If rules are the tools used to make a game, some rules work better than others. In fact, there are some board game rules play testers consistently call bad game mechanics. Bad mechanics usually fall into three groups; rules that are Never Fun, Game Mechanics that Depend on the Game and Game Mechanics that Depend on the Player.
Game Mechanics that Depend on the Game
There are a lot of game mechanics to choose from, just check out the list on BoardGameGeek.com! During playtesting I have heard many players claim these are bad game mechanics, when the reality is they may be good mechanics that do not fit with the game, theme or player. Be intentional with these game mechanics;
- No Fluidity- Often called “Kludgy”, “Confusing” or “Broken”, games with mismatched or competing mechanics are described as bad mechanics, when in truth players are reacting to the combination of competing game mechanics. Make sure you know what mechanics are in your game, then pay attention to how they interact during play tests.
- Dexterity - game rules with a grab, stack, flick and other legerdemain are lumped into the Dexterity category. Games like Jenga™ and Dread™ do this very well. But, dexterity rules can limit disabled players, be perceived as toys, or be unfair to the far end of the dinning table.
- THACO- If you are an old school gamer, you have fond memories of calculating the To Hit Armor Class Zero number of your 8th level Bard against a -2 Armor Class Bugbear in magic plate male (the answer is 16). Everyone else is just annoyed with the math test. Make your number systems are intuitive, easy to calculate or chart driven. Probability systems that don't scale well or compute quickly can bog down game play.
- Changing player turn order- If people are asking “whose turn is next?”, they are probably not rotating counter-clockwise. Variable turn order can be fun, but make sure there is a visual, easy and fun way for players to keep track of ever changing turn order.
- Instructions on cards that other players need to read- If your card game is using 6 point font to explain your complicated counter attack rules, no one else can read it. Worse still, if your trick taking game has cards you can’t read across the table, players will have to get up to read them, or just play poorly. Play test your graphics and icons from a distance. Include an answer key for your cards in the rule book.
- Modular Growth- as your game introduces more tiles, increasing meeples and unlocked player moves, it may collapse under its own complexity. Unveiling new parts of your game can be fun, but make sure you do a lot of play tests. This is where savvy players usually find “breaks” and “cheats” in your expanding game design.
- “Cheating is only illegal if you get caught doing it”- You don’t need to write this in the rules. If you get caught, it isn't cheating. And if you need to cheat to have fun, try Tinder instead of board games.
- Social Voting- If players vote on the outcome, or one player becomes a Judge to select a winner, these are social voting games. Keep your game light-hearted, because there is no ‘fairness’ in voting games. Subjective rules can really bother players who want objective rules that support wits and strategy. Mysterium™ is a great exception!
- “Find the Key”- gathering clues cards or collecting key tokens can be fun, but not if they are buried to deep in your Middle Game. Make sure your locked door puzzles and missing item cards have rules to help players gather them without going all the way back to Start.
- Faffing- Thank you England for a fun word for “Too much Upkeep”. If your table just spent 15 minutes passing out power chips, turning dials and resorting cards before you can begin the next turn, you are Faffing about! Reduce upkeep activities in favor of game play.
- “Everything Kicks your Ass” Round- Unless you signed up for the inevitable humanicide of any Cthulhu game, it’s not fun to spend an entire round resolving all the monsters winning. A real melee has some give and take in every fight seen. Watch for game turns where players are really just playing the monsters and make sure players are having fun making monster noises.
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