On the subject of games mechanics, which I hear our show deals with on a regular basis, the general consensus among game designers has been: Keep it simple. And I get that. I have an array of games in my living room and many have gone unplayed. It’s not that I don’t want to play them, it’s just that they seem so imposing. The rules become textbooks of information you must absorb before you attempt to play. Why must I read “War and Peace” and recite a soliloquy on the subject just to play a game!? I don’t want to, so I don’t.
It’s not that the rules are over-written. Although, that is another common thread we’ve heard from designers, namely: Keep it short. That is good advice, but I’m mostly talking about the amount of mechanics some games include. You can simplify your explanations, but sometimes the mechanics themselves are just confusing.
Now there are definitely mechanics-heavy games that have stood the test of time. Chess actually has many mechanics, but I can play it. Actually, we all seem to understand chess, despite the knight. I, however, do not remember ever reading the rules of Chess. Do you? I remember other people showing me how to play Chess. I also remember being bored. These happened at the same time. Coincidence?
Having said all that, I don’t think you should sacrifice a mechanics-heavy game for the sake of consumer-friendliness if the game is awesome. I think there are other ways to address the complexity of those games to make it simpler for consumers. It’s the old axiom of “easy to learn, hard to master”. One of the best examples of this is Magic: The Gathering. If you think about it, it may just have the most mechanics of any game ever made. Now look at a starter deck. You learn about monsters, lands, spells and life points. Having never played before, you can understand that game. Now you add in haste and first strike. It’s more complex but you can still understand that. Now you add regeneration, you define instants, you introduce artifacts and enchantments. Since you have the basics and can play the basic game (“easy to learn”), this just adds to the complexity and depths of the game (“hard to master”).
Complexity is not a bad thing. It’s just a challenge that needs to be addressed. It’s the same reason we build a staircase between the floors of a house instead of installing a climbing rope.