Saturday, May 12, 2007

Simplicity in Games

This afternoon I sat down with some kids to play card games. Kids play an endless variety of card games; more games, I think, than I play.

One thing these games have in common is that their mechanics are easy to learn. Most have only a few mechanics, while some have a whole bunch, but no specific mechanics is hard to understand.

What doesn't seem to be important is depth of play.

Two Card Games

The first game we played, whose name I couldn't remember even after hearing it several times, was as follows:

Each player gets five cards. One is flipped up. On your turn, you discard a card and draw either the top card (which is the one under the one you discarded), or a card from the deck. If you have a pair, or three of a kind, or a straight flush of at least three cards, you can discard the set and pick only one card in its place.

Once you have under 10 points in your hand, you can "knock". If you have the smallest hand, everyone else scores the points they have in their hand. Otherwise, you score thirty points plus your hand, the person with the smallest hand scores no points, and everyone else scores the number of points they have.

If your score is over 100, you're eliminated from the game. If your score is exactly 100, you go back to 0.

It's not much dumber than Gin Rummy, I think, and it's even quicker. I also have a feeling that this game is a collection of rules from other games (especially the 100 point rule), but I could be wrong.

The other game was Kent. You can read the rules at the link. It is, as you can tell, rather silly.

Gimmick Games

One thing I noticed while I was going over the eBay listings is how many gimmick games there were. A gimmick game is one where the game is basically nothing but a single gimmick, with some nice plastic pieces and packaging. Often the gimmick game is a dexterity game of some sort.

For instance, Hungry Hungry Hippos - collect all the balls. Or Kerplunk - don't drop the balls. Or Tip-It - don't let the platform tip.

There are thousands of games like this. These certainly don't look like my game designs. One wonders how these games get produced. Are they all inside works from within the game company, or does an aspiring game designer come from outside the business and persuade Hasbro to produce his new game Behind the Eight Ball?

How re-playable are gimmick games? As re-playable as toys? A Barbie and a Hot Wheels car both inspire the user to play act with the item in many settings - in other words, there is no single way to play with them. A game/toy like this can only be played in a single way, really.

How many times to kids actually play Hungry Hungry Hippos, anyway, before they've had enough? More or less times than adults have enough of No Thanks?


1 comment:

Jebadiah Moore said...

Most people don't look for something difficult to figure out when they sit down to play a game. They just want something mildly interesting that takes a little skill so they can get better and a little luck to balance out the different skill levels (and so they don't feel bad if they do poorly). The most important part is that the game acts as a catalyst for relationships; a simple card game is a fun and easy way to get to know people and to spend time together.

There are some people, of course, that prefer more involved games (me and you, for instance), but I have fun playing these kinds as well.

I don't think that "gimmick games" get played that often, mainly just by little kids. And I bet that rate is going down, with simple video games being avaliable. (Not that video games are all simple.)