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Subject: Rules: Organic vs Artificial Complexity rss

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Garret Rempel
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What is your opinion on organic vs artificial complexity? I've run into situations - games that I have played that seem overly complex, multitudes of rules and items to track that seem to enforce variability by way of providing complexity.

Then there are games like Go and Chess - deceptively simple, yet produce a great deal of variation with only a limited set of rules or combinations.
Personally I am a fan of trying to design something simple, easy to learn, easy to play, but in a way that produces a lot of options. It's not necessarily an easy thing to do, but I'm curious to know of what your experiences have been taking one approach vs another? What was your aim, and how well did you succeed at it?

I'm currently working on my own project that attempts to produce variation within a simple framework (http://www.tricorngames.com/) but I'm not yet sure if I'm quite there. Having playing quite a few playtesting rounds, it seems to work rather efficiently for me - but ramping up new players means a round takes 2-3 times longer than a game with practiced opponents.

I have been discussing this topic with a few people, and have been given a few examples of Complexity vs Depth.
Terra Mystica - which has a lot of rules and seems complex, but ends up being deceptively simple to play.
Go and Chess - which are simple, but end up having a lot of depth due to variation.
And there has been some disagreement on Dominion - simple base rules but highly precise and detailed card instructions.
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Michael Brettell
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South Turramurra
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I'd be surprised if anyone sets out to design a complex game. There's a tendency to add mechanics that we think will be interesting and thematic, and while that can be true, the total becomes overwhelming. I'm still (slowly) learning that there needs to be one or two main mechanics, and everything else should only be there if they support or enhance those core ideas.

I'd put card games with heavy text instructions on the complex side - what they've done is put extra rules on the cards, so the rules booklet itself is simple, but the cards create all sorts of more complex situations. I wouldn't call this organic complexity - more like delayed complexity.

What's your game about - what are its main mechanics, and what are some examples of the organic complexity that arise out of them?
 
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James Arias
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I love games with simple rules but emergent complexity / variety = replayability. The pinnacle of design is to me something that is simple (short rulebook, fast to teach, "easy to learn / lifetime to master"), yet conveys the feeling you included all the granular stuff for the game's theme.

The older I get the more complex rules turn me off, since that'll force me to read the rulebook, find or make a cheatsheet, solo play to learn it, and THEN I'm ready to teach the kids and hope their attention span is long enough to stay with it and play with me
 
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Garret Rempel
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The concept of the game is you are a mastermind trying to control a city using your Minions - like competing crime bosses - except your minions are Robots, Ninjas, and Pirates (because of awesome).

The primary mechanic is a flip Mechanic that can cascade.

Each turn allows a player to do four things (in any order):
- Draw a card (either a Minion or an Action)
- Play an Action from their hand
- Attack with a Minion against another Minion
- Swap an Active Minion for an Inactive one

Each player has a max of 3 Active Minions, and 3 Inactive Minions. They attack by flipping an opponent's Active Minion. Each Minion only has a limited number of flips before it gets discarded from play.

The way a flip works is that every Minion is double-sided with a different effect on each side of the card (although every Minion of the same type is the same). A Robot either deals damage to the owner (1 for every Robot flipped this turn) or heals their owner (1 for every Robot flipped this turn -1). A Ninja either adds 1 Flip Counter to any other Minion, or deals 1 damage to each player for every empty Active Minion slot they have. A Pirate either deals 1 damage to each player with the fewest number of active Pirates, or the largest number of active Pirates.

If a Minion is attacked by a Minion of a different type [this is written on the card] then it will cascade and cause another Minion on the board to also flip. Robots trigger another Robot, Ninjas trigger any card owned by another player, and Pirates trigger any other card owned by the same player.

That is the extent of it - Actions are simple things, Swap 2 Minions, Discard a Minion, Flip a Minion as though it was attacked, Mask a Minion so that it is treated as a different type, Merge 2 Minions (turning 2 different Minions into a single card), or Flip every Minion owned by 1 player of a specific type (ie, target 1 player - flip all their Robots).

So far it seems to lead to all manner of tactical situations, and it's not necessarily easy to see a beneficial action - let alone a good one.

I'm currently recruiting new playtesters - but out of all the playtest games I've run myself, I have yet to win a single one (except for the trial games where I was the only one playing!).
 
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Dave Platt
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It all depends on the who you want to play your game.
If you are happy for it to appeal to a niche then you can get away with complex rules, because hardcore gamers who are interested in a theme or concept are more likely to persevere through complex rules.
However, if you want your game to appeal to the masses and have longevity, then it needs to be simple rules with the possibility of depth in strategy. I say "possibility" because I believe that well designed games give gamers the option to find their own level of play.
I'm not saying simple or complex is good or bad or that niche games have any less worth than games with mass appeal. They both cater for different audiences and both have their place and both need different types of rules.
 
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Barry Harvey
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While simplicity might be the aim, sometimes you have to add in exceptions to fix problems that could make the game unplayable.

Chess might be simple but the rules for pawns smack of multiple 'fixes' to ensure that they're neither too strong nor too weak.
 
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Greg
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And that "You can only castle with pieces that were on the board at the start of the game" patch.

I don't think simplicity is the goal of every game. I mean it's generally good, but some thematics get a lot out of doing things in a slightly less efficient way that 'feels' right.

It's still a great goal and really elegant games that do a lot with very little are nice to explore, but I don't think it's a direction for everything.
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