Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Optimal Fun: Game Complexity vs Number of Players

One factor seeming to have a strong influence on how well I enjoy a particular gaming experience is how well the number of players matches up against the complexity of the particular game. For the same game, too many players or too few can drastically alter the "fun" generated by the session. Certain games seem to scale rather well, having a wide range wherein playing is quite enjoyable. Others have smaller range while many have a very narrow sweet spot. Complexity can take the form of rules density, amount of decision making required, number of bits to manage, or even sheer length.

Thinking about this today, I sketched out the graph above. The ideal, optimum fun game experience is represented by the blue line. Above the line is chaos and frustration. Below the line is boredom and stagnation. The curve for each person sitting around a table definitely varies depending on factors such as individual preference (i.e., for group games, for instance), maturity, knowledge of rules, mood, downtime tolerance, complexity tolerance, and commitment to making the game work.

My thought is that games fitting most closely on the blue line when played will tend to be enjoyed more and hence played more often. Perhaps the 4-player Twilight Imperium 3 would be more enjoyable and less chaotic? Adding additional complexity and players to Shadows Over Camelot seems to have improved the game's fun factor...

Anyway, back to doing my taxes.... thoughts?


At 9:34 PM, April 04, 2006, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

I think you're on the right track with this idea. I strongly agree that games have an ideal number of players.

Bang! is much better with 7 than 4, whereas the opposite is probably true for Arkham Horror.

And I think your curve has merit, too. As a group grows large the ability to keep focused on deep strategy is very difficult. Party games are almost always kind of silly. The deepest strategy games I know of are go and chess, both 2 player only.

And speaking of TI:3, I still want to get a full game in.

At 11:37 PM, April 04, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Damn, you stole my thunder Ben. I was thinking of doing a "The Normative Reasoning Behind...Part II." Your post hits the same chord and oozes with gaming insight. Nicely done! I agree whole-heartedly with your assessment.

At 3:32 PM, April 05, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Couldn't agree more.

TI3? Probably 4 players

Arkham? 3 players, or even 2 with 4 characters.

Railroad tycoon and Bang? THE MORE the merrier.

At 5:46 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

I don't know if more players, simpler game hits the sweet spot. For a long time, I was completely sold on 4-6 player, 4-6 hour games. (And I desperately want to try Here I Stand). This probably stands for Euros more than wargames, but what about Struggle of Empires? 3 hours, 7 players?

Now, the long complicated games that I like tend to have lots of ways of mitigating luck. Chaos and Length should be inversely related. Complexity and length, I'm not so sure....

I smell refund!
No, not really.

At 6:43 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Complexity and length wasn't what the topic addressed to be fair. However, I do think it factors into the formula. The more complex a game is, the more there is to do on a turn and therefore the longer the downtime. Downtime is always bad in my opinion and I think most will agree. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons most wargames are two player. Highly complex wargames with long time requirements just don't work well with a high threshold of participants. I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, but on the whole I think the proposed relationship is accurate.

At 7:56 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Oops, the original post was complexity vs # of players, which I knew a few days ago but somehow forgot. I did somehow pick the long, multiplayer games for my exampes though. (And I was thinking about Age of Renn. / Manifest Destiny, but I don't care as strongly about them).

Traditional wargames (and many Euros) do have what I call "Fixed Fun." There's only so much fun to go around, and if you double the players, everyone gets 1/2 as much. C.F. Alhambra, Pickomino. Fury of Dracula? Arkham Horror? (Both qualify, I think).

Diplomacy isn't fixed fun, because everyone can do everything at once. (I hate it for different reasons).

At 8:06 PM, April 06, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

I absolutely agree with the "fixed fun" part, Brian.


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