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Subject: Fiddly vs Book keeping. rss

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Josh
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This is a little essay on something that's been bouncing around my head a bit lately; the term 'fiddly.' Fiddly is a term, mostly used in a negative sense to describe some games. Given that it has such a negative vibe to it and that it gets leveled at seemingly very different sets of games for very different reasons I did want to spend some time figuring out exactly what caused the branding for different people, and how much of it was perhaps a miss-attributed label for want of a better term. It was during such a discussion over one of my favorite games (Sentinels of the Multiverse) that this really came to the fore, and it was another user who introduced the phrase 'book keeping' into the discussion, which was a clouds parting/trumpets playing moment for me. From that I've come to my own definition of 'Fiddly' and want to share it and see some discussion on what others think.

Book keeping is something that has applications outside of gaming and so porting it over and keeping it to a relatively consistent definition should be fairly easy. Almost all games have some level of book keeping, from keeping score to reconciling hand size to laying down matching sets, even the most basic of games seems to have some. Tic-Tac-Toe has a book keeping phase after every move when you check if one or the other person has won, it is just an extremely brief and simple phase. Book keeping can become incredibly involved. Some people dislike high levels of book keeping, and this leads to the application of the label 'Fiddly.' However, to my mind,( and laughably accurate considering I just double-checked my spelling of Fiddly and found the definition is pretty much this essay in a nutshell) there requires something else to push a game from 'book keeping' to 'fiddly.' Before I explain let me put this out there: It is okay to dislike games for having high book keeping. I am not here to bash people with a different book keeping tolerance. I just believe using a common vocabulary may help better communicate game play and lead to better informed opinions and decisions.

Fiddly is when the book keeping of a game is done in a way that is perceived by the user as awkward or uncomfortable. The fact that it is based on perception means it necessarily much happen on a sliding scale based on the individual in question, but there are some good baseline questions to determine if the discomfort comes from game design or personal tastes. Two solid questions to ask when encountering a moment like that are:

1)Is the thing being tracked important/integral to game play?

2)Is there an obviously easier way to accomplish this book keeping that retains functionality?

With the second question being the one some people seem to overlook when branding a game 'Fiddly.'

I'll start with an example of a game I have an obvious bias towards. Sentinels. There is no denying that there is a lot of book keeping in the game. Hit points up, hit points down, bonuses, penalties, damage types. Sentinels requires players to be 'all in' to paying attention to what they are doing/contributing. However, the things being tracked are definitely important to the game, of that there can also be no denying. Most importantly in the case of that game though, there doesn't seem to be a better(non-ipad) way to do what they were doing, while keeping functionality. Yes the hit point tokens are passed around very frequently, yes you need to be aware of what others are doing(with or without the status tokens as you see fit) but the argument against this is 'I don't enjoy having to track all this' rather than 'Why are they doing this this way, there has to be a better way, and even I can see what it is.' I'd say a good contrast to this would be the 'First edition' of Sentinels that didn't come with HP tokens and status tokens. In that edition pencil and paper were used to track. So, things like 'My pencil point broke' 'Do you have an eraser?' 'Hold on a sec, let's tear off a piece of paper to mark that you have bonus damage' 'I can out of room on this sheet can you hand another?' 'Are these HP form this game or last game?' could be heard across the table. There was a better way, a fairly easy one, with significantly better results.

Another example, this time taken from a game I don't enjoy playing, but still positive. Eclipse uses cubes that are placed on conquered planets from a track, and the uncovered portion of the track indicates income. These cubes get the stink eye from those loose with the 'Fiddly' label. There are many of them, they are small, and a good bump to the player board can cause upset. The designer's inability to plan for personal tectonics notwithstanding, this design has a lot going for it. The three things tracked (money, science and resources) are all very key to the game, so it passes the first muster easily. The second is the one that requires the most scrutiny. How else would what is done in Eclipse be done? Perhaps a track, but with only one cube shifted up and down to display the appropriate level. This would cut down on those pesky cubes! A bump would still upset the track, and while one cube is easier to readjust than many, without an obvious clue(number of cubes left) a player would have to recompute their appropriate income when this happened, leaving things at an overall ambiguous parity. With the single-marker track you wouldn't have to shift cubes to the board! but, you'd need some means of indicating the planets were owned. Enter a new token and once more a parity. I could continue but the point is made. There are definitely arguments for why a person may like method X over method Y, but without a clear X>Y it is about personal preference rather than the game's design being 'Fiddly.'

So, what IS a fiddly game? I am doomed upon defining that to recriminations, but here we go. First off disclaimer: I am not passing judgement on the value of the game in question. I have actually not played the game myself, but have seen it played and feel from a mechanical perspective this example has merits.

So who is the unhappy target? Nations, simply by being new and fresh in my mind than by being any level of hyperbolicly bad. Specifically the income phase. Food, ore, and money are core elements of the game so that is not the issue. The fiddly aspect comes about in the method for computing each turns income. Nations is about cards, lots of cards. Leaders, buildings, wonders, military, wars, events. There are lots of cards. Each of your own of the first four impacts your incomes, and the last two may have an impact on everyone's incomes. As it stands every income phase you go through each of the products in turn and calculate your income by going over each card that provides a bonus or cost to that product, tallying it all up, then collecting the appropriate number of tokens. It's definitely book keeping, but what makes it fiddly? The need to go through all your cards and do minor math(addition, subtraction, and multiplication) is minorly irksome, just enough to ask 'Is there a better way?' There is(to my mind) and Nations itself presents the better way! Two other resources, culture and stability, are already tracked using the markers-on-track method. It's simple, it's easy. The things in question are affected not significantly less so than your ore/money/food incomes. (perhaps the culture is a bit) so why wasn't the track method used for food/money/ore? I can't piece together why, though I'm sure someone will tell me shortly. For the time being this stands as an example of what I would term 'fiddly.'

I must end here, work beckons. Please discuss your own interpretations below, I think this is something that the community would benefit from trying to codify a bit more clearly, even if my own interpretation ends up being one considered completely inaccurate. I'll leave you with the definition of fiddly the dictionary passed on to me; bolding is mine.

complicated or detailed and awkward to do or use.
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Michael Carter
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I prefer to use fiddly to describe games that not only have hundreds of little bits, but require you to manipulate a large number of those on every turn. For example, the flipping over of chits in SPQR to show that they units have moved and then again to reset the units. I would also use fiddly to describe Arkham Horror and Android.
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Josh
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mlcarter815 wrote:
I prefer to use fiddly to describe games that not only have hundreds of little bits, but require you to manipulate a large number of those on every turn. For example, the flipping over of chits in SPQR to show that they units have moved and then again to reset the units. I would also use fiddly to describe Arkham Horror and Android.


This definition is one of the things I am trying to address. I've not played SPQR or Android, but I have played Arkham and know full well the daunting task of setup. The question that comes up is, is the system itself awkward for what it is trying to do? I'd descrihe my aversion to Arkham as 'too many bits and too long a setup for me for the game.' but I wouldn't call it fiddly because I can't mark a better way so the dislike rises from me, nit from the game being bad at what it is. Some historical sim games have counters and bits and subsections and charts and charts and oh god so many modifiers, yet for attempting accuracy I can't fault them in their execution. Throw that same thing into a round of King of Tokyo and then the F word comes out
 
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George Falconer
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I don't think Arkham Horror is fiddly, not that hard to set up, no awkward component shuffling. I do think that this thread is a bit fiddly, a lot of words amounting to a simple statement; "fiddly is a subjective term".
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Shadrach wrote:
As it stands every income phase you go through each of the products in turn and calculate your income by going over each card that provides a bonus or cost to that product, tallying it all up, then collecting the appropriate number of tokens. It's definitely book keeping, but what makes it fiddly? The need to go through all your cards and do minor math(addition, subtraction, and multiplication) is minorly irksome, just enough to ask 'Is there a better way?


Isn't this very similar to Sentinels? What is it about Nations that makes it feel different to you than Sentinels?
 
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Keeping track of three or more resources with different tokens, having to work out the dice rolls or similar by referring to charts because the values change every turn depending on the changing resource values. I used to have the patience for it, but not any more. I can deal with those things much more easily with spinny wheels and cards than all the thousands of little bits.
 
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I don't think I'd limit it to bookkeeping. There are repetitive
non-bookkeeping tasks in games which seem 'fiddly' to me (for example
lots of die rolls to determine what is happening. It's
simply the mechanical actions involved. In fact, I'd think a spreadsheet
less 'fiddly' than moving counters on a track. That's not to say one
is better than the other - it's just that writing things down doesn't
feel as though I'm 'fiddling' with stuff.
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Bill Eldard
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The acceptance of 'fiddly' is all tied to the individual's fuss:fun ratio, and that varies with the individual gamer's patience, interest in the subject (or game mechanic in the case of euro-games), and general enjoyment of the game.

Also, if the fiddliness increases downtime, I tend to be less tolerant.
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Enrico Viglino
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Eldard wrote:
The acceptance of 'fiddly' is all tied to the individual's fuss:fun ratio, and that varies with the individual gamer's patience, interest in the subject (or game mechanic in the case of euro-wargames), and general enjoyment of the game.


SOME of us find SOME 'fuss' AS 'fun'.

So, I'm perfectly willing to call SPQR 'fiddly' because of the
mechanical actions of flipping all the counters each turn (TWICE!),
but I don't consider that a negative at all. On the other hand, if
I have to make attack and defense rolls for a large number of combat
actions, I'd call that 'fiddly' but not to my tastes; I might well
excuse it, if the 'fun' parts are good - but it's not one of them.
Fiddly is just not an inherently bad thing, IMO. It's a descriptive -
like 'mathy' that doesn't tell me whether I'm going to enjoy the particulars
that got it labelled as such.

I think using such shorthands probably doesn't convey what most people
want it to, in order to decide whether a game is worth playing.
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Michael Carter
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I wouldn't say that fiddly is a negative term, it just gives a negative connotation to some gamers.
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Josh
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captainraffi wrote:
Shadrach wrote:
As it stands every income phase you go through each of the products in turn and calculate your income by going over each card that provides a bonus or cost to that product, tallying it all up, then collecting the appropriate number of tokens. It's definitely book keeping, but what makes it fiddly? The need to go through all your cards and do minor math(addition, subtraction, and multiplication) is minorly irksome, just enough to ask 'Is there a better way?


Isn't this very similar to Sentinels? What is it about Nations that makes it feel different to you than Sentinels?


In sentinels I couldn't see another method. tracks would take care of hero/villian hp, but then you have minions, environment, and whatnot. With nations the number of players/resources is static throughout the game.
 
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Daniel Fish
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Fiddly - the opposite of Elegant?
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Josh
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Elegant is another subjective term I don't quite know how to tackle myself. I often hear it used hand in hand with 'streamlined' and for me, streamlinedis entirely independent of elegance ^^ I personally feel elegance is more a function of marrying theme with mechanics than a oure mechanical judgement.
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Shadrach wrote:
I personally feel elegance is more a function of marrying theme with mechanics than a oure mechanical judgement.


Definitely not. The term would apply to simulations better than to
euros and abstracts then. No - elegance I think has to do with
capturing the essence of the subject (or theme - for example that
of conflict in Go, where subject does not apply) with the minimum
level of detail. I think that fiddly games cannot be elegant, but elegance
is more than merely the negation of fiddliness (tic-tac-toe is certainly
not fiddly, but I wouldn't call it elegant).
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts. To my mind, bookkeeping is more of a potential contributing factor to "fiddliness," rather than a complete definition. I would agree with the poster who said that a definition for fiddly is subjective, much in the vein of discussion of "value" and other terms that crop up here from time to time.

For my part, any game which has me constantly diving for the rulebook, even after many plays, is "fiddly." Of course, that may be the game's fault or it may be the failure of my own mind. The latter suggests that "fiddly" could sometimes be replaced with "I'm not very bright."
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Defining bookkeeping and fiddly and elegant is hard to do.

For me, elegant means that the rule is intuitive, easy to remember, and quick to apply.

For example, I'll compare Merchants and Marauders with Arkham Horror, since in both, the stat tells you how many dices to roll, a success is achieved on a score of 5 or 6, and you can have modifiers to your stats. in Merchants and Marauders, if you have a cargo size 4, it means you can have 4 cargo cards in it, 3 cannons means you roll 3 dices on a full broadside, easy to remember. And the modifiers are also easy to remember because you move a cube up or down a track to tell you how many you have in each stat. Get an additional cannon, move the cube to the next space. And they replaced the 5 and 6 on the dices with a skull. Get a skull, you have a success.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have Arkham. You want to fight, your stat if 3, roll 3 dices. But you also have this special ability which will apply in this special circumstances, and this weapon that can be used against some monsters but not others, and then there's the bonus from this ally. And there is no easy way to keep track of it all. Each time, you have to count everything and check if you can use everything to know how many dices to roll.

So both games tries to do more or less the same thing. One does it with a minimum of fuss, the other requires a lot more work.

Bookkeeping for me means all the "work" you have to do to play the game, as opposed to the playing part of the game. Trying to find how many dices to roll in Arkham is bookkeeping, rolling the dices is playing. The Mythos phase in Arkham is bookkeeping, movement phase is playing.

And finally Fiddly. For me a games becomes fiddly when you spend more time bookkeeping than actually playing, combined with non-elegant rules.
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I don't know that I've ever really found that fiddly of a game... well ok I probably have. AH to me has never been especially fiddly (admittedly I use the iPad app which handles most all of the fiddliness for you), SE4X has a TON of book keeping but it makes sense, Robinson Crusoe has a ton of stuff you have to do and keep track of but it to me is the very definition of elegance as again everything exactly makes sense.

I guess if I were to say anything was fiddly I would have to say it would be the games of Fortune and Glory, or A Touch of Evil. Don't get me wrong, they are fantastic games, but the insane number of decks, the limited choices and the length of time to play just doesn't justify it. Sure I still enjoy playing it, but the setup and take down really takes it out of me. To me it is one of those games I have to be in the mood to play, and in the mood to play 2-4 times in a row as setting it up once just to take it down in say 60-90 minutes just isn't appetizing.

Admittedly I've taken to cheating on those games and instead of breaking everything out I just have all of the cards in a card box with labelled separators and we just draw out of the various decks as needed from a random place rather than pulling them all out each time and shuffling them. I guess I would personally call fiddly, for me, anything where:

the time taken to get the game to the playable state is > the time it takes to play/amount of enjoyment gained.

Robinson has a TON of setup and components, but the time it takes to play, reset, and the amount of enjoyment for me packed into each game far outweighs it. And book keeping I simply don't care about, as long as it fits. The wife and I have actually taken to playing SE4X blind where we printed up some movement charts for our ship and each movement phase we write down all of our ship movement before revealing and moving them all at once. A LOT more book keeping but we find it actually adds to the game (so wish I could get a moderated fully blind game of SE4X like how some play Axis and Allies at the local game shop).
 
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mltdwn wrote:
I don't know that I've ever really found that fiddly of a game....


May I suggest giving The Campaign for North Africa a try?

I think I found my limits were tested by Battles from the Age of Reason (BAR), but
if you have a high tolerance....
 
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calandale wrote:
mltdwn wrote:
I don't know that I've ever really found that fiddly of a game....


May I suggest giving The Campaign for North Africa a try?

I think I found my limits were tested by Battles from the Age of Reason (BAR), but
if you have a high tolerance....


Actually the idea for the Campaign for North Africa is just freakin' awesome, though I doubt I have the attention span for it... I may buy it if I can get it just for the sake of having it. Though admittedly I would probably "cheat" and write a program that computed all the small details for us and just run it on laptops next to us.

BAR I may have to check out, what in particular did you not like about it?

And like I said I never really have a problem with fiddly in what I gather most people define it as, I actually enjoy the book keeping, etc. as that gives me a closer view of things (as long as it MAKES SENSE, there was some reprint by FFG that had similar things on keeping track of items that just didn't seem to make me excited because it didn't fit in my mind).... HOWEVER, something that takes forever to get somewhere or started drives me nuts and bores(sp?) the life out of me. I'm not ADD or anything, it's just I want to be playing and involved in SOME aspect of games (long down times drive me nuts too if there isn't something also game related to focus on).
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mltdwn wrote:


Actually the idea for the Campaign for North Africa is just freakin' awesome, though I doubt I have the attention span for it... I may buy it if I can get it just for the sake of having it. Though admittedly I would probably "cheat" and write a program that computed all the small details for us and just run it on laptops next to us.


Ok - IF you like the idea of something that big, a more serious
suggestion (on the same campaign) is DAK2 (or its
predecessor). Much more streamlined, and probably more realistic.

Quote:
BAR I may have to check out, what in particular did you not like about it?


Every move within artillery range created opportunity fire. Basically
rolling the die for every hex of movement. Too, the game felt like a
minis design translated onto a hex-grid, getting rid of many of the
advantages given by the standard board wargame.

Quote:
And like I said I never really have a problem with fiddly in what I gather most people define it as, I actually enjoy the book keeping, etc. as that gives me a closer view of things


I'm usually in that camp. It's what disappointed me so much about BAR.
A lot of people who like the same kinds of games I do did enjoy.
Yes, the op fire makes sense - but I just didn't feel like I was
getting enough bang for my buck with all the die rolling.


Another possible choice on the high-bookkeeping spectrum (and I LOVE
this one) is Europa Universalis. It is a game wherein the computer
was eventually harnessed for those tasks (changing a lot more), but
there's something very pleasing to me about the decisions when looking
at a clear tax-return like document to determine expenditures.
 
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Shadrach wrote:
mlcarter815 wrote:
I prefer to use fiddly to describe games that not only have hundreds of little bits, but require you to manipulate a large number of those on every turn. For example, the flipping over of chits in SPQR to show that they units have moved and then again to reset the units. I would also use fiddly to describe Arkham Horror and Android.

This definition is one of the things I am trying to address. I've not played SPQR or Android, but I have played Arkham and know full well the daunting task of setup. The question that comes up is, is the system itself awkward for what it is trying to do? I'd descrihe my aversion to Arkham as 'too many bits and too long a setup for me for the game.' but I wouldn't call it fiddly because I can't mark a better way so the dislike rises from me, nit from the game being bad at what it is. Some historical sim games have counters and bits and subsections and charts and charts and oh god so many modifiers, yet for attempting accuracy I can't fault them in their execution. Throw that same thing into a round of King of Tokyo and then the F word comes out

Your definition is misguided. There's no sense in wondering if there's a better way to do things. Fiddly is fiddly. It's relative to other games, not relative to all other possible incarnations of the game itself.
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Mat628 wrote:
Shadrach wrote:
mlcarter815 wrote:
I prefer to use fiddly to describe games that not only have hundreds of little bits, but require you to manipulate a large number of those on every turn. For example, the flipping over of chits in SPQR to show that they units have moved and then again to reset the units. I would also use fiddly to describe Arkham Horror and Android.

This definition is one of the things I am trying to address. I've not played SPQR or Android, but I have played Arkham and know full well the daunting task of setup. The question that comes up is, is the system itself awkward for what it is trying to do? I'd descrihe my aversion to Arkham as 'too many bits and too long a setup for me for the game.' but I wouldn't call it fiddly because I can't mark a better way so the dislike rises from me, nit from the game being bad at what it is. Some historical sim games have counters and bits and subsections and charts and charts and oh god so many modifiers, yet for attempting accuracy I can't fault them in their execution. Throw that same thing into a round of King of Tokyo and then the F word comes out

Your definition is misguided. There's no sense in wondering if there's a better way to do things. Fiddly is fiddly. It's relative to other games, not relative to all other possible incarnations of the game itself.


Relative to which games? Compared to Dixit even the most streamlined of euros would be 'fiddly' by that logic. If the comparison is simoly ad-hoc or at the whim of the speaker then it loses all objective value.
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Shadrach wrote:
Mat628 wrote:
Shadrach wrote:
mlcarter815 wrote:
I prefer to use fiddly to describe games that not only have hundreds of little bits, but require you to manipulate a large number of those on every turn. For example, the flipping over of chits in SPQR to show that they units have moved and then again to reset the units. I would also use fiddly to describe Arkham Horror and Android.

This definition is one of the things I am trying to address. I've not played SPQR or Android, but I have played Arkham and know full well the daunting task of setup. The question that comes up is, is the system itself awkward for what it is trying to do? I'd descrihe my aversion to Arkham as 'too many bits and too long a setup for me for the game.' but I wouldn't call it fiddly because I can't mark a better way so the dislike rises from me, nit from the game being bad at what it is. Some historical sim games have counters and bits and subsections and charts and charts and oh god so many modifiers, yet for attempting accuracy I can't fault them in their execution. Throw that same thing into a round of King of Tokyo and then the F word comes out

Your definition is misguided. There's no sense in wondering if there's a better way to do things. Fiddly is fiddly. It's relative to other games, not relative to all other possible incarnations of the game itself.


Relative to which games? Compared to Dixit even the most streamlined of euros would be 'fiddly' by that logic. If the comparison is simoly ad-hoc or at the whim of the speaker then it loses all objective value.


And if all you liked and player were party games, race for the galaxy or endeavor WOULD be pretty fiddly!
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Shadrach wrote:
Mat628 wrote:
Shadrach wrote:
mlcarter815 wrote:
I prefer to use fiddly to describe games that not only have hundreds of little bits, but require you to manipulate a large number of those on every turn. For example, the flipping over of chits in SPQR to show that they units have moved and then again to reset the units. I would also use fiddly to describe Arkham Horror and Android.

This definition is one of the things I am trying to address. I've not played SPQR or Android, but I have played Arkham and know full well the daunting task of setup. The question that comes up is, is the system itself awkward for what it is trying to do? I'd descrihe my aversion to Arkham as 'too many bits and too long a setup for me for the game.' but I wouldn't call it fiddly because I can't mark a better way so the dislike rises from me, nit from the game being bad at what it is. Some historical sim games have counters and bits and subsections and charts and charts and oh god so many modifiers, yet for attempting accuracy I can't fault them in their execution. Throw that same thing into a round of King of Tokyo and then the F word comes out

Your definition is misguided. There's no sense in wondering if there's a better way to do things. Fiddly is fiddly. It's relative to other games, not relative to all other possible incarnations of the game itself.

Relative to which games? Compared to Dixit even the most streamlined of euros would be 'fiddly' by that logic. If the comparison is simoly ad-hoc or at the whim of the speaker then it loses all objective value.

Compared to the average.

We use terms such as light, heavy, long, and short. When someone says that Arkham Horror takes a long time to play, they don't mean that it takes a long time to play versus some Aristolean idealized version of the game. They just mean that it takes a long time to play relative to most other games in the hobby. When someone says King of Tokyo is a light game, they mean that one doesn't have to think too hard to roll and select dice, compared to other games in the hobby, not compared to the million other ways in which one could design KoT.

Impressions of a game often are snap judgments. You'll walk away from a table with a fairly good sense of whether or not you liked a game and most of the times, with an idea of what it was that you liked or disliked. You're not doing hypothetical processing, thinking of how the game could be different, just of how it was.

For me, fiddly means lots of bits, generally small bits. If your game is threatened of being ruined by a bump in the table, it's a good bet that you're doing something fiddly. Another dimension is how often and how many things which you have to adjust. A last dimension may be how often you have to reference it: how often does it happen that someone says, "Oh wait, I have to redo that because I forgot to adjust for X." Basically, a fiddly game is one which demands that you pay attention to and keep pampering it, rather than getting out of the way and letting you do your thing.

FWIW, if you're trying to defend a metric of, "versus all other things which I can conceive of" trying to use the basis of "objective" isn't a very good way to go about it. That's a metric which is inherently subjective and dependent on the imagination and creativity of the speaker. How fiddly a given game is is an ambiguous thing to be talking about in the first place as it's impressionistic, but comparing to what is versus what could be would be a step towards the more objective and commonly understood.
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scifiantihero wrote:
And if all you liked and player were party games, race for the galaxy or endeavor WOULD be pretty fiddly!

This also.

We have expectations for genres and what we're accustomed to. What might not be fiddly within war games would still probably be considered fairly fiddly by most non-war gamers. So we compare things to the universe of things as well as subsets of things. "It's a deep party game" may mean that it has some interesting choices, relative to the norm, but it would still be considered light within the genre of strategy games or medium within the universe of all games. But still, we understand what someone means when a comparison is made against a specified set versus making a generalized statement and both are valid ways to frame things.
 
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