Balanced, Deep, Easy to Play – You Can Only Pick Two!

February 1, 2012 by warzan

Balanced, Deep, Easy to Play – Pick Two!

In engineering there is a concept called the Project Triangle where between the three project attributes, Good, Cheap, Fast – you can only ever pick two.

Project Attributes

It seems to me that the same thing basically exists in game design the attributes are…

Game Design Attributes

  • Balance (How accurate are the rules do they cover the possible events)
  • Depth (How customised can the game be and how many options are available, generally more options and customisation lead to more potential for narrative driven games)
  • Ease of Play (Are the rules easy to pick up and play, are there more tables, charts or sub events or FAQ’s that have to be considered)

… and I think its a case of pick two. The sweet spot in these cases is almost impossible to find because everyone has their own opinion on what is fun!

40K has for a long time veered towards Balance/Depth where it has so much depth that a lot of rules and FAQ’s are required to allow it to function.

Warmachine has perhaps a little less depth which has allowed it to drift towards the Balance/Ease of Play side of the triangle.

Infinity has certainly moved for the Depth/Balance spot and although the basic rules are easy to play there is no doubt that there are a lot of rules/elements.

You could probably plot somewhere in the triangle any game you can think of, but the crux is you’re not likely to find any that will exist dead centre.

Layers give Substance, Substance breeds complexity

All the wargames we know and love, have more often than not evolved from much simpler rules sets, some went on to become very complex and were then scaled back. However, all games will add layers of substance over time, like that new faction that must have a different play style, or the introduction of magic or aircraft. Some games will allow you to customise individual units and even models… as the more personal your experience is… the more likely you will stay hooked.

All of these layers will ultimately have an effect on the rules, which sooner or later will have to reflect the customisation or new addition to the game.

The difficulty is when you add rules, they have a knock-on effect on other rules.

Take a very crude example:

  • You have 16 armies…
  • Each army has on average 20 units…
  • Each unit has on average 10 special options (weapons, magic, special rules etc.)…
  • Now your core rules has (at least) 150 entries and you now have a whopping 480,000 possibilities!

Of course that is a very crude example, as some rules never interact… until they do!

On top of that there is no current software platform (that we know of) for tracking and mining rule sets for issues… yup… its all done in the minds of a handful of developers and play testers.

So, say you have access to a pool of 30 people to test your game. That leaves you with 16000 possibilities per person (and most will always overlap to find the same big obvious flaws to begin with).

Contrast that to when the book launches and is looked over by 1,000,000 eager gamers and you end up with each gamer representing 0.48 of a possibility (again this is just a thought exercise, so the numbers are rough approximations just for illustration).

It certainly makes a case for crowd sourcing, does it not?

Until that is you drop personality and interpretation into the mix…

The world is made of tribes and our wargaming community is no different, we congregate in places like this and forums and blogs, and digest the thoughts of others, many just take those thoughts at face value and it then becomes their belief, we become tribes.

This means that we cant actually consider the 1,000,000 to actually be a million independent gamers, because there are huge tribes in there, that may or may not have their own ‘shared’ opinions.

If it was just a case of spotting errors it might still work, but opinion always comes into play and opinions are very subjective… for every person that thinks A you will find one that thinks B and one that thinks Z.

So, you must then consider the final opinion… the only opinion that really matters perhaps? That of the game developer.

I feel that their opinion is the only one that matters, because we must rely on them to execute their vision. Some of us will like it others will not, but we hope at least, that the system will be coherent and not a hodge podge of conflicting ideas.

So the next time you think ‘What are they doing this rule sucks its sooo stupid and so easy to fix’, spare a thought for the 479,999 other little possibilities.

Many folk on the interwebs seem to think game flaws are easy to fix (most just focus in on a couple – but everyone’s couple is different) any thoughts on how we actually get closer to the centre of the ‘Balanced, Deep, Easy’ Triangle?


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