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Subject: Literal vs abstracted game interactions rss

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ben harvey
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Time for another strange question...

What do you people think about thematic games that have 'literal interaction' vs 'abstracted' interactions of peices?

And Ill clarify what I mean.

To me, it seems that a game in which specific cards or peices do specific things, and that the 'thing' they do makes casual sense from what they apparantly represent.

so an example of a very literal relation would be "Lumber camp" makes "Lumber" it might even be MORE literal if "Lumber camp" removes a "tree" off the board and then gives you a "Lumber"

An example of a more abstracted interaction might be some sort of
card or pice that represents an ism or a person or a concept, that some how vaugly effects gameplay,

two examples that come to mind are:

amusing and strange leader abilities in Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization

Or some of the generic 'development' cards in Catan, that don't nessarily follow a literal or causal path, they all cost the same
but some are buidlings, others soldiers and others 'concepts' like
Monopoly

When I was a child, games I would design frequently featured almost entierly literal relations between pieces, later I began to to get overwhelmed with complexity and started simplifing and abstracting more, games I have made more recently have been somtimes almost themeless and just a lot of 'concepts'

However I always found that literal interactions in games made them feel much more intuitive, every step that didnt directly follow what would 'understandably' happen is something that has to be learned because it feels 'unatural'

I think I reached a limit of that with Shogun, many aspects of it were designed for gameplay and strategy but did not make causal sense in my head nessarily, (all the bidding etc...) and I found it a stretch to imagine I was doing anything but playing a game,

I certianly didnt feel like I was vying for the shogunate.


So my question to you is, is there something to this 'Literal' vs 'Abstract' relation between game parts and within games?

Alternatly, I might simply be completely deluded, as a 'lumber camp' making 'lumber' is probably just as a laughably abstract as a Knight in Chess limited to making a L shaped strike on some level.




 
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Sam Carroll
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Quote:
Alternatly, I might simply be completely deluded, as a 'lumber camp' making 'lumber' is probably just as a laughably abstract as a Knight in Chess limited to making a L shaped strike on some level.

I don't think I could agree with that. If I introduced a game to any of my friends and said, "This building is the lumber camp," they would assume, "Oh, that building must produce lumber." Who that doesn't know Chess would expect a Knight to make an L-shaped strike?

For unintuitive, how about the weaver in Caylus that doesn't produce cloth, but in fact requires cloth to build it?
 
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ben harvey
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I merely drew on chess because everyone has played it,
this ironically makes it a bad example because it feels intuitive because everyone knows the rules so well it seems natural,

But yes, the Caylus one is a better example of the sort of thing Im getting at.

I tend to find the setting the game has immersed me in begin to fall apart when mechanics suddenly leap out as being put in for balance or to help other mechanics function even if it makes no sense on some 'literal' level.



 
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ben harvey
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shake

Alright,

I am now done with trying to provoke some descussion of game mechanics,

I read this forum all the time, but Im coming to the conclusion that the 'Game design' forum is quiete often a place people only parade the games their working on and complain about trying to get published, not really a place to descuss the theory surrounding game mechanics in a broader bracket.



That probably doesnt make a whole lot of sense, but Im just growing a little frustrated not being able to provoke the kind of descussion I would expect a lot of you rather intresting, or at least well played (Get it? like "well read" ) people to have.


Because personally, I find it extremely stimulating from a game desgin standpoint to descuss both employed and pottential mechanics.




 
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Oliver Kiley
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super_fish wrote:
shake

Alright,

I am now done with trying to provoke some descussion of game mechanics,

I read this forum all the time, but Im coming to the conclusion that the 'Game design' forum is quiete often a place people only parade the games their working on and complain about trying to get published, not really a place to descuss the theory surrounding game mechanics in a broader bracket.



That probably doesnt make a whole lot of sense, but Im just growing a little frustrated not being able to provoke the kind of descussion I would expect a lot of you rather intresting, or at least well played (Get it? like "well read" ) people to have.


Because personally, I find it extremely stimulating from a game desgin standpoint to descuss both employed and pottential mechanics.

I read your post, but wasn't sure what to say about it ... so I didn't say anything.

That said, I've found the game design forums immensely useful and insightful on a variety of topics (design, mechanics, play testing, production, etc.).

I think most of the best "mechanic-centric" discussions tend to happen within threads talking about specific game ideas/projects that people are working on and not as much at a theory level. But even then, there are a great many "theory" level threads.

Here's a good one:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/648679/what-makes-a-deci...


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Nate K
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I have a hard time wrapping me head around what you mean by literal versus abstract mechanics. To me, it sounds a lot like discussions I've had about designing mechanics to fit a theme versus designing a theme to fit mechanics. Am I wrong?
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Cole Wehrle
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If a designer applies a theme to his or her game, then all interactions are mapped onto that setting or, in other words, abstracted.

Initially, I was a little underwhelmed by this distinction. It seems to me that a game might be interesting or boring regardless of how the individual elements might fall on this continuum. (For example, if Chicago Express were about something very mundane with each choice being "literal" the game would be just as compelling).

However, after some thought, I think there might be something here worth probing into a little further. I think your two poles, the literal and the abstract, are often modeled in certain mechanical ways in designs. A deck of cards to represent "abstracted" things happening outside the scope of the game and something like sending a family member to pick up wood. So its possible to think of a game design with these points in mind but I think you're going to run into trouble. Having designed a few games myself I have two principal methods.

1. I notice a mathematical problem that can be elaborated and "gamed out." As I develop the idea I look for possible themes that seem to fit the design.

2. Or, for war and "historical" games I start with a situation that seemed to present an interesting challenges to the commanders/figures therein. I look and what their choices were like and try to find a game that fits their decision making process.
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Carl Nyberg
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So let me see if I understand you correctly: a literal interaction in say Axis & Allies would be that a tank defeats an infantry. An abstract interaction in Axis & Allies would be spending 5 IPC's on technology development, after which you get a chance at a certain technology.

I think a good game has a combination of literal and abstract interactions. The literal ones may have more to do with interactions on the game board, while abstract ones may have to do with managing what one has to work with.
 
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Kevin B. Smith
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Recently, I was thinking about San Juan. On the one hand, you are building buildings, and many of them actually work with the theme reasonably well. The production buildings do, and things like the Smithy give discounts that make sense thematically.

On the other hand, the role selection is entirely abstract. Why would your choice of what you are doing have any impact on me? For that matter, why can't production and trade (selling) happen simultaneously? (Answers: Because it's a game.)

Is that the kind of distinction you (the OP) were thinking about?
 
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ben harvey
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Haha I have provoked descussion!


And yes, the Axis and allies example is probably a good example of the sort of thing Im getting at, and I agree a good game needs some combination of the two most likely.

I think what Cole Wehrle is getting at in the 'number 2' idea is also an intresting angle. I have been coming more and more to the conclusion that a good civilzation/nation building game should have you deal with the kind of decisions you could really make from your post, not playing some strange omnicient and omnipresent force of 'civilzation' or 'war' or what have you.

indeed the limitations of real command have a lot of possibilities for intrestnig game choices, however I think that if one persues that route almost all games become essentially managerial and about selection of talented individuals,

you cannot fight on every front at once, but you CAN assign the generals to do so.

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Carl Nyberg
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Another game that has both literal and abstract interactions is Starfarers of Catan, where you build a colony ship with 1 ore, 1 fuel, 1 food and 1 carbon. It doesn't make sense that any combination of those things would actually be enough to build a spaceship (that's why it's abstract), but it works for the game. In the same game, there is a literal interaction, that if you roll "4" with your mothership, then all of your ships literally move 4 intersections on the board. Again we see both literal and abstract interactions making a game fun.
 
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Oliver Kiley
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All game mechanics are abstractions, it is just a matter of degree.

From a player's perspective, I don't find my self thinking in terms of literal vs. abstract. More often I'm thinking about whether the mechanic is intuitive and consistent with respect to the theme.

Relatively more complex mechanics/operations can be made easier to remember/understand if they are aligned logically with the theme (and assuming the player has a grasp of the theme). At the same time, other mechanics may require additional levels of abstraction in order to simplify what would otherwise be a longer more detailed step that might drag the game on.

To me, there is a balance that needs to be struck between pacing, depth, and level of abstraction in designing the game's mechanics. If we were all really into war games (for example) and had all the time we wanted, we might find ourselves playing incredibly detailed games bordering on being "simulations" ... where abstractions are minimized in favor of "literal" mechanics. But that isn't going to appeal to everyone, especially those with just a few precious hours to game
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Andrew
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Computer games offer the ultimate in "literal interaction" - the promise of detailed simulation of the physical process being represented. However I prefer board games, which substantially simplify what's happening, or look at them from a high level.

Why is that? After a while I found that the simulation added complexity, and decreased comprehensibility, without making decisions any more interesting.

Unless your objective is simulation (eg historical wargames), there will be a practical limit to the detail of the model. Endeavor is often derided as having a "pasted-on theme" but started as an overcomplex simulation that had to be trimmed down. Race for the Galaxy (similarly derided) was designed theme first, but the mechanical implementation is very high level (eg a "Prosperous World" is represented at the macroeconomic level as a production-consumption loop).
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Tim Knappe-Oelmann
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super_fish wrote:
Time for another strange question...

However I always found that literal interactions in games made them feel much more intuitive, every step that didnt directly follow what would 'understandably' happen is something that has to be learned because it feels 'unatural'


I tend to agree that it is all (or a great deal) about intuitivity. In the end most board games consist of a finite set of pieces that are governed by constraints imposed by the author. Game actions affect those pieces and those actions and pieces must have names. If those actions are plentiful it is most benficial if the name of the action/piece hints at the said constraints and the effect of the action. As a side effect a good match of the naming of the action and its game effect probably helps to produce some kind of "immersion".

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fateswanderer wrote:
. Endeavor is often derided as having a "pasted-on theme" but started as an overcomplex simulation that had to be trimmed down. .....

Honestly, what are you trying to say here? The fact that Endeavor started out as one thing should hardly make it any more redeeming, should it?

Would it make you feel any better if Hungry Hungry Hippos started out as a detailed simulation of the Enlightenment? Why?
 
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Andrew
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sundaysilence wrote:
fateswanderer wrote:
Endeavor is often derided as having a "pasted-on theme" but started as an overcomplex simulation that had to be trimmed down. .....

Honestly, what are you trying to say here? The fact that Endeavor started out as one thing should hardly make it any more redeeming, should it?

Would it make you feel any better if Hungry Hungry Hippos started out as a detailed simulation of the Enlightenment? Why?

I apologise if I've offended your gaming tastes and provoked you into ridiculously extreme examples in support of a non-existent point.

Endeavor contained much more simulationist detail, but through playtesting the designers were forced to cut this down to something far more abstract. Contrary to the common pejorative, the theme did not come after the mechanics, instead the mechanics were modified after the theme was selected.

This example is an illustration of my point that designers are forced to put limits on detail for the sake of gameplay, and in this case their final product ironically is often criticised for being too abstract, the opposite of where they originally began.
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This thread got started on a rather daft note, with the original post trying to make a distinction between real and abstract and coming up with two example of abstractness by referring to leader counters and development cards. The problem being of course that leaders and so called “developments” are no more detached from reality than the lumber tokens used in the real example. Hence the whole thing got off on the wrong foot.

The original post then finally at the end, bring up the issue of chess, which might have been a convenient starting pt. for discussion since a) it often is a lightening rod in these discussions

(a typical line of thought running
A: “are you on drugs? Panzer Grenadier is so much more realistic than chess, horses don’t really move like “L” shapes.. what the hell is wrong with you?”
B ”And you think throwing dice and looking up stuff on a table and moving cardboard counters on a hexagon tessellation is more closer to reality? You really think Guderian had to step off the distance with a ruler in order to see if his shells would hit?
Believe me I’ve had this discussion like a million times on consimworld.)

And B) chess does put this issue in stark relief, as it doesn’t throw dice or look up stuff, it is very simple and the armies are symmetrical. Which is sort of a conventional def’n of “abstract’ it is rather detached and the bits are rather simple and so are the rules and the information is totally known to the players…..

However, despite all this, to his credit Mr. Harvey then makes a mid course correction and begins to talk of mechanics that don’t feel right and Caylus and stuff…

Finally Mr. wehrle to the rescue:


Cole Wehrle wrote:


Having designed a few games myself I have two principal methods.

1. I notice a mathematical problem that can be elaborated and "gamed out." As I develop the idea I look for possible themes that seem to fit the design.

2. Or, for war and "historical" games I start with a situation that seemed to present an interesting challenges to the commanders/figures therein. I look and what their choices were like and try to find a game that fits their decision making process.




Let me expound on his idea a little further. Instead of focusing at the grassroots part of a game to see if it is real/abstract, i.e. instead of looking at the actual bits that make up our soldiers, our horses, our buildings, our tanks, our map..We take a “top down” approach” that is to say we look at the actual sort of thinking that is going on in the players head.

I think Mr Harvey starts to embrace Wehrle’s approach too. Good!

So let’s take an example from an oft maligned game; monopoly. Despite its shortcoming, doesn’t this game nicely capture the feel of “over extension” that one problem that reoccurs is should the player spend out lays of cash in order to build up properties and risk his destruction by becoming cash poor? Or should he conserve money for a long term strategy even though he may be bled to death by small cuts?

I use this example because this game is completely unrealistic in terms of real estate development or in terms of how Atlantic City was build. However, it does create basic conundrum in the players head: it’s a basic problem that occurs in many situations; do I gamble on short term victory or try a long term approach?

I would argue this same sort of decision could apply to say the expansion of the third reich, or to an NFL team being a bevy of high priced free agents in order to win now; or to Lee gambling for victory at Gettysburg, or Napoleon’s situation at Waterloo. There really is no end to this sort of dilemma short term risk vs a long term strategy….

Inevitably someone will cry out:

”Are you mad? Buying properties and putting houses on them has nothing to do with Waterloo!”

But I’m not looking at the grass roots level of deeds/tokens in Monopoly or the little cardboard units in third Reich. I am looking strictly at the sort of thinking involved and drawing that parallel with the situations that other find themselves in.

SO I am suggesting, that the way to make a game more “real” can only be done by making the decision maker (read: Player) think in ways that their real life counter parts might have thought in. AND to stop looking literally at the bits on the board, as that is a red herring…

So carry on gentlemen. And do watch your use of analogies…

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fateswanderer wrote:
sundaysilence wrote:
fateswanderer wrote:
Endeavor is often derided as having a "pasted-on theme" but started as an overcomplex simulation that had to be trimmed down. .....

Honestly, what are you trying to say here? The fact that Endeavor started out as one thing should hardly make it any more redeeming, should it?

Would it make you feel any better if Hungry Hungry Hippos started out as a detailed simulation of the Enlightenment? Why?

I apologise if I've offended your gaming tastes and provoked you into ridiculously extreme examples in support of a non-existent point.

Endeavor contained much more simulationist detail, but through playtesting the designers were forced to cut this down to something far more abstract. Contrary to the common pejorative, the theme did not come after the mechanics, instead the mechanics were modified after the theme was selected.

This example is an illustration of my point that designers are forced to put limits on detail for the sake of gameplay, and in this case their final product ironically is often criticised for being too abstract, the opposite of where they originally began.

You could have just started out by saying: "Designers are forced to put limits on detail for the sake of gameplay."

it would have been much more clear to me as I could not understand what your use of examples was for. It was as if you were defending Endeavor as a game because you brought up the fact it was maligned and then tried to defend it on the basis of the developer's intentions. the use of "but" made me think this game is maligned BUT should not be because of....


Then you brought up a second game:


"Race for the Galaxy (similarly derided) was designed theme first..."

OKay so RftG was designed theme first, and Endeavor was NOT? Right? Thats how I read it; because you never mentioned that Endeavor was theme first, therefore you must be introducing "theme first" in the second analogy because the first does not do so. If Endeavor was also theme first, why wouldnt you have said that at the outset? Instead of introducing that idea later in the para.?

so I guess RftG is being thrown in as a similar type of example but it was "theme first"

Then you go on:

"... but the mechanical implementation is very high level (eg a "Prosperous World" is represented at the macroeconomic level as a production-consumption loop)."

Again with the use of BUT. what does that mean that the mechanical implementation in RftG is different from Endeavor ?

I see now that the But was the same/similar reason as the use in Endeavor. okay i guess i missed that.

Can I ask you this; What was the pt. of the second example of RftG that was not completely explained by Endeavor? why the second example? especially as you added more details to the second example (i.e. mechanical implentation/macro economic level/production consumption loop). Forgive me, but if you give me a second example/analogy and add more stuff to it I can only assume you are doing that for a reason.

But as I read it now, the production loop/mechanical implementation wording really added nothing to the original thought? I apologize if I am wrong here, this is as i see it now. And hence the problem.

But probably the main reason I misunderstood is that you are saying something very elementary: Designers have to dumb down games."

well yeah. No kidding! you had to give us two analogies to explain something that basic?

Just saying, analogies can often be counter productive. Just a pet peeve i have.

thanks for your indulgence. this is a bit long winded..
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Jake Staines
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Mezmorki wrote:

From a player's perspective, I don't find my self thinking in terms of literal vs. abstract. More often I'm thinking about whether the mechanic is intuitive and consistent with respect to the theme.

This, and also whether it's actually... y'know, enjoyable.




It seems to me that the labels 'literal' versus 'abstract' aren't really appropriate; it implies that an abstracted interaction isn't literal, whereas the opposite of 'abstracted' is actually more like 'detailed'. When I first read the original question it sounded more like "do people like complex simulations or low-detail abstractions", to which the answer is trivial: both, when and where appropriate.

The Development cards in Catan are a fairly good example of the distinction; they are an abstraction, but that doesn't mean that they aren't literal. What they literally are is a representation of your settlement spending resources to try and better themselves one way or another - and since a settlement is made up of lots of people, not just one overlord and a bunch of mindless slave robots, resources spent on the betterment of society don't necessarily get used in predictable ways. You put money into the space programme and it gives you a neat way to fasten your shoes without tying laces, which in turn generates profits for shoe companies (and bag companies, and people who make coverings for furniture, and so on).

Settlers is a high-level, abstracted game which doesn't care whether - at a low level - the resources you spend go to businessmen who set up protectionist trade strategies between townships and individuals which effectively force the individuals in other players' settlements to trade away all of their lumber, or whether those resources go towards funding the training of a standing army to protect your settlements' interests, or are traded carefully to obtain books and pay for the building of a great library; to abstract away that level of simulation, you just pick a random card and find out the result. You're still performing the same literal action, you just don't get to see all the [simplified] simulation steps that lie in between your action and the in-game result.

(Trades between players in Settlers are much more akin to national trade agreements than farmer Bob going to the market and swapping a sheep for some planed wood and six sacks of grain.)



Fundamentally all boardgames are abstractions to one degree or another. In the lumber-camp-converting-trees example, it's abstracting the re-growing of trees, the fact that some trees are different sizes and produce different quantities of lumber than other trees, and the fact that some days the workers at the camp will be lazier or more full of energy and get a bit more or a bit less work done. Does it make the lumber camp less 'literal'? Not at all. But if you try and provide all the detail, you're essentially going to be going off and setting up a real-life lumber camp just so you can be sure you're not missing anything, and that's not fun in the least (unless it does well and you're the guy who gets to spend the profits).




Also:
super_fish wrote:
Haha I have provoked descussion!

Honestly, I think your previous perceived failure to do so may have been more to do with asking a nebulous and hard-to-discuss question and then barely waiting any time to see responses before denouncing the population of the forum rather than anything else...

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Andrew
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sundaysilence wrote:
Can I ask you this; What was the pt. of the second example of RftG that was not completely explained by Endeavor? why the second example?
...
But probably the main reason I misunderstood is that you are saying something very elementary: Designers have to dumb down games."

well yeah. No kidding! you had to give us two analogies to explain something that basic?

Just saying, analogies can often be counter productive. Just a pet peeve i have.

Heck if you want to be pedantic they are examples, not analogies, used for elaboration rather than proof. I list a couple of them because I think it's interesting, and so more readers may be familiar with the games and understand my point. Clearly this loses some people as well...

And you can hold back on the scorn: I merely contend that simulation isn't an absolute ideal of game design. Your simplified interpretation "Designers have to dumb down games" implicitly accepts that non-simulationist design is "dumbing down", so my contention is clearly non-trivial.
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yes, I see that Andrew.

Thanks for taking the time to reply to rather obscure pt.
 
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Oliver Kiley
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A related question that I have been musing is this:

What makes a mechanic intuitive?

Some complex games (in terms of number or type of mechanics) can nonetheless be easy to learn if they are intuitive. Other games might be less intuitive. Race for Galaxy comes to mind. It is a hard game for many people to learn because the symbol scheme isn't intuitive nor is the fact that cards function as resources, planets/developments, and money. Once you play a few games, it makes sense works very well, but that initial experience is often difficult for people.

So, is "intuitive" a function of:
- Theme or goal alignment (abstraction vs. simulation)?
- Commonly understood mechanic (i.e. Roll + Move)?
- Simple + Straightforward (i.e. no special exceptions)?
- Logical?
- Depth of Complication (i.e. is it just a one line rule to remember, or is it really one rule comprised of 5 sub-rules)?

I'd be interested to hear people's take on what makes a mechanic (or overall game) more or less intuitive from a learning standpoint.
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Kevin B. Smith
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Mezmorki wrote:
What makes a mechanic intuitive?
I struggle with the word "intuitive", at least as it seems to be used these days. Many aspects of the original Mac interface were anything but intuitive. They were "easy once you knew them", but that's not what I would call intuitive. But Mac fans always raved about how "intuitive" it was.

My definition of intuitive (without consulting a dictionary): Without knowing it already, you can guess using your intuition.

While the mechanics in Thebes are all very thematic, I can't think of any of them that I would call intuitive. The time track, drawing cards, congress, exhibitions, assistants, shovels, knowledge/time wheels. Only the zeppelin and maybe the car might qualify.

I guess I'll accept "counterintuitive" as something that can apply to mechanics, where even after you know it, it still doesn't feel right.
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Oliver Kiley
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peakhope wrote:
My definition of intuitive (without consulting a dictionary): Without knowing it already, you can guess using your intuition.

I often find that the test for an "intuitive" mechanic is one that can be explained once, briefly, and all players get it without having to ask any clarifying questions or consult the rulebook during the game.

I don't think its fair to assume that any mechanics would need to be "guessed" as a qualifier for being intuitive. Maybe intuitive isn't the right word as you suggest.
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