How to Build a Game #71 Math Series #1 Math is Fun!

Except in board games.

Well…too much math is a problem. I actually really enjoy a good math-y game but as a designer I have to be aware of how much is too much. I don’t know if this is a product of societies’ running joke that math is supposed to be hard or people not wanted to run too many numbers through their head when they are in a state of play. As frustrating as the running joke is, I understand when people don’t want to remember and run more than a few numbers through their head.

So as designers, what are we to do about the math in our games?

My short answer is, I think we should keep our intended audience in mind and if possible, remove as much of the math as possible. I say that because when I work on games, I want to appeal to as wide a market as possible. If you really want to go for the math fans out there, make your game math-y.

Honestly, I think this a massive topic that needs to be addressed over the course of several posts. What I want you to take away from this is that math is a major driver of games. We need to make sure we are using it in the right way and not abusing the quantity of math we want our players to use. If you can find a way to reduce the math to zero, awesome. That does not mean the math doesn’t exist, it means the math has been hidden. Super easy in digital games, a major challenge in board games. We need to be aware of the math we did not intend to create but exists.

We will explore all of this over the course of time and see where we go. What math related design challenges have you come across in your games and how did you fix them? Leave us a comment and we can discuss.

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8 thoughts on “How to Build a Game #71 Math Series #1 Math is Fun!

  1. Golem Arcana is a game of really crunchy maths, but it gets around this bus the app. Without it, GA wouldn’t nearly be as popular as each attack would become a formula to solve before proceeding.
    Personally, a little maths is OK so long as it doesn’t delve into percentages or decimals.

  2. I’m dealing with this very issue. In one of my game designs, the core mechanism relies on multiplication. The player is doing an activity and needs to multiply the number of attempts with a certain factor. I’ve been thinking about how to simplify but it’s really important to the theme. I’m curious where your articles will go. Perhaps I will gain some insight that might simplify the issue without losing the feeling of the theme.

    • If you don’t mind me asking, what is the thematic element your game needs to cover? The factor or the number of attacks? Does the player only have to more than one equation? How many potential equations are there? What I am really getting at is, could the game have a reference chart that allows for quick reference or are there too many variables to make a chart viable? I know charts are ugly and could be frowned upon but I think all options are worth exploring

      • Sure. My game is a cooperative space exploration game called “earth is lost”. Players are exploring new planets which could potentially be the people of earth’s new home. However, they have to do it before the people of earth age into extinction (no resources). Players will roll dice attempting to explore a planet. They can roll as many times as they want. However, each planet has a gravity factor. If I roll three times and the planet’s gravity factor is three then nine earth years have passed. Yes, I could do a reference chart a la TTR (points per # trains). However, the number of rolls is open-ended.

      • Have you been able to playtest and get an idea of how many rolls players want to take each time they are exploring? I know it is open ended but maybe there is a strategic limit to the number of times a player would want to roll and therefore make the creation of a reference chart more reasonable?

      • I’ve playtested it several times. The answer depends on the crowd. Players rarely go over eight but I’ve seen up to twelve. It’s interesting because the math hasn’t really been an issue with the different crowds that have played. To your point, I could provide a table for the most common numbers and anything over is up to the player. Good thought!

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