«
»

Thoughts on Choice Paralysis

Many years ago, I played Spycraft. I loved the first edition, and when Spycraft 2.0 came out, I snapped it up. And promptly never played Spycraft again, and not because I stopped loving the idea.

See, there were somewhere around a hundred little dials the GM could tweak for any given campaign, and many of them sounded awesome. I was paralyzed by choice — I suddenly wanted to run five different games, and consequently I ran none. Similarly, whenever I see a game boast something like “over twenty classes!” in a core book, I shake my head at it.

Here’s the issue: as a designer, you know the optimal choices, the impacts of various choices, and the interactions of compound choices. But that’s you; people new to your game have none of that. Reading all of those options can be overwhelming to some people, because now they’re playing the game of “make optimal decisions.” Others can get inspired with a host of ideas, that can be incompatible with the host of ideas that other players come up with — too many options and choices leads to an inconsistent world.

So, if you end up piling more and more into some part of your game, slow your roll. Strip some of it back. That will help your game get traction as you don’t have such a hurdle of overwhelming information. Pick your favorite half or two-thirds of that content, and hand to the reader what you really love about your game. Play with that — there’s certainly no science to this.

Now, nothing says what you strip away needs to be deleted. If your game takes off, you have more content to hand out, and as people gain mastery of your game, the new sets of choices are not as overwhelming as giving them all at once.

– Ryan

Share
«
»

4 Responses to Thoughts on Choice Paralysis

  1. jessecoombs says:

    This is one of the main reasons I put game books BACK onto the shelf.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Tangentially, this is a major reason why Lenny & I dialed down the number of character aspects in Fate Core to 5. And why when I see hacks where people put more aspects on (in the past — I haven’t kept up with Core’s new goals), I shake my head with a “they don’t get it” sense.

      – Ryan

  2. samldanach says:

    I had almost exactly the same reaction to SC 2.0. When I try to sell it to people, I always have to start by defusing the daunting size of the book. It follows the 80-20 rule, in that 80% of the time, you’ll use 20% of the rules. The rest of the rules are there to cover as much of that other 20%, something most games leave to GM discretion.

    I then played a game of SC 2.0 at a Gameday, after having played and looked at much lighter games in the meantime (FATE, PDQ#, and even Gamma World). I realized that as cool as it sounds to strongly enable an enormous range of options, doing the work to actually encode all those options into the character, and keep all the options in mind and in play, was just exhausting.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally. There’s a thing that if there are too many games within one, then you must both deal with personal choice and group consensus.

      I occasionally play Agricola, and I never play anything but the basic game. There are three games in that box, but I always just play the first one. (Granted, three is an easy number to deal with, and one is labeled “basic.”)

      – Ryan