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Subject: What makes a “well-designed” game? rss

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Oliver Kiley
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We had a rather lively side conversation in another thread that discussed whether it was possible to say whether a particular game was "well-designed" from an objective standpoint.

Without rekindling the objective vs. subjective aspect of defining a "well-designed" game, I pose the following question (in two parts) to my fellow BGG'ers:

1) What attributes, qualities, or properties of a game do you, as an individual, feel makes for a "well-designed" game?

Note, there may be a difference for your between well-designed and how well you like a particular game. It is up to you to make any distinction between the design and the level of enjoyment you might have for the game.

2) How would you measure or compare these attributes, qualities, or properties?

Would you base your assessment of a game’s design based on the qualities above on a subjective basis (i.e. preference voting) or do you think there are some ‘objective’ measure that can be considered in evaluating how well-designed a game is?

As more responses are posted here, I’ll start listing and ranking qualities, attributes, properties that multiple people report.

I’ll start with my take on a "well-designed" game in the next post.

Thanks!
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Oliver Kiley
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I think a well-designed game has these properties:

1)The game delivers on its intent.

If the experience I have playing the game doesn’t match the ideas conveyed on the box or promotional material, I find that a detriment. People like to know what they are getting into. If the box says it takes 2 hours, and it takes 6, there is a problem there. If it says "fast paced gameplay" and there is a ton of downtime, that’s a problem. In a way, this is a measure of how well the game is aligned with expectations, recognizing that our expectations for any particular game need to be cautiously optimistic and not overly swayed by hype, bashing, etc.

2) Pacing matches depth.

I think intricate and deep games (i.e. more weight) can be just as well-designed as simpler and lighter games, they just have a different intended type of experience they are trying to create. That said, the pacing needs to match the depth. If the game is a lighter game, I’m probably going to want a faster pace with little to no downtime. More downtime in a deeper game is acceptable, provided it keeps everyone engaged and/or thinking about their next moves. Long periods of downtime with nothing to do is tortuous.

3) Players have meaningful choices.

Being at the mercy of random elements or being able to "get stuck" in a way with no means of getting out just isn’t much fun. Random elements are perfectly fine with me, but they need to be mitigated or allow meaningful risk vs. reward decisions. Each turn, players should feel like they have something positive they can do to improve their situation or work towards winning.

4) Mechanics fit the theme.

In a well-designed game, I think there should be a clear relationship between theme and mechanics, and they should each reinforce the other. An integrated theme-mechanics creates more continuity and immersion (for me) and allows you to play the game more fluidly and intuitively. The mechanics don’t get in the way of decisions that would be valid from the standpoint of the theme. While abstracts don’t have a theme so to speak, I do think the artwork, name of the game, component design, etc. can be aligned to work with the mechanics in a similar fashion. The inverse, is that the theme, graphics, artwork shouldn’t interfere with understanding the mechanics.

5) Scales across players.

If a game says it works with 2-6 players, it should work equally well with 2-6 players. The strategies, pacing, balance, etc. can certainly change as it scales from 2 players to 6 players, but the mechanics and experience should be equally strong. Individuals can certainly have preferences for what numbers to play with, but overall there should not be major deficiencies in the experience across number of players.

6) Balanced for tension.

I think games should be balanced to create tension about who the winner will be. Games where it is obvious who is going to win well before the end of the game are not much fun, nor are games where someone who falls behind has no means of realistically catching up. The game can be symmetrically or asymmetrically balanced at the start or during the games progression, but it should be setup so that players at least feel they all have a reasonable chance at winning.

Assessment

From an assessment standpoint, I imagine a system where people can score/rate games based on the properties above. A 1-5 scale from "poor" to "excellent" with some descriptive text could be used to guide people’s ratings around a consistent set of logic/parameters. While the data from such a survey it "objective" it still doesn’t say whether a game is "objectively well-designed." It would however give a better indication of what the sample group’s overall perceptions of a game’s design quality would be. That, to me, would be a lot more informative than the straight BGG rankings (for example)
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Enrico Viglino
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The number one reason for me to play games is that they allow me to acurately picture what is going on, from a particular point of view.

So, the primary criteria for me are:

1) Believable (within the context) mechanisms which simulate the
actions covered.

2) Appropriate scope - if the game is covering world moving events,
it probably shouldn't be involving me in the minutia of elements.
There are some exceptions which pertain to more heroic themes though,
I think.

3) A wide range of choices to explore 'what if' situations within
whatever scenarios are played. This is to be distinguished from
purely speculative scenarios.

4) A goodly amount of luck (in most cases) - unless the model is
complete, there are going to be external factors which should
shake things up a bit.

5) A reduction of repetitive physical tasks (such as too many die
rolls).

Assessment? I don't think that's necessary. What works for some people
simply won't for others. There's no chance that a simple numeric
computation can capture what someone really wants to know - which
is likely "will it be fun for me." I think exploring a game's strengths
and weaknesses in a brief review - or even looking at the mechanisms
in depth, is the only appropriate way of telling if something meets
a particular person's design needs.
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My main criteria for a well-designed game (although I fairly new to board games) in random order:

d10-1 Luck shouldn't be more important than strategy + decisions
Random events are ok.

d10-2 Every game should be as different as possible from the previous game
For example: A pile with 200 different cards with random events on them, and each game only uses 5 of them cool
This results in a lot of "OH NO! NOT THAT CARD!"s and "Cmon, please, please, let it be that card..."s

d10-3 The game should look like it would be a shame if someone spilled coffe on it
Last friday me and some friends went to our first (yay!) board-game-group meeting-thingy and we picked a game just because we all agreed it was a pretty box (Shadows over Camelot).

d10-4 When the game is 3/4 done, everyone must still have a chance to win

d10-5 The different parts of the game must work together well
Not sure how to explain this, but I hope this is clear

d10-6 I'm pretty sure I forgot a lot of stuff

d10-7 Does anyone know what game I'm looking for?
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Nate Straight

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Mezmorki wrote:
1) What attributes, qualities, or properties of a game do you, as an individual, feel makes for a "well-designed" game?

Players have interesting choices. All games with choices have meaningful choices. That's not enough.

You make a choice and something will happen. Boom. Winning. Meaning. But it could still be boring.

Quote:
2) How would you measure or compare these attributes, qualities, or properties?

Number of levels between immediate effect and final effect tending toward victory condition.

Number of variables affected by choice and number of interaction terms between variables.
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Eric Johnson
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I think you nailed it with your first answer... The game delivers on its intent.

It is important that any product have a target audience. If a game is targeting a 5-8 year old age group, theme, mechanics, language, art, rules, and length should all be created with this in mind. At this point, execution becomes the main objective.

Execution is where most games fall short. I can appreciate a well-executed game design, even if I don't like the theme or chosen mechanics. It's like a movie in a genre you don't like, but the actors and diologue are brilliantly written. Good execution trumps all.

Any rating system that deviates from execution of appropriate design parameters becomes subjective. For instance, Hisss is a very well-designed game for toddlers, but doesn't meet some of the criterion discussed here. Do party games have meaningful decisions?
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Jim Cote
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lxiaol wrote:
d10-4 When the game is 3/4 done, everyone must still have a chance to win
Wow. I couldn't disagree more. This is one of my definitions of a bad game.
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Simon Schwanhäußer
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It is a nice idea .

While I would still not use such a rating system to make purchasing decisions (I prefer reading reviews/rules and testplaying for that), I think it would still be quite interesting to look at the results of such surveys.

I think you chose some excellent categories! I am not sure about the first category though, because it is very broad. For example, if you look at your "scales across players" explanation, this category could also be part of the "delivers on its intent"-assessment, no ?

Anyways, good work. Looking forward to seeing where this will go (especially what other categories for assessment people will come up with!) .
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For me, in addition to some of the properties mentioned above, I also like to add the followings:

1) Nice artwork and components to the game
This will enhance the enjoyment from the game itself and increase the appeal of the game especially to new gamers. For eg the animeeples in agricola were very popular among my female friends who were 1st time gaming. When compared to the original parts they have commented that the animeeple add more feel to the game

2) Interaction among the players
Action of the players will affect one another's action. It allows players to react and adjust their strategies accordingly

3) Efficiency in use of components (Less is more)
Sometime games with lesser components but yet displayed great depth in each game. An example is hive which only made use of 11 components for each player in the base game. However it exhibit replayability for each game with different players.
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Brett Kildahl
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Excellent post!

Mezmorki wrote:
1) What attributes, qualities, or properties of a game do you, as an individual, feel makes for a "well-designed" game?

The best games in the world are easy to learn to play, and extremely difficult to play well.


Mezmorki wrote:
Note, there may be a difference for your between well-designed and how well you like a particular game. It is up to you to make any distinction between the design and the level of enjoyment you might have for the game.

I make no such distinction. My own happiness is my only standard of value when playing board games, and since I use them to hone my ability to out-think other people, that happiness is based almost entirely on the two qualities listed above.
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The Honorable Mayor McCheese
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What Breno said.
BrenoK wrote:
1) Ambiguity. Decisions should not be just reading the game information and figuring out which path gives the most VPs. There shouldn't be one correct answer for that question, it should depend on several variables and opponent's choices.

2) Tension. A lot has to hang in balance. This mean the game can be unforgiving. I accept that, if that means the decisions are meaningful. No pain, no gain.

3) Random elements should be either inexistent or capable of having players mostly adapt to it (in a way that whichever result the dice gives you, you have a way around it).

4) Theme is irrelevant. Really. For stories, I go to books and movies. In games, I look for interesting decision-making and conflict. The narrative comes from the conflict itself, be it with cubes and VPs or monsters and explosions. You do not get it from the art design or an introduction-text from the manual, you get it from your thinking against your opponent's thinking and the decisions made.

5) Scalability is a bonus, but not necessary. With 100+ games in my collection, I have many options for several player counts. I'd rather have an excellent 3 player game instead of an ok game that plays 2-5 with lukewarm competence.

I am an unusual and radical (in the root-sense of the word, as in inflexible) gamer, though. For mainstream success, do not aim your game at my taste.
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Oliver Kiley
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Great suggestions all!

Here’s a brief rundown of what has been suggested so far, with some creative "lumping" on my part. I didn’t include any of the comments that countered a prior suggestion, just a straight tally of the suggestions.

4 - Tension, a lot hangs in balance, no pain no gain
4 - Right amount of luck, players can adapt/respond to randomness
3 - Choices that matter, wide range of choice, interesting choices
2 - Ambiguity, uncertainty in decisions, risk vs. reward, no one "correct" move
2 - Intent / execution
2 - Mechanics fit theme, believability of mechanics
2 - "Ergonomics" (avoidance of repetitive physical tasks), efficiency in use of components
2 - Good Component quality/artwork design
2 - Replay value, variety, each game could be different
1 - Pacing
1 - Scales across players
1 - Appropriate scope, right amount of detail to fit the concept
1 - Player interaction
1 - Easy to learn, lifetime to master

Overall, I think we’re hitting on some important and interesting concepts.

I can many of your points about scalability, that there can be a trade-off in the design between providing a good experience for a range of player numbers versus an excellent experience for a narrower range of players. Still, I suppose an ideal situation is an excellent experience for any of the supported number of players.

I’m glad some of you hit on the "ergonomic" aspect, balancing the amount of components to get the job done without being more fiddly or intricate than the mechanics really require. Streamlined might b another way to express this idea.

Is there more insight we can glean relative to player interaction? What degree of player interaction is desirable or necessary? Does the intent of the game matter?

Keep the list rolling! I’ll do another update as we get another set of ideas. Feel free to cast a vote for any of the above items as well.
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Enrico Viglino
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Quote:
I can many of your points about scalability, that there can be a trade-off in the design between providing a good experience for a range of player numbers versus an excellent experience for a narrower range of players. Still, I suppose an ideal situation is an excellent experience for any of the supported number of players.

While that's desirable, I'd rather not have a game limit the number
of players to only its optimal number - sometimes, you just want
to play something, even if it's not the perfect number for it.

If I'm really worried about that before buying, I can look on this site
for advice as to how many players it's best in.
 
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I see no reason why games cannot be studied and appreciated with the same rigor and depth that literature or film enjoy. In these other areas, over time, through the work of academics, bodies of work are assembled and recognized as good, forming a canon of the best of the best in various criteria, like genre or style. So, too, it seems can we recognize nearly universally that some games are certainly good in what can only be described as the most objective goodness recognizable by human beings. That is, strong consensus will show that these games are good games, worthy of respect and study, even if individuals might choose to dislike them. For example, it is not considered necessary for you to like or dislike Citizen Kane for it to be considered a great film - it is as close as you can come to an objective definition of "great film".

I believe to qualify as such, a game must exemplify those qualities that we find ideal in the concept of a game. Among these properties are;

1) Interesting decisions - Players must be confronted with meaningful choices between alternatives that directly contribute to the final result.

2) Decisive results - Games must not be prone to draws, splits, or other endings where victory for one or more players is not clearly indicated.

3) Clear, unambiguous rules and game state - A truly great game must be easily learned and played, with the players understanding the state of the game and unlikely to need interpretation from experts or resolve mysterious positions or situations. This does not mean a game should not be complex or hard or deep or random!

4) Playing time commensurate with level of competition - While it is certainly possible to have a great story in 2 pages or 10,000 pages, it is harder to do so. It is certainly possible to have a great film in 2 minutes or 10,000 minutes, but it is harder to do so. So too, it is harder to be a truly great game in under a few minutes or over several hours from start to finish. A game shares much in common with a film for viability based on length, perhaps both owing to limits of human attention and patience.

I am reluctant to consider a list of qualities a game must not have to be called great. When you do this for film or literature - exclude blocks from possible greatness - you show exactly the kind of bias that holds back many truly great films and books from acceptance. The bigotry of established academia is in greatest evidence when condeming entire realms as unworthy of consideration. For example, dismissal of comic books or science fiction by literature academics has been repeatedly and convincingly overthrown, shown to be intellectual hubris and self-selecting bias.
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Mezmorki wrote:
If the experience I have playing the game doesn’t match the ideas conveyed on the box or promotional material, I find that a detriment.

It is good marketing, not good gaming. The quality of the production of a game does not matter. A game transcends the materials of which it is made or the presentation of any particular printing. Can the medium of the game affect the player's ability to enjoy or understand it? Of course. But a game is not a printing, but an idea. The idea must be sound for the game to be great... the printing can always be improved later, but bad ideas cannot be so easily corrected.

Quote:
2) Pacing matches depth.
3) Players have meaningful choices.

Agreed. These were on my list too.

Quote:
4) Mechanics fit the theme.

Here we disagree. This I don't find to be particularly important. It seems clear that Go and Chess and Poker are great games. How do their themes fit their mechanics?

This is, I think, a modern hubris of the hobby gamer. I am reminded of how early 20th century literature studies were very quick to think that European literature of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centure was pretty awesome but dismiss all other literature from all other regions of the world for all time as beneath their notice... really? The stuff you happen to like today is the best it's ever been or is ever going to get, huh?

Games are models of abstraction. It is not important that they be about anything at all. It is nice that if when they are about something that you can see that something in them, but it is equally valid to say that Ra, Amun-Re, Cleopatra and the Society of the Ancients, and a hex and counter, CRT wargame about the conflicts between Ramses and the Hittites are all equally "about ancient Egypt" and do fine jobs representing that - some with only images, some with more elaborate mechanics.

Quote:
5) Scales across players.

Meh. Another nice to have, not a necessity of greatness. It is fine for a game to be strictly two players or playable with 1 to 68. I like a game that scales across players well too, but that's more of a convenience for my budget and shelf space than anything else.

Quote:
6) Balanced for tension.


An interesting quality! Yes, I agree in some sense. This is tightly tied to the requirement for interesting choices, almost a corollary thereof... if you only make a few important choices at the beginning or the end, but still keep playing or must play a long time without them to get there, is that really good? No; much of the game was played without interesting choices.
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ekted wrote:
lxiaol wrote:
d10-4 When the game is 3/4 done, everyone must still have a chance to win
Wow. I couldn't disagree more. This is one of my definitions of a bad game.
I would say that a well-designed game fosters the illusion for each player that he or she has a chance to win for as long as possible, but if this is actually the case in every session then I agree: bad design.

This doesn't apply so much for games that only support 2 players, as victory by concession is always a practical option.
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Oliver Kiley
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cosine wrote:
I see no reason why games cannot be studied and appreciated with the same rigor and depth that literature or film enjoy.

Thanks for the input, I agree with you on most of what you said! Especially that there can be legitimacy in defining good qualities and examples of good games, much the same way that has been done in other art forms.

Quote:
I am reluctant to consider a list of qualities a game must not have to be called great. When you do this for film or literature - exclude blocks from possible greatness - you show exactly the kind of bias that holds back many truly great films and books from acceptance. The bigotry of established academia is in greatest evidence when condeming entire realms as unworthy of consideration. For example, dismissal of comic books or science fiction by literature academics has been repeatedly and convincingly overthrown, shown to be intellectual hubris and self-selecting bias.


Totally agree. I took a sci-fi literature class in college, having been a fan of sci-fi for a while already. We spent a great deal of time discussing what sci-fi literature was all about from a big picture standpoint and how it fits into other literary types. I came away telling sci-fi skeptics that the likes of Margret Atwood, George Orwell, Jules Verne, Mary Shelly, etc. are all well-respected authors from a "proper-literary standpoint" yet have written books that are decidedly sci-fi.

Sci-fi/fantasy also pervades pop-culture. Nearly all of the top-grossing movies of all-time are either sci-fi or fantasy. No one thinks twice about going to see Avatar. But how many themes in that movie have been presented, discussed, addressed in countless sci-fi books (in much greater depth of commentary I might add)? All of them. Yet many people tend to scoff at sci-fi as being trivial or irrelevant. Phah!

Incidentally, so long as sci-fi, mystery, and other "niche" genres continued to be shelved in their own little section of book store, instead of in the general "literature" section where they probably belong, I don’t see popular opinion changing too much! You call something out as "different" and people assume that it is "different."

 
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Edwin Nealley

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Mezmorki wrote:
I think a well-designed game has these properties:

1)The game delivers on its intent.

If the experience I have playing the game doesn’t match the ideas conveyed on the box or promotional material, I find that a detriment. People like to know what they are getting into. If the box says it takes 2 hours, and it takes 6, there is a problem there. If it says "fast paced gameplay" and there is a ton of downtime, that’s a problem. In a way, this is a measure of how well the game is aligned with expectations, recognizing that our expectations for any particular game need to be cautiously optimistic and not overly swayed by hype, bashing, etc.

I like the idea that I infer from your header, but I'm not sure if I agree with your sub-text.

A game can be well-designed, but poorly marketed or poorly re-themed by the publisher. The "design" wouldn't have necessarily changed from the original intent (in fact if it was poorly done the publisher might have made very few changes), but the re-packaging and promotional work might not match it well.

OTOH, I agree with you that the overall impact of a game is dependant upon the design matching any re-theming, or even being enhanced by the artwork, promotional language and re-theming.

Perhaps that's another valid addition to your list, or at least a needed qualification?

(I think cosine is getting at the same idea in his response)
 
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Quote:
I’m glad some of you hit on the "ergonomic" aspect, balancing the amount of components to get the job done without being more fiddly or intricate than the mechanics really require. Streamlined might b another way to express this idea.

I'd say 'streamlined' is a much better way of putting it, e.g., while you might honestly say that 'too much shuffling' is an ergonomic problem with Dominion, does that make the game poorly designed?
 
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lxiaol wrote:
Luck shouldn't be more important than strategy + decisions
When the game is 3/4 done, everyone must still have a chance to win
There's some tension between these two goals, but I think the second can be restated. It's not actually important to a good design who wins, but that it's rewarding to try. When the game is 3/4 done, everyone must still be able to meaningfully and satisfyingly pursue the winning condition. Compare the standard Knizia quote: mb.

 
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ekted wrote:
lxiaol wrote:
d10-4 When the game is 3/4 done, everyone must still have a chance to win
Wow. I couldn't disagree more. This is one of my definitions of a bad game.

I am strongly with lxiaol here. If a game has player elimination, then the rules should very clearly have the concept that a player is out and no longer participating. If a player has not been eliminated, then 15 minutes before the game ends that player should still have a 2% chance of winning. A game that abandons a player but expects him to keep playing is a bad game.

I have had Power Grid fail me in this regard once (in about 600 plays). I misplayed my way into over an hour of watching the parade go by. I won't let that one happen again, and I try to advise noobs to keep them from killing themselves.
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BrenoK wrote:
1) Ambiguity. Decisions should not be just reading the game information and figuring out which path gives the most VPs. There shouldn't be one correct answer for that question, it should depend on several variables and opponent's choices.

2) Tension. A lot has to hang in balance. This mean the game can be unforgiving. I accept that, if that means the decisions are meaningful. No pain, no gain.

3) Random elements should be either inexistent or capable of having players mostly adapt to it (in a way that whichever result the dice gives you, you have a way around it).

4) Theme is irrelevant. Really. For stories, I go to books and movies. In games, I look for interesting decision-making and conflict. The narrative comes from the conflict itself, be it with cubes and VPs or monsters and explosions. You do not get it from the art design or an introduction-text from the manual, you get it from your thinking against your opponent's thinking and the decisions made.

5) Scalability is a bonus, but not necessary. With 100+ games in my collection, I have many options for several player counts. I'd rather have an excellent 3 player game instead of an ok game that plays 2-5 with lukewarm competence.

I am an unusual and radical (in the root-sense of the word, as in inflexible) gamer, though. For mainstream success, do not aim your game at my taste. :p

I agree with most all of this, however I think there is room for a genre of games that use luck/chaos well. That would be games geared more towards "family", where the players can be expected to have disparate skill levels. Having a game with sufficient luck elements can allow weaker players to stay competitive and for everyone to enjoy the game. Think: young children playing with their parents. A no-luck game would be a lot less interesting to this group.

I also enjoy theme. I think sometimes its just lazy not to have rich theme in addition to strong design. You CAN have both.
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Joe Mucchiello
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Mezmorki wrote:
1) What attributes, qualities, or properties of a game do you, as an individual, feel makes for a "well-designed" game?

I'm going to go against the grain here. The game does not have to have "meaningful" decisions. It does not have to have low luck or lots of luck. Dice vs Cards, Zombie vs Pirate. Illusionary Player Elimination. All of that is meaningless.

A well-designed game is a game that you play where the design it as close to invisible as possible and most of all the players had fun playing. Certainly you can analyze the qualities of the design parts that create the game. But when it's all put together -- mechanics, theme, rules, scoring, the players, etc -- it has a synergy that exceeds the sum of its parts.

Quote:
2) How would you measure or compare these attributes, qualities, or properties?
Well, you can't or nearly can't. Measuring synergy is damned hard. If there were a formula for making a "well-designed" game, publishers would have stopped releasing clunkers by now, right?

This doesn't mean you can't examine the parts and attempt to improve them. But once they start interacting, their interactions create new "parts". But most important is what I put in bold above: the players.

They are part of a "well-designed" game that the designer has little control over. Without the players there is no game so they must be part of the design, right? A board game in a box (or a game entry here on BGG) is like a page of sheet music. No matter how much you look at it, analyze it, fool with in, wonder why the composer picked Am here and Am7 there, and so forth: it is only a potential piece of music (a potential game) until someone gets some instruments (or players) and attempts to play it.

This is why, on the design forums, when someone posts a topic about "I have this idea in my head" the most common advice is to put some scrapes of paper together and play it ASAP. Because a game bouncing around in your head is no more a game than a sequence of notes in someone's head is a top 40 song. And even the prototype is not a game. It is only the potential for a game. It isn't a game until you play it.

Again, there are no static analysis tools that will tell you if a set of bits, some rules, and a board will be a good game. Designers and publishers rely on thousands and thousands of plays to bring the design to reality. Those playtesters are part of the design: just as important as the pair of dice and the deck of cards.

Feel free to disagree. Maybe the static analysis tools just haven't been invented yet. I doubt that. If no two people can agree on how much luck is too much or too little, how would a tool figure it out?
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David C
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Mezmorki wrote:
We had a rather lively side conversation in another thread that discussed whether it was possible to say whether a particular game was "well-designed" from an objective standpoint.

Without rekindling the objective vs. subjective aspect of defining a "well-designed" game, I pose the following question (in two parts) to my fellow BGG'ers:

1) What attributes, qualities, or properties of a game do you, as an individual, feel makes for a "well-designed" game?

37 pages of rules, 2 pages of errata.

No, I agree with Alan Moon's quote on this, "Adding rules in is easy, taking them out is hard." I think if you need more than 4 pages of rules, the game had better darn well be worth it.

On a personal level -> I like games that are easy for people to ramp-up to within less than half the game. It's ok to bonk a turn or two, but I like having opponents that can rival me after playing just one or two games. Otherwise, I might as well take-up guitar.
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Randall Bart
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Rather than flame everyone else's answers, I should just do the task at hand. Much of this is stealing with both hands from those who went before. I am going to leave out examples until a second pass.

1) Time and pacing appropriate to depth
I'll play virtually anything for 15 minutes. I'll play a decent game for 45 minutes. When you get to a full hour on the clock, the game needs to deliver some depth that can't be delivered in less time. There is something wonderful in making a decision early in the game and seeing it pay off two hours later, but only if it could not have paid off in ten minutes.

2) Players regularly have choices which are both interesting and meaningful
It's okay that on some turns you have no choice, on some of your choices are uninteresting or nonmeaningful, but a game needs to deliver a lot of choices that matter. The choices should change as the game goes on and from game to game. A game should have a lumpy bumpy texture, such that when the same choice comes up in a different game state, it is now a different choice.

3) Player scaling
The game needs to function well for any number of players specified on the box. This is often hard to do well. A designer can have a game for some exact number of players (usually 4 or 5) and then the developer needs to make it work with more or fewer. This is a constant struggle between designers and publishers.

4) Tension
A short game does not need tension, but the longer a game is the more tension adds to a game. I don't know how to define tension except to say it's what makes you look over your shoulder. This can be implemented by having two different victory conditions, or by having some OH NO event that you need to avoid. You need to be able to do something about the OH NO event, or it's just meaningless.

5) Appropriate use of luck
A game might have no luck at all, or no luck after the random setting of the scenario. A game might have cards and/or dice randomizing every turn. Whichever it is, the game needs a balance. A game with few luck elements should not have a big luck element at the end. OTOH, a game where a player can fall behind on luck, needs the opportunity to get lucky near the end.

6) Theme
A game with complexity should have a theme, and should have mechanics that logically fit the theme, while minimizing thematic absurdities, It helps to give people a frame of reference to build the game in their heads.

7) Consistency and simplicity (Occam's razor)
Rules must not be multiplied beyond necessity. Similar game elements should function in similar manner. Some asymmetries are important to giving a lumpy bumpy texture to a game (see above) but rules should not be different for the sake of different.

8) Either elimination or no elimination
If we are going to play a game which has player elimination, then it must clearly have player elimination. If a player has not been eliminated and we still have 15 minutes to play, he should have at least 2% chance of winning. It is bad manners to abandon a player, then expect him to continue playing.

9) Components should be functional
Components should be easy to handle. If I often need to pick a component up and move it it should be made to pick it up. I should be able to put it down without scattering other components. Components should be identifiable by the lowest reptilian parts of my brain. I should not need to use higher cognitive function just to see what's on the board.

10) Replay value
The game should be different when you play it again. This can be differences in scenario, randomness during a game, or just the butterflies of player interaction. It isn't enough to offer a player choices, but there must be new choices every time you play.

11) Clarity of rules
Just look at the rule forums on BGG and you know even the best rulebook will leave somoene confused. If a game is simple, anyone should be able to read the rules and play. For complex games, it may be necessary for the local rules lawyer to spend two hours studying the rulebook. In that case, not everyone is an expert, but every expert should be very clear on what the rules are, and be able to tell the players what the rule is.

12) A paucity of ties
Some games by design always have a clear winner. In others you are tallying points and points might be tied. An occasional tie is not a problem (except in a tournament), but a game where there will otherwise be many ties needs a tie breaker. The tiebreaker should be thematic and make sense, but even a completely arbitrary tie-breaker can make a more satisfying end of game.

Assessment
These goals will be assessed arbitrarily, capriciously, maliciously, ignorantly, and inconsistently.
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