fun and games

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Fun! 

There’s nothing I love hearing more than that word after introducing someone to a board game.

Being a board game aficionado, I have a lot of interest in what makes a game fun. 

During a family gathering, we played an old classic game I’d never heard of, Enchanted Forest. There is a special place in my heart reserved for old games. Granted, most of them don’t stand the test of time (based on my highly biased opinion), but they do retain a certain charm, an endearing quality, if you will. Likely this is because of all the old memories contained in their, dusty, weathered boxes.

I was actually surprised by Enchanted Forest. It had some interesting mechanics such as rolling two dice and using both results to move forward and/or backwards. It had a clever memory component where the players wondered through the forest peeking at symbols under trees in hopes to make it to the castle when a symbol they remembered came up. Though it had one aspect which I’ve never enjoyed and which took away some fun from the game: having to make an exact roll to land on a space. Even so, considering when it was made, it wasn’t a bad game.

The fact remains, many older games just aren’t as fun as their more modern counterparts.

But what is it that makes a game fun at all? I’ll save an in-depth treatise for a longer post, perhaps an article. Beside, the idea of “fun” is highly subjective. For example, my sister enjoys games with a high level of chance, while more hardcore boardgamers like games with more strategy. Chess-players enjoy a game with no chance at all.

All that said, there are three important fun factors which come to my mind: memorable, challenging, and surprising.

A memorable game does something unique, it has an element that stands out from any other game. When the party game Cranium came out it was a huge hit because it combined many forms of talent and artistry into one guessing game, rather than just focusing on a single one like drawing (Pictionary) or acting (Charades).

Who doesn’t like a little challenge in their game? A level of difficulty adds interest to a game, it creates a risk/reward system. Did I say Risk? Let’s shelve that for another time. Easy games with a predictable outcome get boring very fast.

Children’s games, on the other hand, are hardly ever challenging. Why, I used to outwardly scoff at games such as Candyland. The card game War isn’t much better. Then why are they so popular? Having kids, I’ve realized games like these do serve a purpose. They teach kids how to follow a set of rules, leading to a victory of some sort. They’re good for learning—a stepping stone to more advanced (and fun) games that favor smart decision-making over pure luck. Children’s games have their place, but you’d be hard pressed to find a bunch of grownups sitting down for a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders.

Last, a game needs some level of surprise. Replayability is the term you’ll often hear concerning a praiseworthy game. Most games have a randomized system built in, which allows for a good measure of the unexpected. Whether it’s a shuffled deck of cards or a modular board, even a familiar game should have some element of the new and unexpected to keep things fresh.

Alright, so that’s my crudely thrown-together list of what I find fun in a game.

How about you, are there any particular factors you’re looking for in your next game night?

A.P. Lambert

A.P. Lambert is a creative professional who helps others live with creativity and purpose.