"complicated or detailed and awkward to do or use."
In board game terms, I'd use it for games when you have stacks of counters next to other stacks of counters, and you have to check one or the other stacks which is fiddly to do without knocking them over. Unless you use specialist board game tweezers, which I keep saying I will get for my regular opponent.
Or maybe when you get lots of modifiers and stuff to add up.
I don't mind a bit of stacking, but one game I have has 25 Light Cavalry markers in Ctesiphon... which is more than a bit fiddly. You need to inspect the stack for supply reasons, among other things (Light Cavalry and Light Infantry count as a half unit for supply, I believe), so just counting the units doesn't help. I think I created off-board boxes to reduce the fiddliness.
For me it's something that's not straightforward. I'd apply it especially to games where the rules were complicated or not intuitive, for example a game that had lots of phases and steps that were easy to miss I'd be tempted to call fiddly.
Also things that are physically fiddly, like slotting the markers in that slanted board in Agra!
I'm guessing it's not commonly used in US English? Someone in our US office at work called me out for using it a lot the other day
It can mean either or both of "The physical bits need to be adjusted too often to be convenient given their size and construction" or "This game includes details which slow play and do not add enough to the play experience to justify it."
These are both subjective criteria.
For instance I find games where the cards must be shuffled frequently to be physically fiddly because I am clumsy and poor at shuffling cards. YMMV.
Honestly, I mostly see it used as a generic dislike when someone doesn't have a substantive critique of a game.
But I guess it does have some meaning. For example, I love Star Wars: Armada but adjusting the health trackers on squadrons is incredibly awkward physically and often results in bumping things out of place etc. I'd call that fiddly.
I see it so much in negative game reviews, and I just can't ever figure out what exactly it's supposed to mean in context. Is it actually even substantive? Or is it just a generic dislike?
"Fiddly" is a feeling you get from combination component number, size, trackability and repetition of interaction. A game feels fiddly when it has a lot of components, that are small and/or hard to keep track of, and you interact with them in a repetitive way. So a fiddly mechanic would be tracking resources with small cubes on a track, where you constantly have to adjust said cubes. You have a number of small things to keep track of, and you only ever interact with them in a repetitive manner, moving them up and down the track.
But like all feelings, it's not a universal experience and number of play and experience can have a lot of impact on whether or not a game is fiddly. But a game is more likely to feel fiddly if it fills some or all of the above conditions.
People who like games that are excessively fiddly often seem to think the term 'fiddly' is meaningless, subjective, indicative of a bad reviewer.
I find the term to be very descriptive and I know what to expect when someone tells me a game is fiddly. Other replies have already explained what this is very well.
Complaining that the term is subjective is utterly pointless. The majority of information in a review is subjective. I don't see people complaining that 'engrossing', 'beautiful', 'elegant', etc are merely subjective. Certain people just don't like a negative term being applied to games, or a type of game, that they like so they try to argue that it's a meaningless term. It isn't.
Play Arkham Horror with all expansions. Then you will know.
You're thinking about the term bloated, right?
Yeah. Just base Arkham is fiddly in itself.
Of course it is, like most games with a certain degree of complexity. Even Mage Knight is fiddly (think of end of round clean-up with dummy player), despite having not nearly as many components as Arkham Horror has.
Fiddly has two meanings to me. Neither of which mean they are bad games neccesirily. One meaning though generally means I won't play again.
1) The mechanics don't flow nicely, you are always checking the rules and they are so many stages to go through in each round. Example to mean recently is Dinosaur Island where there are several stages to go through each round with each being very different. You have to talk people through how each stage goes with new players the first time or two.
2) The bits are so small and numerous that they are annoying to pick up and place. A good example if Antquity, a great game but I am unlikely to play again because I cannot pick the little parts up and place on top of each other without wrecking the board half the time. I admit I am terrible at anything related to dexterity but this was silly.
a classic example of "fiddly" to me is an information which is marked using a counter ( a cube, a chit, whatevs) that is conveniently set on a board that is regularly moved, making the tracking of said info a daunting task.