What makes a game fun?

I was sitting down with my business partner/longtime friend, Chris, who has been creating the art for Ruins of Elysia, when he asked me an interesting question, “what makes a game fun?”  Granted, he was asking me this question because we were working out how to pitch Ruins of Elysia, but it got me thinking. 

What are the games I like, and why do I like them?  Donald X. Vaccarino’s Dominion is probably my favorite game of all time.  Before Dominion I did not consider myself a gamer.  Dominion made me realize that my favorite game mechanic was deck-building.  But why?

I love most deck-builders, but I have some bones to pick with some of them.  Ascension is a great deck-builder, especially due to its ability to support more than the 4-player limit of Dominion.  However, there are aspects of Ascension that I don’t like.  I don’t like Ascension’s marketplace, because the random nature of the market mechanic makes it very difficult to plan ahead and strategize.  That’s actually a minor gripe, though.

I think big turns are the crux of what make deck-builders fun.  In Dominion, you can plan ahead based on what cards you buy and see it pay off towards the end when you churn through your entire deck and purchase the last couple of provinces for the win.  That kind of turn takes a lot more luck to pull off in Ascension.  It’s harder to get cards that do specific things like get rid of unwanted cards from your hand or get cards to allow you to draw cards.

I’m not as one-dimensional as I sound, however.  Deck-builders may be my favorite, but they aren’t the only type of game I enjoy.  I would have to place tabletop RPGs second, such as Pathfinder.   Unfortunately, they are a lot of work.  I’m pretty good at writing a story, but I’m not sure I could do so on the fly.  I need to see my words so I can think about them carefully, so I’m probably not cut out to be a DM.  I might be able to feed a DM story in chat format, but that just seems impractical.  Anyways, we’re getting off topic.  What makes tabletop RPGs fun?  Granted, this is my opinion.  I like exploring and hearing the story.  I have yet to play Above and Below, but its storybook mechanic has me intrigued.

One of the games that I find myself playing repeatedly with my avid board gaming friend I refer to as “draw your track” games.  The use of a map adds another dimension to gameplay and I feel a sense of adventure.  These games usually feature a random stack of cards that include events and delivery requests.  The gameplay then focuses on you drawing the most efficient set of track to get those loads to the places requesting them to make the most money. 

I definitely suffer from wanderlust, so I love games that use maps as their mechanic.  In fact, I thought it was amusing to play Empire Builder on the Empire Builder line when my friends and I rode it to Chicago.  Train games aren’t the only map based game I like, though.  Runebound is great, albeit long.  I do have a preference for controlling a character, rather than a faction such as Small World.

It’s September 2019

I thought I would come back to my first blog since I recently read something relevant. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source (I think it was a scholarly article via Google). Anyways, the main point of the article was that for a board game to be fun it required two things. As far as the game is concerned, the article asserted, ultimately it served only one purpose: to put constraints on what you can do. So for it to be fun, the player had to enjoy whatever activity was still permitted by the components of the game and its constraints. Basically, our personal tastes will always be a factor in whether or not a game is fun.

%d bloggers like this: