Your Game is Harder Than You Think

If you’ve been reading the blog or following me on social media you are familiar with my game Plutocracy. I’ve been working on it for about a year now and it has been a difficult problem to solve, but one that is so intriguing I can’t let it go. I’ve written about the trouble of making player incentives and my attempts at streamlining the rules. My dead ends and my redirections. This post isn’t about Plutocracy, though my play test of it last night is the inspiration and will serve as an example. This post is about how difficult it is for a designer to understand how complex their game is because they understand the complexity of their game.

I wrote previously about my idea to give players a better stake in the game by adding pawns that represent the player and limit their area of influence. I implemented this change for last night’s test. This was the major change of this version. It also had a different board structure and modified scoring, but the majority of mechanics were almost identical to previous versions.

The group play testing was one of my regular groups. They have all played Plutocracy many times before. They are all game designers and experienced players. I had high hopes for this version. I felt it would solve the incentive problem and allow me to move forward to adjusting numbers to fine tune the game. So I was surprised when the game mechanics gave them so much trouble.

As I said, the majority of mechanics hadn’t changed. They just had a pawn on the board that meant they couldn’t affect planets too far away. But this one change made the game different to them. So they kept questioning how things worked and my answer was usually, “The same as it did in the last version.”

In the end, the game went alright. It did a lot of what I wanted, but there were some big issues with the initial setup that caused some problems for the whole game. The concept I was reminded of during our discussion was that when you design a game, it makes sense to you in a way that no other person can quite grasp. This can lead to the issue I had.

The changes I made were minor to me, the game still had the same mechanics, but a game is much more complicated to anyone who is not the creator of it. So if you make a design and it is simple and clear in your head, everything fits together, is intuitive, and flows well. It’s probably more complicated for players than you realize.

It’s hard to notice because it’s a matter of perspective that you, as the designer, can’t have. Perhaps putting a design away for a year or two so you completely forget about it could help. But I think the best thing to do is realize it will happen, and play test until it works for your audience, not just you.

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