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Subject: Depth in board games: What is it and how to create it? rss

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Bastiaan Reinink
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I've gotten to a phase where I'm happy with the core of the game I'm developing (Voluntarios), but it still seems that it takes longer to play than necessary.

This got me thinking about the complexity of games, which led to thoughts about depth: What is the link between complexity and depth, is depth always a good thing. And what -is- depth anyway?

You can read about my thoughts here:
http://makethemplay.com/index.php/2017/08/09/what-is-depth-a...
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Laura Creighton
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Deep games get better the more you play them and I think you have that part correct. But adding complexity just adds complexity. Having your 10th game and your 30th game be very different may be a measure that your game has depth -- but it may just be a measure that your game has complexity.

I think that both Agricola and Puerto Rico, your examples, are games that are much more complicated than they are deep. I think of myself as liking deep games, but I dislike both of those two, a whole lot. It's not a dislike for Euros, or Worker Placement -- I quite like Le Havre, in contrast, its those particular games that I really don't like.

I've played Agricola with various drafting rulesets, and came to the conclusion that I was finding more depth in working out how to draft well than I was in playing the game. The drafting was fun. Then there was this long boring slog .... an indication that I would be happier if I played a game about drafting instead.

And re: Le Havre again, I don't think that it is a particularly deep game, just one which has a lot of decision space. More complicated than deep, again. Container, on the other hand, has a very reduced decision space. But I think it is one of the deepest games I have ever played. Sierra Madre games tend to be complicated and deep.

They are independent problems -- adding more complexity to a game does not make it deeper -- at least the way I think of deeper.

If all you are doing to improve, is playing games, again and again, then you will have a hard time knowing whether you are improving because you are mastering the complexity or learning to think more deeply. But taking the game home, and working out strategies, and studying the game systematically -- is a thing that is really only worth doing if the game has some depth. If the game is deep enough, you may find that there are books to read about how to improve your game. That is an indication that there is real depth there -- the strategies get names, and their counters get names, and people who love the game can sit around and discuss whether they prefer the 'French defence' or the 'Silician defence' and why, and back their reasoning up with play, too.

Another thing to consider is 'how much fun is this game to play against people who are just learning the game, and hence playing badly'. If the game is deep, the answer is generally 'not a lot of fun'. It's hard to make a deep multi-player solitaire game. But if you want to have the fun of playing a deep game against somebody who is worth playing against, you have to go to the effort of training up these people.

I don't think there is any secret sauce you can add to an existing game to give it depth. It either started out with it, or it doesn't have it. For instance, yesterday I heard about For-Ex for the first time. Should be out in October. The description of this game -- "an opaque, nerdy, butterfly-effect game" sounds like a promise of depth to me. But this was designed right in, not something that was added.




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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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I agree that depth cannot be added afterwards. In my opinion, depth comes from the opportunities provided to the players by the core of the game.

In chess, you have pieces with only six different movement patterns but there are infinite ways to use them in your game. Go is even more extreme with only one kind of piece to use. Referring to you discussion about how to add depth, chess and go do have interaction between game elements but this is part of the core, not a later addition.

If we look at the other extreme end, tic-tac-toe is not a game that can be made deeper without changing the core.

Add complexity. Sure, you could add something like a complex tech tree that the players would have to work their way through to be allowed to place pieces in certain squares. Many euros compete to find convoluted ways to acquire resources and even have tic-toe mechanics (bonus if you fill rows). But whether you want to call such games deep or not, it would not be tic-tac-toe anymore.

Add components. Would tic-tac-toe be a deeper game if the players draft cards from a deck of hundreds of cards and play them to bplace, move or remove pieces on the board? Fans of deck builders may agree (I'm not one of them) but it would also remove the core of the game from the board to the cards.

Add randomness. If the game doesn't have strategic paths to start with, obscuring them with randomness won't achieve anything. However, backgammon is an example of simple paths (a race) where randomness works (how should I organize my pieces to have the best probabilities for the next few turns?).

Returning to your game Voluntarios, my advice would be to look at the opportunities the players currently have and think about how to make them more interesting rather than adding other things.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a difficult but exciting part of games!
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marc lecours
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I like depth in games. My poster child for depth is the game of "go" which has even less rules complexity than chess.

In your article, I agree with "interaction" of players and game elements as being a source of depth.

I do not agree that chance adds much depth. I agree that it can add a little. In a game with randomness, your moves have to take into account all sorts of possible future events. But this does not feel like depth for me, but more like having flexibility. You have to anticipate many eventualities. But I can see how it could be interpreted as depth.

I am not sure what you mean by complexity. It can easily be interpreted as having more complicated rules. Instead I think you mean having game systems that influence each other in ways that are not easy to analyse. I have chess in mind here. Where it is hard to figure out the effects of moving a piece at a glance (since it affects a whole bunch of other pieces).

This type of complexity (where small moves make big changes to the game)
evokes the word "chaos" ("butterfly effect"). This is certainly a feature of chess and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico a small change in the order that moves are taken changes everything. "Chaos" combined with randomness makes things impossible to predict and analyze. If you want a deep game which is "chaotic" then you have to make it luckless (chess) or almost luckless (Puerto Rico). This can indeed be a source of depth. In a "chaotic" game, the player that can see the furthest ahead has an advantage.

Complexity of rules adds to the time necessary to master a game but does not add "depth" to the game. It gives the illusion of depth. It takes time to learn the rules and how they interact with the game elements. Rules complexity delays the point where the player can start coming up with strategies. The player who knows the rules well has an advantage over the new player. But this is not because the game is deep but because the game has many rules to master.

I play a lot of wargames that can have 40 pages of rules. It can take many games to master the rules. But at least in wargames you can think of strategies even though you have not yet mastered the rules because the games represent real wars (and you can assume that the strategies that worked in the real war will work in the game). This is why war gamers tolerate much thicker rule books than players of other types of games.

But in games that do not model real life, complex rules just delay the point when you can learn strategies. You have to master the rules before you can start mastering the game.

A good designer trick is to put most of the rules on cards (such as in the game Twilight Struggle). "Twilight Struggle" has an extremely large rule set(if learning all the cards is considered part or the rule set). Imagine if the information on the cards was only in the rule book and all you had on the cards was the card titles. So a big part of the learning curve of Twilight Struggle is learning the rules (cards). But Twilight Struggle is also in my opinion a deep game. It may or may not be a war game but it models a real situation so that despite having complex rules you can start to find strategies right from the start.

To me depth is like those Russian dolls (one inside the other). You get those "Aha" moments finding good strategies and tactics. Then you as you get better you discover a whole new level of strategies and tactics. Then just when you thought you were getting good, you find a deeper level of strategies and tactics. For me, the game of "go" was like that. The more I play it the more I discover. The number of levels is very large.

An simple example of this is Hey, That's My Fish!. The first time you play it you use the strategy of getting tiles with 3 fish first. The second level is to position yourself to get future tiles with 3 fish or preventing others from getting to the 3 fish tiles first. Then after one game something magical happens. You realize that by taking tiles away you can isolate the opponents penguins or even reserve tiles for your own future use. WOW! To me this is what depth feels like. When you find a whole new level of strategy and tactics. Hey, That's My Fish! has roughly 2 levels of depth. Go and Chess have many more.
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Jon Vallerand
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This is how I describe complexity vs depth:

Complexity is how much brain power is used up by following the rules.

Depth is how much brain power is used up by playing optimally.
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John Rogers
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Interesting article. I will go back and re-read more carefully when I have more time. In the interim, I disagree with the notion that adding complexity equals depth. To me this is just adding noise. More hoops to jump through perhaps but no real add-on of decisions of interesting consequence.

I find depth and complexity are often confused here on the geek. In an effort to add some clarity, here are some thoughts I ran across awhile back on William Peng's blog on game design.

Depth is the number of emergent, experientially different possibilities or meaningful choices that come out of one ruleset. Games with high depth are still strategically interesting and fun even after you have mastered the game’s rules.

Complexity is how difficult it is for the player to understand the rules and their implications. Games with high complexity may be less strategically interesting and fun after you have mastered the game’s rules. Similarly, the more complex a game the harder it is to appreciate any depth therein
.

You mention Puerto Rico and Agricola as very deep games. While the former is certainly more elegant than the latter, neither feel like they are bursting with emerging meaningful play. For designs with depth see the aforementioned Container, Go, or the various games by the Splotter Spellen team (particularly The Great Zimbabwe). These games also support your notion that interaction is the most effective and elegant approach to depth.
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Jeff Warrender
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Nice article. I'm curious about this statement:

Quote:
Having written the last part about player interactions I understand a bit better why I always feel that many Euro games are “missing something”.They need to get their depth from mechanical interaction and / or lots of components (Agricola, I’m looking at you!).


Do you feel this way primarily about present-era Euro games, or do you also include Euro games from the 'Golden Age' in the mid-90s?


To me, there's a strong correlation between depth and subtlety. What I mean is that the deeper the game, the more I find myself following a thought process like this:

I have been presented with a decision
I perceive that there are implications to that decision
I can see what some of those implications are or may be...
... but not all of them.
... and, not perfectly

A deep game, to use the metaphor, has things beneath the surface that aren't readily apparent but that you discover as you play more. These things inform your decisions, but at the same time you can't perfectly calculate what the consequences of your decisions will be because the outcomes are contingent on what the other players will do.
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Max Maloney
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I would add the concept that depth can apply to a game's skill curve. The longer the skill curve, the more plays a game can typically support. And the greater this effect, the more correlation there is between skill and victory.

I have played Race for the Galaxy 150-200 times and can reliably beat new players, but I can almost never beat my friend who has played 1,500 times.

A game with a long road to mastery probably has that which we nebulously define as depth.

P.S. I also vehemently disagree that Container is deeper than Puerto Rico. Container is unique and therefore interesting, so it attracts a lot of attention. But I don't know anyone who has played it hundreds of times, and there are many PR enthusiasts who have done just that and continue to have meaningful competitive games.
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Jeremy Lennert
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I would agree that depth is related to the amount you can learn, but I think it's more specific than that: it implies that your later lessons build on your earlier ones. You're climbing a tower, not charting a forest.

Upgrading your dragoon on this turn is a good move because it balances your defenses, and defensive balance is a good idea because it makes it more expensive for your opponent to get a beachhead, and you want to prevent a beachhead because it would let your opponent deploy further forward, and you want to prevent that because it would save him tempo, which...


I contrast this with breadth, which is where a game contains many variations for you to work out, but they don't particularly depend on each other. Like when a game has 4 different maps to play on, or 20 playable factions with different strategies, or 100 random events that might shake things up. Breadth forces to to rework the details of your play over and over (rather than just doing the exact same thing as last time), because your situation is always a bit different and so your last answer may no longer apply. But the new situations aren't necessarily any harder or more advanced than the previous ones; they're simply different.

I don't think breadth gives the same sense of achievement or mastery that depth gets you. However, I think breadth can serve a similar purpose in keeping players engaged over a long time, and it tends to equalize players of different experience levels where depth tends to separate them, so I think breadth is still pretty awesome. Also, I think breadth is easier to design than depth.


And I don't think either of those is the same as (rules) complexity, which I view as being strictly a negative. Complexity is the "overhead" or extra work that you have to do in order to get to the part you care about; it's the price of admission. You can't keep all of the complexity out of your game, but you should try to minimize it, and make sure that all the complexity you add is "pulling its weight" and giving you cool features you care about.

I don't think this view of complexity is rigorously accurate--I suspect that it is possible to make a game so simple that the simplicity actually hurts it, and it could be made better by adding complexity even if that complexity didn't come with useful features attached. However, I don't think this distinction is important for design, because it's still a good idea to make sure every bit of complexity you add does come with useful features attached. So I like to think of complexity simply as a cost.
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Jeremy Lennert
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BastiaanSquared wrote:
Chess has relatively simple rules, but it’s an extremely deep game. That’s because there is an incredible amount of interaction possible between the game pieces and the board: Any piece can move to any space on the board (with some minor exceptions) and any piece can interact with any of the opponent’s pieces. That means that at any given time there is a staggering amount of moves that is possible.

This is really not true: the number of moves possible at a given point in a game (known as the "branching factor") is actually fairly modest in chess--I've seen the average estimated at around 35.

We have relatively simple computer algorithms that can play chess really well in large part because that is pretty small, which means they can search the move tree to a greater depth. In contrast, Go has hundreds of legal moves on a typical turn, and has proven far harder for computers to crack. Arimaa gives each player 4 moves per turn specifically to up the branching factor and make things harder for computers.

Pandemic has a higher branching factor for similar reasons--you've only got perhaps 10 options for any given action point, but with 4 action points per turn there are typically hundreds of things you could do. But I think most people would say Pandemic has less depth than Chess (even if they prefer to play Pandemic).

So I think you're barking up the wrong tree, here.
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Laura Creighton
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Dormammu wrote:
I would add the concept that depth can apply to a game's skill curve. The longer the skill curve, the more plays a game can typically support. And the greater this effect, the more correlation there is between skill and victory.

I have played Race for the Galaxy 150-200 times and can reliably beat new players, but I can almost never beat my friend who has played 1,500 times.

A game with a long road to mastery probably has that which we nebulously define as depth.

P.S. I also vehemently disagree that Container is deeper than Puerto Rico. Container is unique and therefore interesting, so it attracts a lot of attention. But I don't know anyone who has played it hundreds of times, and there are many PR enthusiasts who have done just that and continue to have meaningful competitive games.


You know me, and I most certainly would have played it over 100 times if I could get 5 people to play that often. As it is, I have more than 85 plays in.
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To me, depth is a game system whose strategy is neither repetitive nor solvable. In other words, for every strategy, there is a counter-strategy, which in turn has a counter-strategy which does not repeat previous strategies.

So, depth would be the number of non-repeating layers of strategy required to win. As an example, "Paper-Rock-Scissors" isn't solvable, but is highly repetitive.

This can be done with or without complex rules. I would define "elegance" as the simplest possible rules yielding the deepest possible strategy (Go would be the classic example of an "elegant" game).

As a counter-example, consider a complex rules game about, say, Pearl Harbor. The depth of simulation might yield intricate and difficult mechanics for modeling the Japanese strike, but due to their surprise, no US response would be permitted. Although such a game is complex, it is also solvable and therefore not deep - what BGG gamers will usually call "broken".
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Jeremy Lennert
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sightreader wrote:
To me, depth is a game system whose strategy is neither repetitive nor solvable. In other words, for every strategy, there is a counter-strategy, which in turn has a counter-strategy which does not repeat previous strategies.

So, depth would be the number of non-repeating layers of strategy required to win. As an example, "Paper-Rock-Scissors" isn't solvable, but is highly repetitive.

I don't think that works. I could easily create a variant of rock-paper-scissors that uses a thousand different moves (instead of 3) arranged in such a way that the counter-strategy chain goes through all thousand of them before repeating. But I don't think that's any deeper than regular rock-paper-scissors.

Also note that for any game with a finite number of possible strategies (which includes every board game you're ever likely to play), the chain of counter-strategies must either loop or terminate. And if it terminates, then the last strategy in the chain has no counter. So "neither repetitive nor solvable" may work as an informal description, but I don't think it works as a rigorous standard.
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Jan Jonkman
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Antistone wrote:
sightreader wrote:
To me, depth is a game system whose strategy is neither repetitive nor solvable. In other words, for every strategy, there is a counter-strategy, which in turn has a counter-strategy which does not repeat previous strategies.

So, depth would be the number of non-repeating layers of strategy required to win. As an example, "Paper-Rock-Scissors" isn't solvable, but is highly repetitive.

I don't think that works. I could easily create a variant of rock-paper-scissors that uses a thousand different moves (instead of 3) arranged in such a way that the counter-strategy chain goes through all thousand of them before repeating. But I don't think that's any deeper than regular rock-paper-scissors.

Also note that for any game with a finite number of possible strategies (which includes every board game you're ever likely to play), the chain of counter-strategies must either loop or terminate. And if it terminates, then the last strategy in the chain has no counter. So "neither repetitive nor solvable" may work as an informal description, but I don't think it works as a rigorous standard.

But it is a better game if non of the strategies is ever the best strategy. This will give a game more depth in my opinion, because you are forced to think and not just use strategy over and over again to win.
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Jon Vallerand
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Antistone wrote:
I would agree that depth is related to the amount you can learn, but I think it's more specific than that: it implies that your later lessons build on your earlier ones. You're climbing a tower, not charting a forest.

Upgrading your dragoon on this turn is a good move because it balances your defenses, and defensive balance is a good idea because it makes it more expensive for your opponent to get a beachhead, and you want to prevent a beachhead because it would let your opponent deploy further forward, and you want to prevent that because it would save him tempo, which...


I contrast this with breadth, which is where a game contains many variations for you to work out, but they don't particularly depend on each other. Like when a game has 4 different maps to play on, or 20 playable factions with different strategies, or 100 random events that might shake things up. Breadth forces to to rework the details of your play over and over (rather than just doing the exact same thing as last time), because your situation is always a bit different and so your last answer may no longer apply. But the new situations aren't necessarily any harder or more advanced than the previous ones; they're simply different.

I don't think breadth gives the same sense of achievement or mastery that depth gets you. However, I think breadth can serve a similar purpose in keeping players engaged over a long time, and it tends to equalize players of different experience levels where depth tends to separate them, so I think breadth is still pretty awesome. Also, I think breadth is easier to design than depth.


You're not the first person I see contrast depth and breadth, and I definitely see your point, and would only disagree on the terminology: to me, what I call depth (that is, the amount of brain power assigned to playing the game optimally) and what you call breadth are two aspects of what you call depth (and I would call... maybe rich?). I think a deep (to my definiton) game will require you to build heuristics (a.k.a. learning) in order to free upon the brain power to consider some more information.

As for breadth, games with variable set-up, for example, have high breadth, in that the combo you built last game might not be available this turn. In such games, one of the crucial strategic points is assessing the various available paths for this game, whether it's the available cards in Dominion, the choice of race in a game of Terra Mystica, or the order of disasters in Year of the Dragon. Those are skills that are very close to the evaluation of a board situation in Chess or Go, which must be learned and built upon.

I understand when you say that breadth closes the gap of experience because some of that experience is irrelevant here, but I would argue that breadth-learning more than outweighs that. In that, I would adapt your tower metaphor to going up stairs on the side of a pyramid (yes, in my example, they have stairs): if I start climbing an hour after you, the difference in altitude (that is, result) is not as big as if we were climbing a ladder, but the difference in steps (that is, mastery gained) is the same.

I'm also disappointed you used a climbing metaphor to represent the term "depth", instead of digging. Pfffff, amateur!
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Bastiaan Reinink
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lacreighton wrote:
...They are independent problems -- adding more complexity to a game does not make it deeper -- at least the way I think of deeper.


That was not exactly my point, my point was that in order to add depth to an existing game, you have to add complexity of one sort or another.

lacreighton wrote:
...But taking the game home, and working out strategies, and studying the game systematically -- is a thing that is really only worth doing if the game has some depth.


Again my reasoning is reversed: A game has depth if you "can take it home and study strategies". I.e. a game is deep if it take many plays (or study, or reading up on it) to "get" ("master") it.


lacreighton wrote:
If the game is deep enough, you may find that there are books to read about how to improve your game. That is an indication that there is real depth there -- the strategies get names, and their counters get names, and people who love the game can sit around and discuss whether they prefer the 'French defence' or the 'Silician defence' and why, and back their reasoning up with play, too.


I looked and Amazon has books on Catan and Monopoly strategies. I personally wouldn't call either om them deep.

Books get written about what is played a lot. Having something to write about (e.g. depth) helps, but is not necessary.

lacreighton wrote:
I don't think there is any secret sauce you can add to an existing game to give it depth. It either started out with it, or it doesn't have it.


Depth has to come from somewhere, which means that the designer has to put it in there (deliberately or not). I certainly agree that it's easier to add this in from the get go (instead of pouring it over as a sauce) but you would still need to think about how to do that.

The article was part of my own thought process, on how I might be able to "add" depth to my own game (which has progressed quite a bit in development). It's intended for designers who are at the same level, not people who have a "finished" game and want to add some depth at the very end.

I realize I could've expressed this more clearly :-)

Thanks for your great comments and helping me to think about this even further!
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Bastiaan Reinink
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nhjelmberg wrote:
If we look at the other extreme end, tic-tac-toe is not a game that can be made deeper without changing the core.


Agreed! Adding depth will require a partial or even full redesign of almost any game.

Tic-tac-toe would be extreme in this case, as it is so simple. Even adding a single rule would increase the rule-load significantly. Compare this to your average war-game with 50 pages of rules; adding a few rules to make it deeper (or do anything else for that matter) would hardly make a dent in the rule load.

Hopefully it -would- make a difference in the gameplay though!

nhjelmberg wrote:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a difficult but exciting part of games!


And thank you for your reply and compliment! :-)
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rubberchicken wrote:
...This type of complexity (where small moves make big changes to the game)
evokes the word "chaos" ("butterfly effect"). This is certainly a feature of chess and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico a small change in the order that moves are taken changes everything. "Chaos" combined with randomness makes things impossible to predict and analyze. If you want a deep game which is "chaotic" then you have to make it luckless (chess) or almost luckless (Puerto Rico). This can indeed be a source of depth. In a "chaotic" game, the player that can see the furthest ahead has an advantage.


I really like this concept of "chaos" as a description of having small changes have big effects. Not exactly the same as depth, but tangentially connected for sure!

rubberchicken wrote:
I play a lot of wargames that can have 40 pages of rules. It can take many games to master the rules. But at least in wargames you can think of strategies even though you have not yet mastered the rules because the games represent real wars (and you can assume that the strategies that worked in the real war will work in the game). This is why war gamers tolerate much thicker rule books than players of other types of games.


Good point that as long as games are "intuitive" (they make sense because they make use of real-life concepts), they are much easier to grasp (the basics at least).

I've found the same with Robinson Crusoe, which has quite a thick rulebook as well. But it's easy to get started because everything is a simulation of "really being stranded on a deserted island".

rubberchicken wrote:
A good designer trick is to put most of the rules on cards (such as in the game Twilight Struggle). "Twilight Struggle" has an extremely large rule set(if learning all the cards is considered part or the rule set). Imagine if the information on the cards was only in the rule book and all you had on the cards was the card titles. So a big part of the learning curve of Twilight Struggle is learning the rules (cards). But Twilight Struggle is also in my opinion a deep game. It may or may not be a war game but it models a real situation so that despite having complex rules you can start to find strategies right from the start.


Excellent point, I'm going to remember this!

rubberchicken wrote:
To me depth is like those Russian dolls (one inside the other). You get those "Aha" moments finding good strategies and tactics. Then you as you get better you discover a whole new level of strategies and tactics. Then just when you thought you were getting good, you find a deeper level of strategies and tactics. For me, the game of "go" was like that. The more I play it the more I discover. The number of levels is very large.

An simple example of this is Hey, That's My Fish!. The first time you play it you use the strategy of getting tiles with 3 fish first. The second level is to position yourself to get future tiles with 3 fish or preventing others from getting to the 3 fish tiles first. Then after one game something magical happens. You realize that by taking tiles away you can isolate the opponents penguins or even reserve tiles for your own future use. WOW! To me this is what depth feels like. When you find a whole new level of strategy and tactics. Hey, That's My Fish! has roughly 2 levels of depth. Go and Chess have many more.


Love your example of Hey That's My Fish :-)

This does relate strongly to the concept of "having to play a lot to "get" the game". There is more to discover as you play the game more often. With Hey That's My Fish, these discoveries are made relatively easily (thus I wouldn't call it particularly deep), but it really shows off the concept well!

Thanks (again) for your great points!
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Bastiaan Reinink
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John Rogers wrote:
...Depth is the number of emergent, experientially different possibilities or meaningful choices that come out of one ruleset. Games with high depth are still strategically interesting and fun even after you have mastered the game’s rules.

Complexity is how difficult it is for the player to understand the rules and their implications. Games with high complexity may be less strategically interesting and fun after you have mastered the game’s rules. Similarly, the more complex a game the harder it is to appreciate any depth therein
.

You mention Puerto Rico and Agricola as very deep games. While the former is certainly more elegant than the latter, neither feel like they are bursting with emerging meaningful play. ...


Interesting definition of depth (and complexity). I use somewhat different definitions and that changes whether you would call a given game deep or not. It took me a lot of games of Agricola and Puerto Rico to get anywhere near to "mastering" them, which relates to my definition.

I would agree though that neither has extreme amounts of "emergent, experientially different possibilities", mostly because they do not show a lot of "emergence" and because the experiences tend to be somewhat similar after a few games of play. I do feel that both have boatloads of "interesting choices" though.

I would say that both remain fun even after having played them many times due to the interaction between strategy and tactics and not due to strategy alone (as your definition mentions).

Could you give me the link to the blog you mention?

And thanks for the insights!
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jwarrend wrote:
Nice article. I'm curious about this statement:

Quote:
Having written the last part about player interactions I understand a bit better why I always feel that many Euro games are “missing something”.They need to get their depth from mechanical interaction and / or lots of components (Agricola, I’m looking at you!).


Do you feel this way primarily about present-era Euro games, or do you also include Euro games from the 'Golden Age' in the mid-90s?


My feeling is that many (Euro) games could be improved by increase player interaction. I'm not sure which games come from the "Golden Age" so I don't really know how to answer your question.


jwarrend wrote:
To me, there's a strong correlation between depth and subtlety. What I mean is that the deeper the game, the more I find myself following a thought process like this:

I have been presented with a decision
I perceive that there are implications to that decision
I can see what some of those implications are or may be...
... but not all of them.
... and, not perfectly

A deep game, to use the metaphor, has things beneath the surface that aren't readily apparent but that you discover as you play more. These things inform your decisions, but at the same time you can't perfectly calculate what the consequences of your decisions will be because the outcomes are contingent on what the other players will do.


Excellent point. I think this coincides quite well with my definition of depth (though you express it much more subtly! ).

Thanks for the contribution!
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BastiaanSquared wrote:


My feeling is that many (Euro) games could be improved by increase player interaction. I'm not sure which games come from the "Golden Age" so I don't really know how to answer your question.


Here's a thread I started a while back specifically for designs in this 'classic'/'golden age' space. Not much came of it but it does have links to a few useful discussions on the subject; the thread by Rob Doupe is especially a good starting point.

I think the classics are games like Ra, Catan, Tikal, Tigris, Modern Art, and so on. Games from this era had simple rules and most of the interest comes from player interaction. I guess maybe technically you could call these "German games" rather than the more modern "Euros" which can be more like what you say -- not especially interactive.
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Nice discussion - I'm always happy to see this one come around.

Over the past half a dozen years or so, I feel like the average BGG'er is becoming more cognizant of the distinction between depth and complexity.

The article, Searching the Depths: Strategy, Tactics, and the Deception of Complexity (2013), felt a bit like screaming in the wind at the time, and now I think people are much more versed in thinking about games as the hobby as matured even more.

A comment to the OP's article asked this question:

Quote:
So, I would go so far as to say that games with true depth must have hidden information; it mustn’t be possible to be able to calculate the entire game state at any point, from the perspective of a single player. This leads to the taking of risks large and small, where people feel that they are leveraging their sense of the game into a strategic choice.

So, are there any games with “depth” with relatively simple rules but complex emergent behaviour, with hidden information, a constrained yet varied set of moves, and play in under an hour…?


The 1-hour might stretch it a bit, but Tigris & Euphrates is what immediately comes to mind. It has a chess-like or even go-like feel to the board-level interactions and sequencing of moves and tile placement. Te hidden information in the game (your hand of tiles) introduces enough controlled chaos and uncertainty that, its neigh impossible to calculate things out too far, as if it were a puzzle. Likewise, the game has some brilliant catch up mechanics that really limits snowballing and runaway leader issues. Such a magnificently brilliant game. The best one might say.
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Depth is the number of VIABLE decisions made at a higher level of gameplay.

Complexity is fiddly rules that add little to no value to the game.

For example, Yomi and Codex are games with lots of tough but interesting decisions to make but aren't hard to understand or comprehend.
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BastiaanSquared wrote:
John Rogers wrote:
...Depth is the number of emergent, experientially different possibilities or meaningful choices that come out of one ruleset. Games with high depth are still strategically interesting and fun even after you have mastered the game’s rules.

Complexity is how difficult it is for the player to understand the rules and their implications. Games with high complexity may be less strategically interesting and fun after you have mastered the game’s rules. Similarly, the more complex a game the harder it is to appreciate any depth therein
.

You mention Puerto Rico and Agricola as very deep games. While the former is certainly more elegant than the latter, neither feel like they are bursting with emerging meaningful play. ...


Interesting definition of depth (and complexity). I use somewhat different definitions and that changes whether you would call a given game deep or not. It took me a lot of games of Agricola and Puerto Rico to get anywhere near to "mastering" them, which relates to my definition.


Yes and mastering is a subjective state. How does one measure it? Is it based on consistrntly beating players around you? Beating the best in the world (if it's even possible to know that)? Is it determining that you have solved the game's primary question?

BastiaanSquared wrote:
I would agree though that neither has extreme amounts of "emergent, experientially different possibilities", mostly because they do not show a lot of "emergence" and because the experiences tend to be somewhat similar after a few games of play. I do feel that both have boatloads of "interesting choices" though. I would say that both remain fun even after having played them many times due to the interaction between strategy and tactics and not due to strategy alone (as your definition mentions).


Yes and I continue to play a game primarily for continued emergence and meaningful decisions spaces. Both PR and Agricola contain meaningful decisions but the more you play/master them, the more that space shrinks in light of the obviously optimal. This is where emergence helps, particularly when driven by the play of others. As both games feature limited interaction (Agricola even more so) and personal player boards which are protected from others, the amount of potential emergent play is severely limited.

This is why I and others largely mentioned Container and likewise I mentioned Great Zimbabwe. Here players form and create a communal space and the value of the economic system within it. The potential for continued emergence is far greater here even when one has mastered the rules (which are fairly easy to grok in both) or the optimal has become apparent.

BastiaanSquared wrote:
Could you give me the link to the blog you mention?

And thanks for the insights!


Both of the following are from a video game perspective. I don't play video games but the basic concept transcends video games.

http://williampeng.com/post/128144540589/depth-vs-complexity...

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John Rogers wrote:
Yes and I continue to play a game primarily for continued emergence and meaningful decisions spaces. Both PR and Agricola contain meaningful decisions but the more you play/master them, the more that space shrinks in light of the obviously optimal. This is where emergence helps, particularly when driven by the play of others. As both games feature limited interaction (Agricola even more so) and personal player boards which are protected from others, the amount of potential emergent play is severely limited.


This is a great distillation of my overarching criticism of so many euro-style games.

The complexity of many games IS the extent of the depth. Once you've figured out the complexity you've figured out the game and the shelf-life starts to taper off.
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