Roll Again! The Top 20 Factors That Make Games Fun
(by Jamie Doran)
There are so many game titles out there to choose from, how do you find the ones that consistently deliver the fun? Depending your preferred in-game experience, you might align with old style board games, strategy games, two-player games, role-playing games, word games, or party games. But essentially game play 'fun' comes down to the dynamics between the players and the game's mechanics.
I've played hundreds of different types of games and invented about 30 games of my own. In one case I reinvented a game 10 times to experiment with how the game's mechanics affected the fun quotient. When playing or creating games we should pay attention to the mix of features that work together to make the game fun.
All the amazing new game features we enjoy these days own a debt of gratitude to 'Roll Again'. It's the grandmother of all fun factors. Basically, on a player's turn, Roll Again is a tiny reward, a morsel of luck. Most games have a roll again feature, but it might be called something else and manifest itself in a different way - look for stuff like, take a card, go again, attach twice, grow another head. Since most games are turn-based, roll again is sweet honey.
Feel free to disagree with me but I have a list of game features that I think can boost a game's fun quotient. When these things pop up in games, the players tend to laugh more, concentrate more, interact more, and think about the game long after the game is over. Now, if you're a game inventor, beware, because a good game has a mix of the right fun factors and usually not all of them. Great games have fine tuned these factors to create the perfect mix.
Now in no particular order, here are my top 20 fun factors that great games might have. Below the list are a few examples of games that I think deliver the fun.
Top 20 Fun Factors for Games
- Roll Again: This feature comes in many forms but boils down to a player getting to do more than one thing on their turn. It's all about me, me, me, me!
- Miss a Turn: Another classic! Miss a Turn is schottenfreude in all its forms. It's fun because you get to watch another player suffer. Miss a Turn is like watching a YouTube video of someone getting kicked in the beans, and it's great.
- Interjection: There's nothing better than meddling in another player's turn - sometimes helping or cooperating; sometimes hindering; and other times... plunder! It's not even my turn and I'm doing stuff - oh ya!
- Player Interaction: What happens between the players during the game, even when there's a break in play? Great games are about how the players deal with one another while under the influence of the game's rules or mechanics. This fun factor manifests itself as laughing, arguing, romance, subterfuge, or basic happy banter.
- Rewards: I suppose roll again is a reward, but this factor is special because it's about players receiving good shit during the game, anything is good, even a little feels great. Rewards can be points, tokens, powers, or other advantages that help you do better in the game.
- Revenge: I have heard this feature called the Fuck You Factor. That's a perfect name because we all relish revenge. I'm sorry my friend but you need to be punished!
- Good Graphics: We expect top quality game graphics but really great artwork affects us at a subconscious level too. The best games have thought this through and use graphics to inspire creative thought, build atmosphere, and help players get immersed in the game.
- Depth: Game dynamics that reveal themselves the more you play are just cool. Like peeling the onion, these games appear simple on the surface but with successive plays the complexity reveals itself as you go deeper and deeper. The classic example is chess.
- Replay: Replayability, often arises because you have the right mix of other factors; the fun quotient delivers. Get the mix right and people will play the game forever. Okay, let's play again!
- Vicissitudes: Sudden shifts in fortune are exciting not only for the player at the centre of the action but also for those watching. This is the rags to riches story, a streak of luck, rolling a 20, rolling a 1, and the Leroy Jenkins story! Hop, skip, jump, back flip, slide, shoot, wow! How the fuck did you do that?
- Variations: A lot of the great games out there have more than one way to play. Sometimes the game creator inserts some rules variations for the players to try and other times the players themselves invent new ways to play. Games that leave this door open, without degrading their original format, are always fun.
- Pick a Card: We can thank poker for this one. Who doesn't like drawing a card? Until you look at it, you're holding Schrodinger's card - it's good and bad all at the same time! How fun is that? As a result, games where we hold or collect cards are fun.
- Tokens: Which Monopoly token are you? Why did you pick the goat? What colour do you want to be? Red, yuck, I hate red! Don't underestimate the fun we get from transposing our personas into our player tokens.
- Secrets: Yes, secrets are fun. When I get to know something that no other players get to know, there's a smile on my face!
- Surprises: The game play unfolds and the players think that they have a handle on the rules and understand what's going on and then suddenly... Holy shit, we had no idea that could happen! There aren't a lot of games out there that get this one right but when a great game surprise happens, it's a delight for everyone. Examples include things like, when two people win, when two rules collide or combine to create an unexpected outcome, or when conditions are just right and suddenly the impossible is possible.
- Leveling Up: Self improvement is fun right? Well it almost always is in games. This factor is all about advancing your player, trading in the stuff you collected for rewards, gaining new powers, or receiving points. You go girl!
- Value: I think the price of a game affects how much fun we have when we play it. A really expensive game that we play once, really sucks. Games are inherently more fun when we are satisfied with the price we paid. And honestly, cheap games feel cheap.
- Flexibility: Your family is visiting and want to play a game and all you gots is Card Against Humanity; ya that's not gonna work. Games that seamlessly transform themselves for different audiences can be more fun. Let's face it being inclusive of different sexes, ages, genders, backgrounds, and skill levels opens up possibilities, and let's more people in on the fun.
- Intellect: My brain hurts, but I like it. When our intellect is challenged and we arise victorious, the pleasure centre of the brain lights up. The Intellect factor is found in games that validate our smarts or teach us new stuff.
- Branding: A really fun game can stand on its own and build an independent and dynamic brand. But we're all guilty of wanting to immerse ourselves in the realms of our favourite characters. Many North American games have brand overlays so that we can be in Star Fleet, wield a wand as Harry Potter, and slay the undead like Michonne in TWD.
Classic Fun Games
Trivial Pursuit: Basically this game was fun because it combined intellect rewards with roll again. Ya, that's it. But there's some spice thrown in. A player could go from losing to winning in a single turn - hell, I did it once and my final question was "Who is Luke Skywalker's Father?" - Boo ya! Trivial Pursuit had all sorts of game variations, like the different Genus editions, or how you win 'pie', or how you select the last question. I played it 1000's of times and it was fun.
Settlers of Catan: You lay the game out and suddenly you live in a different world and you're a baron on a neat little island. It's fun because players collect shit and trade it for better shit, and fuck up other people's plans. The game has good atmosphere, and excellent player interaction. It makes you want to replay it over and over again. It also has levels of complexity that reveal themselves the more you play, and once you master one version, you can try some of the other game variations and add-ons.
FINISHIT: Of course we had to put our own game in here, it's a really fun game! Here's why. It has lots of player interaction, like eruptions of laughter, suspicion, accusations, and clever jabs. It's full of surprises, like when grandma and little johnny both win, or when your shitty answer suddenly turns out to epically awesome. FINISHIT is flexible too, so you can play with the family, or the guys at the hunt camp, or at the sweet sixteen party. Oh ya and branding... it says shit right on the box!
Monopoly: Ya it's fun and it's ok to totally hate this game too. I'm going to do a whole article on this game, so for now I will simply state that Monopoly is fun because money, chance, tokens, miss a turn (Go to Jail), and all the game variations people have come up with to help it suck less!
Dungeons & Dragons: There are so many fun things about D&D because it's so complex and the world is deep with detail and possibility. So much so, that people devote themselves to this game almost like no other. But I think if you boil it down, it's fun because there's rich player interaction, leveling up, intellect, rewards, revenge, secrets, surprises, and even roll again. And then when someone rolls a one...
We'd love to hear your thoughts on these fun factors. Did I miss any? Do you agree? What's your favourite fun game and why?
January 12, 2017
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