Different Strokes for Different Folks

Seth Ryals-Fernandes

Seth Ryals-Fernandes is the owner and main author at TableTopCrazy. His love for modern board games is still budding, and he enjoys writing here at TableTopCrazy as a hobby.

A recent reddit thread that I saw was what got me thinking about the topic of complexity in Tabletop Gaming. For those of us Tabletop Gamers who spend our spare time on Board Game Geek (BGG) looking at reviews for games that only have a hundred copies in existence, a certain amount of complexity is often required for fun.

But for a lot of you out there, too much complexity in board games is something you try to avoid. For example I have friends that only play games with their wives and young kids. They aren’t going to be picking up a copy of The Campaign For North Africa anytime soon. The Campaign for North Africa being a notoriously time consuming and complicated game. Often complex to the point of not even being enjoyable. It requires hours of calculations before game even starts. At the same time you probably won’t see any serious Tabletop gamer picking up Monopoly either.

Most people don’t fit into either of those extreme categories. I personally prefer games of a pretty high complexity. But if you challenge me to a game of Monopoly you bet your ass I’ll take you up on it. You’ll also never find me caught dead with a game that takes more than 15 minutes to set up.

Complexity is complex

The complexity of a game is more diverse than you might think initially. Some games have complex systems, but the decisions you make in the game are very simple (for example Settlers of Catan). Or vice versa (Food Chain Magnate). Sometimes the way you play a game can make it complex. Going back to our example of Monopoly, you would play Monopoly with a 5 year old kid very different than with an adult with an MBA.

Complexity isn’t cut and dry. It takes many forms and categorizing games by it is very difficult. BGG does a fairly good job of this with their weight system. But again it isn’t perfect.

How to figure out if a game is too complicated for you

There are a couple of different ways to do this. If you know someone who owns the game you could obviously ask them (or probably just play the game with them). You can go on BGG and look at the weight. You could ask an associate at your local board game store, assuming you have one in your area. But if you have no friends that play games. You live in a rural area. And you don’t trust random strangers on the internet. You can always watch someone play the game or explain the rules. I would recommend Dice Tower for almost any game.

If all else fails you can go on BGG and find reviews, how to plays, and playthroughs of almost any game in existence.

Another good thing is to ask yourself if you have prior experience that might help you. For example Gloomhaven, a sort of Fantasy RPG, would be extremely hard to learn with no experience playing any Fantasy RPG game. But if you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons or put 1000 hours into any Elder Scrolls game, it’s probably going to seem very familiar to you once you get past the unique mechanics that it introduces.

Everything is a case by case basis

Complexity is something that is diverse and hard to interpret. It can be the deciding factor for people about whether they like a game or not. Its hard to tell whether you’ll like playing a game for those reasons, and many others, until you play it. But I hope that what I’ve said here has given you guys some interesting things to consider. Whether you are buying your first game, or your 100th.




Seth Ryals-Fernandes

Seth Ryals-Fernandes is the owner and main author at TableTopCrazy. His love for modern board games is still budding, and he enjoys writing here at TableTopCrazy as a hobby.

One thought on “Different Strokes for Different Folks

  • April 29, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Reading this reminds me of a video by Extra Credits that discusses Depth versus Complexity in game design: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVL4st0blGU . There’s a lot of content there, but the takeaway is that while people have differing tastes on how complex their games should be, there’s a “good” kind of complexity and a “bad” kind. The “good” kind of complexity expands the amount of depth a game has by providing meaningful and interesting choices, while the “bad” kind serves to clutter up gameplay and make a game feel more like work than fun with little to no benefit.

    The topic of complexity in game design truly is — if you don’t me saying — a complex one! I’ve seen people who identified themselves as very casual gamers get hooked on a complicated game that they never imagined they’d enjoy, and vice versa. It can be really surprising, and goes to show that the type and layers of complexity can vary from individual games and genres.

    Thanks for writing this article, you’ve given me a lot think about!


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