What is a ‘great’ game?

I got an idea from GamerChris’ latest blog entry.  Check it here.  Chris talks about what makes a great game versus what makes a fun one.  I agree with him on this. A game’s goal is fun.  If it is not fun, it will not get played and will eventually fade away.  ‘Great’ is subjective.  When we talk about great games we usually are including fun AND design. My example is Macao.  But can elegant design alone mean a game is great?  It depends on who you are talking to and what you are discussing.   I haven’t played many of the games listed at the top of the BGG list.   Words used to describe many of these include elegant, ‘well designed’, ‘ground breaking’, and ‘innovative’.  But are they great?  Maybe.  By the above definition great games should be both elegant and fun.  I like to believe that the BGG subscribers’ rankings include the fun element.

Fun games on the other hand don’t have to be great.  Chris gave an example of Bang! for this.  I suggest Tkii Topple in this category.  This category of games give you that excitement that you play games for.  ‘Fun’ is also subjective.   Sometimes it can be jump up and down, whooping it up fun.  Sometimes it is successfully solving a puzzle.  It depends on you and what you are after at that particular time.

So what about you?  What makes a great game?  What makes a fun game?  How about suggest some games that are both.  Give me one great game and one fun game and tell me why each is in its category.

Come on.  Give me some feedback on this.

7 thoughts on “What is a ‘great’ game?

  1. A great game is always engaging and scores high on both innovation and novelty. Replayability is high.

    Pandemic is in this category for me. It never gets old, cooperative play remains novel and surprising, the game’s pacing mechanics are subtle and brilliant.

  2. A great game is one that keeps you engaged. Anything that risks loosing your attention when it isn’t “your turn” is going to put me to sleep. That is my number 1 quality of a good game.

  3. Is it too cheesy to say chess as my great game? It’s got an elegant design and isn’t too difficult to learn the basics for, but leaves a lot of room for learning deep strategies and evolving your play. For me, though, I’m not sure I’d think of it as “fun.” It’s enjoyable to play, but “fun” suggests something lighter to me.

    In my mind, a fun game is generally going to be lighter, and probably quicker to play. The automatic companion to the chess example being checkers. Again, simple to learn, but with much more limited strategy available and generally plays faster.

    The problem with this debate is that both terms are subjective, and each word carries an emotional charge. “Great” implies that the game in question is universally highly regarded, and the word carries a feeling of haughtiness; it feels like “great” requires deep thinking and study to master. “Fun” implies a lightness. A “fun” game seems like it should be quick to learn and easy to play.

    I wonder if this debate would get different responses using different terms. “Elegant” and “entertaining” suggest different things, but could include the same games that are “great” and “fun.”

    1. I agree with you that ‘great’ carries some implications that can be construed as negatives like haughtiness. Chris refers to this in his discussion of BGG ratings. And you are right – ‘fun’ implies light. But I offer that this does not have to be so. And is not part of MY definition of greatness. A great game combines elegance of play, replayabiliy, is engaging, and fun. I’m developing a rating system to encompass these.

  4. A great game is:

    * Clear – you’re never staring at it wondering “what in the world is going on”. Even if it’s complicated, it’s comprehensible.

    * Exciting – there are times when action is crucial and everyone is tense to see what will happen

    * Stimulating – This can be intellectual or emotional. The theme of the game has to be something that arouses our interest and thought. This is probably where RPGs have the biggest advantage. A character is (can be?) inherently a sympathetic component since it is the fictional representation of a real human being. Even villains fascinate us.

    1. Hi Jason,
      Thanks for the comments. I liked how you bulleted them and they are right on target. Thanks for bringing in theme. I think that does influence how much fun a game has. Being engaged or captured by the theme can enhance the experience.

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