Author Topic: Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty  (Read 3635 times)

Clockwork

  • Charming Prince of Darkness
  • Citizens
    Voting Member
  • Posts: 2055
  • Karma: 17
  • Bitter? Me? portugal no, I think it's hilarious.
  • Awards Came first in the Summer 2020 Exilian forum pub quiz
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty
« on: December 08, 2017, 11:32:28 PM »
Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty
By Clockwork

I thought I'd write an article about game design, here specifically is an article on a concept which everyone uses in every game. A game, any game, is essentially a challenge asking 'Can you x?' Mechanical difficulty for the purpose of this article is determined by the number of actions that are available to the player whereas strategic difficulty is the number of options (decisions) to consider when choosing those mechanical actions.


Chess: High Mechanical AND Strategic Difficulty!
An example of a game with low mechanical difficulty and high strategic difficulty is the tabletop game Diplomacy; there are a total of three different moves: attack with army x to region y, support army x with army z and hold. You'll be moving fewer pieces than you can count on one hand but through complexity of strategy each of these moves will be made with respect to a great number of things and then exponentially increased by the number of opposing players past 1. Not that you'd want to play 1v1 Diplomacy, that would be super boring.

On the flip side; Exploding Kittens has a lot of different cards which can be played that do a lot of different things and learning what they do in combination with each other creates this complexity of mechanics. There are 8 different cards which do wacky, crazy, kooky things as well as neutral cards which don't do anything other than serve as a bluff for having the other 8 types of cards. It sounds like there's room for decision making but there are no informed decisions to be made because there is no way to gather knowledge on opponents' hands and winning doesn't require any combination of cards to collect through the game.

The majority of the time, games will have some midway combination of strategy and mechanics, for example a game with high mechanical and strategic difficulty would be Chess - there are 6 pieces doing different things and each turn there are a huge number of potential plays, on the first turn for example there are 20 (according to my sketchy, conflicting, research) and 400 different positions after each player makes one move.

So, how does this help design? It'll happen naturally of course during creation but being aware of which way your game leans can influence how to market it and the types of gamers (more importantly, where to find them) you'll be catering to. The ability to critically look at your game and see - this is a decision the player is making vs the player has so many options here with the nuance that entails can shift the balance to being easier to understand or more complex.
Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.


indiekid

  • Citizens
    Voting Member
  • Posts: 156
  • Karma: 5
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty
« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2017, 01:01:17 PM »
Nice article clockwork, it's got me thinking about how I approach board game design. In the past I've described games which are mostly "mechanically difficult" as "complex in principle but simple in practice" and those that are "strategically difficult" as "simple in principle but complex in practice". I've always disliked the former: to me it seems that having many complex routes to the same thing is just annoying. I've always tried to reduce the rules in my games to give them as few features as possible but maintain strategic depth. But perhaps my dislike is unfounded? Maybe it's time I designed a game which focuses on mechanical difficulty to find out.

Clockwork

  • Charming Prince of Darkness
  • Citizens
    Voting Member
  • Posts: 2055
  • Karma: 17
  • Bitter? Me? portugal no, I think it's hilarious.
  • Awards Came first in the Summer 2020 Exilian forum pub quiz
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2017, 08:25:48 AM »
Thanks!


I figure it's a little bit of 'different strokes, different folks', at my games club yesterday people were getting a kick out of a (to me) ludicrously complicated game but that's exactly what they wanted; a sort of space sim. Can't remember the name, found it going on late in the day and we play in a pub and I like beer.


EDIT: Video games like Minecraft, Terraria, Rimworld etc are (to me) examples of mechanically complex games because they have a ton of options and LoL, DotA, HotS are mechanically simple games. (just for extra comparison :P)
« Last Edit: December 10, 2017, 09:09:47 AM by Clockwork »
Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.


Jubal

  • Megadux
    Executive Officer
  • Posts: 35794
  • Karma: 140
  • Awards Awarded for oustanding services to Exilian!
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2017, 04:39:54 PM »
I guess mechanical complexity's advantage, in a game perspective, may then be that it makes the decision-making mimic reality more? This can have ingame effects in turn, especially in tabletop gaming. For example, imagine a game of draughts, same rules as usual, except that you can pick from any of ten colours, which make literally no difference to the game. A mechanic has been added that is, in technical terms, useless. What it does, however, is allow the players expression in how they play: suddenly, you could have team colours, or players adopting (or having grudges against) certain sides for absolutely no rational reason at all. In other words, more complex mechanics may reduce skill input, but they might also increase the storytelling potential of the game.

As another example, think D&D. Goblins, gnolls, and kobolds aren't really actually honestly very different in mechanical terms, they could just be a "generic evil humanoid" entry in the monster manual for most purposes. The decision "hunt down the goblins" vs "hunt down the kobolds" which an adventuring party may be faced with is pretty limited in its strategic impact. On the other hand, it might have a lot more knock-on effect regarding the players and the story they're telling.
The duke, the wanderer, the philosopher, the mariner, the warrior, the strategist, the storyteller, the wizard, the wayfarer...

Clockwork

  • Charming Prince of Darkness
  • Citizens
    Voting Member
  • Posts: 2055
  • Karma: 17
  • Bitter? Me? portugal no, I think it's hilarious.
  • Awards Came first in the Summer 2020 Exilian forum pub quiz
    • View Profile
    • Awards
Re: Mechanical difficulty vs Strategic difficulty
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2017, 11:12:19 AM »
Yeah that's pretty much where I was going with that. Although it video games do stray a little from the centre because of how many more mechanics a video game has before it gets complicated. Tooth and Tail has very few mechanics for an RTS but still has more than most board games. Something like EVE Online or any other 'spreadsheet simulators' have maybe literally billions of choices to players.
Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.