Simple and balanced, may make for a dry outcome

As we are working on some game designs, the conversation around keeping the game simple and at the same time balanced is a hard one to get right. The game geeks want to add as many features as possible to keep it interesting and the lesser geeky one is, the simpler you want to game to be. It makes for an interesting discussion.

I think sometimes enthusiasm get’s the better of people when designing a game and at the end of a day or evening, every feature adds something. The emotional attachment to what was added then has a role to play, when it becomes time to drop some and simplify the gameplay.

Personal preferences in the types of games we like or dislike are important to set aside for game design. It may inhibit your choices and also the type of game you can come up with. We had a recent request for a collaborative game with some features of Forbidden Island. However, one of the team decided that it was a boring game and too easy, so they added a few features from Shadows over Camelot, which definitely enhanced the gameplay.

When it came to playtesting some of these features proved complicated and maybe not all essential. So we had to go back and decide which ones could be dropped, without significantly altering the balance of the game. Some game elements were essential, others negotiable. The point system is the hardest to change around.

In all of our gamification and game design, balancing is the most difficult to get right. Changes to graphics, wording and additional fun features, can always be made. What you reward and punish however is typically what changes a game. If we take out core scoring mechanics, we will need to rethink how the game is played. The scoring mechanics are a reflection of what is important to bring home to a player and what makes the game a challenge to win.

In our work mainly in the space of work-related games, we learn the most from failing. so most of our games need to be relatively hard to win. The first two rounds may be easy, but from the third onwards you may need to make resource decisions that are not optimal. In a test, it is important to play all the way through to have the win or lose conditions take effect. It often reflects real life conditions better if winning easily is avoided, yet you have made people think about the implications of scenarios and decisions.

The best advice in terms of balancing a game is to know what is core to the gameplay and what is negotiable and can be dropped in case simplification is required. The instructions are crucial to how your game is perceived as simple or complex. Cryptic instructions, have bitten us a few times and I try my best to keep a close look on these as we work on them. Headers for key items, with simple directive language, works best.

From an accessibility perspective, the type of colours, colours, contrasts, avatars and game parts in a board game can affect the access for people with visual or physical impairment. In a digital game, most often it is equipment requirements and again avatars and colours, that make people relate more or less to a game or allow them to play it or not.

Having an element of complexity will be essential to keep the gamers involved and also those that like a bit of an intellectual challenge. But if you spend more than 10 minutes trying to understand how to set up or get started in a game, in a digital world people would have deleted and moved on 8 minutes ago and in a board game scenario, only the die-hards would continue. Testing is the only thing that can give you ultimate guidance on what to do and what works.

If all else fails, you start again with a new game…

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