The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Think Simple

Jeff Widderich

December, 2002

Inventing or Judging a Great New Game?

Go boardGame inventors are trying to push the limits using creative approaches and new concepts to stimulate the masses. Classic games always have one common denominator; players feel a sense of comfort while playing their favorite games. Where does this comfort come from? Humans are comfort creatures that enjoy experiencing something called a Déjà Vu factor.

Most cultures have simple metaphors that describe this comfort level. In Northern Germany, for example they have a saying that completely describes this intolerance for the masses to be spoon feed some new outrageous concept: "What the farmer does not know, he does not eat!"

Should game inventors stop coming up with new and outrageous game concepts? No, absolutely not, that would kill the board game industry as we know it. Diversification is the spice of life and the future of simple board games that have to compete against the complexity and strong graphic appeal of video games.

Board games have a huge advantage over video games, they can get back to basics, and video games cannot! The hardcore video game industry is headed towards a collision course with its own audience and most importantly their parents. The basic ingredients in most video games are progressive aggression and extreme violence; these traits are not part of the normal human genetic make-up. The video game industry has to keep on pushing the envelope to keep their audience addicted and captivated. The problem is the comfort level of even a teenage male hiding in his moms' basement playing these video games, is going to have an internal voice asking him, why are you doing this? 

So the next time you are playing your favorite board game ask yourself why do I feel so comfortable playing this game with my friends? Was the author able to make me feel like a peasant cultivating the earth to make ends meet or a grand architect supervising the construction of the great pyramids? Great games always capture the human imagination, trying to build on experiences we are having today and those our ancestors passed along to us thousands of years ago.

Simplicity can be a beautiful experience! Human beings are attracted to things they can associate themselves with. The Spiel de Jahres Judges in Germany are obviously embracing this concept by voting for Villa Paletti. Seeing the face of a ten year old causing the villa to collapse is one of those simple family experiences that will keep the board game industry alive and well. Don't be too hard on the judges, their main objective is to decide what trend is best for everyone involved in our industry, not necessarily picking a complex game with the best mechanics or game play.

So the next time you are inventing or judging a board game ask yourself some simple questions. Could this new game still be just as strong if half the rules were eliminated? Does the game make players feel comfortable? Do players feel as if they have already played this game before? Does this game contribute to society? Does it improve players logical thinking abilities, does it improve their spelling or arithmetic, does it make groups laugh, does it make them cry, do players get goose bumps while playing ?

Successful games have to be simple and touch the human spirit in their mechanics and approach! The games can be enormously complex as long as the foundations are based on the simplicity of the human race. Think simple and the entire board game industry will be successful and improve the anti-social direction of today's society.

Think Simple!

- Jeff Widderich

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