What makes a good game decision?

I see a lot of questions about so-called design paradoxes, in which decisions are only interesting if they can be solved but once they are solved the game stops being interesting. I’ve found myself writing the same basic response so often I actually have it saved for easy copying and pasting. This is that post.

Your goal is to create satisfying decisions. In turn-based games, these generally have several properties:

1) The decision feels interesting without undue stress. This generally involves a choice between 2-4 options, with the player quickly able to reach a final set of two to choose from.

2) The decision clearly helps affect the outcome of the game. If your decision does not appear to do this, people don’t feel the decision matters. This undermines their investment in the decision. I often use an example when talking about game design, “Estimate the number of people born each year. Got your estimation? Okay, everyone wearing a hat just won.” When your input has no impact on the outcome, you’re not going to care much about making the best decision.

3) The decision can be made with reasonable confidence in your answer within a short amount of time (the time you’d like each turn to take). Effectively, it can be “solved”.

Your game should be a decision engine. It might be very possible to find the perfect move each turn, at which point the problem becomes trivial. But that’s not a problem, because you just ended your turn. Your game should be an engine that produces new satisfying decisions each turn. The previous decision is now trivial, but now the options, goals, or factors affecting them have changed.

Deckbuilders are a perfectly good example of this. Each turn you can quickly reach a decision, but each turn offers new considerations and often new options for resources or synergies for your deck. This is why the genre works so well, games like Star Realms are basically perfectly honed decision engines stripped of all their surrounding noise.

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