Meaningful Choices

There’s this interesting article up on Boardgame News called “The Tyranny of Choice” that argues against the popular notion from Meier et al that a game is a series of meaningful choices.

I don’t agree with it, but it is an interesting perspective nonetheless. It plays a little loosey-goosey with intent and definition. Are we arguing that a game needs meaningful choice to be a game or that it needs it to be good or that it needs it to be fun? I think those a three different questions that are kind of jumbled up in the article.

And how loose are we with the term meaningful?

And that’s when it hit me. We both like Crazy Chefs and I had a fun time playing it against her even though its clearly aimed at people one-tenth of my age. We both thought The Very Hungry Caterpillar Game was dull even though it too is clearly marketed at young children. What’s the difference? Choice. Not choice which is meaningful in any way, shape or form but simply choice. In Crazy Chefs we get a choice: we get to choose which tile to flip and even though the game is entirely random and the choice meaningless the act of making it alone involves us both in the game. We’re there. We’re chefs trying desperately to be the first to gather the food together to feed our hungry customers. In the other game, the name of which I can no longer be bothered even to cut and paste, there is no choice and we are merely observers of the course the arbitrary nature of the game forces us to take. This is boring, even for a three year old.

I fail to see how the choices in Crazy Chefs aren’t meaningful. Random does not mean meaningless, it just means the meaning is uncertain at the time of the decision. When I choose a piece to attack in Stratego, a game whose very name invokes strategy, I am doing the exact same thing. The opponent’s pieces may as well be random to me because the information is hidden. That doesn’t make my decisions on where to move and who to attack meaningless.

I think the definition of a “meaningful choice” is a choice that causes a dependency with regards to the objectives. I.e., Because I chose to buy Boardwalk, others can land on it and pay me money which furthers my objectives and it is thus a meaningful choice. My choice to play as the thimble causes no dependencies via the rules so it was not meaningful.

Anyway, food for thought.

1 Comment

  1. The thimble causes your opponents to tremble in fear when something is up for auction, though.

    Reading the article, the author seems to think that making a decision with imperfect information makes it less “meaningful”.

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