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Is Your Board Game Too Complicated?

Game Design
Many game designers ask themselves all the time, "is my game too complicated?" That's a bad question and we briefly discuss why.

Which board games do you think are too complicated to enjoy? Too simple? And just right?

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5 months ago

Working on a current project, I had this thought about game design & complexity: I think it is really good to split out a players action into two parts:

- The choice of action

- The implications of that action

I prefer the games where the first doesn't bring a lot of complexity, whereas the second does. The distinction is IMO important. Just having a lot of choices in how to act will not neccesarily give you the feeling of reward. It is much more important to feel rewarded by understanding the implications, not by picking the right action. I hope this makes sense. 

5 months ago

This is an interesting idea as I feel it can relate to a lot of different areas of a design, centered around the user experience. This can even be played with in how someone is able to look at the implications. Some gamers prefer a more difficult puzzle feel so you may understand the basics but the depth and complexity is so in-depth it will take many, many games to try and understand. Other people however prefer a more ever changing series of implications. Examples for me would be something like Gaia Project by Z-man Games, it's fairly complex with a lot of components and ideas. I know the basics but it's going to be a lot of games going in before I can get a real handle on the implications, but I am fine with that. Now a social deduction game like New Salem or Resistance, the game is very basic and the implications are even ambiguous. Which is on purpose. Having perfect information in a deduction game can lead to serious issues. So trying to understand the implications of an action are left ambiguous because of the nature of who you are playing with. Makes for interesting choices and consequences but some people hate it.

I think you are generally right. Implications is usually a better place to focus the complexity but for some games, they want that freedom to choose. I think RPGs are a good example of a game type where there can be a high variability in the choice of action but also implications of that action. It's really about the game experience you want to provide for your game players.

2 months ago

Castell - too complicated for me. It's a great idea with great visutal interest, but I'm thinking of putting it up for sale. 

I can play most simple games, but childrens games are not interesting to me.

Just right - games that I have to think and make an interesting decision on each turn (but not for multiple of turns down the line). A game like Azul (original) is more my style. (I could think about my future moves but I don't have to.)

4 months ago

I don't think it but I get feedback of more seasoned designers that it is.

I expand and shrink during the concept phase though...and my concept phase takes long :)

6 months ago

Some really interesting thoughts, really like the distinction between complex and difficult to understand.

Do you have games you were thinking of when you talked about the Rube Goldberg machine take on mechanics?

In designing the cult of the deep other than the dice rolling were there any points where you asked 'Is my game complicated enough for my target market?'

6 months ago

I will see if my brother will answer the Rube Goldberg machine as that was definitely in his portion of the article. 

In designing Cult of the Deep, yeah, the idea of trying to get the amount of complexity just right is difficult. It's been interesting because I see it as a fairly casual game that people who want a bit more meat for a 45min- 1 hour social game would play. Some of those gamers want more. There feedback was great but they want even more complexity. Then I have met with others who may struggle a little at first and they end up liking the game...but they do not want any more complexity. They'll play another 4 times and still be satisfied. Then of course others who didn't like it, which will always happen but luckily that's been a fairly rare occurrence compared to the other two, so I think we are on the right track.

It's been interesting to see the feedback and it's something that I have to work on because I'll fidget with something forever until it is "perfect" for everyone. Which is why I have to keep myself focused on the target market. Focused on the purpose of the design. Been a fun, stressful, exciting, scary, wonderful, and crushing experience...all in one. LOL.

6 months ago

Haha, I can imagine it being a hugely varied undertaking getting a game from concept to on the shelf. But sounds like you were very pleased with the way it turned out, congrats! Having created it do you still play it yourselves or have the hundreds of times you inevitably have played it kind of burned you out on it?

6 months ago

And actually, I still like playing Cult of the Deep. I like it best when playing with new people though. People can play the same game sooooo differently that it makes it a new experience every time. It's just crazy how versatile the game is to allow different playstyles. It was part of our design process but it definitely exceeded our expectations on its ability to be a different game every time you play.

6 months ago

I see I have been summoned. As far as a specific game I don't have specific examples. The idea is really what needs to be accomplished and does that really do something. Take First player tokens. Many games have them that don't need them. They can be  important In some games or even have a interesting examples such as its use in Azul. I think a good example of a slight rube Goldberg mechanic is say every round you get to roll 3 dice. The results of these three die are converted into three tokens. You use these tokens to effect other players. So you turn these tokens to give someone a certain type of die or die result. so then you grab a die from the pile and give it to them while turning in your tokens. Whatever tokens you don't use  are discarded at the beginning of your turn and the dice are rerolled. Start the process all over again. 

In that cycle there is a lot of exchanging dice into tokens and tokens into dice.  What should happen is you just eliminate that and just provide enough dice so each player can have the necessary amount of dice to keep between turns, Eliminates the churn, exchanging of tokens into dice and vice versa all while accomplishing the same goal. 

A lot of my article was in reference to designing a game. I am sure there are published games out there that suffer from this same type of thing where simplification of events would result in an easier game to play, less fiddly-ness, and still have the same result.  If the mechanic being identified as a problem, too complicated, and there isn't another way to solve that problem it might be time to step and  really think about the mechanic as a whole, what it provides, is it necessary, and can it be replaced with something different, but that is a topic for another day.

6 months ago

Gotcha, makes a lot of sense, and makes sense that those problematic mechanics are generally weeded out during the design process.

I was playing around in my head about something similar, I was 'head-designing' a game where you could either use a card for it's specific text or to just do a basic action, but with both players playing simultaneously. As such, I was toying around with how to prevent someone from changing their mind as they see what their opponent has done and claiming that they were just using it generically/specifically when they had meant otherwise. All the possible systems added a huge amount of unnecessary faff, and part of me wanted to just trust that people would be sneaky. In a situation like that (I am sure there is an elegant solution but say there wasn't) would you allow it to be mechanically a little ambiguous to allow smoother gameplay (assuming people co-operated) or would you chose the less ambiguous  but more 'complicated' system. Or would that be a situation where you would say the whole mechanic is wrong?

6 months ago

This is an interesting question, for me personally as a designer if I wanted that sneaky element allowed and it was introduced as part of the game I think it is fine. However, if you don't want it to be sneaky, and you have to commit to an action, I would try and find a way to make it so you couldn't change your mind. One thought is to have two different kinds of markers that correspond with the different type of action. Like a blue circle and a red square for example. Both players would put the cards face down then place one of those on top. They would would then both flip and do the action that corresponds to that token. I try to make a mechanic work a few different ways before I give up...or at least I try to as long as I am getting the right emotion, feelings, and thoughts from the players that I want.
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