There’s an article on BoardGameNews talking about the good and the bad of Tobago, a new board game that makes people brain burn on set theory in a nice little island theme with some beautiful pieces. I bought Tobago sight unseen last month and have had the chance to play it twice. But this post isn’t so much about Tobago as it is about the Game Design Rule at the bottom of the article:
For myself, I simply mark down another game design rule: if you create a thoughtful mechanism, make sure it’s strategic too.
And that’s such a limiting hardcore game-nerd rule.
It reminds me of my time at EA when I would suggest features that I believed would make our games more interesting to play, but were vetoed down for what I think is the same reasoning. In my case, the objection would always be: “How does this affect gameplay? Does this raise your stats?” or something similar with the underlying suggestion that if it didn’t offer strategic advantage, it wasn’t worth a designer’s time.
Gameplay isn’t just who wins and loses, it is all the choices the players make and the results of those choices. But to the author of the article, and many of the people I previously worked with, gameplay is ONLY the choices and results that affect who wins and loses. Everything else is window dressing.
When you play Rock Band, do you choose which song you play based on how well you will do – which song will give you the highest score? No, you choose based on a number of factors that are an attempt to maximize p(fun). Not p(win). But hardcore gamers of all brands (cardboard and digital) like to make that equation: p(win) = p(fun). Therefore, to them, anything that doesn’t increase p(win) cannot increase p(fun). They smile at the quaint sentiment that you can have fun losing a game. Some may even believe that but only insofar as it provides lessons that increase p(win) for all subsequent games.
So what the above author is REALLY saying is: “If you create a thoughtful mechanism, make sure it is strategic too because I like strategic thinking because it can make me win.”
Tobago‘s treasure elimination mechanic is fun to me not because it allows us to create solutions to puzzles that make us win, but because it allows us to formulate answers to puzzles that make the game space more interesting.
But to make a “game design rule” about what is fun to me would leave me with a narrow set of rules for a singular audience.