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Are sandbox games easier to design?

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

I checked a video review of "western legends" and I have seen very few games like that as board games. Apparently they are called sandbox games and they are close to certain experiences I had in video games. I like the idea because it allows players to do sub-optimal actions to express their creativity.

Now, I was wondering if those games were actually easier to design. It feels like a game design that you could start with little things, then gradually add stuff to the game as the ideas comes in until you reach saturation.

Which is very diferent from other game which feels like trying to assemple a puzzle in your mind and place all the pieces at once on the board, then start over if it does not work.

I think I have a few game ideas in my list that could fit for a sandbox game. I stopped the design because the battles were too long and because there was too much data to record. But maybe it's because I approached the design the wrong way.

Maybe I could just have a pawn move around the map. Then add features and complexity as the game progress until it reach a point where adding more would be unplayable.

For victory condition, the only option seems to have many various ways to score points and reach a score limit to win (like western legends). Or play X turns and the most points wins.

I am trying to find what could make sandbox games easier to design. Or if it's just an illusion.

One thing that comes to my mind if the splitting a resources. A game with a limited set of action will split the user resources among those actions. Adding actions will dilute the invested resources between the actions. But in a sandbox game, it does not matter, because you do not have to make all actions in the first place. It depends of you goals.

Jay103's picture
Joined: 01/23/2018
Harder, I think, to make a

Harder, I think, to make a good one. Easier to make a game that you can't immediately tell is good or bad. I.e. "looks good on paper".

In particular, you need to balance all the different paths to success fairly well, because if there's one obvious choice, then the rest of the "sandbox" is just a complete waste.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Yes balance is an issue if

Yes balance is an issue if it's a multiplayer. As a solo, the player might take the uneasy path for the fun of it.

I gave some thought about solo sandboxing and I think it could be a good solution to make sure the game does not feel like a puzzle.

Because in games where there is a treath to defeat, you try to find the optimal path to success. Which ask for viewing the game from a mechanical point of view instead of thematic.

But if you have no time limit and want to experiment new stuff, try to make achievements or some harder vicotry path.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Another thing I just

Another thing I just realised, which could be the reason why I did not use this route is the amount of rules.

Sandbox games which offer a lot of action will require a lot of rules. Making it harder to learn and to maintain those rules.

Sure, the player does not have the learn everything at the start of the game. He could just learn some basics and then learn the missing rules for the actions he makes.

Of course, as a video game, the computer hide those rules from the player making it less overwhelming.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Design difficulty

The difficulty for balance: Multi player > co-op > solo.

Sure a solo player might find the most optimal path to victory. But as designer you can counter every optimal path with a counter solution. If the designer fails, the player wins.

With co-op you get the same idea. But you might also have to deal more with synergy then before.

Multi player asks the game to have good practical balance. Or else players might find it unfair. There is always a losing party. And losing by unfairness is bitter.


A sandbox game means that as much limits as possible are removed. And if there are limits to the player. The designer might add in tools to remove these limits as well.

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