Game Theory and Game Design

I love making games -specifically, card games. Card games are a good development tool for so many reasons: they’re concise, simple, known.

I’ve got two games in production – one is a variant of the classic War card game, and the second is a game loosely based around the genre known as (very) short adventures. I guess one focus of the games is that they’re playable in 30-45 minutes or less – as a matter of fact, the War card game is playable in 10-20 minutes.

Another critical feature of the games I create is that they’re modular – components can be swapped. This involves more work up front, but the result is a game with more versatility. The goal is that people love the games and want to replay them to pass time. I think that’s why cribbage is such a long-lasting staple of card games – it’s compact but has flexibility and complexity.

Finding the correct level of complexity in a game is a fine line – there’s always room to make the system more complex – keeping in mind that complexity immediately impacts how quickly and simply a game can be learned and played. Also, it’s harder to simplify a game than add complexity – this is almost a universal maxim in design (not just game design, but UX and other fields as well).

With the Time Warp (War variant) card game, somebody should be able to learn to play within 5 minutes, and finish the first game within 15 minutes (20 minutes total). With the adventure game, the game is a touch more complex, but learnable within 15 minutes and playable in 45 minutes – 1 hour total.

Short play times are crucial to my happiness as a designer (and a player!) nobody wants to be bogged down in hours of ridiculous, boring game theory and useless activity. Quick, simple, and cheap – this is the winning combo for game design (or any other product).


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