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Subject: Making a game better by subtracting things rather than adding things rss

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Carl Nyberg
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When you have a design that isn't quite working right, isn't it better to take things out rather than add them? If you add something, then you probably have to add something else later, and so on...

For example, in a card game I'm working on, I had three different strength soldiers. The gameplay wasn't quite right, and I could have added a stronger soldier, but instead I took away the weakest soldier. The game works much better now.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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It's good to take things out as long as it doesn't make the game worse--even if it's already working right!

But adding stuff is a more powerful design tool than subtracting stuff, in the sense that there are many results that can be obtained by adding stuff but not solely by subtracting stuff. Even when you could accomplish the same result by subtracting stuff, it's hard to know whether or how that's possible, and often easier to add something.

So I'd say that you should strive to take things out, but with the understanding that you'll nonetheless be adding things in more often than not...
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Sturv Tafvherd
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on a somewhat tangential note:

When I first played Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game, I had a hard time keeping track of all the things that happen on a turn. One of the things I forgot to do was move the Zerg (sorry, i know that's the wrong term). When I later found out about my mistake and put the rule into practice, I had a harder time playing the game. So I decided to take the rule back off as a "make things easier for the newbies".

A few months pass, and I started developing some theories on strategy. So I started playing again ... still without that move rule. And, to my surprise, I was losing. Feeling frustrated, I decided to put the move rule back into practice, thinking, "as long as I'm losing, I might as well lose with the full set of rules."

And that's when I started winning. In hindsight, that move rule does serve to spread / thin out the swarms, which helps the players survive.

So, coming back to the subject...

It depends on the situation, and in my case, the "metagame" strategy being used by the player. Sometimes subtracting things out of the design helps. Sometimes, it hinders.
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The neutral evil villain known as
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witch of salem has a necromancer card that completely screws you in the game. we took it out and burned it at the stake.

we still almost NEVER win. That game is brutal and gorgeous, but it's a whole lot more fair without that card.

Whatever makes the game better is what you do.
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Sen-Foong Lim
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You don't want to essentially neuter a product by taking out too much, but - in general - "less is more" is a maxim that you should definitely consider in game design.

We often end up with a lot of stuff piled on top of a lot of junk piled on top of a lot of other stuff. So much stuff, in fact, that we can't see the forest for the trees.

So, we go on a quest to "find the fun". We ask ourselves this simple question:

"What is the most fun thing about this game?"

And then we take out everything that doesn't support that thing, that takes away from that thing happening as often as we would like, or that makes that thing over complex.

And then we might replace it with things that are more elegant, streamlined, and simple so that the game's highlights aren't bogged down in procedure, false decisions, and upkeep. In short, we spent a lot of brainpower and effort in trying to make a game as simple as possible while still retaining enough "bite" to make each decision meaty and meaningful.

Shibumi.

Simple, yet complex.

When playtesting, we ask our wonderful testers this question as well:

"What would make this game 5% better for you?"

And then we make that happen if it also in alignment with our design vision.

It's a combination of making the game more enjoyable and eminently more playable that is more often than not a result of stripping things away from the game's middle state. Trimming the fat, so to speak.

p.s. Genestealers.
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Benj Davis
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Phil of Mars wrote:
witch of salem has a necromancer card that completely screws you in the game. we took it out and burned it at the stake.

we still almost NEVER win. That game is brutal and gorgeous, but it's a whole lot more fair without that card.

Whatever makes the game better is what you do.


It's been ages since we've played Witch of Salem, so I don't remember what the Necromancer does. Could you not alter the way it works instead?
 
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Gláucio Reis
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Jlerpy wrote:
It's been ages since we've played Witch of Salem, so I don't remember what the Necromancer does. Could you not alter the way it works instead?

I think he means the Necron card. It's a fundamental card in the game, not just some random creature. If you remove it, you are playing a different game. However, it is indeed very harmful and may cause frustration, because there is nothing you can do if it comes up too often (one of its effects is to reshuffle the deck). Some variant to prevent that from happening, like shuffling it into the bottom half of the deck, or to reduce its power (by advancing Necron fewer spaces) might work, but removing it completely seems too radical to me.
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Gláucio Reis
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Regarding the OP's question, I think it was Reiner Knizia who said that a game is complete not when there is nothing you can add, but when there is nothing you can subtract (or something to that effect).
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Jeremy Lennert
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GSReis wrote:
Regarding the OP's question, I think it was Reiner Knizia who said that a game is complete not when there is nothing you can add, but when there is nothing you can subtract (or something to that effect).

If Knizia said that, he was probably quoting:

"It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove." ~Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Terre des Hommes
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Pete Belli
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"When in doubt, leave it out."

Game Design Maxim
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Chris in Kansai
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pete belli wrote:


"When in doubt, leave it out."


I thought that was the motto for the Rhythm Method...
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Kevin Nunn
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Honestly, both. The correct answer really depends on what type of designer you are.

If you are a designer that tends to start with a small mechanism or idea who then builds the rest of the game around it, addition is the correct solution.

If you are a designer that tends to start a game with many moving parts, subtraction is the way to go.

Although I am in the former category, I find that most designers are in the latter. You know your process better than any of us can. It may even be that you don't need to add or subtract but rather to adjust. Reflect and go from there.



bill437 wrote:
When you have a design that isn't quite working right, isn't it better to take things out rather than add them?
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Hilko Drude
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GSReis wrote:
Regarding the OP's question, I think it was Reiner Knizia who said that a game is complete not when there is nothing you can add, but when there is nothing you can subtract (or something to that effect).


I think it was Alex Randolph who said that, actually. Can't prove it, though.
 
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Austin Andersen
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Leave it out. Add is what expansions are for...
 
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Benj Davis
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bbblasterfire wrote:
Leave it out. Add is what expansions are for...


Although then there are games that seem incomplete, where it feels like they've pulled bits out just to get people to buy the expansions.
 
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Max Pfennighaus
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HilkMAN wrote:
GSReis wrote:
Regarding the OP's question, I think it was Reiner Knizia who said that a game is complete not when there is nothing you can add, but when there is nothing you can subtract (or something to that effect).


I think it was Alex Randolph who said that, actually. Can't prove it, though.



I believe the quote you're referring to is this one:

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
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Steve Zagieboylo
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bill437 wrote:
When you have a design that isn't quite working right, isn't it better to take things out rather than add them? If you add something, then you probably have to add something else later, and so on...

Of course, this is a ridiculous (...removes sunglasses...) oversimplification. Sometimes adding another mechanic gives exactly the tension needed to decisions, and doesn't mean you'll need more. But if your first instinct is to try to remove things and simplify, you'll generally be better off.
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Jonathan Challis
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senfoonglim wrote:
You don't want to essentially neuter a product by taking out too much, but - in general - "less is more" is a maxim that you should definitely consider in game design.

We often end up with a lot of stuff piled on top of a lot of junk piled on top of a lot of other stuff. So much stuff, in fact, that we can't see the forest for the trees.


To a large extent this is a fundamental design philosophy difference between Abstracts and Euros vs AmeriTrash and Thematic games.

The latter generally want more piled on, the former want stuff stripped away. Both to get to the optimal experience for their respective audiences.
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Glen Dresser
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I think that in most types of creativity, whether it's writing, illustration, board-game design, the key is understanding exactly what each element adds to the thing you're creating. I can speak with a little more authority about how it applies to writing: some inexperienced writers will just start removing things from their work using a 'less is more' philosophy, but before really taking the time to understand the connections between the elements in their work. Sometimes, elements that seem like obvious things to cut have subtle and important influences on other elements.

To add to the idioms cited in this thread, a popular one amongst writers is that you often must "kill your darlings." Sometimes as creators, the things we get attached to in our own work are the things that are actually holding our work back. You need to be impassive and ruthless when evaluating what belongs and what needs to go.
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Michael Iachini
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You sometimes hear the analogy that you can design games either as a painter (beginning with a blank canvas and adding things until the artwork is complete) or a sculptor (beginning with an oversized block of stone and chipping away to reveal the artwork beneath).

I've historically tended toward the sculptor end of things, starting with designs that have too much going on and then removing stuff to make the game better. But recently I've been a bit more painterly, beginning with the bare essence of a game and then adding bits to make it more interesting.

Both methods are valid. The trick is to know which one to use for your current work in progress.

Michael Iachini
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Corsaire
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I like design reality shows like Face Off or Project Runway, because you really see this in play.

This balancing act led to a big renovation of software design as Agile programming. Start small, make it work. Then add. It is much harder to build big and remove things that aren't working because of design and balance dependencies. It is also more motivating to test something with a feature added than one removed.

I think experience leads to seeing those boundaries more clearly.
 
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Lars Vogt

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Regarding the origin of the design idea:

German Wiki says about the phrase "less is more": it has probably been used the first time in the poem "Andrea del Sarto" by the English poet Robert Browning in 1855.
The German poet Christoph Martin Wieland used a somewhat similar phrase in 1774 (German: "Und minder ist oft mehr").

I also like a quote from Goethe in this context: "Unfortunately, I had not the time to make it short".

Looking at its long history, this idea almost seems to be part of common knowledge.
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Kim Brebach
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I once made a game by following the less is more school of design.

Its called 'Table Top'. Easy to learn, with minimal setup / pack up time. So elegant.

You simply look at an empty table and do nothing until its time to go home. whistle

Would you believe I couldn't find a publisher and only me and my sister backed it on KS!?!

Love letter sold very well and so did Eclipse. Some gamers even like both. Our group of 6 unanimously prefers Panic Station (despite some clunkiness) to the Resistance (in all its simple elegance).

Obviously if you only subtracted things from games you would never create anything.

You want to make a game that some significant subset of gamers will want to buy because its fun relevant to them.

I think (as other above have alluded to) that you must know your audience and have some game design objectives / goals / guidelines suited to both them and the type of game you are making. That provides your game design compass for many decisions of which + / - is but one.

If you are aiming for a microgame, be guided by that and minimise away. But if you are making an area control game with an array of strategic and tactical options to be explored then you have room to add some layers initially, all the while with one eye on your goals.

It also depends what phase of the games development you are in. I use my design goals + creative inspiration to do the first core build of key mechanics, specific bits and pieces, turn framework etc, then expand from there to roughly the limits of the intended design. Desired complexity is something to keep an eye on here. But this phase will inherently have more addition than subtraction. If its all good then start to hone the thing, balance stuff, assess combos, strategies and tactics relative to the goals etc etc.

Around here you are probably dealing with lots of detail and decisions about how to fix problems. Addition or subtraction is a key question here and I agree that you should always consider removing the problems. But sometimes their solution can lead to interesting branches of your game and fix other issues too.

One case in point - the addition of 5 special action options that can be taken only after you have passed, rather than elegantly doing nothing at all when your turn comes around, made a huge difference to player engagement, game tempo and strategy within one of my designs. It fixed a bunch of things in a fun way.

So it might be worth exploring additions too. Again be guided by your design goals and what you think your audience will like most.

Other factors like production complexity / costs or what other games in the same space do or don't do may have some influence here.

TLDR For me decisions about adding or cutting stuff or curtailing complexity is always relative to audience, design goals and the phase of design you are in.
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Ben Smith
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Some great thoughts out there, and this is a topic I'm particularly interested in because elegance for elegance sake is something that I aspire to, probably to a fault. Sometimes a game that is "inelegant" can still be super fun! Subtracting can make things more elegant, but if it also makes it less fun then don't!

In my experience as relates to adding and subtracting, I have one game design I've been working on for ages and it kind of expands and contracts constantly (like a dying star? Don't some stars do that?). My game is a "cars with guns" kinda game. I tend to expand the design until it captures all the "realism" of the car driving mechanics and explosions and all that good stuff. But by then the game is too bloated and clunky to play, so I have to try and strip it down and streamline it, to capture the fun and feel of the "big rules" but in a more playable, elegant design. Once it's streamlined down I play it to see if it still has the feel I want, but if it's lacking then I expand again to recapture what was lost, adding a few different rules. Then I try to streamline to get that feel more playable...
 
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Marc Missildine
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Another creative genius:

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
-Albert Einstein
 
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