Sometimes it’s hard to see when I’m printing out hundreds of cards to put into review copies of Gloomhaven, but, ultimately, Gloomhaven is a fairly simple game.
Maybe not components-wise or the work that needs to be put into it, but when it is set down in front of the player, I want it to be as simple and streamlined as possible. Obviously there will be deep, complex decisions to be made, but I don’t want the game to get bogged down with rules.
Players want to play the game and enjoy it, not worry about what blocks line of sight or how does this mechanic specifically interact with this other mechanic. That sort of minutiae can be fun for some people (including me sometimes…) but I’d like to please a larger audience than just those people.
The fun of the game should rest on the complexity of the card play rather than the complexity of the rules.
It’s difficult sometimes because there are some many cool ideas that I could throw into the game. Not just my ideas, but my play testers are always throwing really awesome ideas at me as well. I think I’ve cultivated a more rules-heavy fan base due to Forge War, which I think appealed to a very specific cross-section of the board gaming community.
They’re great, highly intelligent people with wonderful ideas, but every idea has to pass through a gate of “how much rules complexity does it add to the game and how much fun does it add for the average gamer?” It’s pretty difficult to get through the gate.
A lot has gotten through the gate, though, and it can get a little concerning at times. Certainly a lot of fun has been added to the game, but has too much complexity been added as well?
Judging from the demo sessions at GenCon, I’d say the base scenario is doing pretty well. There is some concern about the complexity of monster movement. Since it’s all automated, there is a necessary amount of rules to make their actions deterministic, but I think that could still be streamlined a little more.
What’s great about a campaign-style persistent game, though is that it allows to add lots of extra fun stuff – and the complexity that comes with it – over an extended period of time so that the players aren’t overwhelmed by it all at once. With the combat streamlined as much as possible, there’s some room to add complexity to the campaign aspects of the game – item shops, branching story paths, enchanting, town and road events, etc.
The trick is to set it up on the back end so that gradual progression of reveals occurs in a logical, smooth way. Which I think is happening, but it is much harder to play test because it takes a lot of play sessions for testers to start seeing a lot of stuff that comes up over time.
The other side of the issue is, again, the players who want to see all that stuff up-front. After one session, they want to get into that deep character customization immediately. Obviously I want to accommodate this type of play because it’s how I would want to play, too.
But it is difficult to accommodate everyone. We have to start getting into the territory of optional complexity. In terms of character customization, this comes in the form of suggested ability cards and items.
So when some sits down to play the game, say, like, at a convention, they may not be into getting into the nitty-gritty of customizing their character, especially before they even fully know how to play. Plus we probably don’t have time to get into it either, so that customization is totally optional.
Each character class has a hand limit – the number of cards they can take into battle – and they have 3 more cards in their available pool than what they can actually hold. They have a set of suggested cards equal to that limit, plus 3 extra cards that are a little more complex.
When you first sit down, just put those 3 extra cards to the side and forget about them. Learn to play the game with your base hand. Before heading into any new scenario, though, players have the option of dipping into those cards to add more customization and complexity by switching them out for the base cards in their deck. Of course, eventually everyone will be forced into customizing their character by leveling up and getting access to even more new cards, but that point in which you decide to take that next step is up to you.
There’s also sort of a similar thing going on with items. Players have a good selection of items to start with, but there’s a list of recommended items for each class, so they can just go into the store and pick those out if they don’t want to think about it took much.
So, anyway, I’m hoping the complexity of the game can hit that sweet spot for a lot of people. There will always be more people wanting things to be more complicated and others wanting things to be simpler, but the goal is to deliver a game with deep, interesting decisions in a package palatable for the average gamer.
And then wrap that into a gigantic, overly-ambitious campaign world. Done.