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Subject: What's a Replayable Game? And Why Does it Matter? rss

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Barry Miller
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Is Chess a replayable game?

Edit (3:30pm): Based on the first page of responses below, I apparently didn't do a good job conveying that the above question is a setup question. I'll take the hit for that. Of course I think Chess is a very replayable game. Who wouldn't? I pose the question only to set Chess up as a frame of reference for the discussion.
To explain the below a little bit, I've read many comments about how a game (there have been many over the years) lacks replay value because it doesn't have, for example, a random setup, or that it has only one goal, etc. That's when I said to myself,
"But Chess doesn't have a random start-up. Chess has only one goal (checkmate)". Wouldn't that make chess a game with little replay value, then? Well since Chess is a game full of replay value, I knew I wanted to get into a larger discussion of what exactly is "replayability". So back to my original post:


While recently reading a review for a popular board game, (ranked in the top 400 on BGG) the author lamented on the game's "replayability". He's not the only one to share the same sentiments which typically are,
"This game lacks replayability and although it's a great game, will probably end up on the shelf after two or three plays."
Such comments are also usually accompanied with examples of other games which are considered "replayable".

So it struck me that by today's definition of what makes a game "replayable", then Chess would never make the cut. By today's definition, Chess lacks everything that makes a game replayable. Yet it's played over and over and over. For year after year. Hmmm.

So are we conflating the terms, "Replayability", with, "Want-to-Play-Ability"?

The (top 400) game in question I can see being played many, many times and each game would be different. But it does lack the mechanics that in today's age are associated with purposely driving a game to be constantly "replayable".

Is "replayability" simply a gimmick (albeit a good one) to keep a game alive
in this age of an absolutely overwhelming selection of games? A game group I know refuses to play games which weren't released in the past year unless they have certain "replayability" mechanics.

Is the industry of producing games reaching the point akin to producing movies? Movies today have a very short shelf life... all that work, blood, and effort that goes into making a movie only shines for a short while, then the movie is relegated to the $1 theaters and then to being part of a collection of a thousand other movies in someone's digital library - likely to never be watched again.

Are today's games going the same way? If a game designer doesn't include those magical mechanics that serve only to make a game "replayable", is his/her effort going to be collecting dust 24 months later? Even if it is a superb game?

Is this where our hobby is headed? Are we conflating Replayability with Want-to-Play-Ability? And why is Chess so replayable, then?



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Jeff
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Replayability, to me, means there are multiple paths and/or strategies to victory that can be explored - as in, a game with limited 'replayability' will have a small number of viable/effective strategies that most folks realize after a play or two, and so interest is lost in the game as it kind of devolves into who can pull of the known strategy first. It may be a blast the first few times, but if it devolves into a race to complete a known strategy - then it's a good game but with little replayability factor.

On the other side of the fence, games with multiple paths or varied strats may encourage replays, as folks try new ideas (or, if they are unsuccessful in their favorite strat, maybe try something new out of desperation!) and so the game is kept fresh and new-feeling.

Of course, as with the vast majority of my posts here, this is purely my opinion!

(Note also, as a solo player, 'replayability' can also mean a game with a high amount of random events, coupled with multiple available strategies - something to keep me playing without feeling like my current play is a carbon copy of my last play...)
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Curt Carpenter
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bgm1961 wrote:
So are we conflating the terms, "Replayability", with, "Want-to-Play-Ability"?

As used on this site, they are one in the same. One could argue that replayability means continuing to have a different experience, but all games beyond Tic Tac Toe have enough variety to not have the exact same game for indefinite number of plays, practically speaking (i.e. way more than anyone will ever play).

bgm1961 wrote:
And why is Chess so replayable, then?

Because chess was already extremely popular around the world before modern gaming emerged.
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I think "replayability" too often means gimmicky modular boards or randomized setups that don't really provide a new experience, but merely rehash the same experience. I hate it when people say, "There's 1,000 ways to set up the board! It's got tons of replay value!"

On the other hand, I think Want-to-Play-Ability ("WPA") is an essential component of replay value. A game could play very differently every time. Look at Fluxx. All my plays have been very different. But I don't think the game has all that much replay value. Because, despite the variation, the game maintains a consistent feel. And it's easy to get tired of.

Stated another way, how much replay value can a game have if you never want to play it?

But it isn't just WPA. It needs to have something that provides novel experiences. Sometimes that does come from random elements (cards, dice, etc.). Sometimes it's real-time pressure causing different mistakes. But the best games achieve something new because your opponents change. I've played over a hundred One Night Werewolf games and nearly that many Resistance/Avalon plays. In more traditional board games, Yunnan is a great example. No randomness whatsoever, but the game can play very differently. It provides a framework for players to inject strategies. A good strategy one play might be terrible the next simply based on what opponents are doing.

In short, replay value is WPA plus enough depth to make different meaningful choices from game to game. But gimmicky setups are not replay value.
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I believe 'Replayability' defines how much one can play a game before feeling it has been 'solved'...indicating that if one were to play the game more, it would offer nothing new or challenging anymore.

Let's look at 'Checkers' many people do not pull out checkers as much as they did as a child, since it offers little challenge and nothing new to explore for them. Finding ways to beat the opponent has been exhausted, and for many, 'Checkers' has been relegated to something to play with the little kids.

Some games are fun once 'solved', simply because the challenges they pose are still enjoyable even if familiar. That would be 'Chess'.
Of course 'Replayability' would also indicate 'want-to-play-ability', since few play games they don't enjoy anyhow. But I think there is no confusion of the two, the latter is naturaly a part of determining the former.

When a game has nothing left to explore, it definitely can diminish in it's appeal to played, thus lessening it's 'replayability'.

There's my two cents, for what its worth.
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Jeff K
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bgm1961 wrote:
By today's definition, Chess lacks everything that makes a game replayable.




I'm sorry, but this is completely untrue in my opnion.

You've mis-defined "replayability." It means that the game does not unfold the same way twice, or does not follow the same path for each successive play. Chess is actually the epitomy of replayable, as countless permutations of moves are possible. As with Go, or almost any other abstract, this is of course the allure.

A game which follows the same basic pattern every time you play loses interest quickly, because it is often too easy to see where your opponent is going with their strategy, or perhaps one strategy is too strong and will always be chosen at the expense of others. This is actually what makes a game not replayable. It has nothing to do with your desire to play it again because you enjoyed it.

Even if Chess has favored openings, it is the mid-game which will hold the most interest for highly experienced players.
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Replay-ability to me, simply is a question of whether I feel a game is provoking me to make interesting decisions. Any game can provoke interesting decisions on it's first game as all the mechanics are new, or the way they fit together is new....but after it stops being new, is playing the game still a learning experience or not.

Take Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. I rarely feel that I'm being provoked to make new and interesting decisions in those games. More often then not, I draw a card/tile, and then simply make what I consider to be the obvious move. It's still a fun and social experience, but as a game, it fails to make me think as much as I expect games to make me think. Throw in expansions, other maps, a few things here and there, and it adds to the game's replay-ability, because the base game was lacking in it's own right.

Whereas you can take Specter Ops, a game I've spent 12 hours playing since Thursday, and I don't see that ever getting old with or without expansions. Every game can be played differently, every game inspires thought, and every decision is agonizing.

Now Chess I have no interest in playing these days, but it is re-playable...the ways you have to react to your opponent leave a near infinite ways to play the game and think it through.

So to sum up, I define replay-ability not so much as having different experiences, but whether the game forces me to think about my moves, beyond the first few games. If a game can do that on it's own as many do, then great. If it needs expansions involving maps, events, characters etc, then so be it...as long as I'm thinking I'm happy.

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Xookliba wrote:
You've mis-defined "replayability."


Very much this.

Random or variable start up does not mean replayable. Identical start up does not mean not replayable.
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Actually, you're very wrong about chess. Chess has probably the single greatest trait that makes a game replayable. It rewards repeated play and effort with a very long skill path: you can spend your whole life getting better at chess and never plateau or hit a ceiling.

I'm not much a fan of chess but it may be one of the most replayable board games ever devised.
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bgm1961 wrote:
But it does lack the mechanics that in today's age are associated with purposely driving a game to be constantly "replayable".
Can you clarify what mechanic(s) you are talking about that make a game replayable?" Are you speaking of variable set-up, or including some random elements (dice/cards), or something else?

In my mind replay-ability is about the depth of decision making in the game. Look at two the extreme examples: tic-tac-toe is not replayable, because you know exactly what to do in every situation. Chess is extremely replayable, because the best minds in the chess world could look at the exact same position and have different opinions about what the 'optimal' move is. You can't 'solve' chess by 'figuring out' how it works.....at least not yet.
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Bryan Thunkd
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bgm1961 wrote:
So it struck me that by today's definition of what makes a game "replayable", then Chess would never make the cut. By today's definition, Chess lacks everything that makes a game replayable.
What is this definition of replayability that you keep referencing? What exactly does Chess lack that is supposed to make it replayable? I have no idea what you're railing against as you've failed to define it at all.

From my perspective the key element that can make a game replayable is the ability for players to find new challenges in the game. One way to do this is for a game to use a variable game setup or random game elements so that players are confronted with a new puzzle in every play. Another way to do this is to provide great strategic depth, so that while the game is largely the same from play to play, there's still an ongoing challenge that the user has to confront.

The first option is the easier one to implement and so it is the one you see most often employed. And I suspect that it's the thing you're equating with "replayability". The second one is much trickier to pull off, but it's the one that makes Chess replayable.

I don't think you should be upset when gamers say they want replayability... that's actually a valid complaint. There are many games that can't stand the test of time. They just don't have the depth to provide enough challenges to players over repeated plays. The questions they ask are able to be answered over a finite number of plays. (Or if not answered, at least addressed to the point where the question is no longer interesting.)

Adding a variable start position and/or random game elements, can change that question so that every play challenges you in a different way... keeping that challenge fresh and interesting. But even that can often become uninteresting over time. It's the alternate method of providing replayability that is more interesting... where the game is deep enough that you can't easily answer all the questions it asks. Or at least not without investing a lot of plays into the game.

I think you went the wrong way on this one... You heard a lot of people asking for replayability and you had your own definition of what that meant. But you pretty easily found there was a disconnect there, as proved by Chess... and you assumed that the disconnect was that everyone else was wrong... instead of considering that maybe it was your definition that was wrong.
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bgm1961 wrote:
"This game lacks replayability and although it's a great game, will probably end up on the shelf after two or three plays."

...

A game group I know refuses to play games which weren't released in the past year unless they have certain "replayability" mechanics.


Focusing on "replayability" is a wonderful way for an inner-circle of know-it-alls to justify their hopes of instead being called the cognoscenti. You shouldn't worry too much about whether it inhibits your own enjoyment of the game.

 
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Xookliba wrote:
You've mis-defined "replayability."

Thanks for your addition to the conversation! But I never actually defined replayability in my OP. I merely stated there's a definition today of what apparently makes a game replayable - call it a "meta" definition, if you will. I observed this by reading how others define it through their reviews and forum posts, and am wondering what it actually means and why it matters. I'm glad you provided your comments!

TheOneTrueZeke wrote:
Actually, you're very wrong about chess. Chess has probably the single greatest trait that makes a game replayable.

Actually, I agree with you! I think Chess is a very replayable game, and is why I posted my OP after reading how others define replayability. I thought to myself, "Well, if that's how you define replayablility [today], then Chess wouldn't qualify. Yet it is a replayable game - very much so". Which is why I posted the question.

 
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bgm1961 wrote:

I observed this by reading how others define it through their reviews and forum posts

after reading how others define replayability.


Can you show us some examples of these perspectives on replayability? It seems that the majority of people would find flaw with them if they were specified, since they apparently don't count chess as replayable they must be flawed, but without a specific example to work from it's pretty difficult to see where you are coming from. I've been actively looking around the general forum for a few months and haven't seen the issue mentioned more than a couple of times in passing.
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bgm1961 wrote:

Xookliba wrote:
You've mis-defined "replayability."

Thanks for your addition to the conversation! But I never actually defined replayability in my OP. I merely stated there's definition today of what apparently makes a game replayable - call it a "meta" definition, if you will. I observed this by reading how others define it through their reviews and forum posts, and am wondering what it actually means and why it matters. I'm glad you provided your comments!



What I was going on, and others apparently were as well, was this statement (emphasis mine):

bgm1961 wrote:
So it struck me that by today's definition of what makes a game "replayable", then Chess would never make the cut. By today's definition, Chess lacks everything that makes a game replayable.


So you were operating from a working definition, even if it wasn't yours.

I did get the impression that you maybe did not buy into the understanding of the term, but it is hard to tell from that statement. Perhaps it would be helpful if you stated what you see as the common perception of "re-playability," from the standpoint of starting the discussion.
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Thunkd wrote:
What is this definition of replayability that you keep referencing? I have no idea what you're railing against as you've failed to define it at all.

It's this, that you provided: (and BTW, did I actually come across as "railing against something"? If so, I apologize. At the heart of my OP, I'm merely asking how the community defines a replayable game). Anyway, the definition I most often hear is this:
Thunkd wrote:
One way to do this is for a game to use a variable game setup or random game elements so that players are confronted with a new puzzle in every play.

Essentially, it's that. I see a lot of players lament when a game doesn't include these features as they claim the game doesn't have any replay value. It's when I read these sort of comments is when I think of Chess and so that breaks their definition for me (as Chess is very replayable). Hence my question.

Thunkd wrote:
Another way to do this is to provide great strategic depth, so that while the game is largely the same from play to play, there's still an ongoing challenge that the user has to confront.

I think you're right about this and have always considered that to be a good definition. The game I purposely didn't mention in my OP, but I guess there's no point not to - is Panamax. I think Panamax meets both of your definitions above, yet there have been many questions in its forums about it's replay value. I personally think I could play Panamax quite often without losing interest, which is what got me wondering why people are concerned about its replay value, and so what replay value actually means? Is there a "Meta" definition (which there seems to be)? What is it? That's the purpose of my OP.

Thunkd wrote:
I think you went the wrong way on this one... you had your own definition of what that meant. But you pretty easily found there was a disconnect there...

Actually, my definition pretty much matches yours, which is why I'm spending so much time replying to your post. I guess you're right about the disconnect. There are other examples of course - Panamax being the most recent for me - but I did see a disconnect between the concern over replay value and my thoughts that it's a very replayable game. Much the same way I see Chess being a replayable game - there are no random start-ups in Chess, yet as the game unfolds it presents a strategic puzzle different everytime.

Thunkd wrote:
... and you assumed that the disconnect was that everyone else was wrong... instead of considering that maybe it was your definition that was wrong.

Hopefully my replies above clarify my thoughts!


 
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Xookliba wrote:
Perhaps it would be helpful if you stated what you see as the common perception of "re-playability," from the standpoint of starting the discussion.

That's fair. Perhaps my discussion immediately above will shed some light?


 
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bgm1961 wrote:
Thunkd wrote:
Another way to do this is to provide great strategic depth, so that while the game is largely the same from play to play, there's still an ongoing challenge that the user has to confront.

I think you're right about this and have always considered that to be a good definition. The game I purposely didn't mention in my OP, but I guess there's no point not to - is Panamax. I think Panamax meets both of your definitions above, yet there have been many questions in its forums about it's replay value. I personally think I could play Panamax quite often without losing interest, which is what got me wondering why people are concerned about its replay value, and so what replay value actually means?
First, my comments about Panamax are going to be based off two plays and I freely admit that I didn't really "get" Panamax.

That being said.. while Panamax does provide variable goals, I'm not sure how much they make the game that different. It might change a few things you aim for in the game, but the core of your game is likely to remain the same...

Another way of providing interesting challenges is having multiple paths to victory. And this is something I don't think you see in Panamax. Every player is always going to be pursuing a strategy where they want to get ships into the waterways and have their ships be pushed by other players if possible. You'll not see a player who deviates from that basic idea. And that's largely why I think the variable setup doesn't really change the game much... you'll still be doing the same type of thing all game long.

Panamax just didn't click with me. It felt like the game asked one very specific question... which was how to move your ships efficiently. And by the end of the second game, I just didn't care to explore that idea any further. It just wasn't that interesting to me. The guy who won the second game by a blowout made a comment along the lines of "I have no idea what I did to win".

So I'd agree that the game lacks replayability. If I had to pin down why, I'd say that there isn't enough space to do different things there. There's not much ability to deviate from a very specific strategy.

But hey, obviously I don't understand the game very well, so maybe I'm way off base.
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bgm1961 wrote:

Xookliba wrote:
Perhaps it would be helpful if you stated what you see as the common perception of "re-playability," from the standpoint of starting the discussion.

That's fair. Perhaps my discussion immediately above will shed some light?




Yes, I think so. Really, I think it comes down to a couple things. First, I think the actual definition of re-playable never has changed. As many have pointed out here, the tried and true definition, the one I suspect most would choose, would be a game that gives you a large decision tree. Not just a large decision tree, but an "unbiased" one, that is to say, one strategic choice is not apparently superior to another. Again, as most have pointed out (and you yourself), you'd be hard pressed to find one with a bigger tree than Chess. Abstracts in general have this feature.

The other method mentioned is perhaps not new, but maybe has gained more attention these days? I'm just not sure about that. Maybe it has, I suppose an argument could be made either way. But it certainly is not a new concept. One long found in wargames, for example.

I think there is kind of a middle ground. An example which springs to my mind is a wargame: Bonaparte at Marengo. This game has very good replayability, mostly becasue of its fairly abstract concepts. As with Chess, it has a strong midgame, even though the opening is quite scripted, and the endgame can often be very similar. The midgame often unfolds in wildly different ways as the search tree opens up and possibilities multiply.

This game also has variable setup, in that units are chosen randomly to start at fixed locations. There is enough difference in unit capabilities that this gives a very different feel to each play of the situation. So this game has a bit of both of your examples.

Why this game does not ultimately have the replayability of Chess is that the victory conditions are much more narrow. While "capture the King" may seem narrow, B@M begins to unfold in a somewhat similar manner with each repeated play. Historically, the French fought a delaying action, and the game is designed to reflect that. Victory locations are at one end of the board and the French start with fewer pieces, often forcing the player to adopt an orderly retreat, which was how the actual battle unfolded. In all the games I ever observed, only in one instance did I see the French go on a prolonged offensive, taking control of the game (which was done by one of the games highest rated players to date, so not something just anybody is going to be able to do. It took a very talented expert to pull it off).

So, there are some games which may have very good replayability, but not match something like Chess due to constraints that are put upon it by victory conditions. Often, in non-abstract games, these conditions are very narrow, and I believe it is this which puts the limit on replayability of a game. Once the meaningful decisions begin to be culled out, shedding light on branches of the tree which are not productive, and the players begin to trod an all-too-familiar path, that is when the game becomes stale and will often be relegated to the shelf.

Still, this is surely not a deal-killer? If you can play a game many dozens of times before you hit this point, I don't see a problem with it. You get your enjoyment out of a game and them move on. Sometimes even pulling it out after extended absences to enjoy it. That is not a terrible fault, as I see it. It does not have to be an "either replayable or not" situation, in my view. Sometimes games with great replayability that I wish to play over and over do not get the requisite number of plays I'd like, so a limited replayability doesn't seem like such a big deal to me, as long as it is more than just a few repeated plays.

EDIT: Bryan again has beaten me to saying something very similar to what I was trying to say. Victory conditions are very important in this regard, in what they force you to concentrate on in a game. The best ones do not constrain you to specific strategies, if possible.
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Replayable game to me in a broader sense (as opposed to when getting down into the details) is when a game is able to break the psychological barriers of gamer(s) so they'll want to play the game again. That, in addition to overcoming the current environmental and financial circumstances
 
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What a confusing thread, ehm, topic, ehm, hard to distinguish the two.

The way it's framed in OP it seems "replayability" is used to convey something different than it does. If chess were not replayable it wouldn't be still around. But whether it's fun to play for someone, that's a different matter. Probably the quoted user had issues with chess being semi-scripted and a lot of play demands memorizing basically most of what had happened in the game through history.

Currently I wouldn't say replayability actually matters as much as the gamers claim it does - if the game is getting 10-20 plays per game life, it doens't need to be infinitely replayable.

Basically as I understand a game gets replayabilty through 3 main strategies: depth, breath, people/metagame.

Depth means that as players become more and more skillful the game opens up new and new facets and grows with them. Problem: might take a long while to actually go across a reasonable learning curve. Games as Go and Chess are lifestyle games - you play it, not something else, and best if you can start at 10 y.o. But as modern boardgaming developed out of gaming with families in germany and students playing sprawling games in in US, proper depth was never on the map. Up to a certain scale, yes, but not on the level of Chess or Go.

Breadth. Hello CCGs. And Dominions. And variable set up boards. And stuff. A very profitable way of designing a game (if you could pull it off) is that players pay extra for replayabilty. System is solved adter so and so plays, so here's some extra cards, rules and bits. That will be 19.90, please.
Another version of this would be using randomness to make things different every time. As someone said "give players a different puzzle to solve" (many individual cards is the way to go). Here some gamers have some threshold of how much chaos they can tolerate before they are dissatisfied with lack of connection between their actions and result.

People's factor is one I prefer - simply put the burden of making the game tick onto players. Negotiation games, bluffing games, double think games. The game may totally change when new players joins the table. So you have to re-learn the game with each group. Some gamers don't fancy this idea.

Sure, there are many games connecting depth and people factor (train games? Diplomacy for sure). And there's probably some link in the people factor and randomness (push your luck games).

All paths are a bit problematic for modern gamer - deep games and people driven games aren't likely to be fun the first time around, might need some 10 games to click. Sooo, we're left with variaty, but too much randomness is not desired as well, so... expansions! Or play worker placements - they're one game where each game can be an expansion of any other game. It's just a puzzle put in many different ways.

For me actual replayability matters as I'm kinda old school and think that if traditional card games could pull it off, modern games should as well. Plus I'm stingy. No replayability, no money for you. (Also in my youth I've wasted a lot of money on MtG, so, once was enough).
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Vy Chazen
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bgm1961 wrote:

So it struck me that by today's definition of what makes a game "replayable", then Chess would never make the cut. By today's definition, Chess lacks everything that makes a game replayable. Yet it's played over and over and over. For year after year. Hmmm.


Are you saying because Chess isn't being brought to the table that it lacks replay value? Just clarifying. I find it doesn't hit the table often because it makes people's head hurt.

I would put it this way, if you brought Chess to the table (assuming you don't play often) and played with someone who plays regularly, you'd have a hard time winning. Let's say you want to beat this person, you'd have to spend a lot of time playing and strategizing to get to the level of some players. There are books longer than say, Caverna, just on Chess moves alone.

Chess never gets old for me because it's pure strategy. Plus tactics against your opponent's moves. This is the number one thing that makes up some of my favorite abstract games. I love Hive and Colorku, which is just endless. Meaning I can keep these games forever and play them with a variety of people.

For me, I think of Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Tsuro as games that lack replayability because it lacks the same strategic thinking. These games are the same in it's simplicity and mindless gameplay. (Although I think Tsuro is meditative and has a gorgeous board, it lacks the strategic thinking).
 
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J C Lawrence
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"Replayability" is a false measure used predictively as a shibboleth in order to pretend to justify a No True Scotsman claim.

First, the audience complaining about replayability will (with vanishingly rare exception) never actually replay the game enough to answer the question. Instead "replayability" is held up as a vaunted measure which all Good Games must adhere to, without that measure ever actually being tested, let alone used but the complaining audience.

It this way it is much like 4WD on my daily commuter vehicle in the city: a pointless waste of time.
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John Rogers
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clearclaw wrote:
"Replayability" is a false measure used predictively as a shibboleth in order to pretend to justify a No True Scotsman claim.


Great use of the term. Such a fun word to say; but say it correctly or else.

clearclaw wrote:
it is much like 4WD on my daily commuter vehicle in the city: a pointless waste of time.


Precisely.
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Xuzu Horror
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A replayable game - to me - is a game that has a significantly different experience each time I play.

Those experiences likely involve a variety of choices.

The top ways to increase replayability for a game are:
1) Increase game driven randomness
2) Play against/with different players (if their actions have an impact on opponents actions)
3) Increase amount of good options for actions/moves

Each can increase the odds that the game experience will be different each time, either through needing to react differently and/or strategize differently.
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