Lewis Pulsipher
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This is a revision of something I posted to BGG long ago. I've revised it for the benefit of my students, and decided to post here as well.



While the "cult of the new" tends to mean that games aren't played many times before players move on to the next game, replayability is still a desirable feature of any game.

Most of the following amounts to "vary the experience", which of course is what provides replayabilty--varied experience:

• "Multiple paths to victory"
• Variable rather than set starting positions
• More than two players
• Asymmetric game
• Use of event cards
• Scenarios
• Optional rules
• Different sets of rules
• Hidden information
• Special abilities

"Multiple paths to victory" will result in much-improved replayability. Drawback: makes it much harder to balance the game

Variable rather than set starting positions (players choose their starting positions). A few games offer both options. Risk offers a random setup and a setup that lets players choose locations. The drawback: this lengthens the game.

More than two players
(each player provides variability of himself). The drawback: lengthens the game.

Asymmetric game (standard starting position is not the same for all players). The drawback: makes it much harder to balance the game (i.e., give each player an equal chance of winning).

Use of event cards (especially in symmetric games or games without other chance factors). The drawback: can be seen to increase the influence of chance. But event cards often adds enjoyable color to the game as well.

Scenarios (which amount to differences in positions or victory conditions (or both)). Used primarily in historical games. The drawback: more time-consuming to design.

Optional rules
. Again this seems most common in historical games. These are alternative ways to play the game. At some point, many rule choices in a game design are largely arbitrary, that is, one choice leads to just as interesting a game as the other choice, but the designer must choose one. The other can become an optional rule.

The drawback: virtually none, if the optional was tried sufficiently in playtesting.

Different sets of rules (for example Basic, Standard, and Advanced). The drawback: longer rules, and perhaps a feeling from some contemporary players that there's something wrong with the game because there's not "one way to play".

Hidden information
. The game can diverge along many different paths when some information is hidden. Event Cards are an example of the use of hidden information, and electronic games typically enjoy the benefit, as the computer tracks the information much more easily than non-computer methods can. The drawback: something/someone has to track the hidden information, and in some cases, cheating may be possible.

Special Abilities. Cosmic Encounter thrives on the variety of special abilities for each side. Role-playing games typically include a vast number of skills, feats, spells, and classes, not all of which can be included in any single game or series of games. The drawback: play balance can suffer; and there's a lot of information to be devised and incorporated into the game.

Finally, people have suggested that, in general, the more chaos in a game, the more replayability it is likely to have. Even Go, which has none of the overt variation I've listed above, is highly replayable because a single move can change circumstances fairly strongly.

Another point of view is that when the number of reasonable choices is maximized, replayability is enhanced. But too many choices can also lead to "analysis paralysis".
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Also:

Modular Boards
Insures that every game will be different because the set-up is different.

Important Areas
Having areas that are either worth different values to different people or have a different value each game creates a different game. For instance, in Taj Mahal the fortresses get a different cycle of resource tiles placed on them each game.

Cards
Introduce variables into a game, be they alternate commands, resources, targets (goals), and/or other features.
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Alexander B.
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-Multiple Victory Conditions (e.g. Antiquity)

-Tech Trees with many branches and many good paths (e.g. Age of Ren.)

-Customizable components (e.g. Wreakage)

Besides "hard-to-balance" (which I consider a lame drawback since balance is almost always hard in non-symetrical games that don't cop-out with an auction for auto-balance), these have no drawbacks and the top 2 add more replayability than most others on these lists IMO (although scenarios can be quite good and multiple paths to victory is nearly a given in any good game).


 
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Osiris Ra wrote:
Also:

Modular Boards
Insures that every game will be different because the set-up is different.


I agree here. Say what you want about Settlers Of Catan, the game's modular board is what makes it so magnetic as a "gateway" game. None of its rules or concepts is any more complicated than anything one can find in Monopoly, but the way the modular board in SoC can seem to completely change the feel of the game is just amazing. People who don't like the game will bitch and moan constantly about their dice luck or the game's randomness, but nobody claims to dislike Settlers because "setting up a different board for every game is such a hassle." Sometimes, that's the most fun part of the game!

The drawback to modular boards, of course, is the extra time it takes to set them up.

Quote:

Cards
Introduce variables into a game, be they alternate commands, resources, targets (goals), and/or other features.


I find the use of cards to be an amazingly good way to introduce variables into a game without overwhelming players with that feeling of "too much chaos." For example, the order in which power plant cards come out of the deck in Power Grid gives the game an incredible amount of replay value--this despite the replay-value-crushing problem of playing a game on a map which changes very little from game to game.

1960: The Making Of The President is another excellent example of cards making a game infinitely replayable. The deck of event cards in that game seems daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, isn't that hard to memorize. However, the different order in which those cards appear in every game gives it immense replay value. There's a card in the deck that practically hands Illinois's support to Kennedy, but if Nixon can get that card and bury it, his chances of capturing Illinois are just as good as anybody's.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
Cards
Introduce variables into a game, be they alternate commands, resources, targets (goals), and/or other features.


You can really generalize this to anything that introduces randomness. Most games with a lot of replayability with no randomness at all are so strategically complex that people spend a lifetime mastering them (Go, Chess). Cards, spinners, and even the lowly 6-sided die add randomness, and therefore replayability, to games that otherwise would have little.

Of course a well designed game will not allow the randomness to offset skill entirely. Players must still have meaningful decisions to make and making those decisions correctly should lead to victory a significant portion of the time.
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Chris
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lewpuls wrote:

Optional rules
. Again this seems most common in historical games. These are alternative ways to play the game. At some point, many rule choices in a game design are largely arbitrary, that is, one choice leads to just as interesting a game as the other choice, but the designer must choose one. The other can become an optional rule.

The drawback: virtually none, if the optional was tried sufficiently in playtesting.

Different sets of rules (for example Basic, Standard, and Advanced). The drawback: longer rules, and perhaps a feeling from some contemporary players that there's something wrong with the game because there's not "one way to play".

I sometimes enjoy 'optional rules', whether one or a plethora. However, sometimes it is simply annoying.

These 2 bullet points are sometimes a version of each other amounting to the same thing. Often this just adds fluff to the rules.

Sometimes either of these points makes the game's designer or developer appear to be lazy. Am I to do their work for them to figure out how to play and enjoy their game? As I said, I sometimes enjoy 'optional rules', but sometimes I get annoyed at having to wade through extra text and it immediately becomes extra work for me. I thoroughly enjoy this 'extra work' when I feel up front that it is worth my time and effort (probably because I love the game, and probably expect to play numerous times over the years). Else, this perceived extra work might banish the game to a back shelf where it will languish with little 'replayability', possibly unfairly, but that's the way it goes.

I understand your point that this "seems most common in historical games" but either that is not true, or in my opinion not as true as I think you think it is. I think.
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Liumas wrote:
lewpuls wrote:

Optional rules
. Again this seems most common in historical games. These are alternative ways to play the game. At some point, many rule choices in a game design are largely arbitrary, that is, one choice leads to just as interesting a game as the other choice, but the designer must choose one. The other can become an optional rule.

I sometimes enjoy 'optional rules', whether one or a plethora. However, sometimes it is simply annoying.

Sometimes either of these points makes the game's designer or developer appear to be lazy. Am I to do their work for them to figure out how to play and enjoy their game? As I said, I sometimes enjoy 'optional rules', but sometimes I get annoyed at having to wade through extra text and it immediately becomes extra work for me.


I've had this sentiment with games before.

Having 1, maybe 2 optional rules that are basically 'just depends on how you want to play it'? No problem; possibly a bonus.

Having a bunch of optional rules on top of different sets of rules for basic and advanced play? I'll think you barely playtested at all and didn't bother to finish designed your game.
 
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As far as optional rules go, this may not be a problem if you have a fairly complex game.

The way AH originally did Squad Leader let you start with a scenario with a stripped down version of the whole rules-set. Each scenario then introduced (spoonfed) one or more elements into the mix. By the end, a player had a fairly firm grasp on the rules.

This sharply decreases the learning curve.

Others followed the exact same concept with similar results.

There were war games that were slightly less complex the SL, like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, that would cram all of the rules into a single session. Yet their sales were marginal in comparison. My thought is that this was precisely because of the scaling up of complexity rather the force-feeding of all the rules now.

As a matter of fact, I wish more games did this. If, for instance, Puerto Rico had some introductory scenarios to teach people each aspect of the game, Rio Grande would sell a ton more copies. It would be less niche, and more of a mainstream game like Settlers in terms of sales.

Just one man's opinion.
 
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lewpuls wrote:

Different sets of rules (for example Basic, Standard, and Advanced). The drawback: longer rules, and perhaps a feeling from some contemporary players that there's something wrong with the game because there's not "one way to play".


I actually think this should be the standard protocol for any game that is created. A game should not base its replayability on whether its got 3 levels of difficulty to it but rather on all the other factors which you and others have mentioned. This step-wise addition of rules will more often than not help gamers learn the game quickly and facilitate gameplay between players of different experience levels.

Based on whether opponents are gamers or not, one is able to choose the level of difficulty suited for those involved to ensure that the game does not get bogged down by rule queries but instead enjoyed thoroughly by all involved for what its worth.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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lewpuls wrote:
Variable rather than set starting positions (players choose their starting positions). A few games offer both options. Risk offers a random setup and a setup that lets players choose locations. The drawback: this lengthens the game.

This is a huge one; the games I think about between plays tend to be the ones where I can choose how I'll set up, depending on my plan for the game.

And I disagree that this necessarily lengthens the game; having n units to distribute freely among a certain number of areas may take longer than a random setup, but may not take any longer than a specific "put 2 here, 4 here, 3 here..." setup.
 
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IIRC, Leonardo da Vinci does this both ways:
1) basic game: assymetric starting pieces (components, florins, apprentices, etc.)

2) expert game: auction/draft mechanism for players to customize their starting resources.

Of course, I'm still 'stuck' on the 'basic game'
 
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davido wrote:
IIRC, Leonardo da Vinci does this both ways:
1) basic game: assymetric starting pieces (components, florins, apprentices, etc.)


Similar to Alhambra, which uses pieces with assymetric values (scoring wise) and a variable number of enclosure (wall) segments. Also, the money mechanic adds an interesting twist in the game.
 
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Also:

Learning curve If the players figure out a new strategy after the first play, they are willing to play the second time to try the strategy. If they figure out a further strategy in the second game, they are willing to play the third time to try the new strategy etc.

I suppose that's why go is so replayable, not because it has chaos, but because it has a learning curve.
 
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Optional rules have the drawback that the players must negotiate which optional rules they use. Also, if the game is good enough for tournament play, one of the alternatives must be chosen as the official tournament version. (Which may discourage those players who have used other optional rules.)

Asymmetric unbalanced games have the advantage of a built-in handicapping system. Simply give the weakest role for the strongest player. And there's also a trivial way to balance such a game. Play several games so that all players play both in strong and weak roles, and sum up margins of victory/loss.
 
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What do y'all think about this:

Are expansions an acceptable path to replayability?


 
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bluesea wrote:
What do y'all think about this:

Are expansions an acceptable path to replayability?



Yes and no.

I would prefer it if a game is all of a piece; that is to say, consistent onto itself.

If an expansion adds something to the game without destroying that consistency, then the answer is a yes. But it better add a lot to be worth whatever price it is being sold at.

2 examples: Most of Carc's expansions are well-thoughtout and add flavor to an otherwise (to me) dry game. Alhambra's expansions, though, I feel mostly take away from what is already a good game.

The no comes in if the point of the game is expand in the way of Settlers, whoring the name until it is meaningless.

The other case for a yes are scenarios, which help only if the board is not modular OR if a new expansion introduces components that can work with this.
 
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Lewis Pulsipher
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Some games don't work very well until the first expansion is added. Expansions of this sort, like patches for video games to make a buggy game work, are Bad in the sense that the job should have been done in the original game. At least the video game patches are usually free.

Expansions that add something and, most likely, change the gameplay, are a relatively recent phenomenon. In "olden days" we expected the equivalent of expansions to be in the original game--scenarios, optional rules, additional units to use, and so forth. Why would we need to pay for these additional items?

Now we find people who actually think that these kinds of additions (especially optional rules) included with the game indicate a fault in the production of the game! (See one poster's comments above.)

So the trend is to sell the stripped-down version of the game, then sell expansions.

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