Sunday, 17 February 2013

Simplicity within depth

After countless hours of pondering on the subject, materializing ideas to test them out, scrapping those same ideas and losing sleep over trying to find a solution, I have come to a realization: great strategy board games all have one thing in common.  Their designers were able to achieve simplicity within depth.  

                Anyone can think up a complex game where many elements interact and make for deep strategizing. The real challenge in designing a strategy game is creating that same depth of strategy while keeping the game mechanics simple enough as to not break the momentum or make players lose interest in the main goal of the game.

                With such a design, the effort required by the player to ‘’use’’ the game is greatly diminished. The game takes care of all the tedious details and provides (effortlessly) the critical information required for strategic thinking. I feel that few game designs achieve this, not because their game designers didn’t care about this concept but because it’s a difficult thing to achieve.

                For example, in one of my designs I try to recreate the world fisheries market. Players all own a fishing company, they trade stocks of their company with other players, resource (fish) scarcity plays a big role and market prices and world consumption of each fish type vary as the game goes on. When I came up with this idea I was ecstatic. I thought this was my best idea yet. This game design simulates ‘’offer and demand’’, how financial capitalism causes overfishing and even corporate sabotage. There were many ways to become the richest player and many things to consider at all times.  This game was, on paper, my most ambitious and promising project yet.

                But once I finally built/gathered all the prototype pieces, sat down and tested this for the first time, it hit me like a brick in the face… There is way too much counting, the handling of the game parts is too tedious and both of these factors make the strategizing feel fragmented and the game feel like a chore.

                So I tried modifying rules, making the numbers smaller so they are easier to count, even scrapping whole game mechanics but I was never able to simplify the game play enough without seriously compromising the depth of strategy.

                And so I am left humbled by the genius of great game designers who are able to achieve simplicity within depth. But I’m not about to throw in the towel just yet! Maybe my fisheries game will not be the game with which I can achieve a simple and deep design but I can assure you that the day will come when I do.

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