Big Moves

Games where players make a series of small moves are typically boring.

Even the best, like Cold War game Twilight Struggle, are an acquired taste.

It's okay to have lots of turns where something small happens, but these should be punctuated by big turns that really change up the game.

Big moves also allow players more control over their game experience.

In Reef, players build a three-dimensional matrix of coloured plastic "coral" bits. Cards will give a player points if there's a specific pattern of coral on their board. Players can make lots of little patterns, and score a few points each. Alternatively, they can build up to a mega-score, where they build multiple copies of the same pattern, and score the scoring card multiple times at once.

If all moves are about the same magnitude, it also doesn't allow losing players to get back into the game.

Early in the development of my gangster game, you could see who was going to win, by the middle of the game. The player who had the most health and money tokens was in a commanding position, and little could stop them. The game was too incremental. I added numerous flashy effects, such as the Skull, which caused all players to lose half their health, and the Bomb, which caused opponents to lose a very large five health, but you had to successfully keep the token for a full two rounds before it exploded.

Big moves make the player feel free and powerful, like they're exploiting the game. These are the moves that make for memorable gameplay.

Adding big moves to your game

Create a class of "big things" — expensive things with big effects. 

Create cards/actions/options that have a variable or the word "all" in them. "Gain 1 fruit for each tree you have" is far more interesting than "gain 3 fruit." Variable options can have wild and unbalanced effects, but they are great fun, and your game should be built to tolerate them.

In Agricola, you can build fences at a cost of one wood per fence. If you have ten wood, you can build ten fences at once.

Create multi-actions, by combining a few small or unexciting actions. Doing many things at once is a big move, and it encourages players to set up for it, by planning for it during the prior turns.

In Agricola, the "Bake Bread" action just turns some of your grain into food. That's a bit boring, so it's paired with the action that lets you plant things in your fields. This way, players will gather lots of grain, and things to plant, and then do a single big move, and accomplish a lot.

Allow players to do combos and setups, that make some turns awesome. If I can line up ten space orcs, I should be able to zap all of them with one shot of my laser gun.

You might say "this will lead to outrageous and imbalanced stuff happening!" Yes, and it's great fun for the players. It's your job as a designer to make it work.

In summation, the size of the moves in your game should vary significantly, as the player dictates.

Stupid fun

Players should not feel penned in. They should feel like they can do anything, even though there really are carefully-constructed boundary walls they can't see.

Stupid or visceral fun is still fun, and is often the best kind of fun. As a designer, it's your job to make it work.

In a farming game I was working on, the players could farm a modest amount of crops and animals, and do some other things, within reason. However, I changed my outlook on the game. I wanted to give players more freedom to do what they liked. Once they gained this freedom, however, they started to abuse and break the game. One player created a giant herd of sheep for their wool, bought a sewing machine and a loom, and began to mass-produce clothing. He didn't need that much clothing, but each piece was worth points. Another player ferried in an army of guests, and used his cooking pot to create an inordinate amount of soup to feed these happy visitors, which also earned him copious points.

I was very pleased to see this. These players were having fun. I made sure that these kinds of combos couldn't be set up easily, or be maintained with simple loops of actions. My job wasn't to stop the madness. It was to make sure the madness was fair. 

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