Game Design – Strategic Complexity leading to Complication or Sophistication?

Posted in Forged from the Founders on February 3, 2012 by gryphonforge

Wow how time flies! It’s been a year since our last official post and we’re way overdue on getting the word out about goings on here at The Forge. Though it may seem to the external casual observer that all fires here have extinguished, things couldn’t be further from the truth.

Much of 2011 was spent rekindling our real jobs with whole career changes and dramatic scope shifts that made off with most of our extra time. Even with this drain on Gryphon Forge design time, the three of us still committed to many weekly game nights throughout the last year, and proceeded to invest in our favorite pursuit – new game concepts. With another great game getting close to “playable prototype” stage, we’re fired up for 2012 to get another one out to you gamers!

Working through our latest design concept brings an interesting game design challenge we’ve been facing to mind. A challenge that ties strategy to complexity, and overall fun balance.

One of our major goals has been to create a much more strategically challenging, strategically rewarding game. This is a different sort of game from our first released title, Wizard’s Gambit – which is more casual and light hearted. We want to build a game that the hard core hobbyist would likely enjoy.

To fulfill this design goal we’ve developed quite a bit more player choice and decision making into the game design, over pure random events and limited choice. We really want players to feel like every move and event is one of their choosing, rather than forced by the mechanics of the game – even if the outcome is uncertain. To this end we’re adding many complexities and layers to the game mechanics that yield more strategy through the interactions the complexities bring.

The current state is that the prototype game has every strategic idea we’ve thought of while designing the game. This makes playing the game, from completing a turn phase to deciding your next move, very  difficult; generating a lot of discussion on “how it’s supposed to work” and a lot of extra down time figuring out what to do. Admittedly after a few early design play-test sessions, this challenge made the three of us begin to think that we needed to “eliminate the complexity in the next pass” because the game is obviously “too complex”.

But here’s where the interesting part of the challenge comes in – how do you judge too complex? It occurred to me while reflecting on this subject that many of the greatest strategy games are complex, yet people don’t complain about them being too complex – so there must be multiple types of complexity that you have to design for, both to include and avoid.

Thinking more on this, the real accomplishment is to sort through the total complexity of the game and determine whether a rule, mechanic, or game element is either:

a)      Complexity leading to complication  –or–

b)      Complexity leading to sophistication

Obviously you want the second one, right?

Looking at these in more detail, complexity leading to complication is really what you want to avoid in your strategic design. Design that fails to integrate complexity well into the game flow ends up feeling complicated, or onerous, and basically un-fun. Now you might ask – what makes something un-fun? I think I’ll save that for another blog, but here are some examples:

We discovered one design implementation that can lead to complex-complication in game systems is creating too many elements in a rock-paper-scissors aspect of the game. Too many elements that are designed to cross-compete with other elements means that much more time is required for players to learn all of the intricacies of the system compared to the fun it yields. If players have to sift through too many choices and are required to make too many calculations during a unit of game play, it may seem really strategic, however it not only slows down the game for them, but also everyone else who’s waiting to take their turn.

Another example is having too many things to do on your turn. If the turn has too many steps or activities rather than simple options or smooth flow, we found that players lose track of what they’re doing and omit steps altogether.  As designers we assume that we’re giving players a lot of choices so that they have the freedom to craft the supreme killer strategy, but it ultimately back-fires. Player’s either cannot, or do not want to spend so much time on the complexity. It’s simply too complicated.

On the flip side, complexity that has elegant mechanics or flow leads to sophistication – ultimately leading to the best types of strategy games. When complexity is added in this way, players don’t see it as complex; rather it combines the right mix of risk and choice from the game elements to create a very enjoyable and strategically rewarding game. These design decisions usually stem from obvious principles such as following the most logical path based on the theme or mechanic, or one rule to solve multiple scenarios. You know you’re off track when your start creating “crutch rules” to handle exception cases or game breaking design flaws.

Examples of well implemented complexity leading to sophistication can be found in games like Dominion, Magic the Gathering, or Arkham Horror. All three share complex game elements, rules, and mechanics – but the mechanics mesh well together. Players view the games as infinitely re-playable rather than un-fun or too complex. The designers of these games understood the art of designing complexity in a way that gave the players choice, but without the onerous overhead of complexity-complication.

So going back to our current game concept prototype, we are following the course of leaving all of the complexity in on first pass, but running every part through tests to determine if a given element or mechanic is complicated or sophisticated. Where we find that we’re falling closer to complication, we search for a way to elegantly modify it to yield sophistication; or eliminate it if we fail to do so.

In this way we still include all of our ideas and lower the risk of throwing out that one “game maker” element or mechanic without thorough due diligence on its merits, but eliminate the complex-complication that makes many games un-fun.


Feb 2011… already?

Posted in Game Night on February 9, 2011 by gryphonforge

Holy Time Machine Batman… i can’t believe it’s February 2011!!!

And I’m slacking again on the Game Night edition of the blog. So to kickoff the year and get the ball rolling we’ll start with short recap of the games played and a preview of what is coming up.

  • This week – nuthin (everybody was busy)
  • Last week – Dominion w/ all expansion sets
    • We got in 2 matches but I just couldn’t get the right mix of cards to drop.
  • 3 weeks ago – Wiz War!! This was a blast from the past. We had 6 people playing which was really fun. A few classic moments:
    • Matt, seeing that his treasures are in easy reach from both sides, moves his entire section of the board essentially stranding me on a single board cut off from everyone. Then teleports me across the entire game board. There is no quick way back.
    • Matt and Peter casting Slow Death and Reflection at each other early in the game. They both can see their fate coming fast.
    • EricN grabbing the early lead, dropping one treasure off and picking up a second. He is one turn away from winning with that “nuthin can stop me now” look in his eyes. I know he’s got some kind of defensive card like a reflection or shield. But hey, I’m loaded for bear and use my last number card to get within LOS. Then BAM, the ever so enjoyable combo of Sudden Death + Amplify. 20 points!! Then EricN throws out the Full Reflection thinking he’s still got it in the bag. But no, I pull out the Absorb, take his Full Reflection and watch the realization hit him that he’s dead.
    • But alas, no one is really paying attention to EricD and he quietly picks up and drops the 2nd treasure on his base. Game over. Good Play!

So what is up next? A long standing tradition that EricN started hosting… our anual Magic (MTG) tournament. Once a year around New Year’s the 5 core members of the gaming group get together for a sealed deck fight to the death slugfest. We start early afternoon and try to get 5 or 6 games in with points awarded for each match. The person with the most points at the end of the day wins the coveted trophy (we actually have a custom made trophy) that the winner gets to keep for the entire year along with bragging rights. I had the elustrious honor of being the 1st champion. But, alas, it has evaded me every year since. Even worse, Matt has won the last 2 years and is taunting everyone that he will have a Hat Trick when he wins again. I can assure you that ain’t gonna happen 🙂

Look for an update on the outcome of the tournament and I’ll post a picure of the trophy sitting on my desk back in it’s rightful home – heh heh.

until next time…


Repost: Game Night 2-16 – Triple Human!

Posted in Game Night on November 12, 2010 by gryphonforge

<Another repost to get the Game Night segment going>

This is a classic example of how Matt, Eric, and I (and a small group of friends) spend our Monday nights. After grueling away at our day jobs (SW Dev and Civil Service) we all look forward to hitting the local brew pubs, slogging away some good beer (Black Butte Porter anyone!) and getting in a few hours of gaming. This was one of 1st posts on a classic moment. Enjoy!


For those that may not know, the gang here typically meets Monday evenings after work for dinner (usually consisting of Hot Wings and Beer) and a night of gaming. The turnout typically ranges 4-6 players on any given Monday. We usually get one or two games in depending upon what we decide to play. Games vary from old standby’s like Settlers, Arkham Horror, MTG, or of course Wizard’s Gambit… to anything new that we feel like trying out. Not only does this help keep the gaming juices running, but it is just plain fun for us to all get togther to BS and let off some steam.
We thought it would be interesting to give some insights into the playing styles and excitement that keeps us all energized in this business.
A few weeks ago, BattleStar Galactica came to the table. We had all been really curious about playing this and finally had our chance. The 1st go round was pretty much learning the rules and intracacies of the game… with the outcome being accuzations of “He’s a Cylon!” being thrown out randomly at people in the weeks that followed. The funnest moments were when Matt, playing Baltar, and EricN playing the President were both uncovered as Cylon’s, yet refused to help each other leaving Baltar stuck in the Brigg most of the final part of the game.
This week, BSG was back on the table. And Matt, as typical, chose to play Baltar again. In the end, the Cylons won again. Mostly due to myself being the Admiral (and a Cylon) and EricN (the President by default, also a cylon) slowly and subtley draining our resources. Everyone focused on Matt (as Baltar again) being the cylon, especially after he received his 3rd loyalty card. The classic moment came at the end of the game with Matt fighting back against the allegations of being a cylon and throwing is loyalty cards on the table and yelling “I was triple human bitches!!”. Baring teeth
another classic moment….

Repost: Game Design – Actual vs. Perceived Fun

Posted in Forged from the Founders on November 11, 2010 by gryphonforge

<another repost from the old archive> Here is an oldie but a goody from Matt..


As my first Gryphon Forge Founders post I thought I would give some insights on my thoughts on game design – specifically some things we think about at Gryphon Forge when putting together a new concept starting with a prototype. This particular topic will cover a subtle but important aspect of overall design that is really important to any game: The difference between actual fun and perceived fun.

We’re all familiar with actual fun in a card or board game. This is the quantifiable fun you have after you’ve played a game – perhaps a new game for the first time. You usually learn about the game from a friend in your gaming group, from the local game store’s game night event, from a parent or relative, or a game you picked up from a review in magazine. Regardless of how you came to play it, you enjoyed yourself and may even want to play again. You would describe the game as one you like and recommend it to other friends, etc.

The more elusive type of fun is perceived fun, and probably more important in some ways than actual fun. Perceived fun is your measure of how fun a game is before you’ve ever played it! We’ve all experienced perceived fun too: When looking at the back of a box in a game store, when walking around a Con and watching others play a game, or looking at an advertisement online or in a magazine. You might see a game that looks really fun – even fun enough to buy! But the design of this aspect of the game is totally different from getting the mechanics right or keeping the rules simple.

For game designers, nailing both actual and perceived fun is key to the overall success of a game you intend to produce and sell. And it is readily obvious why both kinds of fun are important. You need perceived fun to get a game off the shelf and actual fun to keep people playing and spread the word on your game by word of mouth, review, etc.

Some thoughts on how to demonstrate perceived fun in a game include:

1. Ensure art quality is up to a high bar. Think about if you were to buy just the game art – is it good enough to hang on the wall? A lot of games that don’t look fun to play have lower quality art or are produced and finished at a lower quality.

2. Create an enticing box layout. Is your game pictured in a way that shows the fun in action? Are pieces arranged in such a way that makes it look like a really cool event is taking place? If your game has a lot of pieces, are they arranged in a way that makes the game seem easy to learn? Remember complex games are only easy to play once you’ve played them a few times, so depicting simplified play is important on games with high complexity.

3. Ensure you have some variance in your game components – especially if they are like components such as cards. If it’s a simpler game such as a card game, do you show enough variety in your cards to look interesting? Games with a homogeneous look to the elements will look less fun overall.

4. Tied closely to point #3 – Make sure the overall theme of the game is consistent. Do you have an overall look and feel that is tied together thematically or by style? Games that appear to be a disjointed collection of parts will look less fun or convey complexity that may not really be there.

Of course, as a game designer you want to achieve success on both the perceived fun and actual fun. Failure in either area can be failure for your games – especially if your game is actually fun, but doesn’t look like it. Here at Gryphon Forge, we work on the actual fun first for our games, then brainstorm ideas on how to ensure that our games are perceived as fun too using many of the methods above.

Post a comment if you thought this was an interesting topic. Eric and I will be sharing our thoughts and ideas on game design going forward.


We’re Back…

Posted in Forged from the Founders, General, Wizard's Gambit on November 11, 2010 by gryphonforge

With the exodus of Windows Live Spaces, we’ve decided to once again host our blog with WordPress. Not too big a deal because the old blog had become a bit stale anyway. But hey, we’re back, and we’ve even got some new stuff to talk about that’s been heating up nicely in the old foundry. More on that later. For now, we’ll start off by reposting one of the 1st blog post from Eric, enjoy! 


Welcome to the Gryphon Forge Blog.

Yesterday marked a new beginning for us at Gryphon Forge. Our first shipment of Wizard’s Gambit came in. As excited as we are about our progress, many of you have been just as excited and have been inquiring about the game, our company, and even Matt & I, the Founders. Therefore we have begun this Blog, so that you too can join us as we move forward with our company.

That being said, this coming week we should have our game available to you on the Gryphon Forge web site. With our first game under our belt, we are already beginning work on our next release, which will continue the storyline from Wizard’s Gambit in the world of Hyrathia. For more information on Wizard’s Gambit, I refer you to the Gryphon Forge web site.

As for myself… I am a Gamer by night, but a cop by day. I supervise the Detectives of a Major Crimes Unit at a municipal police department in the Seattle area. I love my work, but I am torn away sometimes by my love for gaming. So much so, that Matt and I formed this company so that we can follow our dream of designing and publishing our own games.

In addition to being a Police Officer, I am President of our Police Officer’s Guild. I am also a father of two. One of which is only two months old. I can’t wait for both of them to grow old enough for us to game together.

My hobbies are gaming, photography, and paintball.

I am new to this blogging, so please be pateint with my short first attempt at blogging. I am more of a man of action than words. However, let me leave you with this thought. Between my Job, my volunteer position as the President of the Police Guild, my company with Matt, and my family with young ones, I have found time to pursue my dreams and take care of my family. It is hard work, frustrating at times. But if I can do it and succeed, so can you. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If they do, do it just to spite them, showing them that they were wrong. Dang! It feels good to be right.

Welcome again to our Blog, and welcome to the Gryphon Forge Experience.