The other day I was at the London Playtest Meetup, having just finished a test-game of Voluntarios. One of the players was pretty positive, but the other had this pensive look on his face: “It’s really hard to put my finger on it, but something is missing…”
This echoed my own feelings, so we discussed further, trying to find out what that “it” was. And after a few minutes we got it:
There were no interesting decisions that needed to be made!
In the game you pick a project and though they are cosmetically all different, they’re all fundamentally the same. And you’d have to gather resources, but one way or another, you’d get what you need. Sure, you could do things more or less efficient, but that was about it…
This of course is a very serious design flaw and so it needs to be fixed. But how?!?
Time to think deeply about what “interesting choices” in board-games are.
What is not interesting
To start out, let’s look at what are choices that are not interesting to make.
The obvious choice
You could have a hundred choices, but if one of them is so obviously the best one, then the other 99 might as well not exist.
In Voluntarios you lose points for having resources left at the end of a round. This means that spending any leftover resources becomes very obvious, even if it doesn’t gain you anything. You could not spend them, but that would just be silly.
“I can take that wood now, or I can take it later.”
Technically this is a choice, but the result of the two options is exactly the same and thus it is not an interesting choice.
Stated as above it’s pretty clear that this is not an interesting choice, but what I’ve found in Voluntarios that such a non-choice can be hidden somewhat: “I can take the wood now, but then Sarah will take the coins so I’ll have to pay in reputation to get my coin. Or I could take the coin now, but most likely Max will have grabbed the last wood, so I’m down some reputation to get that…” Again the result is exactly the same, but you’ve done quite some mental work to figure that out. Brainpower wasted (analysis paralysis!), without any real gain.
Another example of this is the Voluntarios projects mentioned, which do not fundamentally differ from each other.
The scripted choice
One choice can lead to others that you have to make.
In Voluntarios you pick a project and then you have to gather the resources to finish that project. Get that wood, or you’re simply not progressing (or worse, moving backwards). The one choice (of project) very much dictates which further choices you will be making.
In the above there are some examples of what are not interesting choices.
What do all of these have in common?
They are all easy choices to make!
That is not to say there is not a lot of thinking done before: You need to analyze what the impact of each choice is. But once that impact is done, it’s clear which choice you should make. It’s the obvious one. Or the scripted one. Or it doesn’t matter because all options give the same result.
This should make it clear what makes for an interesting choice: One that is hard!