“Stop making bloated games!” I wish someone told me this before I got too far into making my first serious game, Gnomes & Wizards. It took me awhile to figure it out but I realized that the more “specialty rules” and quirks there are in your game, the less your game will hold player’s attention.
Many board game enthusiasts have tried their hand at designing games. This is great because we have gotten so many great titles that have improved the hobby through these means. With that said, there are many more games that aren’t successful for a plethora of reasons, bloated mechanics being a big culprit.
As a preface, this isn’t to say us designers need to stick to creating light games, although they do appeal to a greater population, but we should be careful how many caveats our games have built into them. If you’re designing a game that has a series of interesting mechanics but then the normal flow of those mechanics gets disrupted with all of these arduous rules base on specific circumstances, it’s going to make the majority of people frustrated with your game.
You may have a small subset of people who nerd out over those cool additions you implemented but you have to consider the every day consumer. If you are making your game for your friends or family or even a small group of like-minded people who enjoy geeking out about those specific elements, you don’t need worry about addressing this issue, but if you are looking to get your game published to mass-market, most people aren’t going to be geeking out about your bloated rules. It’ll likely cause the opposite effect as you are trying to capture.
How We Distilled Our Game Mechanics
Take for example Gnomes & Wizards. I had implemented a few sensible definitions and caveats to movement, attacks, and area control; all the things you’d expect from a combat game. The three major ones were fatigue, which decreased you unit’s total movement by 1 if you tried to move after attacking. Simple enough, right? Then I had home field advantage, giving the unit +1 attack or defense when on a tile of their tribes color. Again, very simple and straight forward.
The last was probably the most complicated. If there was an enemy unit in a space, your unit had to stop in that space to attack before proceeding past that unit. If there was an ally unit occupying that enemy unit, you could then move through that space without having to attack, but still could if you so choose. This applied to multiple units in one space with the ratio being 1:1.
Now those are all sensible and distilled rules for a combat game and it took me awhile to even simplify them to those brief statements but there was a few problems with them. We forgot to do most of those actions at least 50% of the time. Why? Because we were excited and invested in the rest of the game and it was extra number crunching that made it more complicated than it needed to be.
Gnomes & Wizards is supposed to appeal to a crowd who likes lighter to mid-weight games and those added rules were entering the territory of a heavier style game. But above that, the main issue is that, for most players, it disrupted the enjoyment of the game because rather than the player’s doing their super cool thing they planned, they had some extra forgettable number crunching they didn’t calculate before attacking with one of their units.
So what was our solution? Well we still have those rules included in the game, they are just included as variants that gamers can add onto the core rules. Some gamers will want them, but many will not and that’s okay. Making these specialty rules a variant is one of many ways that you can address these fiddly mechanics. If you are interested in learning more about the specifics of these rules, checkout the latest updates to our rulebook.
Even getting to those simple combat rules, Gnomes & Wizards went through many iterations to distill it down to that point. To start, we had very overly-complicated and convoluted set of rules because I was excited and wanted to add everything but the kitchen sink. It made sense in the world that I was creating so I felt tied to keeping true to those mechanics. As we got more feedback through the design process, we realized people were having fun at times but they were getting hung up on specifics and the games were dragging out longer than they were welcome.
What us designers need to realize is that we are making an experience for our players. I want my players to step into the shoes of a gnome or wizard on the battlefield but I don’t want to capture a bunch of negative emotions either. It’s our job to keep the players in mind and the type of experience they have when sitting at the tabletop with their people. If we stick to a few key mechanics that are interesting and work well with one another, we are far more likely to see success from our audience than if we try to encapsulate every detail of these new worlds we are making.
What is an experience that you have with overly-complicated or bloated rules. What did you do about it? I’d love to hear more about it in the comments below.