It’s time to get scientific. Today we’re going to look at the elements of a good tabletop game; Choice, Challenge, and Chance. Pretty much every game will include these 3 Cs in one way or another.

Choice

Let’s start with the obvious one. Choice is 100% a requirement for games. Choice is how you differentiate a game from an interactive story. Choice is the strategy, the thing that makes your playthrough unique from somebody else’s. A good game gives you the opportunity to forge your own path, follow your own strategy and see how it goes.

Rather than listing games as examples, let’s look at the type of chance you can include;

  • Strategy: Games like Lanterns have very little customisation. Your choice is in your strategy and how you play.
  • Abilities: One step up is games like Pandemic and Hot Shots where the choice you make at the start affects your whole game. The character you choose will affect the abilities you have and how you play.
  • Do what you want: Pretty much everything in Dead of Winter. Live your true self while trying to achieve your objectives. Cross road cards, turn actions, inventory management, sneaky manouevres.

The choices you make in a game is what makes it so fun, it’s how you show your skill and go from passenger to participant. Somewhere in-between Choice and Chance lies the perfect game.

Challenge

What is a game without a goal? Put simply, a toy. It’s something to interact with without a specific to-do list, like putty or a fidget spinner. Of course free-play has it’s place, but when talking about games you need something to do, an achievement to unlock, a target to aim for.

When thinking about your game think about what your players need to achieve, the objective they need to meet. For example;

  • Organ Attack: Be the last person standing
  • Dominion: Have the most Victory Points
  • Happy Salmon: Be the first person to get rid of your cards
  • Tatsu: Destroy all of one type of your opponent’s tiles

For a game to feel satisfying we need to have a challenge to overcome or an goal to meet.

Chance

You need chance in a game to make the obstacles more hazardous, and the challenge harder to achieve. Do you want to know what a game is if there’s no aspect of chance? A puzzle. It’s something that you can, with a little brain power and persistence, be guaranteed to be able to win. A game without any randomness is essentially a rubix cube.

When playing a competitive game “chance” is introduced through the other players’ actions. You don’t know exactly what they are going to do, so you can’t always plan for it. Even a game like chess integrates chance through your opponent. Players strategise, make assumptions, make mistakes, and generally act unpredictably. For their opponents all this can be summed up as “chance”.

Here are a few examples of randomness in games;

  • Hot Shots: The fire cards drawn after each turn
  • Lanterns: Another player taking the card you desired
  • Dead of Winter: Cross Roads cards, secret objective cards, dice rolls
  • Sagrada: The dice drawn from the bag

Be wary with this one. A game is a test of skill, and a game that is too chance-based can negate skill. Players enjoy using their skills to beat challenges, but if strategies are blown apart by the roll of the dice then their efforts may feel futile. Take Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time for example. You and your teammates can strategise, but Professor Evil’s actions are entirely based on the outcome of three dice. Your best laid plans can be squashed in an instant, making it a very difficult game. Some may enjoy playing the odds and fighting the randomness, but many will lose interest.

An extra benefit of Chance is that it introduces another C; Change. The randomness of dice rolls, card draws, and how people play the game is what creates replayability. If a game has zero chance then one play through will be the same as the next, just look at escape room “games”.

The honorary C

I was a little … conflicted about this one 🙂 Most games will have an aspect of conflict built in to them. Whether this is conflict between players, as in Tatsu, or between players and the game, as in Castle Panic. Conflict is often how players grow, increase their abilities and achieve their objectives.

Not all games have to include conflict. For example it’s possible to play through Dominion without playing the cards that impact your opponent. There are other games, such as Lanterns and Photosynthesis, where the conflict is so subdued that you almost forget that you aren’t all on the same side.

So that’s the 3 (and a bit) Cs. Next time you’re designing a game, or next time you’re playing a game, keep these in mind. You’ll be surprised how often they come up. The right combination can be a great game, but leave any of them lacking and you’ll notice.

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