How much complexity is too much complexity? Well, the answer is complex

Have you ever booted up a new game you’ve been excited to try, only to look at the various streams of numbers on the screen just to close the window and softly mutter “no”? This was somewhat my first reaction to what is years later my favorite game. It’s not a very beginner friendly game after all. There is a lot to learn and most likely your first runs will end poorly. This concept, complexity gets applied to a lot of things, board games especially from what I’ve seen. Many games are criticized for over-complicating things and being unapproachable. Though, in the case of EU4 for example, it managed to keep me coming back and that complexity. Even just suffering through my first games as the Teutonic Order and going thousands of ducats into debt buying mercenaries to kick Polish and Lithuanian teeth in for attacking me, unraveling the puzzle of how the game works was what made it so enjoyable. Though I’ve also experienced games where my friends and I begin to set up the pieces, read the rules, and then pack up never even thinking of returning to the experience, so what’s going on here? I believe it doesn’t actually have to deal with the game’s complexity at all. Rather it has to deal with an entirely different thing, rules bloat.

To give some insight to this I’d like to take a peek back to Warhammer 40K 7th edition. Rules bloat became a very well known issue in the games community for this edition in particular. As the edition rolled out they continued to release books, adding extra rules for extra circumstances and additional traits and additional conditions and additional modifiers and and and. . . By the time the edition was seeing it’s end there were multiple massive rulebooks which you frequently have to sift through midway through every game because there was so much not even veteran players would always remember exactly how unit squad leader challenger consolidation works for example. The issue isn’t that the system had too much to it, it’s that it had far too much unnecessary bulk which could have been condensed down and ubiquitous but was not in favor of chugging on ahead. Take for example a stat block from 7th edition compared to its 8th edition counterpart. 

So you may notice some differences. For one, when the 7th edition offers up rules such as being a demon of Khorne, it explains absolutely nothing about what that means on the warscroll, and that’s fine in some cases, as long as it is a faction ability that can be easily accessed or is ubiquitous enough it can be easily memorized. Though there’s things like the weapon type just stating “Fleshbane” what does fleshbane mean? None of my other units have this ability. I have 150 models in this army. How am I supposed to remember what this one character’s specific right and left weapons do? Time to go flip through the 200 page rulebook to try to find out instead of just being able to continue with the game. Do you see what I mean? It’s not about over-complexity, it’s about making sure to consolidate your rules together to where they are accessible and then also just present them in a player friendly fashion, that’s all we ask.

One thought on “How much complexity is too much complexity? Well, the answer is complex

  1. First off, fantastic title for the post. Absolutely 10/10. And for the content, I completely agree with you. I think that complex games can be intimidating for first time players, but they are endlessly fun for long-term players. I have seen well-seasoned D&D players list off facts about characters, races, and numbers that I could never understand, almost to the detriment of adding new players to their group. But if you take the time to look into and read up on some of these more complex games, they’re a lot of fun and surprisingly easy to get into. Games teach in a great way by only giving you the info you need as you need it. I think that is the mark of a good complex game.

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