I’ve started working on a game with simultaneously-executed turns. It’s meant to be as simple as possible: the first version only allowed for two decisions per turn with only four choices per decision.
Any time you iterate on a concept, you need to know where to iterate and why you’re iterating there. Do it scientifically: build a theory, make a related change, make a measurement, and check your theory. This game wasn’t fun at first (just reading the sentence above might make that obvious), so I needed to iterate. Time for that theory.
Beware: Academic Material Ahead
Assertion 1: Games are all about stringing together player choice in pursuit of some narrative. My problem wasn’t narrative, as I hadn’t even gotten that far. Instead, it was a problem with choice, so let’s dig in there.
Assertion 2: These Choices are the process of selecting a Desired Outcome from the set of Possibilities followed by selecting a set of Inputs within the game’s systems in an attempt to bring about that Outcome.
In chess, a game of skill, this is simple: the Possibilities are all legal moves and series thereof, the Outcome is a move or set of moves you want to perform, and the Input becomes performing one of those moves with one of your pieces. In Yahtzee, however, luck takes over: the Possibilities are all of the potential dice positions and the Outcome may be a specific position (such as a Full House), but the Input is very limited (roll the dice) and may not achieve the desired Outcome. What prevented my game from being fun might have been the lack of interesting Inputs, but my theory is that the limited set of Possibilities was a larger contributor, so I wanted to dig in there.
Last Assertion (3): The realm of Possibilities is a factor of your available Inputs and the Uncertainty of their Actual Outcome. Remember that a player’s decisions involve selecting a set of Inputs for a Desired Outcome out of these Possibilities, but the rules for evaluating these Inputs and the assumptions leading to their selection lend a lot to the Uncertainty. Jackpot: I had a problem with Insufficient Uncertainty.
Taking a step away from the academic (and downright confusing, perhaps), let’s look at what we’ve codified. A player’s decisions are all attempts on trying to achieve something (the Desired Outcome). The available options for those decisions are defined by the game, and the player will pick one or a set of them, like moving a pawn in chess (the Inputs). Since randomness may be involved or his opponent may have a chance to respond, the player might not achieve his goal – something else may happen (the Actual Outcome).
To make a game more interesting, we can make more Inputs. This makes the decision harder, as there are many choices to consider. This simultaneously makes the game less accessible, and is against my original goal of simplicity. On the other hand, we can make the game more Uncertain, increasing either the randomness (unbalancing the game toward luck) or the number of assumptions made (increasing the amount of hidden information).
Theory in hand (so to speak), I’ll be playing with this Uncertainty. I may introduce a die roll to hit, for example, increasing the luck involved. On the other hand, I could introduce a fog of war, requiring a moderator (such as a computer). Your options may be different, but the rule remains the same: increase the Possibilities, and your game’s choices become more interesting. Increase your game’s Uncertainty, and you increase the Possibilities.