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Subject: Depth in Games--What is It? rss

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Lewis Pulsipher
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What is "depth" in games?

I searched for “strategic depth” on Boardgamegeek and found surprisingly little in the way of definition. Lots of people used the term (or just “depth”), but they didn’t explain what they meant. It’s another of those “everyone knows what it means but does not define it”. (If there have been discussions of depth that my search missed, perhaps someone can point me to them.)

I have since found that the word strategic can be a cause for much angst, so perhaps we should just talk about “depth”. What gives games depth (or what makes games “shallow”)? Which games have depth? I think most people would agree that chess and go are deep games. And that Candyland and Tic-Tac-Toe (Noughts and Crosses) are not. What about Monopoly? Depth apparently has something to do with the complexity of decision making.

Perhaps it has something to do with the number or type of choices presented to a player. If you need a jumpstart you might look at “How Many Choices are Too Many” http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20111025/8731/How_... which includes many comments as well.

So what is “depth”?
 
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Paul DeStefano
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Depth is the complexity of the ramifications of decisions.
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Very roughly, I'd say depth is a measure of how much time and effort (i.e., study and practice) it takes for a beginner to achieve the competency of the best players in the world.

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J C Lawrence
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Depth is a measure of the difficulty of effective ply analysis.
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Brook Gentlestream
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Geosphere wrote:
Depth is the complexity of the ramifications of decisions.


This.

It's not just about the decisions you have, but about how much impact those decisions will have.
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Hoyle A
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There are a lot of definitions, and people use the word different ways. here are some examples:

1) how many moves in advance it is possible to think.
2) how difficult the game is to learn or to play
3) how many aspects there are that can be explored (such as different ways to win)
4) how much you can get better by learning/studying
5) how many aspects of a situation are included or simulated

I refrain from offering an opinion on which of these, if any, is "correct"

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Dan
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+2 to GeoSphere's definition.

I can interpret depth quite well in games such as [=chess][/] or Go. If I do this move, how will it impact the outcome? Or, where should I prepare my pieces prior to playing the move I want?
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Depth is what transforms a game from being simply to being elegant...
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Colin Raitt
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Depth means there is another variable apart from combat strength vital for success.

In Vietnam 1965-1975
you had to track popular support in each province. Spreading out to drive out weak VC battalions let them overwhelm isolated US or ARVN units. Firing off artillery willy nilly increased enemy losses but turned the locals against you because of the inevitable accidents.
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Redward wrote:
Depth is what transforms a game from being simply to being elegant...

... provided the design remains simple and doesn't get cluttered with awkward rules and mechanics.
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lordrahvin wrote:
Geosphere wrote:
Depth is the complexity of the ramifications of decisions.

This.

It's not just about the decisions you have, but about how much impact those decisions will have.

That may be a fine definition, but it doesn't sound like a very practical one. Is there any reasonably easy way to measure what that definition describes? By "reasonably easy," I mean easy enough for an ordinary person to estimate and and judge a game on.
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Pater Absurdus
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
Redward wrote:
Depth is what transforms a game from being simply to being elegant...

... provided the design remains simple and doesn't get cluttered with awkward rules and mechanics.


I would think that depth is an inherently positive term.
Ergo: simple (neutral term) + depth (positive term) = Elegant (positive term).
 
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Patrick Carroll wrote:
That may be a fine definition, but it doesn't sound like a very practical one. Is there any reasonably easy way to measure what that definition describes? By "reasonably easy," I mean easy enough for an ordinary person to estimate and and judge a game on.


There's a better term for this, actually: "meaningful decisions". The more meaningful decisions you have on any given turn, the deeper the game is.

I once played a sci-fi game that was dripping with theme. You fought aliens, explored sectors, upgraded your ship, etc. They had a brilliant and comical economic system in place. In many ways, it was exactly the kind of game I should love. The problem was that playing it didn't provide a deep experience.

At the time of playing, we had attributed this to a lack of interaction in the game. But after conferencing with my group on some design principles, we discovered the problem was a lack of meaningful decisions on your turns. You see, it was a pickup and deliver game so you set your "route" at the beginning and then spent the next few turns executing your strategy. So when it came back to your turn again, you'd look at the board and see that your strategy hasn't been interrupted somehow, do some basic upkeep, and then pass until you arrive at your destination, drop off your cargo, etc.

The problem with this game is that while you had many different options available, once you moved your ship then your destination became the only obvious choice on subsequent turns and all the other options came less desirable with each passing turn. This lasted until you finally reached your destination, did whatever you were going to do, and returned back to your starting point.

The game had meaningful decisions, but only every few turns. It needed more. Most of the decisions you were making during your travels were relatively meaningless decisions that didn't have impact and didn't adjust your strategy (or anyone else's) on subsequent turns.

I think its easy enough to look at a game situation (such as scanning a neighboring sector as you fly by it) and say to yourself "Does deciding one way or the other really matter to anyone?" or even "Does this option really introduce a moment of choice?"
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Russ Williams
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I'm fond of the somewhat common empirical / operational definition of depth:

Define a "skill level" to be that (e.g.) Chris is one skill level higher than Pat if Chris wins vs Pat 2/3 of the time.

The depth of a game is the number of skill levels between a complete beginner and the strongest players in the world.

(Or you could more or less equivalently consider the difference in e.g. ELO ratings of a beginner and a top player.)

But this approach has the disadvantage of being harder to measure for newer games that have smaller ratings pools and less communal experience/knowledge about the game.


In principle one could define it non-empirically and objectively / mathematically by the same idea: The number of skill levels between a player who plays totally randomly (each turn they choose from among their legal moves with equal probability) and an optimal player. But of course in practice this is infeasible to calculate for an interesting game. :/
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russ wrote:
I'm fond of the somewhat common empirical / operational definition of depth:

Define a "skill level" to be that (e.g.) Chris is one skill level higher than Pat if Chris wins vs Pat 2/3 of the time.

The depth of a game is the number of skill levels between a complete beginner and the strongest players in the world.


That may be a really good definition and it certainly has some merit. I don't love it because it seems to be more synonymous with difficulty, hardness, and complexity and I think that depth speaks to something more...
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Redward wrote:
That may be a really good definition and it certainly has some merit. I don't love it because it seems to be more synonymous with difficulty, hardness, and complexity and I think that depth speaks to something more...

I agree that "depth" has some additional ineffable nuance that seems difficult or impossible to define, much less measure.
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Geosphere wrote:
Depth is the complexity of the ramifications of decisions.


lordrahvin wrote:
There's a better term for this, actually: "meaningful decisions". The more meaningful decisions you have on any given turn, the deeper the game is.


I think melding these two together gets us depth - or at least what I mean. Depth occurs when there are lots of meaningful decisions on each turn and where there often isn't an obviously "best" choice.

AND, those decisions can lead to a lot of meaningful and impactful ramifications, both for you and your opponents, on this or subsequent turns.

This means that there is a lot to consider in each of your actions. The more there is to consider, the deeper the game is. That's also why "deeper" games also can suffer from AP problems with some players.
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Johannes Sjolte
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For me depth in a game is for how long time I'm able to discover new layers of the game when I replay it. In a deep game I am able to try out different strategies and when I do the game will give me a different experience.
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jaiden0 wrote:
There are a lot of definitions, and people use the word different ways. here are some examples:

1) how many moves in advance it is possible to think.
2) how difficult the game is to learn or to play
3) how many aspects there are that can be explored (such as different ways to win)
4) how much you can get better by learning/studying
5) how many aspects of a situation are included or simulated

I refrain from offering an opinion on which of these, if any, is "correct"



I love the question, and I love and agree entirely with this answer. I had a professor who never once let the word "intense" go by without demanding clarification.

"To be generous is to be exigent." -Eugenio Barba

Patrick Carroll wrote:

Is there any reasonably easy way to measure what that definition describes? By "reasonably easy," I mean easy enough for an ordinary person to estimate and judge a game on.


I think the simplest indicator (apologies, I can't bring myself to say "measure" ) of "depth" is the average time each player takes on their turn.

In fact, I wish a poll of "turn-time" or "downtime per player" was one of the features on each game's page. It's as important to me as "User Suggested # of Players", and it always plays a large part in whether a game is enjoyed by my group.

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MyParadox wrote:
Geosphere wrote:
Depth is the complexity of the ramifications of decisions.


lordrahvin wrote:
There's a better term for this, actually: "meaningful decisions". The more meaningful decisions you have on any given turn, the deeper the game is.


I think melding these two together gets us depth - or at least what I mean. Depth occurs when there are lots of meaningful decisions on each turn and where there often isn't an obviously "best" choice.

AND, those decisions can lead to a lot of meaningful and impactful ramifications, both for you and your opponents, on this or subsequent turns.

This means that there is a lot to consider in each of your actions. The more there is to consider, the deeper the game is. That's also why "deeper" games also can suffer from AP problems with some players.

But only up to a point. If there is so much to consider that it is impossible (in an acceptable time) to make any reasoned decision, then from a practical point of view the decision may as well be random.
This is where the definition of 'number of skill levels between beginner and expert' is superior, because in this case there would be no difference between a beginner and an expert. This is also why I think the definition of 'number of skill levels between random and perfect' is not as good...

I guess what I'm saying is that blitz chess (5 minutes for the whole game) is less deep than tournament chess (2 hours for the whole game) which may well be deeper than correspondence chess (10 days per move).
 
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Redward wrote:
Depth is what transforms a game from being simply to being elegant...


Oh, don't. cry 'Elegance' is even worse in terms of fuzzy definitions.
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doctoryes0 wrote:
I think the simplest indicator (apologies, I can't bring myself to say "measure" ) of "depth" is the average time each player takes on their turn.

But that could also be measuring fiddliness/bureaucracy/busywork - some shallow games also have slow turns e.g. due to having to make many decisions which are all easy or inconsequential or due to having to do a bunch of fiddly calculations etc.
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swheelock wrote:
Redward wrote:
Depth is what transforms a game from being simply to being elegant...


Oh, don't. cry 'Elegance' is even worse in terms of fuzzy definitions.


Elegance is Dominion...
 
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Surely games can be elegant without necessarily being deep? I don't associate the two.

I think most would agree that deep games require thought, and if players are hurried by the game (as in video RTS, for example) there is less opportunity for depth, that is, the game is less likely to be deep.

A differentiation between decisions that slightly make a difference in the outcome of the game, and ones that make a much bigger difference, is necessary. Otherwise, a game becomes deep only because there are lots and lots of decisions.

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lewpuls wrote:
Surely games can be elegant without necessarily being deep? I don't associate the two.

I think most would agree that deep games require thought, and if players are hurried by the game (as in video RTS, for example) there is less opportunity for depth, that is, the game is less likely to be deep.

A differentiation between decisions that slightly make a difference in the outcome of the game, and ones that make a much bigger difference, is necessary. Otherwise, a game becomes deep only because there are lots and lots of decisions.


How about this: A simple game must have some depth (>6.7 gigahertz of depth to be precise) in order to be elegant but a game would require a great deal of depth (>14.3 gigahertz) to be "deep." whistle

Therefore a game can be elegant with a fair amount of depth but not be "deep" due to lacking some depth...
 
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