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People quickly grow out of games like Candy Land and Tic-Tac-Toe. They don't have any meaningful decisions to make. Then there are games like Monopoly, that have a few meaningful decisions to make, but those decisions are spread out over a game that will take a long time to end. Even popular gateway games like Settlers of Catan can have very long game lengths (2-3 hours), with most of the important decisions made at the start of the game, and only a few later (who to steal from, or what/who to trade with). On the other hand, Dominion has very short game times, with very compact meaningful decisions.

If you examine the top ranked games, would you find that the majority of them have a high meaningful decisions per hour density?

Does too great a density decrease the fun of a game because of analysis paralysis?

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    Perhaps there's something quantifiable here - I'd certainly be interested to know it - but surely there's also a ton of subjectivity. Different people like different amounts of thinking and decisions, and also appreciate many, many other aspects of games. – Cascabel Feb 2 '12 at 5:46
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    It's an excellent question, even if the answer is "Usually Not" because of the subjectivity involved. – aramis Feb 2 '12 at 17:09
  • To answer this you are going to have to define what a meaningful decision is. As for the games you listed in candy land there is no decisions and everything you do is decided by a deck of cards. In Tic-Tac-Toe the issue is really the fact that it is trivial to solve the game and know what moves to make to ensure a tie game every time. – Joe W Nov 30 '15 at 1:29
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Meaningful decisions per hour is one of several contributory factors, not the only one.

Other important components of "fun", at least for me, include:

  • high ratio of meaningful decisions to total decisions
  • Interesting choices to make in those decisions
  • Interesting setting/backstory
  • visual appeal
  • link of setting/backstory/theme to mechanics.
  • interactivity of players.

It's important that meaningful decisions also be interesting - I find poker rather boring unless played for money (rather than just points), as the decisions are meaningful but boring.

Note also, burying meaningful decisions amidst many minimally meaningful decisions renders the senses numb to the meaningful ones.

Likewise, I'd rather play a good game with pretty pieces than a great game with ugly ones. I could easily make a Tsuro set, for example, but it wouldn't look nor feel as nice as the "real thing," and hence would get played less.

The setting and theme, if presented well and with mechanics that tie to it, makes a game more enjoyable.

Interactivity of players also matters. If the game is all meaningful decisions, but my turn is neither affected by nor affects the other players, then the game is less fun than if the do to a correct degree. (Some games can be too interactive, however. An example of this, for many, is Tongiaki. In Tongiaki, each player's action can cascade to totally change the situation, so ability to plan ahead is limited.)

  • Good answer! A game's set-dressing and look-and-feel directly aids meaningful decision-making. Intuitive metaphors for game actions and easy-to-read board states do a lot to keep the minutiae of handling from overwhelming the "meaningful" part of a decision. – Alex P Feb 2 '12 at 16:06
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    +1. One item I would add is variability; this can be both in terms of situations that the game throws at you, and in choices you and/or your fellow players make. Although that might be part of your point of "interesting choices". – Erik P. Feb 3 '12 at 5:14
  • @ErikP. Making the same decisions every time is not interesting, so yes, variability is somewhat subsumed. – aramis Feb 3 '12 at 7:08
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    Another part of fun is interactivity. Games with a lot of trading or fighting or politics compared with games where each basically plays his own game (only the player whose turn it is gets do anything during that turn, and his decisions only affect his own score, not that of the others). – RemcoGerlich Nov 30 '15 at 8:51
  • @RemcoGerlich Excellent point. And one I agree with and had overlooked. Added. – aramis Dec 2 '15 at 0:26

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