Having learned Tower of Babel recently, I just found out there is quite a debate about „with or without bonus cards” in case of this game, and I just thought the issue is the same as the „Battle Line/Schotten Totten with or without tactic cards” question.
Thinking about it, I found there were lots of Knizia designs later updated with added bonus cards, special powers and so on – I have just published a geeklist about it as well.
The title refers to his quote:
Many people think that a game is finished when there is nothing more to be added. I believe a game is finished when there is nothing more that can be taken away and still leave a good game.
The question is, does adding bonus cards, adding material that makes the game less elegant, more chaotic and random stuff make Knizia turn against his own design principles? How do you know the game is better without these, anyway?
Designing a game is like raising a child. You cannot change its personality, but you can help maximize its potential.
So how do you maximize the potential of these games?
Checking the games in the geeklist above you’ll find lots of movie tie-ins, actually 4 Lord of the Rings, 1 Star Wars, 1 Chronicles of Narnia, 1 Beowulf games. Also theree are 4 games for wargame publishers GMT and Avalon Hill and a whooping 9 titles for Fantasy Flight Games. It means many of these changes were made to make the games more thematic (focused on theme) and they were made with a different target group in mind than the original games.
Reiner Knizia is known at BGG as the designer who was great around the turn of the millennia while now he mostly designs very light fillers, family games – and, maybe some add, lots of games for iPad. I also add lots of puzzle games and kids’ games. While from a geek perspective it would be definitely better to see that he designs only gamers’ games he is a designer who makes a living out of designing games and we can be pretty sure designing and publishing gamers’ games isn’t the most profitable activity of allthese choices. Also he stated
I’ve made an aware decision not to become a specialist in one particular area but to look at all possible aspects of gaming, because I think they inspire each other.
One of Knizia’s abilities that make him as successful as he is now is that he knows he has to deliver different stuff to different target groups and different publishers. So it is quite probable that while European design school and Euro gamers prefer elegance (or at least preferred it 10 years ago), some randomness and theme-driven chaos is more important than elegance when it comes to gaming American-style and in games that are strongly theme-based.
But what about typical Eurogame publishers Hans im Glück (Tower of Babel) or Queen Games (Res Publica), Ravensburger (Duell), Kosmos etc. adding further cards/complexity/chaos to these games? Don't they know their Euro target group?
Being one of the biggest fans of Samurai, the brain-burning game that is basically Elegance Itself, I have always thought I prefer elegance over thematic variety. Nowadays I’m starting to see it’s not true. I have played Lords of Waterdeep which is a pretty basic worker placement game with the added chaos and “take that!” factor of different special cards (missions and intrigue cards) and liked it. I have played Eclipse which would be another boring efficiency engine building Euro but it has lots of random “take that” factor from tiles, cards and even dice and, surprisingly, loved it. Had their designers followed the Euro school the games would have remained boring.
I guess these games might make a change in the way I see games now. (It intrigues me so much that I even asked about this in the latest TGIF poll.) Eclipse was certainly the greatest cornerstone: before playing Eclipse I strongly believed “The more complex/long/heavy a game is the less luck-dependent it needs to be” and now I believe “…or the more fun it needs to be”. Cards, tiles, player figures with special powers, special abilities make games more varied and more fun.
Of course you should not add these to games at all costs but even as an aspiring (yet mostly unpublished) game designer (well, anyway, that’s the way I’d love to see myself one day ) it provides me a lesson learned. And it also shows that maybe Knizia isn’t really against his Da Vincian design principles
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
when he agrees to add randomness and variety to games that already work without them.