On top of old crikey

On BoardGameNews Kris Hall posted an article entitled What would Knizia do? which asides from discussing Nefertiti, also suggested Reiner Knizia as a paragon of game-design sensibility to aspire towards. I took mild exception, describing my goals for game decisions a little differently to those perceived for Knizia’s designs (see below). This resulted in the following comment sequence in the ensuring thread. I’ve concatenated the three comments below as they parse reasonably as a single argument:

My most common internal question during design is: How can I make this decision point more nuanced, more subtle and less obvious? Obvious decisions are non-decisions. Early decisions should only make later decisions more difficult and less obvious. Ideally every decision in the game should be a challenge, a challenge both to determine that the decision is present in the first place as well as to decide on a good answer for that decision.

I’m not interested in making it less obvious that a decision is to be made. The game says to build something, you build something. That’s fine. I am interested in players not being sure what their decisions really mean for long-term implications. I’m interested in making the decisions have many facets, have implications in multiple areas over multiple time scales and for those implications to be soft-edged, un-obvious and un-intuitive, for many of the things decided by implication to be unclear in prediction but obvious in retrospect.

Yeah, I know the classic pattern is “have to do N things but can only pick one”. That’s not my favourite pattern. I’m not so fond of the “I have to do XXX but I don’t really want to!” pattern (eg Ra). I much more like decisions which all seem variously reasonable, where it seems reasonable to do any one of them and to not do the others, but they are in fact all importantly different in many different ways.

Yes, there is a danger is that decisions are so indistinguishable that they are insignificant. So far I’ve dealt with this in terms of commitment, decisions committing players to directions they can’t fully comprehend at the time.

Of course as the game comes to a close the effects of decisions become more obvious, intuitive or calculable as their lifespan and range becomes obvious. However earlier in the game the idea is for the decisions to largely be attempts to assess and influence the similarly cloudy decisions of the other players. each player committing to a suggestive posture in attempt to influence the other players to commit to resonant postures, thereby communally setting a larger direction for the game as a whole.

That last paragraph is poor. I don’t yet know how to clearly articulate the concept I’m attempting but it has to do with the goal of games not being mechanical exercises, not discretely calculable sequence models, but densely flavoured organic melanges, gestalts that more emerge from among the player’s intersections than being a discrete logic system that the players externally engage as manipulating clients.