Sunday, June 24, 2007

Game Design: The Theory of Fun in Gaming

Fun is a relative concept, not an absolute, static thing. What constitutes “fun” for one person may constitute “tedium” for another and vice versa. From the perspective of board game design, a designer’s goal is usually to create a game that can be considered “fun” by at least a sizeable audience of people such that their game will be published and enjoyed by others. Thus, it’s important for the designer to figure out just what “kind” or which “kinds” of fun his or her game is trying to implement or offer.

It’s also important for playtesters to know what kind of “fun” they typically prefer to have and which kinds don’t really work for them. This way, they can provide feedback that is appropriately qualified from their relative perspective (ex. “this game wasn’t fun for me because of…” instead of stating in an absolute manner “this game wasn’t fun.”)

What follows is a list of different forms of “fun” that various board and card games can offer along with examples of games that offer that particular form of fun:

1. Socialization: having an opportunity to spend time with others doing something that doesn’t get in the way or distract from the conversations taking place but yet provides some sort of “glue” for the social setting
Any game that has very few rules, very little strategy, and minimal competition
Puzzles as a genre
Lots of card games fit in this category

2. Amusement / Humor: having silly themes, doing silly things, or experiencing silly circumstances
Apples to Apples
Killer Bunnies
Mad Gab

3. Organization: taking a set number of things from a chaotic state and putting them into an organized state
Rubik’s Cube

4. Spatial Thinking: envisioning different shapes in varying arrangements or envisioning different objects moving
The Princes of Florence
Robo Rally
Fearsome Floors
Wings of War
Ricochet Robots

5. Pattern Recognition: opportunity to recognize or envision meaningful patterns in various sets of symbols, words, letters, or objects

6. Efficiency / Racing: trying to accomplish a goal in the most efficient manner possible or before anyone else does
Fearsome Floors
Ricochet Robots
Power Grid
Pitch Car

7. Deduction: trying to do mental algebra and infer unknown information from known information
Mystery of the Abbey

8. Inference: trying to infer other people’s motives or their standings in a given setting by reading their body language, facial expressions, and general demeanor
Shadows Over Camelot

9. Role-Playing: exploring some sort of interesting thematic setting or making decisions from the standpoint of an interesting thematic character
Historical Wargames as a genre
Arkham Horror
Fury of Dracula
The “How to Host a Murder” games

10. Conflict: opportunity to directly compete/match wits with at least one other individual or to directly impact another individual’s position through one’s own choices:
Wargames as a genre

11. Acquisition / Conquering: opportunity to acquire resources, items, or territory from another player or to obtain the same from a limited market
Saint Petersburg
Puerto Rico
The Princes of Florence
El Grande
Wargames as a genre

12. Creativity / Cleverness: opportunity to be clever and/or creative in the decisions and plans you make
The deck building/construction aspect of CCG’s.

13. Self-Testing: opportunity to test personal knowledge or physical dexterity
Trivial Pursuit

14. Communication: opportunity to utilize conversation skills, word skills, drawing skills, or general communication skills
Catch Phrase
What’s It To Ya
Time’s Up

15. Opportunity Cost: having to weigh the relative worth of two or more options that at least appear to be equally good but either of which could turn out to be quite different in their significance
Puerto Rico
No Thanks
Die Macher

16. Risk Taking / Anticipation of the Unknown: hoping for some desired result, be it positive or negative, either for yourself or for someone else
Can’t Stop
Incan Gold
Cloud 9
Any game where the decisions of the other players have the potential to impact
your position in the game
Any game that involves some random element such as cards or dice

17. Variety: aspects of the game being different each time
Settlers of Catan
Hey! That’s My Fish
Card Games as a genre


1. Socialization
2. Amusement / Humor
3. Organization
4. Spatial Thinking
5. Pattern Recognition
6. Efficiency / Racing
7. Deduction
8. Inference
9. Role-Playing
10. Conflict
11. Acquisition / Conquering
12. Creativity / Cleverness
13. Self-Testing
14. Communication
15. Opportunity Cost
16. Risk Taking / Anticipation of the Unknown
17. Variety

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