5.5. Complexity

Generally, adding additional mechanics will lead to a greater complexity in the dynamics of the game. For example, compare Chess and Checkers. Chess has six kinds of pieces (instead of two) and a greater number of actions that each piece can take, so it ends up having more strategic depth.

Do more complex mechanics always lead to more complex dynamics? No – there are some cases where very simple mechanics create extreme complexity (as is the case with Chess). And there are other cases where the mechanics are extremely complicated, but the dynamics are simple (imagine a modified version of the children’s card game War that did not just involve comparison of numbers, but lookups on complex “combat resolution” charts). The best way to gauge complexity, as you may have guessed, is to play the game.

Is more complexity good, or bad? It depends. Tetris is a very simple but still very successful game. Advanced Squad Leader is an incredibly complex game, but still can be considered successful for what it is. Some games are so simple that they are not fun beyond a certain age, like Tic-Tac-Toe. Other games are too complex for their own good, and would be better if their systems were a bit more simplified and streamlined.

This extra credits video lays out the challenge of effectively using complexity:

Materials on this page adapted from:
Game Design Concepts by Ian Schreiber (CC BY-NC 3.0)