perfect circle. He used a proportioned square then drew the circle within its edges. He created a dependent system to create an elegant solution.

Its the human body. An extremely efficient organic model. But underneath its surface its the sum of its elemental parts. Its a host of dependent biological systems adapting to an elegant survival solution.

If the game system looks like it needs a complex or abstract rule, then it probably needs it. Just try to show it in as few strokes as possible.

simpson

Lucas.Castro
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Joined: 10/22/2008
Elegance and Execution in Game Systems

simpson wrote:
People commonly mistake simplicity with elegance. Elegance appears to be simple because the focus is how well it executes not the dependent systems that lead up to the execution.

One problem here is that, as far as board games are concerned, the dependent systems are very much on display and are part of the execution. So if the dependent systems are complex and unpleasant, the whole game will suffer.

Also, this theory seems to suggest that one should have complex dependent systems, but elegance where the focus of the game is concerned. I would disagree with such a suggestion, because I believe that a player's focus will gravitate toward the complex parts of the system, because pay close attention to complex parts to be able to understand them.

For instance, I re-read your second sentence above (from my quote) three times: the second to understand it (because I did not at first), and the third to confirm that I had taken the right meaning from it. This is a far more complex sentence than the first, in part because there is no clear subject to which the word it refers to (either that or you are saying that elegance executes, which I am not sure makes any sense).

If indeed a person's focus gravitates toward complexity, then making the dependent systems the most complex part of the whole will make them the focus.

However, I do agree that final judgement of the game will come from execution rather than individual parts of the system. If the whole game executes elegantly, then the game will feel smooth and will appear to have reached the right degree of complexity. Pace and focus can be keys here; if the game drags during what is merely a function of the system, then players will get bored regardless of how good the remaining parts are.

For instance, if your game includes a high volume of dice rolls, and players must constantly analyse those rolls and categorise them accordingly, then players will focus on this part of the system (negatively so in this case, because it drags down the pace).

simpson wrote:
If the game system looks like it needs a complex or abstract rule, then it probably needs it. Just try to show it in as few strokes as possible.

I think that is precisely the power of smooth execution. If you create a complex rule in such a way that it spoils the execution of the entire game, then simplification of that rule is completely irrelevant (and probably harmful to the overall entertainment value of the game).

simpson
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Joined: 10/22/2008
Quote:this theory seems to

Quote:
this theory seems to suggest that one should have complex dependent systems

I hope to clarify here:
Dependent systems are suggested. Each system need not be complex individually. The complexity should come from the systems interacting with each other.

Complexity isn't bad. Its often warranted for game decisions. Take chess for example:

- Very few mechanics (the player has a move/attack verb)
- Very few rules from the mechanics (each piece is limited in its movement/attack)
- Vast amounts of complexity because the player has options open to them by the systems.

If a designer was to simplify a system in and of itself, then the design itself can suffer for it. A designer needs to take into consideration how changing one system simply will impact the complexity of its dependent systems.

Quote:
If indeed a person's focus gravitates toward complexity, then making the dependent systems the most complex part of the whole will make them the focus.

Every system in a game should be dependent. If a design has an isolated system that does not interact with others, then it is not needed.

simpson

Lucas.Castro
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Joined: 10/22/2008
Emergent Design

I think I just misunderstood what you meant by dependent system. This clarification makes a lot of sense.

simpson wrote:
Dependent systems are suggested. Each system need not be complex individually. The complexity should come from the systems interacting with each other.

To me, this kind of emergent design (where complex possibilities emerge from simple rules and mechanics) is the holy grail of game design. Chess is the perfect example: there are a great deal of books discussing how to play the game, but the rules could easily fit in one page. That is stunning elegance.

simpson wrote:
If a designer was to simplify a system in and of itself, then the design itself can suffer for it. A designer needs to take into consideration how changing one system simply will impact the complexity of its dependent systems.

I fully agree with this point as well; changing one part of the system can have a greater impact on the system as a whole than the designer expected. I quite enjoy thinking about such relationships and consequences, personally.

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Does "focus = time"

Quote:
For instance, if your game includes a high volume of dice rolls, and players must constantly analyse those rolls and categorise them accordingly, then players will focus on this part of the system (negatively so in this case, because it drags down the pace).

Could you evaluate the focus of a game as the amount of time spent on a certain task of the game. Task which could be anything from mechanical task (move components) to intellectual task (calculate things).

If this is the case, you could technically try to calculate how much time was spent on every aspect of the game through the game ( a bit hard to calculate precisely), take the highest ones and determine if I actually want players to spend most of their time on these activities.

That could be some sort of way to define where is the focus of your game. I suddenly like the idea of "focus" like when taking a picture. Because when you adjust the focus, some parts of the picture are clear and some part are blurry. So you want the clear parts to be interesting and the blurry parts just to be there.

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