Sunday, November 9, 2014

Design Tip of the Week #22 (FUN to Time Ratio Part 3)

What is this about and where do I find the first 2 Parts?

This series is covering something I call the Fun to Time Ratio.  You know your game is done when you get this ratio correct. 

In the first installment of this series, we talked about ways to make longer games feel shorter:

In the second part of the series, we talked about ways to shorten your game, without losing the flow:

Now the hard part, how do we add fun?

What is fun?  That seems general.

Fun is a very general term.  What is fun to some people will not be fun to others.  This week we will focus on some general tips to increase fun that should span most gamers.  Even though we have different tastes, there are certainly some things to consider regardless of your audience.

Lets start out with Decisions.  How do you make them fun?

Lets start with the basics.  People want to feel smart.  Anything you can do to make the player feel smarter without making their opponents feel dumb is probably a good thing to add to your game.  Think about the games you like.  Why do you like them?  Probably because you are pretty good at them.  You feel good playing them because you make good decisions.  You feel smart.  Even if you don't win your favorite game a lot, you are probably either getting better the more you play, or see your decisions making positive impact on the game.  I have heard people talking about building their farm in Agricola, even if they didn't win, and pointing to the progress they made.

What people don't like about Agricola is the pressure feeding you people puts on you.  This isn't universal, but seems to be the key complaint.  That is because when you don't succeed you lose something.  In this case points.  In The Year of the Dragon puts pressure on you too.  You probably won't finish that game with all of your things in tact.  This is a chief complaint about the game.  Some people love this mechanic, so I am not trying to push you away from it altogether, but realize that if you put negative feedback in your game that it will turn some people off.

An example from our designs was in The Last Bastion.  We originally had a mechanic where people would lose if the town burned and they hadn't helped enough.  It was a good mechanic and lead to some cool tension at the end.  Even if one player seemed way ahead they could lose because they didn't do enough to save the town.  We flipped it on it's ear, instead incentivizing people to try and save the town.  Instead of giving people a negative experience of the auto-loss, we gave everyone a bonus for doing what we wanted them to do.  At the end of the day everyone felt better because they were pushed to do what the theme told them they should be doing.

Lesson Learned: Try to make decisions lead to a positive reward, not a negative punishment if possible.  People want to feel smart, reward them for good choices.

Oh Great Game Maker (insert sarcasm here) what else do people want?

People also like to feel special.  Look at all the top games on BGG (  In almost all of them people have a way to feel different from everyone else.  Do what no one else can do.  The top game, Twilight Struggle, both sides feel, and play completely different because of the events.  In Terra Mystica every race has a unique power.  In Through the Ages, civilizations don't start differently, but they acquire things that make them unique throughout the game.  If I get Napoleon, you can't get Napoleon so I am unique.  Keep going with Agricola.  You have unique cards that only you can have, and upgrades that only one person can build.  Puerto Rico the same thing.  Buildings are limited so only one or two people can have the same one.

It is very hard to design games that make people feel unique, but I think this is a key to success.  If you play 2 games in a row and do the exact same thing regardless of special powers, or starting position, then there may be a problem.  That is why I don't necessarily like games that have an open tech tree.  If you can build anything whenever you want, than what prevents you from doing the same thing every game. 

Lesson Learned: Give people a chance to feel unique, either through setup, or introducing limited powers throughout the game that only one person can attain.


While the concept of fun is unique to each person, we do have things in common.  People want to feel smart, and people love having something no one else does.  It is in our nature.  Observe any child for 20 minutes and you will see this.  They always want what the other person has (special powers).  And they always want to show you something (feel smart).

Series Summary

I always get asked the question, how do you know when your game is done.  Or how do you know when to start trying to break your game?  I come back to this rule, if your game is fun to play, in the timeframe you are playing it, you are probably there.  If it was fun for the first hour, then got boring, find a way to cut the end without making if feel rushed.  If the game is playing quickly, but it feels like something is missing, try to add some fun through the techniques discussed here and in the first part of the series.

What's next?
 That's it for this week, next week I am going to get back to prototyping and discuss how to make your own custom dice.  Until then, I am Peter, keep designing great games.

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