051 – Complexity in Strategy Card Games (CCGs, LCGs, TCGs, etc.)

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Hello fellow adventurers and welcome to the Nerdlab – Where we transform our gaming passion into incredible game designs and learn how to nerd like a boss. 

My name is Marvin and I am an ambitious game designer on my quest to develop a co-operative fantasy card game.

For this podcast, my vision is to take you with me on this exciting journey. Together we will explore the secrets of different game mechanics and reach the next level as a game designer.

Today I want to dedicate myself to the topic of complexity in board games. The motivation for this topic today is that I recently had the feeling that my Autobattler game is a bit too complex. Therefore I have thought about where the complexity in my game, but also in board games, in general, comes from and how players perceive this complexity. I also want to talk about the difference between complexity and depth in board games. And of course, I want to discuss some measures I could take to reduce the complexity in my game.

Complexity in Card Games and Board Games

There are several scientific articles that deal with mathematical or computational complexity in board games. To calculate the complexity mathematically most of the time the number of possible decisions is calculated. This is then displayed in a decision tree. But I do not want to talk about mathematical complexity today. Because I probably don’t understand all of it and because I think it is not very helpful for us as game designers. I’m more interested in the perceived complexity of players and how we as designers can influence and manage this complexity.

Card games, in particular, can quickly degenerate into complex monsters. Especially during the design process, because you want to try out many interesting sounding ideas. And on each card can hold its own rules text that then somehow interacts with other cards. 

Depth vs. Complexity in Strategy Card Games

A lot of people will interchange depth and complexity. But they are not the same thing. It is the designer’s job to get the maximum amount of depth out of the minimum amount of complexity.

Depth:
Depth is the number of different possibilities or meaningful choices a player has within the ruleset of the game. 
Meaningful choices in that sense can be very different from individual to individual. Because players must recognize the different choices they have. As a result, depth is also dependent on a player’s mental capacity to recognize and process different options. If players can’t think around their possibilities and come up with a meaningful choice, it is no depth.  

Another very important aspect of depth is that players should be able to learn from the outcome of those choices. 

Complexity:
Complexity by itself isn’t a good thing. It is the mental burden put on the player by the rules of the game.

  • Data a player has to store
  • Rules a player to process
  • Calculations a player has to make in order to make meaningful decisions
  • It creates barriers of entries for newer players 

Different forms of Complexity in Card Games

Mark Rosewater defines three types of complexity in a game:

  1. Comprehension Complexity
  2. Board Complexity
  3. Strategic Complexity

Comprehension Complexity

  • Understanding the card
  • Are the rules clearly explained
  • Do the players have the complete context to understand the card, or do they need other cards, rules or resources to understand the cards?

Board Complexity

  • How much interaction does this card have with other cards?
  • Does having this one card make you have to reevaluate every other card on the battlefield?

Strategic Complexity

  • understanding how best to use your cards

How to reduce complexity?

  • Hide Complexity in Variety
  • Hide Complexity in Rarity
  • User Interface
  • Tutorials

Resources:
Article about Complexity in Magic 1
Article about Complexity in Magic 2
Geeklist on Games – Complexity vs. Depth

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