Uncertainty in Games: Analytic Complexity

It can be difficult to convince an older RPG player to try any other game than the one they’ve been playing for the past 20 years. And it’s really no surprise that after pouring hundreds of hours into their system of choice, they are reluctant to give up the mastery that they’ve achieved. In tabletop RPGs, especially older ones, analytic complexity is a significant factor in determining who the target audience is.

Analytic complexity can be both frustrating and rewarding. Because the uncertainty comes solely from if, when, and to what degree a conclusion or solution is found, the enjoyment received from performing that analysis varies greatly from person to person. Some people enjoy burning their brain on charts, graphs, and trees, preferring to dive deep into a game’s mechanics, while others prefer to focus on the high-level ideas of role playing, keeping their systems light and out of the way.

To be completely clear: there is no wrong way to play.

While there’s a moving line of enjoyment per complexity for each player, there’s also a fine line between complexity and depth. Mechanics that add complexity, but do not add strategic value or interesting choices, are often poorly designed or added in just for complexity’s sake. Regardless of your preferred style, adding depth to the game without bogging it down with needless rules should be the goal of every game designer. Games that are heavy but streamlined are not only possible, but have their own audience of gamers.

The amount of time spent outside of a game session can be a direct indicator of the game’s analytic complexity, which in turn can tell us what kinds of players would enjoy that game. Mechanics such as party creation, character progression, and GM prep time should all be taken into account when choosing the “perfect system” for your table.