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Subject: How do you know if your game is too complex? rss

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Tyson Mertlich
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Hi,

So this is my first post on BGG, though I have been around for a while. I have a couple questions related to the project I am working on. I have spent the last 8 months working on a fantasy style game where the objective is to become the most famous hero in the land (loosely like the Disney movie Hercules). There are multiple ways to gain fame throughout the game including quests, area control, and resource development for starters.

I have created a rule book and it is currently at 11 pages. I do not think that I will be adding more rules or mechanics to the game (although test-plays may determine if that remains true) so I feel that it is conceptually solid for now. Because I have not added any graphics or play examples in the rule book (it's only text), I worry that I may be getting too complex. How do you know if your game is too complex?

Currently I am working on all of the individual cards (quests, monsters, and equipment) but that should be coming to a close soon. I am also wondering where to proceed from here. I would like to make a decent prototype, but I have a fair amount of custom components. Other than game crafter (because I do not think they can accommodate my board design or pieces fully), are there different options for creating prototypes?

The last question I have is how do you begin to feel comfortable sharing your design/rule books for other's to review without the fear of your ideas/game being taken by somebody else? I would like to have people review my rule book and board design at some point, but I am afraid of putting the digital files up for people to have for themselves. When you have a printed copy and board for other's to look at I feel more comfortable letting people check it out in person. Online, however, I feel that there may be more risk of theft. Thoughts?

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Tyson
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
How do you know if your game is too complex?


This maxim is often useful:

"When in doubt, leave it out."

Good Luck with your prototype.
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marc lecours
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I am from a wargame background, so 11 pages of text is OK for me. But I suspect most people would find that a lot. But it depends.

Some random thoughts:

1. Complexity depends on whether there are lots of new concepts or whether the game uses standard concepts. Novelty makes a game feel more complex to learn.

2. Complexity depends also on how compartmentalized the rules are. If page 4 is only about dragons and all the information about dragons are on page 4 (and nowhere else) then it isn't too complex.

3. Before you make a nice prototype, have other people play the game without you explaining the game. They get the rules (on paper) and an ugly prototype and have to figure it out. If you are observing, don't give any hints.

4. How long is the game? 11 pages of rules is too much for a 1 hour game. If the game takes more than 2 hours to play, you should consider simplifying the game.

5. Have most of the exceptions on cards (and counters) and not in the rule book.

6. Get rid of all the non essential parts of the game. Especially the fiddly rules.

Good luck with your game.

Get other people playing a really plain prototype as soon as possible. Don't worry about the looks of your components until many people have played the game. Publishers don't usually want your artwork, so don,t put your energy there unless you are self publishing.

People won't steal your ideas. There is not much money to be made in designing boardgames. It is a labor of love. And everyone has their own beloved ideas so they don't care about yours.



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Tyson Mertlich
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Thanks for the responses!

rubberchicken wrote:
I am from a wargame background, so 11 pages of text is OK for me. But I suspect most people would find that a lot. But it depends.


Yeah, I myself am not opposed to lengthy rule books, but I know that some people hate long rule books. I'll have to get some direct feedback on my rules as I'm sure this is probably a hard thing to answer.

rubberchicken wrote:

4. How long is the game? 11 pages of rules is too much for a 1 hour game. If the game takes more than 2 hours to play, you should consider simplifying the game.


The aim is to have it be around 90-120 mins. There are things to control for that like round limits, but I still have to see what the optimum end round is.

rubberchicken wrote:
Get other people playing a really plain prototype as soon as possible. Don't worry about the looks of your components until many people have played the game. Publishers don't usually want your artwork, so don,t put your energy there unless you are self publishing.

People won't steal your ideas. There is not much money to be made in designing boardgames. It is a labor of love. And everyone has their own beloved ideas so they don't care about yours.


Great advice, thanks! I think I have an outlet for getting a lot of different people to play it, but my only worry was that most people don't want to play a boring looking game. I have access to free 3D printing, so I think I am going to try to make some basic components that way, but as that takes time, I may have to settle for really basic.

When you put it that way, it makes it seem silly to think that somebody would take an idea. It's more the designs that I was concerned about, but that too is probably not that big of a concern.

Thanks,

Tyson
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Ron
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I usually judge complexity by how easy I can absorb the rules.

That means that a huge factor of complexity is made by the rulebook itself and not only by the rules.

A good index. Explained terminology. Key terms used homogeneous. Some graphics.
A good layout, intelligent paragraphs and clear words (probably with quick examples in a sidebar) can make complex rules a lot easier than a wall of text that uses complex sentences.

The complete ASL rulebook has 300 pages or even more, but everything can be found easily (more or less) and the terminology is simply great. I have games with only 30 pages of rules and threw them into a corner because the rules were so horribly written.

But 11 pages should be a piece of cake
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James Arias
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I think base level of acceptable complexity comes from your type of game and the expected audience (e.g. spectrum of wargame, RPG, heavy strategy, light strategy, fillers, family / party).

Outside of that, I don't find 11 pages bad, but besides length there's obtuseness.

I always like to read official rules, then see if Universal Head or other fan has made a summary/cheatsheet, and then from that I try to condense further. Your rules may already be in that condensed form.

edit: there's some good posts here on bad-rulebook-hate that you could look at to see how NOT to write your rules
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John "Omega" Williams
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One players "complex" is anothers "too simple".

Also some people will lump situational rules into the mix as if they were the totality of the game and then complain endlessly. Or even count things not rules as part of the rules.

But in the end. Write out what you think the game needs. Then sit back and ask yourself. "Do I really need this bit here? Can this rule be merged with another?" Or "would a single rule work better to cover all these situations?"

and so on.

If you find something that feels like it could be trimmed or merged then give that a try.
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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There is only one way to determine if your game is too complex. Playtesting!
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Jeff
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You know it's too complex if it don't make any sense man! Like if it says do this, then that, then something else, but people are already stuck between this and that! They can't even get to something else. What else anyway?! Who knows? It's too complex, and makes no sense.
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Chris Robbins
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Ditto the playtesting.

But I'm okay with complex. I can create player aids/cheat sheets if needed.

What's gotten me in my later years are a couple of wargames that get to a point where I have so many questions about what the rules actually mean that I can't possibly play them*. Yes, I've been all over the internet. The only answers I got have been, "I/We played it with no problem." This includes one DTP game team who brushed me off when it was current.

* Note: I understand and have played Advanced Squad Leader. Although I think they erased the Human Wave section in the 2nd edition, to be rewritten later.
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Tyson Mertlich
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Wow, thanks for all the responses. I really appreciate all the feedback. So what I am gathering is pretty much the only way to know if it's too complex is to have people try it and tell me. That and people's perception of complexity is different and so even that may not be the perfect indication. So I guess the next question then is what comes first; review of the rule book or play test it with people? If it's to get people to read the rule book, where do I find people willing to do that (is it the work in progress forum)?
 
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Reverend Uncle Bastard
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PKTyson wrote:
Wow, thanks for all the responses. I really appreciate all the feedback. So what I am gathering is pretty much the only way to know if it's too complex is to have people try it and tell me. That and people's perception of complexity is different and so even that may not be the perfect indication. So I guess the next question then is what comes first; review of the rule book or play test it with people? If it's to get people to read the rule book, where do I find people willing to do that (is it the work in progress forum)?


Definitely playtest before having people just "read" the rule book. Once you playtest the game there are inevitably going to be a ton of changes, so spending too much time refining rules/components etc. before you have started playtesting will pretty much be a waste of time. Start by playtesting the game with you teaching it to players (so the written rules don't need to be too refined yet). Once you have seen how well the game survives initial playtesting (and trust me no matter how well you think the game is designed you are going to have more changes to make than you expect), refine the game and playtest more until the game is a success at every playtest. Once you have reached that point, then it is time to refine your rulebook. At that point have a few experienced people help you edit it.

At that point you can start "blind playtesting" where you have players learn the rules just from the rulebook, without your help, and play the game. At this point the game itself should be refined almost to completion, but you may find the rules take several iterations before blind playtesters can actually learn and play the game properly just from the rulebook.

It sounds like a lot of work because it is! However, without these two stages of playtesting (and a lot of playtests in each stage), your game will not be very good. At this early stage in the game do not get too attached to any specific components and/or rules, there is still a lot that may change before you get to the final version.
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Mike Jones
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reverendunclebastard wrote:
There is only one way to determine if your game is too complex. Playtesting!


This is about what I was going to say. Design what you enjoy and play test it. Then listen to the feedback you get from your target audience when you get to the blind playtesting stage.
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Jake Blomquist
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As someone who's never designed a game but has played his fair share and has thought about this, I do want to reemphasize what many people have said, that different people have different expectations for what is 'too complex.' For my part, I love the more complex eurogames, but from what I've seen of ASL for example, it looks like too large an investment of time for me personally to learn. But then of course many people love it.

A good question to ask yourself is who is your target audience for this game. There is definitely a market for very complex games, but there is still the question of if your game has an interesting kind of complexity for the heavy game fans, if it is in fact on the more complex side of things. I'm sure this is hard for you given your proximity to the game, but could you compare it to anything else, complexitywise? Or if you want to get a feel for things on the higher end of the euro side of things, maybe look into Vital Lacerda games, or Arkwright. I think Vital Lacerda is the designer whose games I most see associated with complaints about 'complexity for complexity's sake' though there are also many (myself included) who quite like his games. And honestly, they're not really that complex. On the more simulationist side of things, I've heard good things about Phil Eklund, in particular High Frontier.

But yeah, definitely other people are right that the easiest way to get an answer is to do some playtesting, and the key is to find a variety of people with a variety of different perspectives. If everyone you show it to will only play say Ticket to Ride, then of course they'll say anything is too complex.

And as far as someone stealing your idea, I can't say for sure no one will try, but I can't imagine why they would. Board game designers, even the fairly successful ones, aren't known for their luxurious lifestyles filled with yachts and summers homes. Plus, it sounds like if someone stole the game, all they'd give themselves is the project of finishing someone else's design where all the most fun parts (coming up with the idea and playing around with different mechanics) are done, and they have to go through the less fun development and shopping it to publishers. A lot of work for probably not much money. And this theoretical person wouldn't even be attached to your game necessarily. Plus there is the fact that (at least in my experience) the majority of people in this hobby are very friendly.

And for what it's worth you've got me interested in your game. In fact I'd love to have a chance to read the rulebook whenever you feel comfortable doing that. I agree with the previous poster that it seems too early to start testing/editing the rulebook, you want the mechanics to be set first. But I'm just curious because I like reading rulebooks and it might make it possible to get a better feel for the complexity and if it would be the kind of thing a modern more complex eurogame fan (me) would like.

Anyway, best of luck with the game, and hopefully more of this wasn't nonsense than was.
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Is that 11 pages of unfiltered thoughts, or 11 pages of distilled ideas? It could be that if it is the former, you may in fact have a rather simpler game on your hands than you thought. If it's the latter, then you might want to consider simplifying it depending on your intended demographic.
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wayne mathias
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I found that putting my rules in both a condensed and an "uncondensed" version helped. (equates to rules and a players aid)

There is no hard and fast rule for how complex a game should be - I cackled with glee when the original Chivalry and Sorcery came out in 1977 (and dove into the rulebook finally surfacing a week later ready to prepare a character and play).

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Tyson Mertlich
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jblomquist wrote:
A good question to ask yourself is who is your target audience for this game.


Good point. I am hoping for the game to be on medium to light medium weight range. I think that for the most part I can achieve that. While I do enjoy an occasional heavy game, I think that the average gamer (perhaps I'm mistaken) is more likely to play in the medium range.

jblomquist wrote:
But yeah, definitely other people are right that the easiest way to get an answer is to do some playtesting, and the key is to find a variety of people with a variety of different perspectives. If everyone you show it to will only play say Ticket to Ride, then of course they'll say anything is too complex.


I am working now to get a PnP copy working, I still have a little ways to go for that and I am realizing (from what everybody is saying) that I'll have to do a lot of play testing before I can do any blind play tests. I don't have a problem doing this, my only concern is getting that "variety of people" locally as most people I know would rather play a completed game than play test a game.

jblomquist wrote:
And for what it's worth you've got me interested in your game. In fact I'd love to have a chance to read the rulebook whenever you feel comfortable doing that.


Thanks! That's really encouraging. Judging from what you said, I worry that it may not be as complex as you may be expecting though. However, if you wanted to take a look at what I have I would be happy to let you. You're right, there is a lot more to do on my end before it's really ready for a full evaluation of the rule book. I think if somebody (yourself included) were to take a look at what I had I would really just want to know if it makes sense and you can get a feel for what the game is supposed to do. As I read it I of course think, "oh, yeah this makes sense," but that's because I have the vision for it in my head.

luckystreak wrote:
Is that 11 pages of unfiltered thoughts, or 11 pages of distilled ideas?


It is more along the distilled idea side of things. Granted it is not perfectly organized or compiled, but I like to think that it captures the essence of what the game will be. This is part of the reason I was wondering when people should take a look at it, because I'd like to know whether or not I am even making sense.

wayne mathias wrote:
I found that putting my rules in both a condensed and an "uncondensed" version helped.


I do intend to create an uncondensed player aid at some point, but I hadn't considered doing it at this point. Do you usually do this early on in the process, or is this better to do once everything is mostly concrete?

Thanks again to everybody for all the help and suggestions. I really appreciate it!

Tyson
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Jake Blomquist
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PKTyson wrote:
jblomquist wrote:
And for what it's worth you've got me interested in your game. In fact I'd love to have a chance to read the rulebook whenever you feel comfortable doing that.


Thanks! That's really encouraging. Judging from what you said, I worry that it may not be as complex as you may be expecting though. However, if you wanted to take a look at what I have I would be happy to let you. You're right, there is a lot more to do on my end before it's really ready for a full evaluation of the rule book. I think if somebody (yourself included) were to take a look at what I had I would really just want to know if it makes sense and you can get a feel for what the game is supposed to do. As I read it I of course think, "oh, yeah this makes sense," but that's because I have the vision for it in my head.


Yeah, please do send it along. I'm going to have between sporadic and non-existent internet access for the next week or so, but feel free to send me whatever you want in a geekmail and I'll do my best to tell you broad strokes if things seem to make sense.
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Gavin Kenny
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Game complexity can vary between different games and I am increasingly finding that most designers have a natural inclination to creep towards complexity. Once you have feedback from your playtests you need to examine what rules are working well and what is not.

Do not be afraid to ditch things completely that are not working rather than changing them and making them more complex. Players will quite easily learn a game with a decent turn order that is written well in the rules. Games with lots of fiddly add on rules that cannot be learnt as the turn sequence will tend to make your game more complex. A great example of this I think is Brass which has lots of little meta rules that enhance the complexity of the game.

If your rulebook is 11 pages with a structured turns and good examples then it is probably fine for a 2 hour game. If it is 11 pages of solid wall to wall text then this will discourage people from wanting to read the rules. Your rules should be structured with good examples. Card abilities and powers that need explaining further (to clarify cards) can be done at the back of the rules or even better in a hand out. Don't include these in the main rules part. Get the players to learn the main rules and sequencing first and only look up powers / cards when required.

Good luck with your game!
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wayne mathias
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My "condensed" rules version came about when I (eventually) stepped back far enough to properly analyze them.

There was a bunch of "designer rambles on about the development process" stuff and why things were being done a certain way -- these all got eliminated from the rules themselves (an intro or preamble or such can isolate those from the rules themselves if you decide to keep the other not actually part of the game stuff in print).

The theme of my game was better as an individual section apart from all game mechanics - especially since it is text.

A game overview - winning conditions and a gloss of rules and some pics.

And then the actual rules - the mechanics of the game. I thought they were simple with all the teeny tiny details included. But they were able to condense into a set that covered everything needed to begin playing leaving very little in the "will be obvious when actually encountered" category and also suited as a quick reference guide.

The long version of the rules - best looked at after the theme and overview and condensed rules - refined itself into being the condensed rules "bulked out" with extra pics and explanations.

The process of making a condensed set of rules vastly improved the wording used in the full set and forced the full set to justify what it included that was not in the condensed version.

And on that basis I recommend it.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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I keep copies of old revisions of my rules around. Heck, that's why I like making WIP threads. I can keep some track of the train of thought(s) that led to a particular design decision. I guess I should really be blogging, but I value the multiple discussions that a forum thread can generate... blogs seem to be a lot of one-way "diary entries".

Eventually, I do go through condensing the rules. But at about the same time, I do an illustrated walkthrough. Usually, once I go through that, I get a real good feel for how much I had to explain... and I might decide to simplify the game down, or find some clever mechanic that does it.
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Tyson Mertlich
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Thanks everybody, lots of helpful advice! I've taken a lot of it to heart and so I'm about ready to get my PnP beta version printed off. I'm expecting to have a playable version of the game ready this week. Seems like from what everybody is saying that it will be a lot of revision ahead, but I'm excited to be moving into this next phase!
 
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