Deep and small games?
Eric Pietrocupo
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Montreal
Quebec
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As time passes, resources are getting scarcer and and more expansive. Living cost of space is also more expansion as our population continue to grow. Which inevitably lead to the need to create smaller games.

Smaller games have a tendency to be short and fluffy, even if we have constraints of cost and space, it does not mean that all future games have to be fluffy. We should be able to play any level of depth what ever the size of the box.

This is why I am creating this geek list. I want to list games which are small and have a deep game play. So that people with shortage of space and money could actually look for this game if they want serious gaming.

Which leads to the questions:

How to define a small game?

Pretty simple, you measure the size of the box, if it's under 200 inch cubes, it's a small box. I am not very sharp on the number. I have a box in my closet that measures 201.56 inch cube, but that is fine if it exceeds at most a dozen of cubic inch.

We try to focus on the size of the base game, additional expansion that fits in the same box is not an issue. For LCG and expandable game, make sure the required amount of expansions required for the game to achieve a good level of depth fit into a 200 cubic inch box.

How do you define a deep game?

I was not exactly sure how to define this one, so I asked Board Game Geek, but it ended up in a "philosophical thread" which was deeper than I thought. If you are curious, I posted the forum threads at the end of this header. Players will evaluate the depth of a game differently, but one common pattern to most players seems that depth is related to the player skill. So I will say that a game with depth is:

Depth means that human beings are capable of playing at many different levels of expertise. For most board positions, until the last stages of the endgame, the puzzle of finding the best move should not be completely solvable. In a deep game, a player must exercise nice judgment in deciding what is the best move in most situations. Depth gives a game lasting interest because the player continues to learn how to improve his play for a long time.
Source: http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/DefiningtheAbstract....

A deep game is not necessarily complex. But since each person have their own reasons to state that a game has depth, I'll supply a list of properties a game could have to justify it's depth.

Rules

Anybody can add new items on this geek list as long it's a small game with depth.

Size: The game must be less than 200 cubic inch in size. You could add the total size of the box in the item description, but it's not mandatory.

Depth: You must list some reasons that makes this game have depth according to your point of view. You can use a list of properties or a paragraph of text.

Classic games are accepted if they could be sold and carried in their own box. So I don't want to have all those games that use regular deck of cards, it would never end. Piece packs could be accepted if most resulting games have depth (the pieces can only create deep games).

List of depth properties

- Replayability: Contains multiple factions, scenarios, play mode, objectives
- Interesting Decisions: Most of the game time is about making thought decision rather than updating the status of the game.
- Variety: Various path to victory and other forms of variety
- Requires multiple plays: To learn all strategies or use all the possible game features.
- Different levels of players: Beginner, Expert, etc.
- Requires additional learning: After playing the game many times, you can learn new advice and strategies outside playing the game.
- Low level of luck: A game with a huge amount of luck is not likely to have depth.
- Large amount of meaningful choices
- Requires more brain power/processing capacity
- Subtlety: for example, actions that have minor side effects that could be taken advantage
- Asymmetry: Gives different ways to play the game.
- Contains complex elements to be explored only by experienced players.

Related Threads

How do you define that a game has depth?

http://www.bgdf.com/forum/game-design/topics-game-design/how...
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1. Board Game: 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:549]
Sean McCormick
United States
Philadelphia
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A finely distilled version of the Twilight Struggle experience. Plays in about 45 minutes, features a small board, about 26 cubes and a handful of cards. Has a nice online implementation at Chantry.
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2. Board Game: 2 de Mayo [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:1215]
Don Clarke
United Kingdom
Nantwich
Cheshire
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Quick to play, easy to learn, simultaneous orders, cards, cubes, area control, strategy, tactics.

Lovely
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3. Board Game: 4000 A.D. [Average Rating:5.42 Overall Rank:16046]
Mike Callahan
United States
Unspecified
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A diceless game (combat is given to the highest number of ships), the strategy is basic resource collecting of paired groups of conquered star systems. However, movement is 'hidden' by warp. Players know how long a group of ships is in warp (turns requiredto travel
To starsystems) but not the direction until
Arrival. Then the numbers comparison begin. Did the defenders reinforce the right system? The warp ships eventually have to arrive at a location based on turns spent in warp.

Adds a flavor of a somewhat 3D star map, two to four players or teams, and simple but cool plastic bits.... fun for all ages.
 
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4. Board Game: Akrotiri [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:620]
Jonny
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A beautiful exploration game that has you passing tiles to slowly expand the small Greek islands that you explore to excavate hidden temples. As you do this you find goods to ship and sell to make money, which enables you to fund the digs themselves.

This is a game requiring thought as you have conflicting goals, and working out where to place your tile to enable you to locate a temple is a fascinating puzzle.

Difficult to find in English so buy a French version and print off English rules!
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5. Board Game: Alien City [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:6644]
Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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'Some assembly required': it requires PiecePack tiles, IceHouse stashes and Eldritch stones. Many create their own tiles; I can mail you a simple PDF which just needs to be glued to some greyboard after which 5 minutes of cutting yields perfectly servicable tiles.

The game is... very deep indeed. Consider your mind a gently wobbling mass of protein-y jello after the game is done. Which will take about 20 minutes. It achieves depth through the tried-and-tested combination of committing to a scoring location while co-currently developing the infrastructure needed to score. It's rather similar to Go in this regard.

Disadvantage is that the game is considered quite arcane by many. You probably won't find many opponents willing to put up with the learning curve.
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6. Board Game: Arboretum [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:267]
Greg Darcy
Australia
Blue Mountains
New South Wales
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A small game that definitely fits the size requirement.
Gameplay is very simple. Starting hand of seven. Draw two cards. Play one. Discard one. So at the end of your turn you still have seven cards.

Scoring is at the end of the game. However, every card you play/discard from the very first turn will affect that score. Do you build your path? Do you block your opponent? What are they trying to do?
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7. Board Game: Artifacts, Inc. [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:1107]
Miguel Guijo
Spain
Madrid
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This is small and deep. If you play a lot the strategy for a setup could be clear at first, but there a lots of ways of scoring points and is definitly a rewarding experience. Play it with the variant from the autor, it is really a better and faster game with a set of dice for every player.
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8. Board Game: Babel [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:1190]
Joe Cool
Austria
Vienna
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Allthough - as a card driven game - it has its luck factor, it is a real challenging tactical game. You have to play it a few times to recognize all the possibilities it has.
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9. Board Game: Battle Line [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:201]
Geert Vinaskov
Belgium
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Also: Schotten Totten

It's a typical Knizia game. The Good Dokter takes a suited deck with numbers (1-10), and nine pawns. It's small in complexity and size, but incredibly deep for what it is. The contrast between simplicity and "depth" is remarkable, and a skilled player will certainly win against lesser players.

The beautiful thing is, during the first game everything seems simple. Stupid even. But each game you'll learn, and both strategical and tactical nuances will appear. I've played between fifty and hundred games, and I still am learning new tricks.

That's what I consider depth.

The strategy articles here on the 'Geek are severly lacking for this game, and that may even be a good thing.

I'll go over some of the criteria suggested by the OP:

- Variety: Various path to victory and other forms of variety
- Requires multiple plays: To learn all strategies or use all the possible game features.
- Replayability: Contains multiple factions, scenarios, play mode, objectives
- Asymmetry: Gives different ways to play the game.
- Contains complex elements to be explored only by experienced players


Though there are two lines of strategy in this game (surrounding and breakthrough), I don't consider Battleline a winner in these categories. But so isn't Chess.

But I really don't think variety, complexity, assymetry define depth. Quite the opposite, in fact. To make an analogue: I like jigsaw puzzles. A puzzle with more variety, complexity, assymetry in and on the pieces is easier. The hardest puzzle I ever made was a 200 piece heart, with consisted for 95% of two types of pieces (one kind: four extruding lips, the other kind: four intruding holes). All pieces where solid red, but differed only in fractions of millimeters (real story). Similarly, the hardest part of a lot of puzzles is the solid blue air part. Less complexity sometimes means harder, because the complexity isn't there to help you.

I'm on a tangent here. Sure, there are no factions, different objectives, cornercase rules and whatnot in this game. The depth will surprise you, even if it only will become visible after a few plays.

- Low level of luck: A game with a huge amount of luck is not likely to have depth.

I agree that a game like Candyland isn't deep, but luck and depth are not opposites. Risk management, statistics and probability calculations are one of hardest skills to master in gaming. Though I can agree that a huge amount of luck makes for unskillful games, a small or moderate amount of "luck" (a.k.a. risk management) is just a game mechanic that may enhance the game and add depth. It certainly does so here.

- Interesting Decisions: Most of the game time is about making thought decision rather than updating the status of the game.
- Different levels of players: Beginner, Expert, etc.
- Requires additional learning: After playing the game many times, you can learn new advice and strategies outside playing the game.
- Large amount of meaningful choices
- Requires more brain power/processing capacity
- Subtlety: for example, actions that have minor side effects that could be taken advantage


Yes, yes, yes. This is where the game shines. Every turn you make a move out of the 63 (9flagsx7cards) options, and where these options are really similar for a beginning player (like the solid blue air pieces of a jigsaw in the example above), experienced players will be able to analyze the value of all of these. Start playing, and notice each and every subtle choice you made during the game will either come back later in the game to either haunt or reward you.


(edit: overuse of the word though, removed some for pleasant reading)
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10. Board Game: Big*Bang [Average Rating:6.36 Unranked]
Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
France
Caen
(from Valencia, Spain)
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My latest game: Big*Bang, a simple abstract about the first minutes of the Universe
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My best-rated game: TETRARCHIA, about the tetrarchy that saved Rome
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Small? Yes, as most nestorgames it is very small: basically, a rollable board A4-sized that fits into a bag, with the plastic/acrylic pieces inside. Moreover, not having a cardboard box, the game is also very light, and the board being of mouse-pad material and the pieces hard plastic lets you even 'squeeze' it, making it ideal for travels.

Deep? I think it fulfills most of your depth properties. Here are a few remarks on some of them:

- Replayability, Variety, Levels. There are no levels, just a few variants, but there are 3 paths to victory, and you win if you succeed in 2 of them. Each player has only 2 piece types (protons and neutrons for the player, antiprotons and antineutrons for the 'antiplayer'!), and you have to fuse them into stacks or annihilate pairs stack-antistack into light. The three victory conditions are: create the most Helium (stacks of 2 protons and 2 neutrons, see picture below); produce the most light through annihilation; create the most powerful star (a cluster with the most Hydrogen, stacks with only 1 proton).

- Decisions, Choices, Multiple plays, Learning, Subtlety. The rules are simple, but the choices are huge! You can be 'destructive' and annihilate any stack-antistack at sight, or 'constructive' and try to fuse your pieces. And in both cases, keep an eye on clusters with the most Hydrogen. The destructive/constructive dilemma is reminiscent of TZAAR, and the powerful-star victory condition can be a 'deep' tie-breaker between those two strategies.

- Low luck. There is no luck at all, only the filling of the board with the 84 pieces at setup. The elder player fills the board, the younger one chooses to be the player or antiplayer, and then the player starts.



I have written a designer diary, that should be up soon, and the design process is part of an article I've written for the Game & Puzzle Design journal with the title "Physics Laws as Game Rules" (sample). And the rulebook is available on the game page at nestorgames.
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11. Board Game: Bios: Genesis [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:1650] [Average Rating:7.21 Unranked]
Peter S.
United States
Sacramento
California
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It's absurd how small of a box this is.
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12. Board Game: Bison: Thunder on the Prairie [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:2640]
P B
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Seattle
Washington
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Small area control game which actually works well for 2-players. I think I acquired this new for $5. Other than the poor artwork (in my opinion), this is a very solid deep game.
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13. Board Game: Bridge [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:576]
Cyrus the Great
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Atlanta
Georgia
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One of the deepest games out there, and it's just a single deck of cards.

Incredible replayability, and it's difficult to ever become a really great player. There is some luck, but it is primarily skill-based, and there are few gaming experiences I've found as brain-burning as a 3+ hour session of bridge.
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14. Board Game: El Caballero [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:2260]
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Seattle
Washington
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El Caballero is Carcassonne on steroids. Incredibly small game which used to be shipped inside a huge box. I think the new edition has a more appropriate size. Very deep game.
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15. Board Game: Capital Lux [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:1234]
Io Vasiliadis
Germany
Heidelberg
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Easy to learn small card game, but lots of double thinking and bluffing.
It also has amazing art by Kwanchai Moriya
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16. Board Game: Caylus Magna Carta [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:766]
Eric Buzzell
United States
Grand Rapids
Michigan
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Although this comes in a medium sized Ystari box, the components (a deck of cards and a small bag of cubes & tokens) can fit into a single small storage bag for travel or shelf consolidation.

The depth of play is filled with meaningful choices related to:
- worker placement
- resource management
- set collection
- tactical "take that"
- strategic area control/building ownership

For a small card game, Caylus Magna Carta lives large!
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17. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:427] [Average Rating:7.10 Unranked]
Eric Pietrocupo
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Size: Various, but can be small

Depth:
- Interesting decisions: There is no bookeeping
- Requires multiple play to learn the strategies
- Different levels of player
- Requires additional learning
- Requires brain power
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18. Board Game: Chimera [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:2346]
longhunter

Virginia
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3 player trick-taking in the tradition of Tichu.

The box is small, but so is the bidding, in the sense that bidding conventions in bridge are complex and require considerable practice. The novice bidder can still compete in Chimera.

The play of the hand is challenging and the outcome is almost never certain. And yet, luck's role seems to fade over the course of several hands.

Chimera earned my deep respect when, after about a dozen or so plays, I realized that there is clever justification for every aspect of the game's design.
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19. Board Game: Court of the Medici [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:2517]
Ben Wickens
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It is hard to get hold of the game and I do not think a reprint is likely but its a tiny box and you can substitute a pack of standard playing cards.

When you first play it you really do not know what to do and dont really "see" the game but there is a lot going on and lots of interesting choices.

A lot of people think Star Realms is pretty light but for me that is another example of a game that has a lot of depth of thought for its small box size and playing time but as a lot of people are familiar with a lot of heavier big box deck builders this seems light to them.
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20. Board Game: Deep Sea Adventure [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:554]
James Cookman
United States
Eureka
California
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Super small.

And you can go really deep
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21. Board Game: The Duke [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:461]
Joe Cool
Austria
Vienna
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The Duke is an abstract game which is easy to learn but hard to win, therefore it has depth. You start the game only with tree pieces on the board. It's in your hand to increase the number of pieces and with it the influence but also the complexity on the board. So you have to think well before you make your next move...
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22. Board Game: Dungeon Twister: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:4232]
Luke Heineman
United States
LaCrosse
WI
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So underrated
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23. Board Game: Eight-Minute Empire: Legends [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:757]
Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist
United States
Mountain View
California
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This card-game-sized box holds an area-control modular board game with variable-power drafting that requires planning out how you'll position yourself for the endgame region scoring and spend your limited funds on key cards that'll get you there. The variation in powers and the modular board, plus the beautiful fantasy artwork, elevate it above its predecessor Eight-Minute Empire, albeit at the cost of making the playtime even more of a lie, with ten to fifteen minutes per player being a more realistic estimate. You can even cram the Eight-Minute Empire: Lost Lands expansion into the box, which adds more of everything and a new simultaneous draft variant.
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24. Board Game: Elder Sign [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:497]
Eric Pietrocupo
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Size: 200 inch cubes. At least 1 Expansion can fit in the base box.

Depth: The depth is not super high, but I played with unexperienced players and the game was much harder to play than when playing solo or with experienced players. I thinks it's mostly an evaluation of the chance of success that requires skill.

- Replayability: There are multiple Characters and Ancient one that changes slightly the game play for a game to another. The digital app also change the monsters drawn according to the ancient one. So each ancient is more unique.

- Interesting Decisions: The decisions in this game is basically "which mission do I try" and "Which items do I use" which is closely related to analysis of the odds. This is where skill is required

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25. Board Game: Eminent Domain: Microcosm [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:2141]
Eric Pietrocupo
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Size : 20 square inch

Depth:
- Interesting decisions: The interaction of the card is relatively complex and creates various outcome
- Low level of luck: There is a luck of the draw, but both players have access to the same market of card. So most cards acquired are chosen.
- Various path to victory: Many, many ways to score points. But if you really play competitively, you could do complex optimization of your score according to the cards you chose in your deck.

Still considering the game only has 18 cards, the level of depth still has a limit.
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