Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Minimalism can get in the way

I am a big fan of micro games. A lot of that comes from how, when I first started out, my game collection could fit into a backpack and most of my gaming was at coffee shops. Easy to transport and small footprint were a big deal for me.

Actually, I’ve come full circle a bit because, when I go to a gaming event these days, I just want to take a small courier bag of games with me. (Of course, that’s because I can count on other folks bringing huge bags of big games)

With game lines like the old Hip Pocket Games from Cheapass Games and Pack O Game and Button Shy’s Wallet Games, not to mention individual micro games like Love Letter, I can still get quite the variety in a small bag.

BUT I recently found myself thinking that minimalism can get in the way of teaching, particularly with non-gamers. What gets stripped out can become a barrier for entry.

(And, sweet Catan, it took me four paragraphs to get to the point I wanted to make. Cats alive, I can ramble!)

I’m not a big chrome or theme guy but there’s no denying that those are things that can help not just make a game pretty but easier to understand and play. And those are things that minimalist games, by their very nature, minimize. With some games, it almost seems like the designers assume players will already know core concepts so they can skip them. I have definitely read RPGs like that.

This occurred to me when I found myself comparing Mint Factory to Sticky Fingers, both very light and simple worker placement games. Mint Factory literally fits in a mint tin, which means that it fits in most pockets. Sticky Fingers, with a board and different decks of cards, requires an actual, if small, box.

That said, Mint Factory has a _slightly_ opaque flow of how you build things and the workers are also effectively money. Those are _very_ low barriers to entry and even a minimally experienced gamer should have no problems. But I don’t think it’s a good intro to concepts, just a very portable and very decent game.

Sticky Fingers, on the other hand, has a board which explicitly shows the flow of the game. It also has a very accessible theme. You are burglars who get to tools to steal loot to sell. It is more accessible by having a clear flow of actions and having a theme, bolstered by the art, that makes the actions easy to understand. 

I like both games but I’d rather teach Sticky Fingers to my parents or other folks who have no idea what worker placement is. (I am, of course, ignoring the fact that I’d really use Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep (or even Agricola, which was my wife’s first worked placement game) )

I appreciate minimalism but sometimes it doesn’t help.

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