16 Mar Developing a Game Design Philosophy – Thumb Twiddling
Mark Rivett –
Whenever we get together Slightly Twisted Games tries to make time to play a board or card game. We love games, and after we play a new game for the first time we discuss both the things we enjoy and dislike about it. This has shaped our game design philosophy, and we work to incorporate our philosophy into each game we make.
When Star Trek: Ascendancy was released, we purchased it immediately, and dove into it. There are a ton of fantastic game mechanics wrapped in well thought-out and nostalgic Star Trek themes. We love that game, and bust it out whenever we can. With each replay, we discover more complex strategies that increase our appreciation further.
Our one complaint, however is we spend a lot of time “thumb twiddling.”
We’ve all experienced this. You sit down to a game of Axis and Allies, and whoever’s turn it is stares intently at the game board. And you wait… and wait… and wait. Slowly, that player makes one decision after another culminating in some activity that may (or may not) involve you. Finally their turn ends… and it passes to the next player. All you can do is twiddle your thumbs.
What compounds this issue is that, with each decision that is made, there is often a series of choices that must be made by all players that hinge upon either the decision that is made, or the real-time outcome of a game event.
For example, if the Axis and Allies German player buys a lot of a certain type of unit the Allied players must adjust their strategy accordingly. That means whatever forethought they may have already invested in their strategy has to be reconsidered when it becomes their turn.
Similarly, if the Star Trek: Ascendancy Klingon player slams into your fleet and things go poorly for one of you – perhaps wildly outside what would be considered median results for either of you – whatever strategy you had prior to that moment often goes out the window. While that certainly can (and does) make for a compelling game, it’s not the type of game that everyone enjoys.
Games like Splendor, Dominion, Legendary, and Slightly Twisted Games soon-to-be-released Glory deal with the thumb twiddling issue by giving each player a limited set of choices on each of their turns. Play is fast and engaging, and players are able to focus on the game because their decisions are often boiled down to two or three possibilities, each with limited ramifications for each opponent. Not only does this make for a faster game experience, but at the end of the game all players – not just the winning player – are left with the feeling: “Lets play that again!”
Slightly Twisted Games enjoys a wide range of different games and game styles, but we also try to be inclusive among our group of diverse friends and family. We have found that games that move quickly tend to be the most inclusive and enjoyable for everyone – particularly children. We also find they appeal to people whose primary prior exposure to board games is plagued by Monopoly-induced trauma. With this in mind, we work hard to reduce the amount of thumb twiddling our players experience.