I found an interesting article linked on reddit:

“‘Instant Ambiguity Sauces’ – How NOT to make an uninteresting game seem more interesting”

He makes some interesting points, although perhaps not as universally true as he might suggest. To my reading his main point (which I agree with) is that fun in games is often related to the agency of the player to make meaningful choices. Rather than give the player meaningful choices, however, game developers give players non-meaningful choices which are obfuscated so as to seem meaningful. Your quick time events, and the like—things which present the illusion of agency, but lack real substance.

This actually meshes with a conversation I had with my father about 20 years ago. Growing up I played a lot of board games with my father and older brother, and I often found myself at odds with my dad about what to play. I favored Monopoly, which I thought I was relatively good at, while my father usually insisted that we play either Risk or Acquire, which I always lost.

At some point I asked him why he preferred those games, and what he said to me was that Monopoly was a game of chance. Your ability to make choices was limited because the primary mechanism of the game was rolling the dice, which was random. The games he preferred, although having their element of randomness, were won or lost by the choices you made and the tactics you employed. I seem to recall him mentioning games like Chess and Go at the time, having essentially no randomness to them. The reason I liked Monopoly compared to other games is that, being the youngest and having the worst strategy, randomness actually favored me.

That conversation has stuck with me for a long time, and I find myself even today ranking games by how random they are. Settlers of Catan, for example, is VERY random. You live and die by the dice. Dominion on the other hand is much less so. You do draw random cards from a deck, but the primary mechanic of the game is choosing which cards to add to your deck, so you have a degree of control over what cards are available to draw. It’s easy to flood your deck with useless cards, and prevent yourself from drawing good hands.

Now, not every game is about tactics and strategy. Execution is not always an obfuscation, as the author of the post I linked above states. However, I find the post interesting overall because I find that player agency is frequently overlooked in discussions of what makes a game work or not.

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